Choosing Your Ultimate Workout Playlist!

woman listening to music while exercisingBenefits of Listening to Music While Exercising

Jane Fonda and Jazzercise knew it, Zumba knows it, even rowers on Viking longships way back in the day knew it: Music helps you exercise harder, faster, and longer while greatly increasing your enjoyment of activities which can otherwise get real boring real fast.

Every time you strap on your iPod before heading out for a run or hitting the weights, you are directly reaping the benefits of listening to music while exercising whether you know it or not. Not surprisingly, this common-sense phenomenon has recently become the subject of cutting-edge scientific research.

You can use the findings from current exercise research to develop your own optimal workout playlist which will help keep you motivated during your hardest bouts of exercise. So how does it work?

Music Helps You Work Out Harder and Longer

Listening to your favorite up-tempo music during exercise encourages you to work harder and even helps your body work more efficiently. In a 2009 study from the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Science, cyclers listening to upbeat music pedaled harder and faster, covering more ground in the same amount of time when compared to cyclists without music.

A related study showed that cyclists listening to music and aligning their effort to the beat used 7% less oxygen while working at the same pace as those without music, meaning that their cardiorespiratory system was working more efficiently! (Reynolds 2010)

Also, music distracts you from feelings of fatigue and discomfort which could otherwise cut your workout short. Many studies have proven that people jamming out to their favorite tunes work out for longer while rating their perceived effort as being lower.

Music Enhances Your Mood

Say you’re in a crappy mood during your commute to work. Your favorite song comes on the radio and an instant smile breaks out across your face and in no time you’re singing along and thinking, “Maybe today won’t be so bad after all.” We all know that music has great psychological power. Your favorite tracks switch you over into a good mood automatically, so why not multitask by listening to great tunes while getting in a tough workout?

Just make sure to consider safety first. You want to be aware of your surroundings and any possible hazards, so ditch the earbuds when cycling or running in busy areas or in sketchy surroundings!

Music Boosts Explosive Athletic Performance

Pumping up your favorite jams also pumps up your explosiveness, meaning that listening to music while strength training can be beneficial for power training. A recent study from the Department of Kinesiology at California State University revealed that athletes who listened to their own favorite songs while training showed higher-powered explosive capabilities than athletes bereft of music (Biagini 2012).

Music Helps You Set an Optimal Exercise Tempo

Different music tempos can be chosen for different types of exercise. If you want to get scientific with it, any song can be broken down into BPM (beats per minute), which refers to a song’s tempo. Songs with a higher BPM (around 160-180) are best for high-intensity cardio such as running, while mid-level BPM (120-140) is great for jogging or dance fitness, while I prefer slightly lower (around 100) for strength training. Let’s consider some well-known tracks to give you a feel for different BPMs.

  • HIGH BPM: “Hey Ya” by Outkast = 160 BPM
  • MEDIUM BPM: “Club Can’t Handle Me” by Flo Rida = 120 BPM
  • LOWER BPM: “Gold Digger” by Kanye West = 90 BPM

You can find easy BPM calculators online where you can search for your favorite songs, or figure it out for yourself in a way that resembles taking your heart rate during exercise. Just count how many downbeats occur over 6 seconds and multiply by 10. Remember that my BPM suggestions are just that, and the most important thing is to select songs that are personally motivating to you!

Sample Workout Playlist:

Here are a few of my favorite mid-BPM workout pop songs you may recognize that I use in my Zumba classes and/or other workout sessions.

  • “Levels”: Avicii
  • “Without You”: David Guetta & Usher
  • “Pound the Alarm”: Nicki Minaj
  • “Magic” by B.o.B feat. Rivers Cuomo
  • “Turn Around (5,4,3,2,1)”: Flo Rida

Exception to the Rule

An interesting exception is that music’s effects diminish during the highest intensity cardiovascular exercise during which a person is operating at about 90% of maximal oxygen uptake. At that point, the body/mind is so focused on the task at hand that there is little bandwidth left for outside input. Even so, athletes training at this level still rate the music as being enjoyable although it does not result in any performance increases (Tenenbaum 2004).

Moreover, since the majority of us train at more reasonable intensity levels during most of our workouts, chances are you will find that music gives your workout a much-appreciated boost!


To sum up, maximize your training time while upping your enjoyment by working out to motivating music. When building out an exercise playlist, be sure to choose up-tempo music that you love and find motivating. As revealed in my discussion of BPM, you may even find it beneficial to sit down and formulate different playlists for different types of exercise.

So if you haven’t already done so, invest in some quality sport headphones (which hold up better to moisture and impact) and a comfortable, breathable armband for your music device. It’s no fun to have your iPhone slide out of a sweaty hand, yanking out your earbuds before hitting the pavement! I have personally logged many happy, sweaty hours with the iLuv iCC212 Armband Case with Glow-in-the-Dark Frame for iPhone 4 and 3G/3GS available on

Happy training!


1. Biagini, M. S., et al. (2012). Effects of self-selected music on strength, explosiveness, and mood. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 26(7): 1934-1938.
2. Karageorghis, C. I., Terry, P. C., Lane, A. M., Bishop, D. T., & Priest, D. (2012). The BASES Expert Statement on use of music in exercise.  Journal of Sports Sciences, 30(9), 953-956
3. Reynolds, G.  (2010).  Phys ed: Does music make you exercise harder? The New York Times Blog. Retrieved from
4. Tenenbaum, G., et al. (2004). The effect of music type on running perseverance and coping with effort sensations.  Psychology of Sport and Exercise.  5(2): 89-109

Author Profile: Mae Barraclough

Mae Barraclough, B.S., NASM-CPT, NASM-CES is a certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist, and licensed Zumba Instructor. With her passion for health, fitness, and dance, Mae loves learning all she can and sharing her knowledge with others.Join Mae online: Follow Mae on Instagram: Like Train With Mae on Facebook: Follow Mae on Pinterest: she's not training, Mae can be found making imaginative art jewelry at

Disclaimer: The views of the author are his or her own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Ask The Trainer.
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