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How to Create the Perfect Workout Playlist

Boost Your Exercise Mojo with the Right Music

-- By Jennipher Walters, Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor
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You know that scene in High Fidelity where John Cusack is touting the importance of the perfectly crafted mix tape? A tape that has to kick off with a killer track to grab attention, then take it up a notch, then cool it off a notch?  
Sure, that guy was creating a playlist to woo a girl, but he was on to something. Little did he know, he was also giving us words of wisdom on how to best create a set of tunes for a high-energy workout. Below are the seven main components of any good workout playlist, no matter the musical genre. (In fact, I find that the more eclectic the playlist, the more exciting—and surprising—it can be!)
Follow these guidelines to craft a playlist before your next workout, and you’re sure to stay engaged and pumped the entire time. After all, music—especially the right music—can make working out more fun!
1. Warm-Up Song
Like John Cusack says, you have to kick off a playlist with a killer track that grabs attention. Choose a song here that inspires and motivates you but has a moderate tempo. During this song you’ll be doing some light static stretching and easy movement to warm you up, and you don’t want to be rushed, so choose a song that’s at least four minutes long. Songs like “Rock with You” by Michael Jackson or “Crazy” by Aerosmith are good candidates for an appropriate warm-up song tempo. However, the best warm-up songs are those that build in intensity and have a super inspirational message. “Proud” by Heather Smalls (best known as The Biggest Loser theme song) is an excellent choice.
2. Get-You-Going Song
The second song of a playlist should be as inspiring and as motivating as the warm-up song, only faster paced so that you can naturally get your heart rate from an easy level up to a moderate-paced workout level. Choose a moderate- to fast-paced track with a strong and catchy beat that you naturally want to match your walking/running/elliptical speed to. “Let’s Get It Started” by the Black Eyed Peas is one of my favorites, as is “Running Down a Dream” by Tom Petty. 
3. Pump-You-Up Songs
Playlists that feature songs with varying beat speeds are a perfect way to naturally work some intervals into your workout—maybe without you even noticing—because people naturally pick up their pace when a fast song is playing and slow down their pace when a slow song is on. For this reason, be sure to throw in at least one or two super-fast and high-energy songs into your playlist. You want these songs to be music that is darn-near impossible to sit still to. Some of my go-to favorites include “Hey Ya” by Outkast and “Maniac,” the Flashdance theme, by Michael Sembello. The fast tempo will help you to burn more calories and have a blast while doing it.
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About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites, and A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.

Member Comments

  • I pretty much do the same thing - 6/23/2014 5:57:45 AM
  • MMGAGE1701
    I think the key to building a good workout playlist is to pick songs that make you feel good. They might not ever make a suggested list on a website or be something that anyone else would choose, but if they make YOU feel good then put 'em on your list! - 6/22/2014 11:06:51 AM
    I'm not sure I want a "killer" track............
    ......;) - 2/9/2014 1:52:17 PM
  • Good article - music can be the key to pushing through a workout when you want to give up. - 11/28/2013 6:19:16 AM
  • workout playlists arent just for working out... my job at work is ALOT of very repetative computer work lengths of time with very little human interaction. i listen to my workout playlist in the morning to wake me up. :) later on i switch my ipod to play all songs. - 9/6/2013 8:06:47 AM
  • "My" music will likely never be featured on a playlist other than my own. I tend to have a lot of Irish stuff, old swing music. The most "pop" I have is U2 (the bulk of which is from the 80's). I also have hours worth of music so it doesn't repeat often. I think it just has to be whatever works for you, but I totally agree about that last song being the big push/motivator for the end, particular when I was doing C25K stuff. - 9/5/2013 7:01:03 AM
    I copied all my favorite music onto my MP3 player, and put it into random mode when I exercise. I hate listening to the same playlist over and over again - it gets really boring. I don't exercise to the beat of the music anyway.

    This way, I get a mix of everything from ABBA to the Beach Boys to ZZTop, with a little Mozart and Wynton Marsilis thrown in for variety.
    - 1/22/2013 12:55:41 PM
    my favorite finale song is 'End of the Line' by the Travelling Wilburys.... really helps me get through that last bit - 9/26/2012 11:11:13 AM
  • I listen to Fitradio when I am running on the treadmill. Awesome workout music... never gets boring. - 9/25/2012 8:37:30 AM
  • I've been doing this already. I read through your list and I got it right. :D - 9/25/2012 7:37:58 AM
  • enjoyed these tips. I loved making exercise CDs when I had a walkman. Now I use Pandora and have stations that play music I love. - 6/21/2012 9:17:12 PM
  • You didn't mention anything about safety in regards to working out outdoors with music. There have been a lot of traffic accidents involving pedestrians (people walking or running) while listening to headphones. We need to be alert while out in traffic. - 4/8/2012 1:15:30 PM
  • Excellent advice. I think I will create a new list tonight. P.S. loved your segement in Heather's Better Health Summit! - 3/27/2012 2:01:37 PM
  • I have to admit that the idea of listening to the exact same songs in the exact same order for every workout would get old really fast for me. I like variety to keep my mind distracted and to keep things fresh. Which is why I have an MP3 player with a shuffle feature, and different playlists depending on the activity - I have a running playlist, and one for stretching, lifting weights, etc. Music is definitely a motivator! - 3/27/2012 11:00:29 AM
  • Great tips! One thing I like is to have a really motivational song right before the end of my workout to help me power to the finish. One I love is Copa de la Vida by Ricky Martin. All the steel drums and yelling Go! Go! Go! really helps motivate me to finish strong. - 3/27/2012 10:18:02 AM
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