Fitness Articles

How to Create the Perfect Workout Playlist

Boost Your Exercise Mojo with the Right Music

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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 would rather see an all Classic Rock / English / Progressive Rock or all PINK FLOYD list. - 2/18/2016 9:18:16 PM
    Where's the Tijuana Brass when you need 'em? - 1/12/2016 8:58:13 PM
  • I just got a cd out from the band "The Blasters" nearly every one of their songs on this cd are awesome and foot stompin'. I keep my feet moving to the tunes!!

    Great article! - 1/12/2016 2:39:33 PM
  • No matter what my daughter says, I'm not old! Haven't even hit the 50 mark yet. She has a YouTube of 175 of "her" songs which some are horrible, but others I can't help but move to. LIke Uptown Funk -- never got tired of that. - 12/28/2015 6:22:25 PM
  • LADYJEAN_910
    This is a very energizing idea and look forward to creating one from all eras. BTW-OLD is a state of mind. I have learned to enjoy all types of music from classical to today's tunes. REMEMBER--We are not old, we are just not as young as we used to be. [This goes for all ages so it doesn't matter what age we are.] - 5/3/2015 2:51:06 PM
  • I saw an article somewhere about how many beats per minute to target for various workout activities (e.g. cardio, walking, cool-down), but can't seem to find it now. That's what would be helfpul to me because my workout list is very eclectic - some musical, some singing, in English, French, Spanish, old songs, new songs... There are very few musical styles I don't like, so it's really a matter of variety. One thing I have noticed that works best for me is to have longer songs (e.g. 6+ minutes each), rather than changing songs every couple of minutes. - 5/2/2015 8:31:33 AM
  • Great! - 4/22/2015 2:30:35 PM
    I agree about getting songs for over 50, actually over 70. We need a play list for us slightly over the hill folks - 1/12/2015 11:14:34 AM
  • How about songs from the '60s and '70s? - 1/12/2015 10:44:35 AM
    The problem I have with these workout song lists is they are always oriented towards the young crowd. It would be great to post a list for the older generation - music that we love. - 10/25/2014 12:39:16 PM
  • Good ideas. - 8/8/2014 5:29:09 AM
    Great article. Thanks for the guidance- I'm off to revamp my playlist! - 8/7/2014 9:56:19 AM
  • I just created a new playlist based on this idea. Great idea!! - 8/7/2014 9:21:27 AM
  • My gym playlist, entitled "RAAAAAAAAH!!!" is nothing but METAL.
    \m/ - 8/7/2014 8:35:37 AM
  • I too also randomize my playlists. I also don't mind adding and subtracting songs once in a while...if it becomes repetitive, it's less motivating. - 8/7/2014 4:43:29 AM

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