How to Create the Perfect Workout Playlist

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.
 
4. Recovery Songs
After any pump-you-up song, it’s important to have a moderate- to slow-paced song after it to recover. Because you’ll usually be out of breath from the previous song, choose a track that you really enjoy and find meaning in. During these songs you want to slow down your pace, but still stay motivated enough to keep up your workout. Songs like “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor and “You Gotta Be” by Des’ree are perfect picks.
 
5. In-Between Songs
Unless you plan to do a full workout of intervals (in which case you’d just need a warm-up, cool down and multiple pump-you-up and recovery songs in the middle), you’re going to need some songs that hold your interest and keep you motivated. For these in-between songs, your absolute favorite moderate-paced tracks work best. For example, my guiltiest pleasure is pop music, so every time I head out for a long run, I jam-pack my iPod with Britney Spears and Gwen Stefani. My husband, on the other hand, loves Smashing Pumpkins and Oasis, so he lifts to that. A friend of mine loves Garth Brooks when he cycles. All of our workout playlists are so different, but they all work to motivate us. No matter the genre or guilty pleasure, just make sure that the beat keeps you moving. And try not to sing along too loud!
 
6. Finale Song
This is the mother of all songs on your playlist. The finale song is basically a pump-you-up song times 10 because it has to inspire you at the time in your workout when you’re the most tired—the very end! This song should remind you that you just have a little bit left to do and then motivate you to give it your all. “The Final Countdown” by Europe or “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor are sure to inspire your last few minutes.
 
7. Cool Down Track
The cool down track should be slow and give credit where credit is due—to you, of course! “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera is always a good one to play, as is “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson. Be sure to cool down for at least five minutes—you may need more than one song to cool down to, which isn’t a bad thing since it gives you more time to enjoy music that you love. 
 

You may already have a go-to workout playlist, but structuring it in this way is guaranteed to push you harder and faster! And remember, it doesn’t matter what genre of songs you choose, it just matters that you enjoy them.
 
Looking for Song Ideas?
Check out SparkPeople's Workout Music for pre-made workout mixes availble for purchase, or get more music ideas from Coach Nicole here:
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Member Comments

Thanks for the great article. I love having a good playlist when I workout and this helps. Report
I agree that the music naturally sets my pace. I like the buildup, workout, cool down tempo changes. Thanks! Report
This is a great article thanks for sharing Report
Great article Report
Good ideas. Thanks! Report
At the end of the day, let there be no excuses, no explanations, no regrets. - Steve Maraboli ~ 3/2/18 Report
Thanks for sharing. Great ideas and great songs Report
Great ideas! Report
???????? Report
Courage doesn't always roar.
Sometimes courage is the quiet voice
at the end of the day, saying,
"I will try again tomorrow."
- Mary Anne Radmacher ~ 1/21/18 Report
Playlists really motivate me (I usually only let myself listen while I'm working out!!)... would love to see an update on this article plus updated playlists especially if they are organized the way you've outlined here. I agree - music choices are personal but I'm also looking for current ideas! Report
Good tips for music. Report
The concept is fine.

Song selections though, are very much a personal choice. I have spent years collecting and collating many perfect playlists, covering genres, eras, moods and varying kinds of workouts. Spotify makes this easy.

The point is "many... playlists." Variety is the spice of life. So too with music. I also like mixing my playlists with one another. The unpredictability of the music keeps me engaged. Report
... loved this article...i'm so out of touch, it was very helpful that songs were suggested... these selections will get me started until i get more suggestions...any of you have suggestions?...th
anks for your help... Report


 

About The Author

Jennipher Walters
Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomeGirls.com, FitBottomedMamas.com and FitBottomedEats.com. 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.
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