Pump Your Playlist with Music that Motivates

What music you choose could make a difference in your workout

Keeping Pace

Imagine a high-intensity kickboxing class cranking B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” The uninspiring title is bad enough, but the slow tempo of the song would have a counterproductive effect. Aside from making you want to slit your wrists, blues music isn’t a go-to genre during cardio routines because the beats per minute (bpm) in most blues songs don’t come close to matching the rhythm of the fast movements required for an aerobic workout.

To determine the best songs to maximize your athletic performance, the tempo of the tunes on your playlist should fit with your preferred exercise pace. In his book Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks, M.D., professor of neurology at Columbia University Medical Center, stresses the importance of rhythm in physical training. Sacks asserts, “Since the integration of sound and movement can play a great role in coordinating and invigorating basic movement, musical rhythm can be valuable to athletes.”

Malonne Kinneson, a physician and competitive triathlete agrees. In Musicophilia Kinneson is quoted as saying, “I often listen to music while I’m training and noticed fairly early that some pieces of music were particularly uplifting and inspired a high level of effort.” She goes on to discuss how listening to certain types of music during a timed trial event helped to set her cadence at the right tempo and synchronized her physical efforts with her breathing, which dramatically improved her performance time.

So what tempo works best for those working out? It all depends on the type of exercise you’re doing. According to Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D., an associate professor of sport psychology at Brunel University in England and expert on the effects of music on physical performance, a song’s pace is paramount when rating its motivational abilities for various physical activities. His findings revealed that songs with a tempo somewhere between 120 and 140 bpm is best for aerobic exercise because it most closely matches the average person’s heart rate. That’s great when you’re burning it up on the treadmill, but when it’s time to heave some serious iron it’s time to change the beat.

Since the goal is to match the rhythm of the music to the rhythm of your body, slower-paced music in the 95 to 125 bpm range is generally more effective for strength training. A clear beat and heavy bass are ideal, since it’s easy to hear the downbeat as you lift. Songs like “Hit ’Em Up” by 2Pac, “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses, “Back In Black” by AC /DC, and of course “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor are all worthy of appearing on a training playlist and have an optimal lifting bpm. If none of these songs get you pumped, you’re either in a coma or have a very unique taste in tuneage. Fortunately, with so many different musical styles and genres to choose from, you’re sure to find something that sends a surge through your veins and inspires you to persevere through your workout—no matter how much of a bitch it is.