Music is a powerful motivator, across all areas of life. It reminds us of our fondest memories, serves as a healing tool when it comes to hardship or provides motivation during an intense workout. As an instructor, I know music is an integral part of my students’ workout experience, and I treat it as such.
Just like touch, the power of sound has the ability to spark shifts of emotion within us. Ever wonder why some of our favorite songs sometimes fall short when it comes to motivating us for a workout? You’re not crazy for wondering why: there’s a science behind it. From tempo to certain melodies, music can shift chemicals in our brain to make us feel more motivated and even help manage fatigue! Our heart rates and brain play a major role in how we respond to the beat of the music, which is why playlists can vary so much across different types of exercise. Quicker beats help us maintain a certain pace (hello, spin class!), and softer melodies help us relax and evoke emotion.
How do you optimize your playlist to get the most out of your workout? It’s simple—tempo and emotion. Build your playlist like you’d build a storyline in your mind: Build your motivation slowly as you warm up, find that turning point that helps you dig a level deeper as the tempo starts to catch up with your heart rate, and then match the beat with it to find your strongest stride or repetition pace.
Studies have shown that music evokes emotion within us, which in turn, affects our heart and breathing rate. Our average human heart rate varies between 65-80 beats per minute (bpm), and most of our most motivating music selections range between 70 and 140 bpm. Build your playlist accordingly.
When you’re lifting
If you’re a CrossFit lover, or live for challenging strength training methods like circuit training, finding music that matches the intensity of your workout is key, not just the tempo. As sound builds in volume, or as the length of the measures of music increase, you’ll be more inclined to push yourself when it comes to your hardest lifts! Choose beats between 75-90 for your warm-up, then take it up a notch to 100-120 bpm to finish strong on those last few minutes of reps. Great music genres for this include hip-hop and rock.
When you’re running
If you’re a runner (and especially if you’re not!), your playlist is going to be everything when it comes to staying on pace! Our strides correlate to around 150-190 bpm, so if you cut that in half, you’re looking at around 85 to 105 for your warm-up pace. When you’re ready to hit your more intense intervals to finish that long run strong, transition your music to 120-150 bpm to help your mindset hone in on your motivation that’s built up over the course of your run. Opt for some dance music to keep you on pace to crush your next pace personal best!
When you’re cycling
Our favorite spin classes have a natural ebb and flow to ensure we are getting a balanced workout, from those hill climbs to those dreaded flat road sprints. How do you ensure your best ride yet? Keep those booty burning hill climbs to a rate of 60-80 bpm to match your pedal beat to the downbeat of your favorite hip-hop or electronic melody.
When you’re at yoga or Pilates class
Sometimes we think less about beats when it comes to a less intense form of workout, but guess what? It’s equally important! Take it from one of my local studios, Ritual Yoga, who focuses on the power of the beat when it comes to finding your best practice. Stick to beats between 70-120 to help energize these types of workouts. My favorite genres include softer electronic, pop and hip-hop.
Not sure where to start when it comes to building a playlist? I’ve got you covered: Take some inspiration from all of our exercise specific playlists and find your strongest motivation for exercise yet!