It’s no coincidence that when you exercise, you feel more motivated if you’re listening to music. It can make your workout a little more enjoyable, and research has shown that music can even help you exercise harder and longer.
But not all music has this magical effect. In fact, different songs motivate people for different reasons. “A fast pace might be key for some, while for others it might be a song they love or the lyrics themselves that are motivating,” says Lexi Bellassai, vice president of FIT Radio, an app that provides over 45 channels of professionally deejayed music designed for specific workouts.
There is one factor that makes a particular difference when it comes to your workout playlist, though: beats per minute (BPM). Slower songs have a slower BPM, while faster songs have a faster BPM, and matching BPM to your specific activity can help make your workout more effective. “The BPM should set the pace of whatever activity you’re doing, as it’s more natural to move with music versus against it,” says Bellassai.
In fact, there are actually guidelines for what BPM you should use for different workouts, which can be helpful if you’re making your own playlist, says Jessica Smith, a Florida-based trainer and creator of the Walk On: Walk the Weight Off 30-Day Program. For instance, look for songs with a BPM of 135 to 150 for power walking, 150 to 175 BPM for running, 95 to 130 BPM for cycling, and 145 to 160 BPM for kickboxing. For example, “Beat It” (139 BPM) by Michael Jackson would be a good song to put on when going for a power walk. “On Top of the World” (100 BPM) by Imagine Dragons would likely rev up your energy while cycling. “We Got the Beat” from The Go Go’s (152 BPM) is a great tune to play during a kickboxing session or a run.
So how do you know the BPM of songs? Websites like SongBPM make it easy to figure out the BPM of your favorite songs. You can even alter the BPM of songs with apps like TempoMagic and RockMyRun.
But don’t think you have to stick with the same BPM for the entire workout, especially if you’re doing interval training (where you might alternate between moving faster and moving slower), or if you’re doing a walk or run where you want to start slow and finish at a faster pace. Simply put a few faster songs in your playlist at strategic places where you know you’ll want to pick up the pace.
Another important aspect to consider: variety. “Having new playlists and songs every time you exercise helps your workouts feel fresh,” says Bellassai. Don’t feel like making a new playlist for every single workout? Having even a handful of playlists that you can rotate between can help boost your motivation, as can playlist apps.