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. Every great workout playlist has a set of components that keeps you feeling inspired, empowered and energized from your warm-up to the final cool-down. With these guildines, you can craft the perfect playlist before your next workout to make it your best one yet!
 

Are You Ready to Rumble? 

  
1. The Warm-Up Song

As John Cusack says, you have to kick off a playlist with a killer track that grabs your attention. Choose a song here that inspires and motivates you, but has a moderate tempo. During this song you’ll be doing some light stretching and easy movements 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, for example, is an excellent choice.
 
2. The 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. The 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 at least one or two super-fast and high-energy songs in 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. The 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. The 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. The 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. The 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 too, 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.
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Member Comments

I use "PODRUNNER" mixes from Podrunner.com. The mixes are free to use, however the company is supported by donations if you so choose. There are mixes from 120 bpm to 185 bpm and every kind of mix in between for supporting HIIT, training for 5,8 and 10k runs, etc. I understand there will be new additions added this year at slower bpms for those in recovery mode that need to really ease into it. I wouldn't use anything else for my walks or workouts. Report
THANKS Report
I just listen to what they play at the gym. Report
I start out with Michael Buffers' 'Let's Get Ready to Rumble....' Next I utilize 'Who Let the Dogs Out' followed by 'Everybody Dance Now.....' I am unsure of Next but displays a high-animated beat/groove, without words......Follow
ed by 'Unbelievable....
' and 'Sweetest Victory....'
I previously utilized, 'Livin La Vida Loca....' because it displayed high intensity.....but the lyrics are a little freaky......I am looking for some other higher intensity songs......Howeve
r, this combination helps me burn 200 calories within 11 minutes and heart-rate averaging 133.....The other day, I accomplished an 8:47 mile.....Plus, I accomplish this workout within 1 hour of work because it provides me with more energy......At work I walk about 6 miles within a 5 hour shift and sometimes with more distance......
If anyone has suggestions for higher-intensity/
beat songs please contact me. Have a great rest of your day and weekend. Report
I am old school and simply listen to the radio with a good radio station.

How can one create a play list? I have no fancy stereo equipment or any of those MP things.

My laptop does not have a DVD/CD drive.

Am I doomed?

Thank you. Report
Great article! Report
Great suggestions on making exercise music choices Report
Great article! Report
I listen to books. Report
PLCHAPPELL
Interesting Report
OZSKIPPY
I have 2 workout playlists that I swap between - so I get stale
One is pretty hard core for the days when I really want to sweat & the other is full of my favorite 1980's tracks.

Either way, I'm one very happy camper at the end of my workouts :) Report
Thank you. Report
good article Report
Thank you Report
Thanks. 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.