How to Make the Most Effective Workout Playlist Possible

A Berklee professor explains how the right songs can amp up your gym routine.

Sharon Broadley-Martin

Broadley-Martin teaching a water aerobics class. Photo provided

As anyone who relies on earbuds to get through a run knows, music can make or break a workout.

“I really, really do believe that it affects the efficiency of your workout,” says Sharon Broadley-Martin, a professor of contemporary music writing and production at Berklee College of Music and a long-time group fitness instructor. “If I use something that’s a little faster [in a fitness class] or I double up the tempo, I notice the class says, ‘Wow, that was really a great workout.'”

But the evidence goes beyond anecdotal. Broadley-Martin says adhering to specific beats per minute (BPM) targets when making a playlist can keep exercisers moving and motivated, and recommends a bell curve shape—starting with slower music, speeding up, and then bringing the pace back down—to accommodate the body’s natural rhythms and workout patterns.

“It’s definitely the most efficient way for anyone to work out, no matter which age group you’re working in or which level of fitness you’re working in,” she says, “because you have to warm the body up and you have to cool the body down.”

Though Broadley-Martin says personal taste is, of course, important—”people are human, and they’re going to want to hear music that they just plain like”—she gave us BPM windows that the average exerciser should hit during a run (not including cooling down) to make a good workout playlist. We took it from there:

139 BPM: Beat It — Michael Jackson

140 BPM: Drunk In Love — Beyoncé and Jay-Z

142 BPM: Geronimo — Sheppard

144 BPM: Glory and Gore — Lorde

146 BPM: Can’t Hold Us — Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

148 BPM: Dancing in the Dark — Bruce Springsteen

150 BPM: We’re Not Gonna Take It — Twisted Sister

153 BPM: Sex on Fire — Kings of Leon

156 BPM: Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked — Cage The Elephant