Boost Your Workout with the Science of Upbeat Music (Music for Different Moods)

by Tara Price

20th March, 2024

Boost Your Workout with the Science of Upbeat Music (Music for Different Moods)

Listening to music while engaging in physical activity has been scientifically shown to significantly enhance workout motivation and elevate the overall quality of exercise sessions by boosting stamina and mood. This phenomenon, often described as workout music science, supports the idea that music can serve as a powerful tool in distracting individuals from pain and fatigue, thereby uplifting mood, increasing endurance, reducing perceived effort, and even potentially enhancing metabolic efficiency during workouts. Recognised as a legal performance-enhancing ‘drug,’ the best music for exercise is not merely about fast beats and high energy but also involves personal associations, emotions, and the rhythm of lyrics, making upbeat workout music benefits a subject of considerable interest.

Studies into the science of workout music and physical activity date back to the early 1900s, highlighting a longstanding fascination with how music impacts exercise. A vast body of research, including a significant meta-analysis of over 139 studies, has demonstrated that incorporating music into physical exercise not only leads to improved physical performance and muscle endurance but also significantly lowers rated perceived exertion (RPE) and bolsters physiological efficiency. This insight has transformed the workout playlist science, guiding individuals in personalising their playlists with good workout songs that resonate with their personal experiences and preferences to optimise performance and enjoyment in activities ranging from high-intensity workouts to endurance training and low-intensity exercises such as yoga.

The Science Behind Music and Exercise

Scientist Using Microscope
Scientist Using Microscope

Delving into the intricacies of how music influences exercise reveals a multifaceted relationship that enhances physical performance and psychological well-being. The science behind this phenomenon is grounded in several key findings:

  • Endurance and Performance Enhancement: Music has been shown to significantly increase the duration of exercise across both sexes, contributing to improved endurance. This is particularly evident in endurance exercises, where the beneficial effects of music are more pronounced. For instance, faster-paced music can lead to increased distance, pace, or repetitions in low-to-moderate-level exercises.
  • Optimal Music Tempo: The effectiveness of music in enhancing physical performance is closely linked to its tempo. Research suggests that the ideal tempo for cycling ranges between 125 and 140 beats per minute (bpm), while for treadmill exercises, it is between 123 and 131 bpm. This indicates that matching the music tempo with the type of exercise can significantly impact performance.
  • Psychological Effects: Listening to preferred music during intense physical activities not only facilitates high-level performance but also contributes to acute recovery and positive affective responses. Classical music, for example, has been found to release endorphins and enkephalins, natural opioids, which can elevate mood and reduce perceived exertion during workouts. Additionally, high-tempo music is associated with increased serotonin production, leading to enhanced energy levels and the well-known ‘runner’s high’ during cardio workouts.

These insights underscore the powerful role of music in augmenting workout experiences, suggesting that carefully curated playlists can serve as a strategic tool to maximise the benefits of physical exercise.

Crafting the Perfect High-Intensity Workout Playlist

Computer work station
Computer work station

Crafting an effective high-intensity workout playlist involves understanding the science behind music and exercise. Here’s a step-by-step guide to assembling your ultimate workout mix:

  1. Choose Your Base Track: Start with a song you love that motivates you to move. This will set the tone for your playlist. Ensure its BPM aligns with the ideal range for high-intensity workouts, typically between 132-136 BPM for strength training and up to 180 BPM for HIIT or CrossFit.
  2. Build Around Your Base: Add songs that match or complement the base track’s BPM. For cardio exercises, select tracks with a high BPM, around 140 to 180-plus BPM, to keep the energy up throughout the workout.
  3. Structure Your Playlist: Organise your playlist into sections to mirror the flow of your workout: warm-up, work, peak, and cool-down. Incorporate smooth transitions between songs to maintain momentum without abrupt changes.
  4. Pre-made Options: If creating a playlist seems daunting, consider pre-made mixes or services like Fit Radio or Rock My Run, which offer curated workout playlists. Spotify is also a popular choice among fitness enthusiasts for its wide range of high-energy tracks suitable for workout classes.
  5. Final Checks: Before using your playlist in a workout, listen to it in its entirety to ensure it flows well and maintains the desired intensity throughout. Adjust as necessary to keep the energy consistent from start to finish.

By following these steps and selecting music that not only matches the workout’s intensity but also carries positive associations, you can maximise your motivation and performance during high-intensity workouts.

Choosing Music for Endurance Training

Man in Gray Jacket Doing Push-Ups During Sunrise
Man in Gray Jacket Doing Push-Ups During Sunrise

For endurance training, selecting the right music can be a game-changer in improving performance and enhancing the overall exercise experience. Here are some insights based on scientific studies:

  • Influence of Genre and Tempo:
    • Classical music has been shown to improve endurance by up to 15%, making it an excellent choice for longer workouts.
    • Fast-paced genres like rap and hip-hop are not only motivational but also encourage harder work, particularly during running or cycling activities. These genres typically fall within the optimal BPM range for workout music, between 65 and 75 BPM, aligning well with endurance training needs.
  • Benefits of High-Tempo Music:
    • High-tempo music, beyond its ability to motivate, has been scientifically proven to increase the benefits of exercise. Participants listening to high-tempo tracks reported the highest heart rates with the lowest perceived exertion during endurance exercises, suggesting that such music can make challenging workouts feel more manageable.
    • This effect is particularly pronounced in endurance exercises, where high-tempo music significantly reduces perceived effort and enhances performance, making it a strategic choice for those looking to optimise their endurance training sessions.
  • Matching BPM with Exercise Type:
    • For steady-state cardio exercises like jogging, selecting music within the 120 to 140 BPM range can synchronise well with the activity, helping to maintain a consistent pace and improve overall endurance.
    • It’s crucial to match the timing of the music (BPM) with your heart rate to maximise the benefits and ensure the music supports your workout goals.

These insights underscore the importance of carefully selecting music that not only matches the intensity of the endurance training but also aligns with personal preferences to maximise workout benefits and enjoyment.

Music for Yoga and Low-Intensity Workouts

Photo Of Women Stretching Together
Photo Of Women Stretching Together

Incorporating the right music into yoga and low-intensity workouts can significantly enhance the experience by promoting relaxation and focus. Here’s how to curate the perfect playlist:

  • Genres and Artists:
    • For a serene and focused session, include genres like Classical, New Age, Ambient, and Instrumental.
    • Artists such as Mozart, Beethoven, Enya, Brian Eno, and Max Richter are recommended for their calming compositions. Notable tracks include “Piano Concerto No. 21, Andante” by Mozart and “Orinoco Flow” by Enya.
  • Playlist Benefits:
    • A well-curated playlist can lead to enhanced focus, reduced stress and anxiety, improved mood, and increased mindfulness during yoga or low-intensity exercises.
    • Recommended activities for these playlists include yoga sessions, Pilates, Tai Chi, stretching routines, and meditation.
  • Choosing the Right Tempo:
    • For activities like yoga and pilates, music with 60 to 90 BPM is ideal, providing a calm rhythm that complements the exercises.
    • For more dynamic sessions such as power yoga, opt for music within the 100 to 140 BPM range to match the increased intensity.

Remember, the key to a beneficial yoga or low-intensity workout session lies in selecting music that not only aligns with the activity’s pace but also resonates on a personal level, enhancing the overall experience.

The Impact of Lyrics and Melody on Workout Performance

Exploring the nuanced effects of lyrics and melody on workout performance reveals the intricate relationship between music and physical activity. The impact of these musical elements can vary, influencing motivation, perceived exertion, and even the physical aspects of exercise, such as cadence and endurance.

  • Lyrics and Perceived Exertion: A study involving 23 non-athletic students demonstrated that music with lyrics significantly reduced perceived exertion during treadmill running compared to exercising without music. However, another study noted that while lyrics did not affect perceived exertion or heart rate during submaximal cycling, they influenced cycling cadence towards the end of exercise. This suggests that lyrics might play a role in sustaining or enhancing physical performance as workouts progress.
  • Motivation and Arousal: Across various studies, music, irrespective of the presence of lyrics, has been consistently linked to higher motivation, affect, and arousal levels compared to no music conditions. For instance, a study with 30 participants found that music led to enhanced motivation and arousal, underscoring music’s capacity to elevate mood and make exercising feel more enjoyable and less strenuous.
  • Lyrics as a Motivational Tool: Songs with a steady beat and inspiring lyrics can help maintain focus and power through challenging workouts, particularly in strength training. The right motivational or lyrically uplifting songs can serve as a significant psychological boost, enhancing workout performance by increasing stamina and mood. This aligns with the broader understanding that music, through its tempo, rhythm, and emotional evocation, can significantly augment exercise experiences.

Personalising Your Workout Music for Maximum Benefit

Personalising your workout music can significantly enhance your exercise experience by aligning your playlist with your workout’s intensity and your personal preferences. Here’s how to tailor your music for maximum benefit:

  • Identify Your Workout Style and Preferences:
    • Determine whether your routine is high-intensity, endurance-focused, or low-intensity.
    • Select genres you enjoy; popular choices include pop for cardio, rock and hip-hop for weightlifting, and soft instrumentals for yoga.
  • Optimise Playlist Tempo:
    • Use a BPM (beats per minute) that matches your exercise type: 130–170 BPM for Zumba, 130–150 BPM for weightlifting, and 60–90 BPM for yoga.
    • The American Council on Exercise suggests a 120–140 BPM range to maintain movement coordination.
  • Playlist Structure:
    • Start with high-energy tracks for warm-up, peak with your most intense songs, and gradually decrease the tempo for cool-down.
    • Regularly update your playlist to include a mix of favourite tracks and new finds to keep it engaging.

By following these steps and adjusting your playlist to fit your exercise style, tempo, and personal music preferences, you can create a motivational soundtrack that enhances your workout experience.


Throughout the exploration of music’s profound impact on physical activity, it’s clear that the right tunes can significantly boost workout motivation, performance, and enjoyment. The science behind exercise and music reveals a synergetic relationship that enhances endurance, reduces perceived exertion, and encourages psychological well-being, making music an invaluable companion for any fitness journey. By carefully selecting and personalising playlists to match workout intensity and individual preference, exercisers can optimise their sessions, transforming routine exercises into more engaging and effective experiences.

The implications of matching music tempo with exercise types extend beyond immediate workout benefits, suggesting avenues for further research into personalised fitness strategies and psychological motivation techniques. As exercisers and fitness professionals continue to harness the power of music, the potential for improved physical health and mental wellness appears boundless. Ultimately, the fusion of music and movement offers a dynamic approach to fitness that promises both immediate satisfaction and long-term benefits.

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