Run to the Beat: Exercise & Music

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mobile-phone-iphone-music A good playlist can transform almost any workout. I have downloaded some new awesome music and routinely feel like I’m ready to run a 5km or dance the night away when I’m on the bus on the way to work. It’s about all I can do to sit still. Why does music help with our workouts so much?

This has been a growing area of research over the last few years. Music helps to distract us from the discomfort and fatigue of exercising and can help reduce our perception of effort. If you were to do the same workout with and without music, it would feel easier with music. Music can artificially elevate your heart rate a little bit but it also elevates mood, increases endurance, and can improve efficiency. For example, if you’ve ever gone to a spin class, once you’re on beat it’s fairly easy to keep a rhythm. A 2012 study found that people cycling in time to music required 7% less oxygen for a given workload than people that did not listen to music.

What makes the perfect workout song?

  • Different songs have different tempos, consider what activity you will be doing when listening to the song. Lifting weights can have a slower tempo than running or cycling.
  • Some research shows the cadence of the lyrics, the emotional state of the singer (is it a happy or sad song?), and any emotional ties or memories the listener has to the music can have an effect on how the song is perceived as well
  • Personal taste has a huge impact. What’s motivating for you might be the worst workout song ever for the person on the treadmill beside you

Humans seem to have an innate attraction to a tempo of 120bpm (2 beats a second)

A song tempo can get as high as 180bpm to run a 7-minute mile but some research shows there could be a ceiling effect around 145bpm. Some apps and technology will now match music to your workout or your heart rate.


  • RunHundred: this website sends out monthly top 10 lists of workout music. It lists the tempo beside each song. You can also purchase curated lists for reasonable prices.
  • this website will give you songs to match a given pace that you set. It has lists for walking, cycling, and running. You can sort by BPM, what’s hot, and the most added.
  • Music apps: Spotify, Google Play, Apple Music all have curated workout lists that you can listen to on the go. This is a great way to keep things fresh and it will save you time from having to curate your own lists

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