How To Craft the Perfect Workout Playlist, According to a Music Therapist

Image of african american sportswoman doing exercise on sports ground
A song's pace is a crucial detail when curating a workout playlist.
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Board-certified music therapist and Brooks Rehabilitation Music Therapy Program Coordinator, Danielle Porter, MM, MT-BC, provided tips for creating a playlist for general wellness and exercise that includes a warm-up and cool-down section.

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According to Porter, music therapy collectively utilizes patient-preferred music, as patient-preferred music engages and motivates the patient, and more brain activation occurs with preferred music versus non-preferred music. Porter says that a song's pace, or BPM, is another crucial detail when curating a workout playlist.

“Our brains respond to rhythm by processing it through the auditory cortex and other neurologic systems tell our bodies to move with the beat,” said Porter. “The whole process is incredibly intrinsic, especially because walking is already a rhythmic task and because our brains have a feed-forward process, meaning they can anticipate the beat once an external stimulus is presented.”

When creating a playlist, Porter recommends starting with a warm-up at a slower BPM with each song gradually increasing in BPM until clients reach the target heart rate BPM. Clients should add their favorite songs and make the length of the playlist the length of the workout

Porter recommends clients gradually increase the BPM with each song until they reach their target heart rate BPM. Include songs at this BPM for the endurance portion of the workout, Finally, add songs with a decreasing BPM for the warm-down section.

“If working on endurance, an individual can work out with songs at that target BPM for 20 minutes, for example. Then, as they begin to warm down, they can select songs with lesser BPM,” said Porter.

Listen through the playlist and make any necessary adjustments to ensure a smooth transition between songs and a consistent progression towards goals.

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