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Music is a powerful tool for an effective workout, a fact that scientists have studied since 1911, when it was found that bicyclists pedaled faster with the musical accompaniment of a band. A (much) more recent study found that treadmill runners had 15% more endurance with motivational music, versus running in silence. In fitness classes, race events, and personal workouts, most of us utilize the motivational power of music to keep a consistent pace, coordinate with others, and better enjoy our time in the “red zone”.
According to a review published in International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, the motivational power of music lies in four important factors: rhythm response, musicality, cultural impact, and association. Since three of these categories can be highly subjective, this post will focus on the one that’s relatively simple to calculate: rhythm response.
Rhythm response refers to the pacing of the beat, which has a direct correlation to heart rate when it comes to helping athletes keep pace and keep motivated. 60-100 beats per minute (BPM) is the average resting rate for healthy adults. While working out, individuals experience heart rates that can go as high as 200 BPM.
That being said, it’s important to note that heart rate can differ greatly from one person to another, and determining your ideal heart rate for a warm-up, fat-burning workout, or endurance-building drills is a matter of individual calculation. However, general estimates place a “moderate” exercise level (ideal for aerobic fitness and burning fat) at 130-150 BPM. What’s fascinating is that the majority of popular songs fall within that range, since people gravitate towards beats that pump them up.
To get you started on your ideal playlist for a workout, here are some of the most popular songs today, categorized into their BPM and exertion levels.
Maximum: 170-200 BPM
90-100% exertion: Helps athletes develop better speed (only for fit athletes)
Bobo - J Balvin (179 BPM)
Fight Song - Rachel Platten (176 BPM)
Famous - Kanye West (174 BPM)
Hard: 150-170 BPM
80-90% exertion: Extends maximum performance for shorter sessions
Sucker for Pain - Lil Wayne (169 BPM)
Just Like Fire - P!nk (162 BPM)
Happy - Pharrell Williams (160 BPM)
Moderate: 130-150 BPM
70-80% exertion: Improves aerobic fitness
Never Forget You - Zara Larsson (146 BPM)
Stitches - Shawn Mendes (150 BPM)
Broccoli - DRAM (146 BPM)
Light: 115-130 BPM
60-70% exertion: Improves endurance and burns fat
No Money - Galatis (126 BPM)
Cake By the Ocean - DNCE (119 BPM)
Me Too - Meghan Trainor (124 BPM)
Very Light: 90-115 BPM
50-60% exertion: Ideal for post-workout recovery
Can’t Stop the Feeling - Justin Timberlake (113 BPM)
Needed Me - Rihanna (111 BPM)
Love Yourself - Justin Bieber (98 BPM)
If you’re putting together a workout playlist, here are two resources that could be very useful:
DiegoLano.com: Sorts Spotify’s most-played tracks according to BPM, sorting them into the same categories used above, as well as genre.
SongBPM.com: Look up the BPM of any song out there.