ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Music and Exercise: Tips for Creating Your Workout Playlist

Group Fitness

Music and Exercise: Tips for Creating Your Workout Playlist

Reading Time: 4 minutes 46 seconds

By: ISSA

Date: 2021-03-12T00:00:00-05:00


Watch a group of pro athletes during a training session and you'll likely notice one commonality. They are often listening to music. They have earbuds in or headphones on. Some even use their rest periods between exercises to dance to the tunes.

While this may seem like a coincidence, research reveals that music is a critical part of an exercise routine. One reason for this is the impact it has psychologically.

The Psychological Effect of Music and Exercise

Research reveals that music serves a number of psychological purposes. According to a 2013 study, these purposes include:

  • Regulating arousal and mood

  • Achieving a higher level of self-awareness

  • Increasing social relatedness and bonding

If you think about it, all three of these factors can have a positive effect on a client's exercise session. When they're in a better mood, they may push themselves a bit harder and high arousal equates to more physical exertion. A client who is self-aware is better at recognizing their intensity and form, making adjustments as needed. And if your workout music makes them feel more socially bonded, they'll likely want to return to your class time and time again.

You've likely experienced some of these effects firsthand. A prime example is how listening to your favorite song can instantly boost your mood. When you're in a good mood, life is more enjoyable. Problems don't seem so difficult and it is easier to let annoyances roll off your back.

This type of attitude is helpful to overcoming common fitness obstacles. You develop an "I can do this!" approach to fitness. Yet, for athletes, the effect of mood is even more pronounced. This is because mood is directly related to performance.

Music Can Also Boost Performance

One 2016 study found that mood impacts exercise performance in elite athletes. In this case, Brazilian volleyball athletes were studied. Researchers noted that, when they had poor moods, their physical performance was impacted. Their brain function was reduced, which affected their decision-making processes and motor skill execution.

Another study makes a connection between music and maximal heart rate. When combining exercise and music, study participants had "statistically significant higher values of maximal heart rate" than when compared to participants not listening to music.

This study also revealed that music listeners tend to exercise longer. This helps improve endurance.

Preferred Music Based on Physical Activity

The type of music you choose to use during your client's exercise session will vary based on the exercise being performed. Tunes blaring from a weight room typically vary dramatically from songs heard in a group fitness class.

Music can also vary within a certain type of exercise. If you teach yoga, for instance, the style you offer can change your music choices. The music in a restorative yoga class will likely look very different than the music used in a more intense style of yoga, such as power yoga or vinyasa yoga. The music tempo should match the activity being performed.

Matching Your Playlist to Exercise Intensity

Another factor to consider when compiling your playlist in the intensity of the exercise. If you are teaching a high intensity exercise class, such as high intensity interval training, you want high tempo music. This keeps them motivated while fending off fatigue. A lower intensity class calls for slower music. This encourages clients to keep a rhythm that matches their impact.

It's helpful to think of music tempo as an extension of heart rate. The faster the heart rate, the faster the music. The slower the heart rate, the slower the music. So, a client who prefers running would have a different playlist than a client who engages in brisk walking.

Tempo will also vary throughout an individual exercise session. Music played during the warm-up and cool down will be slower than music played during higher intensity movements.

Additional Tips for Creating the Perfect Playlist

Finding the right tempo is only part of the music equation. It's also important to choose tunes or songs that inspire your client to improve their physical fitness. Stimulative music can reduce their feelings of fatigue. Motivational music is able to encourage clients to stick with their fitness journey (which is great for retention, by the way).

How do you create a workout playlist that does all of these things? Here are a few tips:

  • Think about the type of music that motivates you when you exercise. Incorporate these songs into your workout session. Using music you connect with increases your energy levels. This makes it easier to reach a high intensity when instructing your class.

  • Make sure the music is upbeat. Maybe you prefer songs about heartache and heartbreak because they resonate with your life path. It's best to keep these tunes on your personal playlist. Choose upbeat music for your workout class to remind your students that they can increase their fitness. Use it as a source of motivation versus reminding them of what they have lost.

  • Ask your clients what type of music they prefer. Some people like rap; others would rather listen to pop or country. If you're unsure which genre to use during the workout, ask your clients what they like to hear. The more they enjoy your music, the more they will enjoy your class.

  • Pay attention to your class's performance. When using music for the first time, pay attention to how the class responds. Does the music increase or decrease their performance? Does it increase or decrease their fatigue? This may be easier to determine during an endurance activity. However, you may also notice shifts in performance and fatigue during other activities too.

  • Check in with your clients to assess their exertion. One way to discover whether the music is helping you create the level of exertion you desire is to regularly ask your clients to rate their perceived exertion at certain points in the workout. If their perceived effort is too high, you may want to choose a slower tempo tune to get them to slow down. If it is too low, a higher tempo song can get them to increase their intensity.

A Word About Music Licensing

Before including any type of music in your class, it is imperative to get the proper licensing. Artists and music producers are protected from having their music used without their permission. Therefore, you must acquire the proper music licensing before you can play your desired songs.

If you work for a fitness facility, they may already have the necessary agreements in place. Ask to find out for sure. If you own a gym or fitness facility, you will have to acquire this yourself. The last thing you want to do is offer an aerobic exercise class that violates copyright laws.

You can also better protect yourself by learning how to provide a fun, yet safe group workout. The ISSA's Group Personal Trainer certification teaches you about anatomy, physiology, and the training effect. You also learn how to develop a complete exercise program, as well as how to price and market your class.

Featured Course

Group Personal Training

With the ISSA Group Personal Training Certification, you'll master the art of creating fun and effective class formats, whether you are leading small or large groups. Learn the magic of creating a fun class that pushes your members to success and brings an energy to the room that keeps them coming back from more. Again. And Again. And Again.

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