How To Build A Motivating Workout Playlist

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June 21, 2017

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Ever found yourself pedalling to the beat of the music during a spin class? There’s no question that listening to your favourite tracks during a workout can make the session more enjoyable, but there’s also the time and place for belting out a ballad. The trick to keeping your motivation levels high is choosing a workout playlist that matches your training intensity. 

Whether it’s heavy metal during a weight lifting session or bass-pumping electro during HIIT, scientific studies have shown that listening to music while you train is more likely to put you in a better mood — it can even make you work harder! 

According to the American Council on Exercise, “people tend to enjoy exercise more [when they listen to music] because they focus less on their breathing and perceive it to be less taxing.”

If you’re on a mission to create the perfect workout playlist, look no further. Here are our best tips to help you put together a killer soundtrack for every training style.

How to choose workout songs

Your playlist should include songs you enjoy listening to, but won’t distract you from training hard.

Use these tips to select the best tracks for your workouts:

  • Choose upbeat and energising tracks that will keep you moving.

  • Listen to songs that have inspiring or motivational lyrics.

  • Select music that suits your workout style — the music you listen to during a HIIT workout might be different to the music you choose for powerbuilding.

  • Consider the beat — working out in time to the beat can help you get in your “zone” so you can make the most of your session.

Pro tip: if your favourite song doesn’t match the intensity of your workout, search for a remix with a faster beat!

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Sort your songs by beat

BPM, or beats per minute, refers to the tempo (speed) of the music. Matching your movement to the rhythm and tempo of the music can make it easier to get into your workout “zone”.

Music sites and apps like iTunes have the option to sort your songs by BPM — some sites can even speed up songs or slow them down!

The American Council on Exercise recommends a 120-140 bpm tempo to promote coordination and maintain continuous movement patterns, particularly during strength training. Choosing music that gets your adrenaline pumping can harness your motivation and help you push you past the feeling of fatigue so you can get that extra rep done!

A cardio session might require music with a higher tempo depending on your cadence (how often you take a step, or if you’re cycling, how often you turn the pedal). Runners typically have a high cadence, suiting a tempo of about 150-190bpm. For cycling or walking, 80-110bpm is a good place to start. 

A 2020 Frontiers In Psychology study on “The psychological effects of different tempo music on endurance versus high-intensity performances”found that music may be considered an important tool to stimulate people engaging in low-intensity physical exercise. It can also benefit stressful conditions and endurance and high-intensity training.

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How to build the best workout playlist

Ideally, you want the music to guide you through your training session. It should gradually build as you warm up, climax during bursts of high-intensity, and slow down as you begin your recovery.

The different stages of your workout provide an opportunity to add variety to your playlist. Follow these seven simple steps to create an organised collection of your favourite workout tunes:

1. Set your intention

The first song in your playlist should set the intention of your workout — uplifting music can be an instant mood-booster after a long day!

2. Move with your breath

Breathe deeply with the second track as your muscles begin to warm up. From this point, your playlist should begin to mirror your workout. 

3. Activate your muscles

As you begin to activate and prepare your muscles for the session, ease mindfully into each movement. 

4. Pick up the pace

Choose music that reflects the intensity of your workout — utilise the tempo and bass of faster tracks to help you switch into gear and give it everything you’ve got. 

5. Maintain momentum

The final stages of your workout can be tough, so varying the tempo of your songs as you near the end can help keep you motivated. Tracks that have a tempting beat and empowering lyrics can help you stay strong until the end. 

6. Finish strong

The final few “power tunes” should encourage you to push yourself out of your comfort zone and end your workout on a high note.

7. Cool down

A cool down is important to help your body recover. Allow 5-10 minutes of cool-down music while you stretch. 

Now that you know how to create your playlist, you can get started today to make tomorrow’s workout amazing! 

An important tip to remember is to make sure your playlist is longer than your workout — it’s better to run overtime than to finish your session in silence.

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Sweat workout playlists for any training style

One way you can maintain your fitness motivation is by updating your workout playlist regularly. Need inspo? Check out the Sweat trainers’ curated playlists on Apple Music and Spotify

Just tap the music icon during your workout, select your music provider and a playlist — and get ready to unleash your inner athlete.

Workout songs for strength training

If you’re doing one of Kelsey Wells’ PWR programs, you’ll probably be familiar with the structure: after a five-minute warm-up, you’ll complete two activation sets before moving on to the circuits and supersets. 

Play tracks that motivate you most during the supersets — they’ll help you power through until the end. 

Kelsey’s killer PWR playlists were created with help from the PWR Community with the best songs to help you get through each stage of the workout.

If no-equipment workouts are your thing, trainer Anissia Hughes’ playlist includes a mix of her favourite tracks to get you through her Bodyweight Strength with Anissia program.

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Workout songs for high-intensity training

Head trainer Kayla Itsines’ High Intensity with Kayla workouts include four challenging seven-minute circuits. They’re heart-pumping sessions, so you’ll need a playlist to match. 

Kayla regularly updates her Sweat playlists with energising tracks so you’ll always stay motivated and never get bored!

If you love HIIT, you’ll find Samantha Ortiz Young’s positive energy reflected in her Low Impact HIIT playlist — it will put a smile on your face and keep you moving until the very end! Or if you need a soundtrack that will help you stay focussed during explosive shadow boxing combinations, try Monica Jones’ HIIT playlist.

For more powerhouse beats, check out Sweat's HIIT playlist.

Workout songs for powerbuilding

Workouts in the BUILD program begin with warm-up sets followed by primary movements designed to prepare you for the supersets at the climax of the workout. 

Our BUILD playlist includes top tracks to help you stay focussed during every session.

Workout songs for circuit training

If you’ve tried Chontel Duncan’s FIERCE programs, you’ll know the variety-filled workouts keep you on your toes. The workouts take around 40 minutes, so you’ll need to ensure you have a longer playlist. 

Chontel’s workout playlist includes her favourite R&B and hip-hop tunes that will get you in the mood to power through your session.

Workout songs for high-intensity strength training

If you're training hard with Cass Olholm's High Intensity Strength programs, the right music can help take your workouts to the next level.

Cass’ high-energy High Intensity Strength playlist has all her favourite tracks to help boost your performance.

Workout songs for barre

Barre might be inspired by ballet, but you don’t need to be a dancer to try it — and you don’t need to listen to classical music if you’re doing Britany’s barre workouts

Britany Williams’ upbeat playlists for her Barre with Britany and High Intensity Barre with Britany programs will keep you moving, through the barre burn.

Workout songs for yoga

Yoga calls for calming tunes that guide you through your flow, relaxing your body and mind. 

You can get inspiration for your BAM workouts from the Yoga Sweat playlist, and there are also playlists available for Yoga with Ania and Yoga with Phyllicia.

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Workout songs for recovery

Your recovery sessions are the perfect opportunity to bring mindfulness into your week. They can help you recover from your previous workouts and can also help prepare you for your next one. Sweat’s Recovery playlist will help you find your zen state, or try the De-Stress Collection to calm your mind.

Workout songs for the Sweat Challenge

Want a motivation boost while you take your fitness to the next level?

These songs will give you a dose of energy on the days you need motivation the most. You can find the Sweat Challenge playlist, plus challenge program playlists from some of the Sweat trainers on Apple Music and Spotify.

Workout songs for cardio

We recommend completing cardio in addition to the resistance workouts, regardless of your Sweat program. This could include cycling, going for a steady jog, or a brisk walk

These songs are for every cardio session when you need a dose of positive power to get in your zone.

Summer Sweat playlist

If you are exercising outdoors during the warmer months, this playlist is packed full of summer classics designed to keep you feeling motivated during your low-intensity cardio (LISS) sessions. Whether you’re walking, cycling or running, it’s full of upbeat tunes that will help you break a sweat while you work out.

Sweat is about so much more than your workouts

Feel your best - inside AND out

Make the most of your workout playlists

Creating a workout playlist with songs that inspire you can set the tone for your training session, and even help you push past the fear of starting your very first workout

If you’ve never worked out before, or you’re coming back after taking a break, creating your ideal playlist could be the first step towards achieving your health and fitness goals

Have you created an awesome workout playlist? Let us know what songs you want to see next on Sweat’s playlists!

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A more empowered you starts with Sweat, and our editorial team is here to bring you the latest fitness tips, trainer recommendations, wellbeing news, nutritional advice, nourishing recipes and free workouts.

* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.


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