The best playlists to help you run faster and make your workout more fun

Race rules, headphone etiquette, and safety concerns aside many runners agree that soundtracking their session helps them perform better.

According to a 2019 study, upbeat music helps give you the motivation to tackle high-intensity workouts, such as Fartlek or interval training runs. Researchers found that when the participants listened to the upbeat, motivational music, their heart rates and peak power output were both higher than when they listened to a podcast or no audio at all. 

Research also shows that a good playlist can help make workouts feel less challenging, reduce fatigue, and increase athletic performance by affecting both heart rate and brain waves. The reason is that music activates parts of the brain that control emotions like pleasure.

Music to motivate 

Flow Athletic's Ben Lucus has clocked 40 marathons and countless fun runs. He recently curated the Beginners 10K Run playlist for Apple Music, which he says has a bit of everything - including the Foo Fighters and Taylor Swift.  

Lucus says, "the relationship between exercise and music has a vast and extensive purpose, from group fitness choreography, to training aids in specific sports, and motivation for recreational athletes.

"For runners, it often serves as a relied upon training aid. For me, running with music is my meditation. There's nothing better than an early morning run by the beach with some great tunes."

Preparing the ultimate playlist 

Selecting music for a running playlist is more involved than choosing your favourite songs or sampling some of the latest hits. In fact, Lucus says there's a science to it.

"Extensive research has explored the relationship between a runner's cadence and related injuries, and the impact music can have on this," says Lucus. 

"A lot of recreational runners sustain knee injuries due to stress and load from over striding. A 2015 study identified that faster music resulted in higher cadence, whilst slower music resulted in lower cadence. It also found that women were more sensitive to this connection between music tempo and foot stride. So if you want to pick up your pace, add songs with a faster tempo. It might even help you prevent injuries." 

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Here are some useful tips to keep in mind when choosing songs for your running playlist: 

Temper the tempo 

Most people prefer fast-paced songs when exercising. Lucus says Beats Per Minute (BPM) should be considered when making a playlist. Use songbpm.com to figure out a song's tempo.  

"Creating a playlist of songs that have a BPM of 180 has been found to influence a runners step rate to a range of 160-180spm. Too slow a track can lead to over striding, while too fast can lead to over exertion and energy depletion," says Lucus. 

He cautions on setting the tempo too fast too early. "You need time to build up your running pace. Throughout a 10km run, the psychological state of a runner can be heavily influenced by the lyrics in the songs. Starting out in an encouraging and upbeat tempo is really important to motivate a runner through that first 10 minutes while energy systems are balancing out and endorphins begin to release. 

"In the final three kilometres, music should start to increase in tempo and the lyric content is again very important as this is typically when a runner will look to walk, or be starting to deplete on the final stretch."

Move it 

Choose songs that make you want to get up and move. This is a highly subjective quality of music, but strong beats and snappy lyrics tend to work well. Check out 

Positive vibes 

The latest hits and personal favorites are good choices, especially if they are associated with  overcoming hardship. The stronger your emotional connection to music, the more motivated you'll feel. 

Playlist inspo 

If you're not up to making your own playlist, check out these running-friendly lists

Nike

Runtastic Story Running

Fitness First

Barry's Bootcamp

The high of crossing the finish line inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. Whether you're a newbie to the running scene or a seasoned athlete, Laura brings the latest running trends and gear to readers across Australia. With a day job in the corporate world and a busy toddler, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to sharpen her mind and challenge her body.

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Got a favourite track you like to turn up while running? Share it in the comments below.

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