Gym motivation songs: How to select the perfect workout playlist

Picking the right gym motivation songs is an essential skill for a sweaty 2022. Here's why

Man on his way to the gym, listening to gym motivation songs
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If your 2022 fitness routine has started off a little sluggishly, some gym motivation songs might be just what you need. You don't have to be going to the gym to take advantage of a top-tier workout playlist: you could be going for a run, for example, or putting yourself through a boot-camp circuit outdoors, or even just a motivating piece of music to soundtrack a brisk walk. 

There's stacks of research out there on why music works so well at getting you pumped up to work out, and we'll detail that below – as well as how to pick your playlist. But you also need a great way to experience your favorite exercise soundtrack. Our best workout earbuds guide can help with that, as they're sweat-proof, comfortable and stay fitted securely in your ear, essential especially for frantic HIIT workouts. 

Why gym motivation songs help with working out

Gym motivation songs are more than motivating: they can actually transform exercise from a gruelling chore into a pleasant experience. There's a lot to be said for sticking on your favorite tunes – or even a podcast – to help time fly during a long walk or run. 

One study, published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise, found that pumping motivational music enhanced both the affect and enjoyment of sprint interval training. While the study's participants believed they expended the same amount of energy whether listening to music or not, heart rate and peak power were elevated during the soundtracked sessions. 

Another study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, found "music may be considered an important tool to stimulate people engaging in physical exercise", especially in HIIT exercise, where people's perceived exhaustion rate was down by almost 7%, and endurance exercise (such as running on your gym's best treadmill), where it was lowered by 11%. The research is in: motivational music is very likely to make you better at working out. 

Woman stretching after exercise outdoors

(Image credit: Avi Richards/Unsplash)

How to pick a motivational playlist

Last year, the folks at PureGym analysed over 142,000 songs, picking the 50 songs most added to gym workout playlists on Spotify and creating a playlist out of the most popular tracks. It's easy to see a common thread emerge amongst them: they're all intense, about succeeding through adversity ("Lose Yourself" and "Stronger" with a fast, thudding beat ("The Business" and "X Gon' Give It To Ya"). Check out the playlist below:  

A good gym motivation song should meet the following criteria:

  • You should like the song
  • It should be the right tempo for your workout
  • It should make you feel something

Good workout music kills boredom, reduces the perception of exertion and pain, and fits your own workout. That means whatever your chosen genre, you should pick playlists based on how fast their BPM is, or beats per minute. Too fast and you may accidentally gas out before the end of your workout, while too slow and you'll find yourself changing songs every other set. 

One study found ideal performance on the treadmill happens at around 130 BPM, so if you're looking for an intense HIIT sesh, consider upping the stakes to 150 BPM or even higher. A playlist for a relaxing yoga flow, on the other hand, should reduce the BPM down to 60 or even lower. When selecting songs for your playlist, search online for the song's BPM, taking into account the kind of exercise you like to do. 

Finally, think about how you feel when you hear the song. If there's music that inspires you to dig deeper, makes you feel uplifted (or angry, if you're lifting weights!) use that as a tool to take your workout to the next level. 

Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and is currently Fitness and Wellbeing Editor at TechRadar, covering all things exercise and nutrition on Fit&Well's tech-focused sister site. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.