Your exercise playlist doesn’t just make training more enjoyable. It can also improve the quality of your workouts.

Recent research has shown that the use of music during exercise can yield long-term benefits through greater frequency and quality of training sessions (1).

These are the findings of sports psychologist Costas Karageorghis who has spent over two decades studying music’s ergogenic effects. He’s also published more than 150 scholarly articles on what he describes as the “legal drug” for performance enhancement.

From the research, Karageorghis and his peers specify four ways that music influences athletic performance.

1. Music Puts You in the Right Mindset

Music has the unique ability to affect the mood of the listener. Listening to the right song before a competition or during a strenuous workout can help you get in the “zone” by altering your emotional and psychological state. Athletes use this influence to help pump them up or calm their nerves prior to an event.

2. Music Distracts Your Mind

During a hard workout, music helps narrow your attention and distract you from the sensations of fatigue. Psychologists refer to this diversionary technique as dissociation.

Dissociation reduces the perception of effort by creating a positive mood state by turning thoughts away from any feelings of tiredness (2-4). For example, in a study of participants that performed a moderately intense treadmill workout, listening to music enhanced performance by decreasing the participant’s perception of effort by up to 10 percent (5, 6).

3. Music Influences Your Intensity

Rhythm is an important aspect of skill in many activities such as rowing, running, and cycling. Athletes who engage in these repetitive movement-type sports have consistently demonstrated increases in performance when listening to music (1, 7).The reason is that music with a tempo at your desired pace can push you to match that intensity, resulting in more endurance (8).

4. Music Enhances Your Mood

It’s not surprising that listening to a song you like can make you feel good. Good emotions triggered by music can increase your internal motivation helping you find more pleasure during exercise (3, 9).

According to Karageorghis, listening to music with a tempo of 120-140 beats per minute is best for boosting mood. He also suggests that better quality, more enjoyable workouts can help to motivate you to repeat them in the future.

What to Look for in an Exercise Playlist

Based on the research on music and exercise, there are five criteria to use for selecting the right tunes to help you build your workout playlist.

  1. Strong energizing rhythm
  2. Positive lyrics
  3. Rhythmic patterns well matched with your exercise of choice
  4. Uplifting melodies and harmonies
  5. Most importantly, you should enjoy it!


  1. Karageorghis CI, Priest, D.L. Music in Sport and Exercise: An Update on Research and Application. The Sport Journal. (2008). ISSN: 1543-9518
  2. Seath L., Thow M. The effect of music on the perception of effort and mood during aerobic type exercise. Physiotherapy. 1995;81:592–596.
  3. Hayakawa Y., Miki H., Takada K., Tanaka K. Effects of music on mood during bench stepping exercise.Perceptual and Motor Skills. 2000;90:307–314.
  4. Terry, P.C., & Karageorghis, C.I. (2006). Psychophysical effects of music in sport and exercise: An Update on theory, research and application. In M. Katsikitis (Ed.), Psychology bridging the Tasman: Science, culture and practice – Proceedings of the 2006 Joint Conference of the Australian Psychological Society and the New Zealand Psychological Society (pp. 415-419). Melbourne, VIC: Australian Psychological Society.
  5. Karageorghis, C. I., & Terry, P. C. (1999). Affective and psychophysical responses to asynchronous music during submaximal treadmill running. Proceedings of the 1999 European College of Sport Science Congress, Italy, 218.
  6. Szmedra, L., & Bacharach, D. W. (1998). Effect of music on perceived exertion, plasma lactate, norepinephrine and cardiovascular hemodynamics during treadmill running. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 19, 32–37.
  7. Karageorghis, C.I., Priest, D.L., Williams, L.S., Hirani, R.M., Lannon, K.M., & Bates, B.J. (2010). Ergogenic and psychological effects of synchronous music during circuit-type exercise. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 11(6), 551-559.
  8. Bacon C.J., Myers T.R, Karageorghis C.I. Effect of music-movement synchrony on exercise oxygen consumption. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2012 Aug;52(4):359-65.
  9. Altenmüller, E., & Schlaug, G. (2012). Music, brain, and health: Exploring biological foundations of music’s health effects. In R. A. R. MacDonald, G. Kreutz, & L. Mitchell (Eds.), Music, health, and wellbeing, 12-24. New York: Oxford University Press.