Extended Play: How to build a compelling playlist

Pick the right tunes to keep you running stronger for longer

Posted: 12 June 2008
by Jeff Pearlman

It's easy enough to play a song that pumps you up for a few minutes, but conceiving a playlist to propel you through an entire run is a trickier matter, especially when you're going long.

"You're building a jigsaw," says Steve Boyett, DJ for podrunner.com. "You look at [the playlist] as having a structure, almost like a suspension bridge. It arcs up to a point and down to a point. You're not running for three minutes. You want something that will help you for an hour." Here are a few suggestions for assembling your own playlists.

Warming Up

At the beginng of a workout, you need to get your muscles moving, set your pace and relax. So you want to choose upbeat songs with a steady BPM - 135 to 160 - that won't take you too high or too low.

Play Electronic dance music, such as Paul Oakenfold's Ready Steady Go. It can set your metronome without distracting you from what your body is telling you.
Skip Hard-driving garage or punk rock. You don't want your tunes to kick ass before you do.

Pushing The Pace

When you need to conjure up power, pick songs that stir up your emotions. This means opting for combative tunes like Rage Against the Machine's Killing in the Name over meeker stuff like Moby's Run On.

Play Amped-up rock or hip-hop that's fast and hard and has a fearless attitude in either its lyrics or its aggressive beat.
Skip Tunes with BPMs higher than 165. The rapid-fire rhythms can get mind-numbing after a while, so use them sparingly.

Weathering a Tough Stretch

Whether it's a steep hill or a wicked headwind, there are going to be parts of your workout where you'll need to dig deep. Uplifting music can help you summon that extra store of energy.

Play Songs with slow builds and euphoric crescendos, like U2's Where the Streets Have No Name or Coldplay's Politik. They can propel you uphill and dig you out of ruts.
Skip Repetitious electronic or trance beats. They might start to grate on you during the later miles when it takes more energy to stay fresh and motivated.

Final Stretch

At the end of a run, especially if it's long, you need to pull out all the stops to keep you legs moving - even if that means breaking out guilty pleasures like the Bee Gees or Meatloaf.

Play Whatever works for you. For some, the final push song might be a head-banger that drowns out the pain, for others a more quiet melody that helps them focus inward.
Skip Anything new. You won't be receptive to unfamiliar tracks - no one is at this point.

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Discuss this article

Enjoyed the post and some good tips.  I definitely think that finding the "right" songs can help on a run or a workout.  I have spent a lot of effort in finding songs that are inspirational and about running to keep you motivated on a run.  But getting the correct bpm is also critical.  U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" is a great song, but at 125 bpm it's too slow.  You could subconsciously find yourself slowing down to the beat of the song. I'd also suggest listening to the lyrics of the tracks you are choosing (ie. skip "Loser", "10th Avenue Freeze Out", and "Blister in the Sun").  I don't think you can ever have too much music, so in that spirit, please find over 30 hrs of carefully selected running music at: http://www.remanents.com/blog/bold-pace-music/ 

Here's a few other suggestions for your categories (w/ bpm):

Warming up:

Beautiful Day - U2 (136)

Wake up - Arcade Fire (137)

Driver's Seat - Sniff and the Tears (132)

Ali in the Jungle - The Hours (142)

Pushing the pace:

Joker and the Thief - Wolfmother (158)

The Way We Get By - Spoon (152)

Wolf Like Me - TV on the Radio (177)

Fire it Up - Modest Mouse (172)

Weathering a touch stretch:

This Year - The Mountain Goats (140)

Hey Now Now - The Cloud Room (150)

Getting Down - The Kills (150)

Final stretch:

Hey Ya! - Outkast (160)

Break on Through - Doors (185)

Lose Yourself - Eminem (172)

Happy Hour - Housemartins (185)

Posted: 03/10/2010 at 14:20

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