These running playlists will make your speedwork feel easier

Anyone seeking to run faster needs to do high-intensity interval sessions as part of their routine. These workouts require you to get out of your comfort zone and work closer to your limits, which leads some runners to avoid the unpleasantness altogether. But new research suggests that using a bespoke playlist during high-intensity interval sessions can help create a more pleasant experience overall. ‘High-intensity interval sessions [HIIT] usually don’t feel good, but you can counter this by selecting appropriate music during recovery periods,’ says lead study author Dr Leighton Jones, lecturer in Exercise Psychology at Sheffield Hallam University. ‘If you can make HIIT sessions more enjoyable, you’re more likely to keep them going in the future.’ Here’s how to pick your playlist to do it.

Tempo running

In the study, researchers investigated the psychophysiological effects of music on 13 well-trained, male, middle-distance runners doing intense interval workouts.

The athletes did three exercise sessions on treadmills, each consisting of five x five-minute bouts of high-intensity running, with three-minute recoveries in between. During the recovery periods they listened on headphones to either pleasure-enhancing music with a slow tempo (55-65 beats per minute), fast tempo (125-135bpm) or no music, and were measured for a range of psychological and physiological markers during the exercise and recovery. The researchers found that fast-tempo music enhanced the pleasure experienced in all of the recovery periods, compared with slow tempo music and no music, thereby making the training sessions feel more tolerable.

Jones has this advice: ‘Use fast-tempo tracks (125-135bpm) during HIIT respite [recovery] periods as this maintains arousal levels, helps you feel good, and ensures that you’re ready to go again.’ These are the fast tempo songs that were used in the study:

ARTIST TRACK BPM
The Rolling Stones Satisfaction 136
Arctic Monkeys Old Yellow Bricks 135
The Black Keys Fever 128
Haddaway What Is Love 124
Kiesza Hideaway 123

Recovery rhythm

Jones says music can also play an important role in bridging the transition period from exercise to non-exercise. ‘We can use music to bring us down gradually,’ he explains.

‘There are psychological and physiological benefits, with evidence suggesting we can alter our breathing rate, and subsequently our heart rate, in line with a piece of music. To help this we need tracks with an obvious beat.’

After an intense session, he recommends a series of tracks descending in tempo – eg from 110bpm to 60bpm. Those tracks should have an obvious beat your breathing can match. Here’s an example of a playlist that work for this.

ARTIST TRACK BPM
Kanye West Fade 106
Christine and the Queens Tilted 100
Coldplay Hymn for the Weekend 90
Beyonce All Night 68
London Grammar Rooting for You 58

The music used during the recovery periods of an interval session (respite music) should have a different tempo from that used after the session.

‘Once your breathing rate has dropped (in line with the tempo of the tracks) you can introduce recuperative music, aiming to leave you refreshed. An obvious beat is less important at this stage, as your breathing rate has settled down.’

Finally, consider how the track makes you feel and select songs that make you feel good.