The science behind Spotify Ultimate Workout Playlist

Dr Costas Karageorghis, deputy head of the School of Sport and Education at Brunel University, has worked with Spotify to compile the Ultimate Fitness Workout Playlist, drawing upon his research programme into the psychological effects of music.

Through an analysis of 6.7 million workout playlists conducted by the Spotify market research team, and the application of a new theoretical model that he developed, Dr Karageorghis crafted the Playlist by considering the global popularity of contemporary tracks, along with their psycho-acoustic properties – referring to the scientific study of the perception of sound, rhythmical qualities, tempo or beats per minute (bpm), and lyrical content.

As Dr Karageorghis explains, “My research group has examined the effects of music on physical activity from many different perspectives – using experimental techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), respiratory analysis and heart rate variability to a broad range of qualitative approaches such as observations, surveys and interviews.

“One of the most important recent findings,” he continues, “is that a well-selected playlist can modulate how you feel even at relatively high exercise intensities. We came to the conclusion that, during high-intensity exercise, there is a ceiling for music-tempo preference of approximately 140 bpm.”

This conclusion has important consequences, as Dr Karageorghis outlines: “that music tempo should rise in a linear manner with exercise heart rate.”

Dr Karageorghis describes a sweet spot for music in the exercise context associated with a tempo range of 120 – 140 bpm with “good psycho-biological and information processing-related reasons for the efficacy of this narrow range.”

Well-selected music can have a positive influence on how you feel at exercise intensities that are commonly associated with negative feeling states. Dr Karageorghis explains, “This means that at the point at which your body is shouting ‘STOP’, the music has the power to lift your mood and beckon you on.”

Based on the Spotify listings, Can’t Hold Us by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Ray Dalton is the most frequently appearing track on workout playlists. This hip hop tune with a relatively fast tempo of 147 bpm, close to the sweet spot, is therefore especially suited to cardio training and very high intensity workouts, whereas Daft Punk’s summer disco hit Get Lucky, for example, with a tempo of 116 bpm, is better for warming up.

The Ultimate Playlist has been developed to accompany the various sections of a typical workout – warm up, the gradual increase of exercise intensity during cardio training, strength training, and warm down – with the music tempo matching each phase of the workout.

The Ultimate Workout Playlist



​Workout Phase

​Katy Perry Roar ​Mental Preparation
​Jason Derulo ft 2 Chainz Talk Dirty ​Stretching
​Rizzle Kicks Skip To The Good Bit ​Stretching
​Daft Punk ft Pharrel Williams Get Lucky ​Aerobic Warm Up
​Little Mix Move ​​Aerobic Warm Up
​Duke Dumont ft A*M*E Need U 100% ​Cardio Training (Low Intensity)
​Avicii You Make Me ​Cardio Training (Low Intensity)
​Viralites Feel My Rhythm ​Cardio Training (Moderate Intensity)
​Pitbull ft Ke$ha ​Timber ​Cardio Training (Low Intensity)
​Lady Gaga Applause ​Cardio Training (High Intensity)
​Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ft Ray Dalton Can’t Hold Us ​Cardio Training (Very High Intensity)
​Pharrell Williams Happy ​Cardio Training (Very High Intensity)
​Eminem ft Rihanna The Monster ​Strength Training
​John Newman Love Me Again ​Strength Training
​Groove Amada ft Stush and Red Rat Get Down ​Strength Training
​ ft Justin Bieber #thatPOWER ​Strength Training
Ellie Golding Burn Warm Down​
​Lorde ​Royals ​Warm Down



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