How to Build the Best Workout Playlist

Photograph by Kikovic/ iStock.

Music can make or break a workout, but creating the perfect playlist, or re-creating a great one, can be a bit challenging. SoulCycle is renowned for its hot tracks that bump up the energy of the workout, so I talked to SoulCycle instructor Jared Lee for tips on how to build the perfect playlist.

1. What time of day is it?

If you’re an early bird ready to rock out with sunrise, do it up. (Try FKA Twigs’s “Lights On“—Rex Riot & Ouros Remix.) But it’s okay to opt for a gradual buildup if you’re a little lagged. “It always typically takes me a song or two before I’m present and coherent,” says Lee. “If I’m starting a class early in the morning, I’m going to start with something a little more mellow.” Begin with Ta-ku’s “Love again” and work up to something more energizing, says Lee.

2. What songs do you play on repeat, but don’t grow tired of?

“Other times, it’s just a song that I’m obsessed with at the moment, and I’ll build a playlist around that song.” You know those songs you consistently wiggle/jump/twerk to? String those together and press play for a high energy, feel-good workout.

3. Do you know all the words?

A former runner, Lee admits to the struggle of running up a hill without distraction. “I would take songs I knew all of the words to so it would occupy my mind and take me somewhere else so I could continue with the workout.” Incorporate some of those Top 40 favorites to drown out pain, boredom, and huffing-puffing sounds.

4. What is your workout going to look like?

“Try to find songs that will match the elements of the ride—like a jog, or a hill where there’s heavy resistance, or a sprint,” says Lee, referring specifcally to his cycling routines. But the same applies to a run or a HIIT workout. Find something faster paced for high-intensity movements, then lower the tempo a bit to jog in place during recovery. “Last week I was using ‘Hells Bells’ by AC/DC for my hill song. The tone and the energy of the song are going to make you want to dig in a little bit harder.”

5. Do you frequent SoundCloud?

“I like to buy all of my music if I can, but I encourage people to go on SoundCloud a lot. If there’s a song that you like but you’re getting bored with it, you can find a version of it that someone has remixed. It can kind of breathe new life into that song or take it in a new direction for you,” says Lee.

6. What are your workout goals today?

For a harder workout, aim for more beats per minute or a longer song. Try a four-minute remix instead of a three-minute radio edit. Be sure to consider the length of your workout as well.

“We also have another version of the class called SoulSurvivor, which is an hour long,” Lee says. SoulCycle is 45 minutes. “If you were to fill that SoulSurvivor class with really short songs, it would probably make that workout seem absolutely miserable.” Longer songs break up a lengthier workout into fewer segments, making it go by faster.

7. Do you hit a plateau during your workout?

“I think people get in their head that all the songs have to blend perfectly together, and that can also be a trap,” says Lee. Throw in some AC/DC, for example, when you’re playlist weighs heavy on the electronica. You want to be able to distinguish between songs to keep you alert and engaged, says Lee. Try Lee’s playlist below to get started.