How to Create a Running Playlist, According to Running Coaches

Woman with earbuds on a treadmill

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Tuning into your favorite music while going for a run is a way to combine the best of both worlds. Music can pump you up and inspire you to get out the door when you may prefer to chill on the couch or do a leisurely activity instead of exercise. Listening to certain types of music can also help you meet your running goals.

"Not everyone likes to run while listening to music, but for those that do, music can bring motivation, supply a little distraction and reprieve from the monotony of a long run, and also serve as a beat to match your cadence to," says Lisa Landrum, a USATF and NFSA certified running coach from Forward Motion CLT and head coach for Around the Crown 10K.

Knowing when to listen to a playlist is key to having a good experience. Keep reading to find out what running coaches recommend when it comes to making a playlist, when to pop in your earbuds and equally important, how to stay safe while listening to tunes and running.

How a Playlist Can Benefit Your Run

Listening to music while running can have positive benefits, too. In one study, people who walked while listening to music began to match  their steps and speed to the rhythm of the music. This study highlighted how music can influence physical movements and can both activate and relax, depending on the tempo.

Sometimes listening to music also can serve as a positive distraction when you may want to give up or stop training or running. One study found that participants who did sprint interval training and listened to music had a positive perspective and attitude about exercise.

“Many of us use our runs to decompress and relax,” says Kristen Hislop, owner of Hislop Coaching and the event director of the Freihofer's Run for Women. “If you are headed to the track for intervals and aren't really in the running mindset a fun and energizing playlist can help you hit workout goals.”

Playlists can even impact your performance. In a recent study that focused on the effects of listening to music during a 6-minute run showed participants increased their distance by 10% and their speed by 14%. And participants who listened to music before their run also showed an increase in the distance covered as well as speed.

How to Put Together a Playlist

When putting together a playlist, you will want to consider the type of running you plan to do, where you’ll be running, and how you are feeling both mentally and physically. You may even want to create multiple playlists that match your different training goals.

"The tempo and BPM of a song is extremely important to consider when making a running playlist,” says Sid Baptista, a running coach and founder of Pioneers Run Crew and PYNRS Performance Streetwear. “You tend to run at the beat and the pace or tempo of the song."

You also can use a playlist to help you set your cadence. For instance, if you want to run a certain number of steps per minute, listening to music can be a good way to achieve this goal. Most experts agree that 180 is a good target cadence, but not everyone is at that pace says Hislop.

“If you count your footsteps for 1 minute and end up at 135 you don't want to try to hit 180 in the next workout,” she says. “Use songs that increase, but slowly so you might start with a couple of songs at 140 where you really focus on staying on the beat.” 

If you’re wondering what songs running coaches like to listen to, Landrum suggests songs like “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys, “Times Like These” by The Foo Fighters, and “Tell Me Baby” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

"I think the playlist needs to speak to the individual,” says Hislop. “Personally I love 'Blinding Lights' as I can easily stay on cadence to it. 'Sandstorm' is my go to for a hard and fast finish—just try to keep up! And one of my mantras is just say yes, so I love Snow Patrol's 'Just Say Yes.'” 

Other Playlist Options

  • RockMyRun is an app that collaborates with DJ’s and industry fitness experts to create running and workout playlists. 
  • is a site that offers up a variety of music and playlists for running and exercise activities. 
  • PaceDJ is an app that changes up the BPM to meet you where you are at so you can still enjoy your favorite music.

When to Use a Playlist

Deciding on whether or not you want to use a playlist will depend largely on where you are running, for how long, and what your goals are.

“The best time to use a playlist is when you are feeling unmotivated and you need that extra push to get going and keep moving and for long runs when the only goal is to log miles,” says Baptista. “Music can be helpful because it takes [your] mind away from the running and can help motivate you to power through even when you don't want to.” 

However, running coaches sometimes advise against listening to music because it can be distracting. But there are times when a distraction is exactly what is needed to get moving and motivated.

"It really depends on what the runner is looking for,” says Landrum. “Some find value in the distraction of music during a long run.”  

Another option is to listen to your breath and stay in tune with your body by focusing on your movements while running. Listening to your body allows you to modulate your effort, ensuring that you hit your training and racing pace, says Baptista. It also allows you to take in the sounds of the environment around you.

“I want to hear my body—hear my breathing and hear the rhythm of my arm carriage and footfall,” adds Randy Accetta, PhD, director of coaching education for Road Runners Club of America.

Safety Tips

Staying safe is fundamental when you are running. In fact, you want to be sure that you are not listening to music so loudly that you cannot hear what is happening around you. You want to be able to hear traffic and be cognizant of your surroundings.

"All runners need to recognize danger signals and warning sounds from vehicles, human predators, and even animals,” says Accetta. “As an example, two weeks ago I ran on an Arizona trail and came up on a rattlesnake that coiled and rattled right on the trail—without hearing the snake's warning sound, I may very well have been struck.”

If you do plan to listen to listen to music on a run, Baptista recommends wearing only one earbud or turning the music down so that you can hear what is going on. Another option is to consider the type of headphones you use. Hislop recommends Shokz headphones that sit on your cheekbones. They allow you to hear the music and still hear what is going on around you.”

A Word From Verywell

Creating a playlist can be a wonderful way to get motivated on a run or increase your cadence. Listening to music has benefits but there are safety factors to consider before popping in your headphones. Running outside requires more vigilance and care and may not always be an opportune time to tune into beats.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can a playlist boost your performance?

    The type of playlist you listen to while running can boost your performance. The beats per minute or BPM of a song can help with your running cadence, also known as the amount of steps you take per minute.

  • Does Spotify offer running playlists?

    Yes, Spotify has running playlists. You can choose from a variety of different running playlist.Some running coaches recommend tuning into a pre-created playlist for your run.

  • How do you pick songs for a run?

    Choosing songs for a run will depend on a variety of factors, including how fast or slow you want to run. Music can influence your cadence so it’s important to choose rhythms that align with your running or training goals. Selecting songs that have a beat that is similar to how many steps you take per minute is important and is also something you can increase by training with music. 

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Leman M, Moelants D, Varewyck M, Styns F, van Noorden L, Martens JP. Activating and relaxing music entrains the speed of beat synchronized walking. PLoS One. 2013 Jul 10;8(7):e67932. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067932

  2. Stork MJ, Martin Ginis KA. Listening to music during sprint interval exercise: The impact on exercise attitudes and intentions. J Sports Sci. 2017 Oct;35(19):1940-1946. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2016.1242764

  3. Jebabli N, Zouhal H, Boullosa D, et al. The effects of preferred music and its timing on performance, pacing, and psychophysiological responses during the 6‐min test. Journal of Human Kinetics. 2022;82(1):123-133. doi:10.2478/hukin-2022-0038

By Lauren David
Lauren David is a Chilean-American Freelance writer. Her work has been published in a variety of publications including Greatist, The Healthy, The Kitchn, Mindbodygreen, Reader's Digest, and more.