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The Ultimate Workout Playlist

It’s truly summertime now, and everyone’s trying to obtain that beach body they failed to sculpt over the spring. Joggers and runners and group yoga classes have left the Equinoxes they presumably hibernate in throughout winter and are out in the streets and parks. Last month — during the raging heights of wedding season — I looked at what songs people played at their wedding receptions. So, now we arrive at this question: What’s the ultimate workout playlist?

Rather than crowdsourcing this like I did for the wedding playlist, I went right to the source: the streaming music service Spotify. Eliot Van Buskirk, who writes about Spotify’s data on the company’s blog, and Spotify programmer Paul Lamere, sent me a data set of playlists with “workout” in the title. I narrowed that down to playlists with at least an hour’s worth of music (to eliminate half-finished playlists with only a few songs) and playlists that saw at least one play per week by its creator (I wanted to exclude people like me — you know, the kind of guy that has made a workout playlist but hasn’t seen the inside of a gym since Pokemon Red).

Here’s the list of songs with the most appearances:

SONG ARTIST INCLUSIONS
1 Panda Desiigner 5,776
2 ‘Till I Collapse Eminem 5,110
3 One Dance Drake 4,954
4 Jumpman Drake 4,346
5 Power Kanye West 3,921
6 Lose Yourself – Soundtrack Version Eminem 3,909
7 Don’t Let Me Down The Chainsmokers 3,810
8 Stronger Kanye West 3,771
9 Work Rihanna 3,748
10 I Took a Pill in Ibiza – Seeb Remix Mike Posner 3,680
11 This Is What You Came For Calvin Harris 3,653
12 Work From Home Fifth Harmony 3,531
13 Remember the Name (feat. Styles Of Beyond) Fort Minor 3,451
14 Ni**as in Paris JAY Z 3,377
15 Me, Myself & I G-Eazy 3,054
16 Back to Back Drake 3,032
17 My House Flo Rida 2,983
18 Sorry Justin Bieber 2,918
19 Black Skinhead Kanye West 2,895
20 Trap Queen Fetty Wap 2,801
The ultimate workout playlist

Source: spotify

That’s a rather solid list. It’s filled with high-energy hip-hop and pop, which is pretty much what I expected we’d see. No foul intended towards, say, indie rock, but I would have been shocked if Neutral Milk Hotel made the cut. Kanye’s “Stronger” is such a good workout song it almost makes me want to exercise. Eminem is an ex officio presence based on decades as a go-to artist to pump iron to — “Lose Yourself” does for workout scenes in movies the same thing that “Jingle Bells” does for movies set around the holidays. And I would have been appalled had “Remember the Name” by Fort Minor not shown up in the top tier.

Down the list further, in 32nd place, is DMX’s “X Gon Give It To Ya,” which is the correct answer to “what is the best song on your workout playlist?”

When it comes to artist presence, the list skews towards popular rap and pop artists with high energy material:

ARTIST APPEARANCES
1 Drake 58,938
2 Kanye West 40,388
3 Eminem 34,330
4 JAY Z 24,632
5 Rihanna 19,582
6 Calvin Harris 17,796
7 Lil Wayne 16,823
8 Future 15,647
9 David Guetta 14,707
10 Flo Rida 13,437
11 Linkin Park 13,279
12 Wiz Khalifa 12,601
13 G-Eazy 12,351
14 Beyoncé 12,034
15 Major Lazer 12,033
Most commonly appearing artists in Spotify workout playlists

Source: spotify

Drake’s spot at the top is a total enigma to me, but appearances from Linkin Park, Kanye West and Lil Wayne make sense.

But many of these songs show up on a lot of workout playlists simply because they’re super popular songs — they show up on all types of playlists. What songs most disproportionately appear on workout playlists given their overall popularity on the Spotify service? Spotify also pulled the raw overall popularity of tracks on their service, and I was able to use that to figure out the songs that punched above their weight.1

SONG ARTIST
1 In My Room (feat. Ty Dolla $ign & Tyga) Yellow Claw
2 Bet You Can’t Do It Like Me DLOW
3 Mmm Yeah Austin Mahone
4 Revolution (feat. Faustix, Imanos & Kai) Diplo
5 Catch Me (feat. Naaz) Yellow Claw
6 Till I’m Gone – feat. Wiz Khalifa Tinie Tempah
7 Make It Rain Fat Joe
8 Hail Mary 2Pac
9 Yeah Ya Know [TAKERS] T.I.
10 The Beast Tech N9ne
11 Riot Maker Tech N9ne
12 Never Scared – The Takeover Remix – Club Mix Bone Crusher
13 We Outchea Ace Hood
14 Outta Your Mind Lil Jon
15 S.A.X. Laidback Luke
16 Rock Star Chamillionaire
17 Red Nation The Game
18 Boy Oh Boy Diplo
19 Higher Just Blaze and Baauer
20 Let’s Go – edited Trick Daddy feat. Big D & Twista
The songs most disproportionately on workout playlists

Source: spotify

The above table includes all genres, but the most disproportionately exercise-worthy rock songs, if that’s more your speed, come down past that top 20. There’s “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys at No. 33 and a whole bunch of Metallica — “Ride the Lightning” (No. 26), “For Whom The Bell Tolls” (No. 29) and “Seek & Destroy” (No. 38).

There’s also the question of what makes a song good for working out to. What do the popular workout songs have in common?

Here’s one thing I found: Beats per minute (BPM), not surprisingly, has quite a bit to do with what makes a workout song a workout song. There’s a reason we do not see a bunch of plaintive ballads on workout playlists. For a song to do its job, you ideally want it to keep you moving.

Indeed, apparently you want it to keep you moving to the tempo of about 130 BPM. Spotify has data on song tempo, and — with some additional help from Van Buskirk — I was able to put together the most common observed tempos for the music in the set.

hickey-workout-1

So what does that mean for you? Popular songs that people workout to at about 130 bpm include “Black Skinhead” by Kanye West, “Hotline Bling” by Drake, “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon, “Bitch Better Have My Money” by Rihanna, “Run the World” by Beyonce, “Timber” by Pitbull, “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC, “Work Bitch” by Britney Spears and, naturally, the best song ever, “Danza Kuduro” by Don Omar. If you want to hit the perfect workout tempo, that’s probably the best place to start.

Here are the top 200 most commonly appearing songs on workout playlists:



Footnotes

  1. I dropped out any song in the bottom 20 percent of overall popularity, as given their low listening rate overall even a couple inclusions on workout playlists could have propelled an unpopular song to the top of the list. Apparently a few of you listen to “If You Leave Me Now” by Chicago while working out. This does not mean that “If You Leave Me Now” is a particularly good workout song.

Walt Hickey is FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.

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