How to create a playlist for a workout class + a barre class playlist
All about music! How to create a playlist for a workout class and a barre class playlist for you! This is an overview of all my tips and tricks.
Hello, my friends! Welcome to the blog today. Now, this post is not for everyone, but for those of you who need it … I hope you enjoy. And if you’re not in the business of creating playlists, scroll on down for a sample barre playlist that you can grab to complement your next workout, walk or chore-crushing session at home.
As a fitness instructor of freestyle programs, I spend a lot of time creating playlists and sourcing music. I’ve learned a lot of tips and tricks over the years, especially in the last several months when I’ve been teaching three different freestyle formats a week that all require a different type of playlist. I spend a lot of time on Spotify.
Disclaimer: Before we begin, yes, there are music licensing rules and laws. It’s up to you to make sure you are following those rules when creating, sharing and playing music in a public setting. Read the fine print of the platform you are using, and if you work at a fitness facility, talk to the people in charge about the music-use rules there (some facilities have license to play any music in group fitness studios, some do not). And when it comes to streaming or digital fitness, you have to be very careful, because you can’t just play any song you want, you have to check the licensing rules. The onus of use is on you as the person playing the music, so proceed with caution.
Now, let’s get to the music …
How to create a playlist for a workout class + a barre class playlist
Two things to discuss, before we get into how to create a playlist for a workout class …
First of all, if you’re just starting out at as a fitness instructor and stumbled upon this post, let’s back up. I often recommend that you get going in your teaching career with pre-choreographed programs, such as Les Mills group fitness, which is how I got started. Les Mills is the LEADER in the industry and they not only provide amazing instructor training, but they they also spend a lot of time creating the workouts and sourcing the music too, so all you have to do is deliver what they’ve created with your own special flare — that way, you wouldn’t even need to bother with creating a playlist on your own. (If you want to try some Les Mills digital workouts for free to get an idea, try the Les Mills+ streaming service for free for 30 days using my special referral link here.)
Anywho, on this point: There’s so much to think about when you are teaching and planning for classes, that it’s nice to have the music and moves chosen for you, so you can focus on the teaching. I loved teaching Les Mills, but I’m also loving teaching my own freestyle stuff these days. All of this, however, is talk for another post, and I have some links below on this topic, if you’d like to explore further. But, back to the music.
Pre-made mixes and fitness music services
Next up, let’s talk about premixed music. There are plenty of services out there that you can use to get pre-made playlists for workout classes, and these services are great, because they do the work for you. I’ve used Power Music and Click Mix in the past for teaching barre, and I know a lot of people that love Fit Radio. This is a great option if you want to find playlists with consistent beats to drive your workouts. Here’s a list of some of the more popular services doing this (but there are many more out there not listed):
I won’t dig into these too much, but these services are a great way to save time, if you aren’t sure you want to commit to creating your playlists from scratch. And if you are merely playing music in the background of a workout class, these pre-made mixes may be a perfect option for you.
Personally, for two of the programs I teach (Life Time’s signature Barbell Strength and LifeBarre), I choreograph my workout exactly to the beat, so I like to choose the exact songs. I could, technically, use a pre-made mix for my other class (Life Time’s signature Shred), but I still make my own playlist for that too. I like to spend the time to make sure the music is just how I want it, and that’s why I always create my own.
How to create a playlist for a workout class
Now for the good stuff on how to create a playlist for a workout class!
My personal favorite platform for creating workout class playlists is Spotify. I’ve been using Spotify for years and years, and because of that, I invest in a Premium account, which is only $10 a month at the time of writing this post.
With Spotify Premium, I can create as many playlists as I want, download them to use offline on my computer or phone and play these playlists without any commercials or interruptions. It’s the way to go for me. Not only do I use Spotify to create playlists for my classes, but I also create playlists for my personal life too. I love music, and I love finding good songs and listening to good songs.
Here’s how to go about creating a playlist for a workout class …
Step 1: Find the music-providing platform you’re going to use. And I recommend Spotify.
If you’re going to use Spotify, head to the site, create an account, and go ahead and get a free trial to the premium service to start. You can cancel during your trial, if you feel like Spotify isn’t working out for you. It does take a little bit of time to get used to using Spotify, but it’s certainly not hard, and it’s what most instructors use.
Step 2: Find a song that you love to start the playlist.
Every playlist begins with one song, and that’s often the hardest song to decide on. You’ll use the search tool and type in the song name and artist. Then listen to it. Does it feel good to you? Can you imagine moving to it or putting exercise moves to it? If so, grab it.
If you are in Spotify, you will right click on the song title and click “Add to New Playlist” then name your new playlist with the workout class you creating for, likely with the date as well. That’s your first track (even if this song ends up in the middle or end of your playlist). But before you’re sure the song is going to stay, you need to check the BPM, and there’s more on that in the next step.
Step 3: Research the BPM of the song.
One of the biggest downfalls of Spotify is that it does not tell you the BPM of the song. The BPM of the song, or beats per minute, is the actual tempo/pace of the beat that drives the music. This is incredibly important in fitness classes, because you are often moving to the beat of the music. You’ll want to have an idea of the BPM you’re looking for when you are creating a playlist.
- For strength sessions that move to the beat, 124-128 BPM is often ideal.
- For cardio classes that are fast-paced, 132-136 BPM is often ideal.
- I feel like the sweet spot for movement is in the 126-128 BPM range.
However, you can use ANY song with ANY BPM for a workout class, if you program the moves properly and get the vibe right. While I love to choose songs in the 126-128 BPM range, I also like to switch it up as needed.
How do you find out what the BPM of a song is? There are several free services. What I do is find the song I think I like, and if it feels like the right beat, I do a quick check in this BPM search tool. So easy!
Fun fact, you can search BPM on Spotify, and the songs that include BPM in the title are often fitness-mixed songs, and some are really good and some are really bad — but generally, songs do not list their BPM.
But Spotify, if you’re reading this, I think you know that a million fitness instructors use your service, so can’t you just add in the BPM of the songs for us? Thanks. 🙂
Step 4: Continue adding songs of various genres and going back to check the BPMs of each. Search by artist, or look for genre playlists to pull from.
Once you get that first song in there and you’re sure it’s a good one, it’s time to build. Here’s where you have to do your detective work. There are a few ways to search to find new music, and these are tailored to Spotify, but may work on other platforms.
- Search by artist — You can look up an artist and do a quick preview play of some of their top hits that you may not have thought of. Add any that seem like they would work.
- Search by genre — You can also use the POP genre or DANCE genre on Spotify to find a list of songs and sample from there. There are also top hits lists that you can pull from.
- Search by “remix” — One of the ways I like to find good songs for fitness classes is type in a song I really like with the word remix at the end, to see if there’s a dance remix that may work for my classes.
- Search by purpose — You could also try to find other playlists that people have made. For instance, you could type in “cardio dance” and see if anyone else has created a public playlist with songs they’ve found and chosen. Then, you can grab some of their songs.
When I create a playlist, I often use all of the above searches to find new songs, and I always rely on my “Recommended songs” that Spotify curates for me as well, and I’ll share a bit more on that feature a little later.
At this point, you’re finding songs, you’re checking their BPM, and you’re throwing them on that playlist. Now it’s time to fine tune and organize with the next step.
Step 5: Consider the elements of a playlist for a workout class. And work on creating a beginning, middle and an end.
A workout class consists of several parts:
- Warm-up — The music should be upbeat and welcoming, driving good energy and getting people pumped up.
- Work — The music should be vibe and tempo to match the moves.
- Peak — The music should be motivational, intense and usually fast-paced.
- Cool-down — The music should be celebratory, moving and conversational to close out.
Yes, every workout will be different, and there will be different sections, but generally, most classes have a warm-up, some work, a peak and a cool-down. You’ll need songs that match the vibe for each of those sections.
This means, you’ll want to arrange your songs so that you’re creating a good journey in the class, from the beginning to the middle to the end. This is very important to me, and I think class participants notice when you’ve put a lot of care into a playlist and it feels like a real journey.
I’m very particular about having a welcoming or moving warm-up song and closing out with a soothing cool-down song. I am not a fan of the instructor just keeping the same music going during the cool-down and slightly turning down the volume. Give us a cool-down song that matters, you know?
Step 6: Add in transitions to crossfade songs. And add in silence, as needed.
The music isn’t the only important part, but the silence is important too. I add “one-minute of silence” tracks between all of my songs in my barbell class, in order to give us time to take a break and change out our equipment. You can also add a “10-seconds of silence” track before your actual playlist begins, so you have time to hit play and then get to where you plan to stand to begin teaching the class. The breaks are important, and you can take breaks while music is playing or use silence — your choice.
Next up, you need to think about transitions — and this is how one song turns into the next. If you are using a continuous playlist, you want the songs to flow together without silence or breaks. That’s why I like Spotify, because it does it for you, if you select it.
To add transitions to your playlist in Spotify, go to Spotify >> Your profile >> Settings >> Scroll down to Playback and choose Crossfade. I like an 8-second crossfade to blend my music, but that amount of time is up to you.
Step 7: Listen to your playlist, choreograph and program your moves. And practice with the music.
I feel like this goes without saying, but make sure you listen to your playlist in its entirety before you debut it to a class. You need to know whether a song gets weird, whether your crossfade works, whether the moves work with the music and all of that. This is all part of your general class preparation, and this step can’t be missed.
Step 8: Download your playlist to your device so you can access it offline. And have a backup device on the ready for every class.
This is another reason I love Spotify, because you can download the playlist to keep locally. That way, if for some reason you lose WiFi or connection, your music will keep playing. I download all of my playlists on my computer AND my phone to have a backup before every class. And yes, I do recommend always have a backup music device, because you never know what can happen.
And there you have it! You officially have a playlist for your workout class.
Things to consider when making playlists for workout classes …
There are a few things you should keep in mind when you create a playlist for a workout class …
Use a variety of music genres. Even if you have a personal favorite genre of music, it’s best to try to fit in a few different ones in your playlists. Likely, your participants are diverse, so they will want to hear more than one type of music. I often include pop, dance, latin, rock and maybe even country in the same playlist.
Use both old and new songs. Here’s the real raw truth: Even though people like to discover new and fun music they haven’t heard, people LOVE to hear the stuff they know. That’s why, I always include a couple of older songs with new songs and with less popular songs that are still good ones. Even if you spend weeks trying to make the coolest playlist ever, it will go over better if people can latch onto a couple of songs as ones they’ve heard before.
On the other hand, try creating a themed class with themed music every once in a while. I recently taught a barre event that featured all power female artists, and that was fun to create. Sometimes you can feature an artist or a single genre, and title the class in that way. But I wouldn’t make every class a theme, because then the themes lose their luster.
Create playlists for before and after class, in addition to the workout playlist. I love to have a “Before Class” playlist and an “After Class” playlist to use in the group fitness room upon arrival and departure, because a silent room is not welcoming or celebratory, you know? This is different in yoga, but I find that most of the time music makes the environment much better.
Use the “Recommended songs” feature on Spotify to easily create new playlists with similar songs you may not know of. I know I keep mentioning Spotify, but that’s because it’s really the best platform out there. And once you create a playlist for a class, you are immediately given the “Recommended songs” feature, which will fall just below your playlist on the screen in Spotify. This is a place to find songs that are not on your current playlist, but are similar, so you can identify new artists and grab those recommended songs for a future playlist. This is one of my biggest tips for creating playlists with Spotify.
Listen to music whenever you can to get inspiration. I am constantly listening to Sirius radio in the car to find new songs. I listen to the pop station and EDM station, and when I hear something I like, I take a picture of the screen in my car with the song title. I keep these photos, and then eventually add those songs to a “Future Playlist” on Spotify, so I can pull from them as needed. I also like songs on Spotify all the time, so they are saved in my liked area.
Find fitness instructors or deejays to follow on Spotify or Instagram. Yes, you can find people as your inspiration for playlists, and you can follow people on Spotify and see what they are adding to their playlists. You can even see the songs people are using in their reels on Instagram and find those songs to add to your playlists. You are welcome to find me on Spotify and use anything I’ve created, my name is @ashleypitt on Spotify.
Make your profile public and share your playlists with your class. If you class members loved your music, they can follow you on Spotify or you can send them a link to your exact playlist. This is a great way to build connection and community with those who work out with you.
And there you have it!
Creating playlists for workout classes can be a total labor of love, because it takes a lot of time and thought. But you definitely get more efficient at it the longer you do it, and you start to have more of a library to pull from as well. I can create a playlist in a few hours now, when it used to take me days. I know that seems dramatic, but that’s the truth. And also, I always make the playlist before I make the moves.
Now, would you like to see one of my finished products?
A barre class playlist
As promised, here I’m sharing a playlist I made for a 57-minute barre class. This includes warming up, a cardio burst, upper-body, lower-body, full-body work, another cardio burst, some work with sliders, mat work and a cool-down. I loved this playlist, and I got a lot of good feedback on it, so I hope you enjoy it. You’ll see there’s a mixture of old and new songs, a mixture of genres and a mixture of BPMs too.
And here’s another great playlist: The best barre class playlist I’ve made lately (for your next workout).
Hope you enjoy!
And that concludes this super-long post on how to create a playlist for a workout class. If you have any follow-up questions on this process or on being a group fitness instructor, please leave them in the comments. Also, follow me on Instagram for more! And thank you for being here today to read.
Other posts you may like …
- What I’ve learned from teaching group fitness for 12 years
- How to become a Les Mills group fitness instructor (and how to prepare for training)
- What you should know about teaching pre-choreographed vs. freestyle group fitness
- How to show appreciation to your favorite group fitness instructors
- Friendly reminder: Six ways to be a polite group fitness participant
- What are the benefits of a studio vs. a big box gym environment
Questions of the day
Are you a music lover?
What’s your favorite genre of music?
What’s your favorite way to work out?
Not a group fitness instructor (though I’ve thought about it for years!) but this was still really interesting to me! Thanks for sharing all of this. It’s fascinating to see behind the scenes!
Hi Sarah! That makes me so happy to hear. Also, if you’ve thought about becoming an instructor for years, I think you should go for it! If you’re currently taking classes somewhere, maybe you can inquire there? 🙂 Happy Monday, and have an awesome week!
I probably will someday! The last two fitness studios I have been involved with asked me to consider becoming an instructor and I just couldn’t justify paying for the costs of training for the training model, childcare, and time I’d have to spend planning classes etc with a hobby. When my kids are bigger and can watch themselves, I would love to!
Hi Sarah! I totally get that! It’s a huge time investment — but also could really be worth it if you think it’s something you’d enjoy. Hope you get to give it a go one day in the future. 🙂 Thanks again for reading!
Also, maybe you can find a studio with kid care??? 🙂 It’s my life saver!