The best songs for HIIT

New counterintuitive research makes a case for "respite music."

The right song can enhance your workout, especially when it’s time to amp up the effort level, like during an intense HIIT routine. But researchers who study the link between exercise and music have discovered that the tracks you play in between those intensity bursts are also important.

A recent British study published in the journal Physiology and Behavior found that playing fast-tempo music (125 to 130 beats per minute or bpm) during the recovery portions of a HIIT workout was more effective than slower songs (55 to 65 bpm) in bettering athletes’ moods when preparing for the next speed interval. “We initially expected the slower tempo music would be more effective in helping recovery, but actually the fast-tempo music helped make participants feel better,” explains study author Leighton Jones, Ph.D., a lecturer in sport and exercise science at Sheffield Hallam University in the U.K.

Researchers speculate that since you’re already energized from doing the intervals, your body responds better to music that keeps you in an invigorated state. The changes were mostly psychological: The more upbeat sounds didn’t have a meaningful effect on physical measurements like heart and breath rates. However, the differences were enough for researchers to coin the term “respite music,” for the application of fast-tempo music during the rest periods of a HIIT session. (The slow-tempo music you hear during a cool down or stretch session is known as “recuperative music.”) To determine the speed of your music, listen to a track and count how many beats you hear in 30 seconds (then double it to get the bpm).

Here, four more ways app developers are utilizing bpm to help athletes go further.

spotify running

Available for Premium members only, the app finds your cadence as you run, then matches the music’s tempo to your movement. Choose from hip-hop, electro, pop, classical, and more.
Find it


Whether you’re looking to knock out some speed bursts on the bike or power up inclines on the treadmill, just pick your pace and the music will play accordingly. Choose a "Top Charts" playlist or pick your favorite genre, from country to electronica.
Find it

rock my run

The “body-driven music” feature lets you manually set the bpm or uses steps from your smartphone, watch, or other accelerometer to adjust the tempo to match your speed. Choose from pop, country, hip-hop, and more.
Find it

pace dj

This app lets you choose from popular DJ-curated playlists or create a custom one (based on music already on your phone) to match the preferred tempo of your workout.
Find it