Thursday, August 6, 2009

Motivational exercise music

Your playlist can make or break your workout. You always have a little more spring in your step when there's a great tune playing on your iPod. By the same token, anyone who has ever been trapped in a cycling class with an instructor who's got a penchant for the Crash Test Dummies knows just how challenging it can be to get your heart rate up when you're listening to music that's a complete downer.

Unless you are incredibly rhythm-challenged, you unconsciously are going to sync up your movements with the beat of the music. Therefore, it's important to pick music that has an appropriate tempo. For running, conventional wisdom is that 140-160 bpm is good. For cycling a little slower is recommended. For hill climbs I tend to pick something slower with a strong bass line, such as "Seven Nation Army" by the White Stripes. For sprints, Devo's "Whip It" is always a good choice.

Naturally, you also need to pick music you like. I personally am not a fan of the Black-Eyed Peas. For that reason, no matter how many times people tell me "Boom Boom Pow" is a great cardio song, you will never hear me play it in class. If a song makes you want to stick a fork in your eye it's demotivational even if the bpm is perfect.

Context can be everything. Normally I would never play Bruce Springsteen's "The River" during a cycling class even during the cool-down phase, because while it's a great song it's also depressing as heck. But I do trot it out every so often as part of my special "Wedding Reception From Hell" playlist that I use whenever I know someone in the class is planning a wedding or celebrating an anniversary :) (Also included on that playlist: "White Wedding" by Billy Idol (duh!), "Band of Gold" by Frieda Payne, "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor, "I Kissed a Girl" by Jill Sobule, and more in that vein.)

If you're doing resistance training or flexibility work you can pretty much listen to anything you like. I've benched to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and Beethoven's Ninth, and both work great. Heavy metal and 80's hair bands seem to be a more typical choice among lifters, but I personally need to stay away from anything that reminds me of Spinal Tap because then I start to laugh and my form goes all to heck. That's just me, though.

I generally don't listen to music when I'm doing ballistic kettlebell work because I find I let the beat of the music rather than the laws of physics dictate my cadence. I'm in the minority here, though. Most kettlebellers prefer to listen to music during their workouts. I recommend trying it both ways to see which works better for you.

If you'd like a specific example of a cardio playlist on which I've gotten good feedback from my cycling classes, here you go:

The Killing Moon 5:50 Echo & The Bunnymen
December 4:45 Collective Soul
Blue Monday 7:24 New Order
The Boys of Summer 4:18 The Ataris
It's My Life 3:46 No Doubt
Shadowplay 4:07 The Killers
No You Girls 3:40 Franz Ferdinand
Rebel Rebel 4:32 David Bowie
I Predict A Riot 3:53 Kaiser Chiefs
Long Road to Ruin 3:45 Foo Fighters
Somebody Told Me 3:18 The Killers
Do You Want to 3:35 Franz Ferdinand
Last Nite 3:13 The Strokes
Dancing With Myself 4:50 Billy Idol
Under the Milky Way 4:58 The Church
Unchained Melody 4:54 U2

It's about an hour long, and gets progressively faster until the final two songs, which are good for cooling down and stretching. Although it's a spinning playlist it also works pretty well for running.

What music do you like for cardio? resistance training? Stretching? Let me know in the comments section, because I'm always looking for new ideas.