July 24, 2007

Workout Music: Gotta Have It?

Fortunately, there is actual research out there to support the notion that music combined with exercise is a Good Thing. Not only can the right music enhance exercise performance, but music combined with exercise can actually make you really freakin' smart for at least a little while afterwards.

Okay, the researchers didn't say "really freakin' smart." They said the combination could "stimulate and increase cognitive arousal while helping to organize cognitive output." (And warning: they were talking about Vivaldi. Check your playlist and adjust expectations accordingly).

The first study, which is a survey study and is pretty old now, is actually kind of cute. Crabby completely agrees with the author's contention that beat is more important than melody in choosing the "right" music, and that synchronizing the music with the rhythm of your footsteps or swimming strokes or whatever is an excellent idea. She questions, however, the author's contention that the song should conjure up exercise associations if at all possible--the author seems to assume these associations would naturally be pleasant and motivational! Again, you may want to check your own workout and P.E. class history and adjust accordingly.

So now that we've gotten that cursory nod to "research" out of the way, lets talk tunes!

Crabby cannot do aerobic exercise without the proper music. (More on this in a future post. She has a Theory she's going to share). So Crabby has spent hundreds of hours searching out the best downloadable tunes out there--they must be great songs that have the right beat for exercise. Would you like her to share these with you?

Well, she won't.

Why not? Is it because she's selfish and mean and wants you to do all that hard work yourself?

No. She would love for you to enjoy them too.

Is it because some of her iPod selections are so cheesy that she's embarrassed about them?

No, that's not it either. Many of them are indeed cheesy but she's not embarrassed about it.

In fact Crabby has all the best cheesy but irresistible songs, as well as the best classy songs too. Her workout music is awesome and eclectic and motivating. Great beats, great melodies, great songs! You should be so lucky as to have her playlists.

It's just that despite the excellence of her choices, you would probably hate most of them.

Isn't it weird? But one of the most powerful lessons in the complete subjectivity of personal taste (short of bringing a beloved first draft to a writing group) is listening to someone else's workout music playlist. Especially if that someone has posted it on iTunes and swears they've got the best songs in the world for working out in the world on there.

Have you ever done this? You go to iTunes and make your way to iMix and carefully searched for "cardio" or "workout" or "elliptical" to get hints from others about what to listen to. And you think because you're specifying aerobic music that the tunes will have good quick beats and motivational melodies and that they'll be, well, good songs? And then you listen to them.


Just marvel at the Complete Crap people are raving about! Way too slow, too boring, too stupid, too harsh, too soft, too insipid--it's awful, hideous, horrendous! One out of a hundred tunes you find are actually decent, and many of these are the completely wrong beat for working out to.

It seems like an odd coincidence that everything that Crabby likes is Wonderful, and others are so hopeless at choosing good music. Quite a puzzle!

So Crabby will not reveal her choices in particular, because there is a good chance you won't like them and will reveal yourself as having Bad Taste. On the other hand, she loves to hear what you folks do about music--whether it is mandatory, and what sort of things get you going. And should you happen to mention something that reveals your Excellent Taste (i.e., Crabby likes it too), who knows, she might chime in in agreement.


  1. I have a lot of belly-dancing music on my Ipod! Especially (hanging head in shame...)"Bellylicious." Lol.

  2. I must have music. Obviously in aerobics classes (especially the ones where we get to hit each other :D), music definitely helps out with the beat. My ipod died a couple weeks ago (ack ack ack!) and I spent a couple of days walking (15 minutes) to the train without music. Boring. Chore. Endlessly long. Now I have a new ipod. Everything is happy again with the world. Now I can match the rhythm of my feet to the beat of the music and the walk goes much faster and more enjoyably!

  3. All I know is, if "Eye of the Tiger" and "Gonna Fly Now" don't come on just when you need them to, your workout playlist is incomplete.

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  6. Music is key. Even for studying I find music makes things better. But for running and cardio - can't be without it...but then I've always had a walkman/ipod thingy of some sort on my head since I was a wee thing. I like upbeat bouncy music, but I'm a lover of techno and dance music, so I need music tha tkeeps me moving. If it's too slow I slow down...

    It's true about the music taste being unique from person to person. I was running my first 5K race a while back and thought I'd ask people around me for music ideas for my "run soundtrack" to keep me motivated during the run. Most of the suggestions made me cringe and smile politely while thinking "dear god you actualyy *listen* to that shite?"
    But then again, I've offered my running tracks and tunes to my friends and from the way they've politely smiled in the samme glassy eyed way I imagine they think it's just as terrible. :)
    There's my 5K run list on my run blog (http://runlikeamaniac.blogspot.com/2007/06/music-to-boogie-to.html)somewhere to give you an idea of what works for me, but when in doubt I dust off an old Prodigy CD (Fat of the Land) or Chemical Brothers CD and workout to it...Nothing works better for me...:)

  7. Anonymous,
    There is no shame in iPodland! I have not yet tried bellydancing music, but will have to check it out.

    Dead iPod? Ack ack ack indeed! Glad the new iPod has made the world all better again.

    And don't you hate it when Satan takes over the iPod and plays everything at the wrong time? Songs that are great on uphill grinds should NOT come on when you're trying to do intervals! (And yes, I believe I've got Gonna fly now too).

    I so know that glassy stare, because I keep trying to convince the Long-suffering Lobster that she should totally be loving the great tunes I download for her. (And yes for Chemical Brothers--perhaps I should check out Prodigy and the rest of your list).

  8. Eh, my workout playlist has tracks such as Weird Al's "Hardware Store" or Doraemon songs, so I doubt yours can really cause me to cringe or whatever. ;)

    Anyway, in my case, music indeeds helps a lot. And not only when it comes to working out: I also need it, if I may say, when I'm writing, to pump me up. Even when I'm cooking, I like having some music in the background. Maybe I'm just addicted!

  9. Absolutely cannot hack music while exercising. It annoys the daylights out of me. Chiefly, I think, it is because I am not co-ordinated. The music beat throws me off what I was doing and I end up in an odd twist or on the floor in a heap.
    Music for writing, thinking, and housework is important. Writing requires new age with nature sounds, thinking begs for Mozart, and ABBA can make even the dusting fun.

  10. Kery,
    Okay, I'd say having Weird Al on a playlist definitely gets you the award so far for, lets say, Most Eclectic. Don't know the hardware song, but if it's got the right beat I'd add it too!

    Could you please get your hubby to film you dusting to ABBA and put it on Youtube? I suspect it would make my day! (And yes, gulp, there is indeed some ABBA on one of my playlists).

  11. It doesn't help my tastes are supremely eclectic as well. Satan has caused light, fluffy, super-happy J-Pop sung by chirpy ladies to blare just as I needed some pounding, pulse-raising rock; serenaded me with Pachbel's Canon in D when I was already nearly falling off the treadmill; and made me laugh too much with Simpsons quotes while trying to do a chest press.

  12. oh dear.

    "It seems like an odd coincidence that everything that Crabby likes is Wonderful, and others are so hopeless at choosing good music."

    It seems like an odd coincidence that Crabby posts on this after seeing all of My workout playlist.

    Just Kiiiiding.
    No but really-this hits a little to close to home. I have searched endlessly on itunes and have never found ONE playlist where I have liked more than 30% of the songs. I call it a good day on iTunes when I find 2 or 3 songs I like.
    Anyway, I figured I'd put mine up on SS. "Finally everyone! Search no more, Katieo has found and gathered all the fantastic songs in the world to work out to!"

    I think I like more variety than most people for my workout. But Crabby, unlike you, I DO get embarrassed by some of those song selections. (I mean c'mon: Bootylicious?) I would have to say my favorite workout songs of late have been Mister Sister by the Tenderbox, Everybody got their Something by Nikka Costa. I also love some Franz Ferdinand Take Me Out (listen to the WHOLE preview), and Close to Me, by the Cure.

    For me, music is a MUST. Dead iPod=Dead motivation.

    And I also have to say, I'm glad I got over here before Dawn, her comment yesterday KILLED ME! (diet-wise :)

  13. I don't use music, unless it's for an indoor spin session. It's too dangerous to run or ride a bike around city streets and not be able to hear traffic. And I use my elliptical and stairmaster sessions for reading fitness magazines.

  14. Mandatory!!! Something with a good beat. My workout playlist on my ipod ranges from indie music to Egyptian dance to Italian pop (to Justin Timberlake and also the MacGuyver theme song but we won't go there!). I will definitely have to put on "Take Me Out," however, since I've got that CD!

    I also didn't realize you could look at other people's lists on itunes! I'll have to check that out.

  15. I found that you can go to the podcast section of iTunes and look for "fitpod". They have mixes that you can download for free. I would have to say that probably 50% of them are crap, but what I like is that thy have consistent beats per minute and thy shift up and down to help pace your workout. When I was walking, (*sigh*) I liked to use these because they regulated my time on the trail and my walking speed to get a great cardio workout.

  16. Hmmm... I've never thought to search iMixes for workout tunes. Eh, I think I have it covered. I have to say the songs that get me going are a bit all over the place, and I am sure not many would agree. You've got your Billy Ocean mixing into your Peter Gabriel mixing into your Tone Loc mixing into your Talking Heads mixing into your Indigo Girls mixing into your Steve Miller mixing into your Ella Fitzgerald mixing into your Ozomatli mixing into your Sarah McLachlan mixing into your Daby Toure, and currently on Feist, Mary Black and George Winston for the cool down.

    Darn, I make good mix tapes!

  17. I was at the gym one time lifting weights. And I wasn't in the weight machine section, I was in the hard-core section where the guys go to pump their iron and try took cool and all that. So anyway. We're doing out thing and I look over and there's this really pumped guy using massive weights on his biceps, and I hear through his headphones that he's listening to the Pretty Woman soundtrack. !!!! To each their own, but I surely did a double-take!

  18. @The Lethological Reader:

    I had that same experience. There was guy that was HUGE at the gym I go to and what was he blasting on his iPod? Avril Lavigne. Go figure-- it's obviously working for him!

  19. Jim, be careful giggling while you chest press, that could get ugly! I too favor a very eclectic mix, though for working out I tend to avoid classical unless it's the really abominable disco versions. Yes, they do exist! I have some and they work really well although they're really awful.

    Katie I totally thought of you when I wrote this and worried that you'd think that! But you and I actually have similar music tastes. I almost linked over to your workout music post as a GOOD example, but thought I ought not to get in the habit of linking there every day. (Readers, it's here)

    (And now that I've checked in at your place I see Satan has visited your blog as well today, though he has designed a whole torture machine for you whereas he's only messing with Jim's and my iPods.)

    Very sensible not to wear earphones in roadways. I wear my headphones out onto low traffic roads and may someday regret that practice!

    Hi Sarah!
    I too love pop music in other languages, as it's wonderful not to be able to understand the lyrics, which are almost always stupid and distracting if it's a pop song. And tv theme songs can be awesome!

    Holly, oh my goodness I didn't know about Fitpod! What a great suggestion. They're free and they display beat per minute? That sounds wonderful. I'm way overdue for new tunes, so that will go at the top of my list to check out. Thanks!

    Wow, you sure do make good mix tapes, you've got a lot of artists I like on there!

    That's just too adorable! I hope it was his own Pretty Woman soundtrack and he didn't just grab his wifes by mistake. I love big guys who are secure enough to enjoy girly things.

    Well make her give it back! :)

  20. "Could you please get your hubby to film you dusting to ABBA and put it on Youtube? "

    Forgive her Oh Great Crustacean of the Deeps! She knows not what she asks.

    I got quite a kick out of that, Crabby. Thanks.
    Some things, especially that, are best left to the imagination. Trust me, "Dancing Queen" I ain't!

  21. I don't own an i-pod. When I walk I sing or hum, and since I don't sing that well . . .

    I do have a couple of beat per minute walking tapes but I haven't used them in a couple of years. The music wasn't that good but the beat (124-152 per minute) was worth the dopey music.

    At the gym they play music, I jump around.

    Crabby, when you get a minute, please scuttle on back to the women of mystery blog as a special treat awaits you.

    No. No. Dawn! Michael! Stop pushing. It's Crabby's treat. And it's not food, so no need to hurry.


  22. I don't have an iPod. I don't even have a walkman. I have one of them old fashioned cd players, *and* a cassette recorder. I don't do aerobics either - I like to keep my bones intact, thank you. But, when I do a bodybuilding workout (which has been years)I listen
    to an old discolike cd. The name escapes me right now. En Vogue? No, that's not it, but along those lines - just beatier. It goes perfectly with my tempo, which is described here:

    My idea of exercise

    which pretty much sums it up.

  23. Gotta have music in the gym. Hell, I'm with Bunny in terms of no music while biking the roads, but if I could figure out how to be like those plugged-in motorcyclists, I'd be there.

    I do the heavy stuff: Tallica, Godsmack, Disturbed. I challenge you to NOT go nuts during Down with the Sickness.

  24. I feel as if I'm missing out on something here. I don't have an ipod, I don't work out to music, when I walk I listen to the sounds about me, when I hop on the excercyle, I do the same.

    Have I been leading a deprived life? I suspect I might have.

    Take me to your Leader. I want an ipod with belly dancing music!

  25. Sarah--interesting to discover this may be a common phenomenon! Who knew?

    Leah, I'm not the least bit dissuaded by your disclaimers. C'mon, Waterloo! Dancing Queen! Take a Chance on Me! Fernando! SOS!


    Terrie, thanks! That's all I needed to get the Nair Short Shorts song out of my head--the ORIGINAL Short Shorts song. (Though that was Evil of you, it was quite fun).

    Hi Elizabeth! So your exercise routine was a hoot and I could totally relate. And one does not need a fancy pants iPod to get good music. I sometimes miss my old walkman cassette player, it was much simpler to use.

    Hi Susan!
    So you have such a refined sounding name and logo and such hardcore ass-kicking taste in music! I am indeed intrigued. Thanks for stopping by!

    Well, not everyone needs music. But if you ever find your foot tapping or your body swaying involuntarily when a good song comes on the radio, you might find music can add a great little buzz to your workouts. (And harder workouts mean more cream filled apple donuts!)

    And at this point, I may be somewhat sketchy about responding to additional comments individually, but will be happily reading them all. Bye for now!

  26. I think I have everyone without an ipod beat. I have... A... record player. Remember those -- they play large black disc-like structures called records or LPs.

    I like old and scratchy. Because said LP player does not yet attach so well to me when I play Frisbee we have no music. When I bike I read. And IF I decide to workout for real I use a Denise Austin video.

    The videos have horrid music but that darn Austin is just so chipper that I clap every time we finish a workout. Hence my Austin preference. She's all, YOU CAN DO IT!! GO! And I fall for it every single time.

  27. I don't specifically have to have music when I do cardio, but I have to have some distraction. Music, audio books, tv, I've even been known to have a workout DVD playing on my television with the volume low and a movie going on my laptop (only workout DVDs I've done before and know well!). When I do work out to music, I favor cheesy pop songs from the late 90's and early 2000's (Britney Spears and her ilk, etc.). Bad music, good workout accompaniment.

  28. Whew! I was just telling Dawn the other day how popular you've gotten! 29 comments already?! Tremendous!

    Music isn't essential for me, but I love to have it. No iPod here, either, but I listen sometimes to music on the net, and my CDs. It also can help when I'm writing, and it depends on the WIP what music I'll listen to. For instance, for dark fantasy I might play my Black Sabbath CDs. I used to listen to Mozart piano concertos when studying in college, too.

    You get the idea. :)

  29. Hey Jennifer!
    I still have a box of warped LP's in my basement that I haven't been able to throw away, even though I doubt they're playable. Creedence Clearwater, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Cat Stevene, Stones, Led Zep, Carly Simon, Chicago, Mama's & Papa's, Fleetwood Mac, all old stuff. I just can't part with them even though I have no turntable to play them on. However, lots of great memories. And I don't know Denise, but she sounds quite motivational!

    Hi Janedoe4 and welcome!
    So you're an exercise entertainment multi-tasker, how cool. And oddly enough, cheesy music is often the best to work out to. Thanks for stopping by!

    Hey Michael,
    Yeah music is great for writing too. I like the idea of making your selection based on the kind of writing you're doing.

    Yikes, bedtime. Now I'm really heading off for the evening. Thanks everyone!

  30. I can be so mood... both with exercise and music (and life in general). ANd I actually need to get my butt back into the whole exercise thng. First off, in my skinniest of days (size 0, my friend...) I was heavly into all forms of dance. So music was definitely necessary. And I developed quite an eclectic collection of music to dance to. However life has changed so much since then and I'm not the biggest exerciser and I rarely listen music at all and can be a tad on the fanatical Christian side. So i've got three iPods, actually. And one has my old crazy mix of music, the other is quite literally my "GodPod", and the other is one of those shuffle I've never really used. I have an interesting playl;ist on the first iPod that works well for cardio type stuff or when I want to do obsessive amounts of crunches at a really fast pace. (which I swear worked miracles in my skinny days)

    But honestly, you're a lot more likely to find me on the treadmill or walking around the neighborhood praying the Rosary along with a recording of the local Bishop. Killing two birds with stone works nicely. And if I'm on the treadmill when the Rosary is done and I can quite talking outloud then I i speed up the treadmill, raise the incline and jog along to whatever Christian music and/ or Catholic hymn has hyper up at the moment... because I'm just weird like that.

    I'm also the type who gets obsessive over particular songs or CDs for long amounts of time. So i will very literally only listen to a certain CD or nothing at all. So when I spent two months insisting on ONLY Latin hymns, it was good I was in a deep and lazy depression and not doing much exercise. But anyway, enough rambling...

  31. Jennifer, I loved your comment. I like Denise Austin, too! I also like the Walk Away the Pounds series with Leslie Sansone. Like you, when it get's to the end and they tell you what a great job you have done and how mavelous you are as a human being, I always feel like it is the first time I have heard it and they are speaking right to me! The pride just wells up in my soul. Glad I am not the only one!! ;)

  32. Hi Meg,
    Glad the "GodPod" works for you!

    So this Denise Austin person sounds great! The other series sounds motivational as well. I love the idea of all that positive reinforcement.

  33. Karen goes to the gym and uses the elliptical machine sporadically. I got in her gym bag and looked on her iPod and discovered her cardio file of music. Here are some of her selections:

    Rio-Duran Duran
    Copacobana- Barry Manilow
    Life in the Fast Lane- Eagles
    Vogue- Madonna
    Sad but True- Metallica
    The Boxer- Simon and Garfunkel
    Toxic- Britney Spears (eww)
    You Should be Dancing- Bee Gees
    Everlong- Foo Fighters
    Stupid Girl- Garbage
    Vertigo- U2
    The Hand that Feeds- Nine Inch Nails
    Paradise City- Guns n Roses

    She's quite a character that Karen. If I hear Everlong one more time, I might scream though.


  34. my exercise time is my thinking time...i simply cannot concentrate on my thoughts w/ music. i love listening to the response of my body (good or bad) and battling w/ my mind. plus, i get nervous if i'm on the streets and i cant hear cars/traffic/people,etc. thats just me, but if music works for ya, keep on! cheers!

  35. Penelope,
    Some inspiring and some controversial selections Karen has there.

    But I must ask: aren't you sometimes tempted to bite "The Hand That Feeds?"

    Welcome Sambro/Eco Runner:
    I'm guessing you're probably the sort who actually enjoys the running, so are less in need of musically-altered states to get through it. Thanks for visiting!

  36. I like the iTunes Essentials cardio mixes, especially the alternative one. It gives me a jumping-off point.

  37. Hi Superdewa,
    That's a great reminder--I checked some of those out a while ago but kind of forgot about them. And I'm getting overdue for new tunes.

    And thanks for visiting!

  38. Hey Crabby, I find that the beat - or more precisely, the beats per minute - is much more important than the kind of music. As long as the BPM is fairly consistent, it doesn't matter if I'm listening to jazz, rock, country, whatever.

    With that in mind, I've really been enjoying MixMeister BPM Analyzer. This freebie analyzes your MP3 files, calculates the beats per minute of the music, and updates the appropriate ID3 tag field with that info. You can then use that number to help create music playlists with a steady tempo for walking or working out. You'll have to experiment a bit to find a BPM that sets a comfortable pace for you but I find songs in the 105-115 BPM range are good for starters and 125-130 BPM for when I'm really eager to sweat.)

  39. Rob O.,
    Well, free is always good. I've gotten so I have a pretty good (though not infallible) sense of whether a song is fast enough to get on my playlist once I own it--what I really wish is that the iTunes people would collect that information for more of the stuff they sell before we buy--then it would be easier to find music to download! But that sounds like a good recommendation, thanks.


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