January 20, 2010

Best Workout Tunes!

Photo: wackystuff

I am always a sucker for lists of "best workout tunes" or "greatest exercise music" or "awesome playlists." This is because I NEED music to work out to, and the right tune can turn exercise from a dreary form of torture to a fist-pumping, heart-pounding, endorphin-generating, cardio extravaganza. I get so goofy and high when I hear good music, I'm surprised I'm still legally allowed to download mp3s.

But good tunes are hard to find.

To feed my addiction, I often find myself roaming the web checking out some fellow exercise enthusiast's "best workout playlist." Yet when I start sampling, what do I so often find?

Oh. My. God.

What planet, I wonder, are these people from? Who could possibly work out to such boring, grating, dirge-like, screeching, wimpy, offensive or just downright lame tunes? I am so often stunned by what execrable choices can land on someone's "best" list.

But the thing is, I know someone else listening to my playlist would find my favorites to be equally unfathomable and irritating. They'd think my taste in music sucks. They'd be wrong, but still. It's hard not to notice that musical taste is very personal. (And I bet many of you will hate my sample playlist at the end of the post.)

So what's the best way to find music you might actually like? Well, the short answer is a LOT of trial and error. However, here are a few ideas for expanding your search techniques, and I hope some of you will have better ones.

1. Steal from your spouse, partner, family members or friends.

Depending on your ethics, this may mean literally absconding with their mp3 player for your workouts, or asking for ideas, or gratefully accepting cd's burnt on your behalf.

There is often one person in your circle who not only likes to collect motivating songs, but who also likes to show off how eclectic and yet accessible they think their music is. If you are not yourself this person, take advantage of their desire to spread the musical love, and be sure to compliment their excellent selection even if only one or two songs are good and the rest are incomprehensibly terrible.

2. Expose yourself to a wider variety of tunes even when you're not working out.

You know that thing in your car with the buttons and/or dials that plays "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me," "All Things Considered" and gives you weather and traffic updates on the Eights? Well, if you're past a certain age, you may have forgotten that it also plays music. And if you're really determined, and keep hitting a lot of buttons, you may eventually find a station that plays music written after 1990. It may take many attempts to find a station that is not either playing the same old boomer music, or some genre like country or hip hop that may not be your favorite. And warning: along the way you may hear alarming bursts of talk-radio idiocy and petulance. But if you persevere, you may eventually start to hear thumping beats that make you want to nod your head or tap your steering wheel.

Alternatively, hang out in or near fitness classes, where upbeat music is played. Or, you can even go out dancing! You are more likely to hear music with a great beat on a dance floor than you are in a department store or coffeehouse.

3. Check with bloggers who have made lists or asked their readers for suggestions.

For example, Scale Junkie asked her readers for some ideas, and there tons of great suggestions in the comments of her workout mix post.

One problem with reader suggestions, however, is that in some blogs (like this one) it's really hard to put links in comments unless you know html. So to check out the listed songs, you may need to print off a hard copy or flip back and forth between different windows in order to find and preview the song.

So it's nice that some bloggers like the Fit Bottom Girls have created playlists full of workout songs you can check out. You can also get ideas from Music Savvy Mom, like this interactive workout playlist. Nicole from SparkPeople also shares some of her current favorite tunes. And there are fresh playlists every week at IntheGym.

4. Go to a big database and search through their categories or user favorites.

The advantage of a big sites like Amazon or iTunes or SonicTap is that they have huge catalogs and you can sample 30 seconds of the song before you buy.

However, has anyone else discovered how misleading that 30 seconds can be? And what horrors you can end up with?

I once got a song complete with gratuitious "no homo"asides, which, being a homo, I did not appreciate. (And here's an amusing explanation of the "no homo" phenomenon if you haven't come across it). And don't even get me started on the stupidity of so many of the lyrics. "You cheated girl; My heart bleeded girl... Gah!!! There is a reason I download many songs in Spanish or other languages I do not speak.

However, these big sites do tend to have sections devoted to exercise music where you can browse for new tunes, and there's a lot to look through!

For some reason I probably do most of my scouting using the user-compiled "iMix" feature of iTunes, probably out of habit. I search playlists for words like "cardio," "workout," "running," "spinning," "elliptical," or "exercise," and sort by "most recent." Not that you'd know from the average age of the songs on my playlists.

5. Let sites with fancy algorithms recommend things you like.

One of these is Pandora, which I love for creating custom radio stations. It takes songs or artists you like and then finds others that are similar to it, often in mysterious ways. However, I've found that while I have great luck with ambient, hanging out music (I have a jazzy "Diana Krall" station, and a chillin' "Buddha Bar" station, and an estrogen-packed "Shawn Colvin" station), Pandora has kinda sucked for me in terms of finding workout music. However, if you note my weird playlist below, who the hell could predict what I like? Not the Pandora people, alas. It would probably work much better for normal people. I've also noticed that iTunes Genius should be renamed Moron when it comes to suggesting tunes I would like.

6. Get pre-mixed or original workout music at set bpms.

Of course I have to mention my pal John at Hella Sound, who provides great running music at custom beats per minute so you can run or workout to the beat. (I believe I also have to mention that he provided our web design services and so he is probably technically a Cranky Fitness sponsor).

But just to show that I'm not totally pimping for friends with awesome products, there are other places to get music designed specifically for workouts, like Podrunner (free) or WorkoutMusic.com (not free).

7. Number seven has nothing to do with finding playlists.

But this whole subject reminded me of Heather's funny post on mp3 earbuds that I tried to work in somewhere earlier but couldn't quite manage. So what the heck; check out the post anyway.

8. And finally, check out a recent random playlist of Crabby's that you will no doubt find appalling!

(Let's see if this works...if not, you may want to try the link here.)

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

So does anyone else have any song resources or favorite tunes to suggest?

[And yeah, I posted this over at Blogher as well... if you get bored, come visit me over at the 10X club where we have daily challenges that are so hardcore and intimidating virtually no one ever completes them! Er... I think that must be the reason].


  1. My teens give me playlist recommendations. Advice from a teen? Yes, I admit it.

    Next think you know I'll be growing acne again. Somebody pass me the Clearasil...and that playlist.

  2. The boyfriend is my go-to for music. He's a music fanatic. It's great. No effort necessary on my part :D

    PS I want to do "the cute little wigglin' dance" now.

  3. I'm a big fan of trawling iMixes...I've found all sorts of new music in every category that way. For work-out/happy wiggle dance music, though, I look for covers and remixes of non-dancey songs. There are some really fun ones out there, like Blue Man Group's "White Rabbit", or Quindon Tarver's "When Doves Cry" (starts slow but trust me, it gets going!).

    Of course there are also a few freakish horrors. Scissor Sisters' "Comfortably Numb"? NO.

  4. Hahaha I'd never heard of the "No Homo" thing before, probably due to the aforementioned NPR listening.

    Oooo I'm always trying to find new songs for my mp3 player. I tried an experiment where my friend and I swapped mp3 players and tried running to them. She came back with a huge "WTF?"

    Some songs on mine:
    Hummingbird by Smile.DK
    Human by the Killers (Although it took me a LONG time to get over the fact that it should be "Dancers" not "Dancer"!!)
    Down by Jay Sean
    Bad Romance by Lady Gaga
    You're Gonna Go Far Kids and Spare me the Details by The Offspring
    One Love by Celine Dion (ok, that's an embarassing one)
    Paper Planes by M.I.A

  5. Mel,

    Yes! I love dance mixes of non-dance type tunes. Verve has some good ones too. I think I've got "fever" on one of my playlists. But I've been known to get cheesy remixes of classical tunes that are hideously embarrassing but nonetheless get me moving.

    Love Scissor Sisters generally, but have to agree about Comfortably Numb.

    And linteater, some of those sound great, must check them out!

  6. May I put in a plug for polka, Big Band tunes from the 1940's, and good barrelhouse jazz?

    Non-pop/rock/soul music can be a nice change from the usual, plus most of the songs are fairly short, so you can do windsprints to 2:17 of polka or merengue.

    I also like Astaire and Bing Crosby for warmup and cooldown. Just....No Como.

  7. Jo:

    "No Como"... heh heh. I'm sure that will be the next rapper trend.

    I'll have to try some Polkas! I actually used to have some great big band tunes on my... ahem... walkman. The kind that played cassettes. Which wasn't that long ago, I swear! Somehow when I went digital the big band didn't follow but I think that situation needs to be remedied.

  8. Eye of the Tiger by Survivor! Nothing else comes close!

  9. Nothing like some hard rock to kick those fat-burning testosterone levels up!

  10. Thanks for this post! There are some great resources in here. :)


  11. Great minds think (or workout) alike! We have some of the same songs. Though, my friend, you fo really reals need to purge the Miley Cyrus. Do not support the Queen of the Prostitots! ;)

  12. LOL, I've only heard of one song on your list which just goes to show you how different people's taste in music is...

    I like http://www.music-map.com/ when I'm trying to find a new artist.

    Some fave workout tunes include:

    Jump (For My Love), Pointer Sisters
    I'm Every Woman, Chaka Khan
    Sweet Dreams, Eurythmics

  13. If I want to get on the treadmill and have an hour disappear, I can't beat The Beatles Blue Album. If I'm out to work myself to little bits, a bunch of AC/CD works. My favourite all around one though is a bunch of old Bowie tunes.

    Sigh, I"m old I guess


  14. Mine's quite eclectic. Everything from Black Eyed Peas to BR549 (Hey Ho Alena!) to Pearl Jam to Crystal Method to Dean Martin to OPM. It's crazy. And it depends on the day. And I have some spanish in there too.

    Going to have to look up some of your playlist - I'm only familiar with about half of it. But you ought to love this:
    (Sorry, I don't know HTML...copy paste!)
    I be the one in the middle front. Shoddy camera work courtesy of the 2 year old. (Shoddy lighting courtesy of dress rehearsal.) This is my absolute favorite dance we've done. And it may not look very high energy but it was quite the workout!

  15. Here's my newest downloads. Sorry if you hate them! http://summerplummer.blogspot.com/2010/01/fresh-workout-playlist.html

  16. I love me some Lady Gaga when I workout, but I looked at the Crabby playlist and I am totally downloading Ricky Martin's, She Bangs.

  17. One of my favorite workout songs is "Mausem & Escape" from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack. I've never seen the movie but the song always puts a spring in my step. Bonus? No words to irritate you :-)

    I think my husband steals music from me. Otherwise, I know his iPod is full of angry teen rock and the occasional techno dance song.

  18. I don't like any music after 1980. You dang young whippersnapper.
    Ya want exercise? Get off my lawn!
    --as you can see I've nothing to add to the conversation.

  19. I'm too embarrassed to reveal any of my music choices as most of them are still captive on 8 track tapes. How do you spell "old"?

  20. I just shared this list with someone else. I have LOTS of gym/working out music. I need to have lots of different music since I am in the gym 7 days a week.
    So here is one of my play lists. Enjoy!
    Black Eye Peas- Pump it & Boom Boom Pow
    Cake- The distance
    Korn- Somebody Someone
    Shop Boyz- Party Like a Rock Star
    The Urge- Gene Machine
    Nazareth- Hair of the dog
    Cage The Elphant- Ain’t no rest for the wicked

    I hope this doesn't show my "real" age. hee hee

  21. ug, as fitness instrcutor myself trying to find music to motivate my classes is not an easy task. YOu want to choose something that the majority will enjoy which can be hard if you have a real mix of age/personalities. I actually posted about music last week and have been getting some good comments about what songs motivate people and it's a pretty good mix of tunes - you can check it out at http://bit.ly/8fq1RF

  22. 1) get a ZUNE and a Zune pass. The right music is key to my workouts - I have different playlists for jogging, elliptical, and those weight-thingies. The great thing about the Zune pass is that for a set amount per month, you get all the music you want. You can afford to try something -and discard it if you hate it. I've really expanded my horizons this way.

    2) Check out your favorite radio station's "best of" lists. My favorite is KEXP here in Seattle - which not only has "best of" lists, but podcasts (different podcasts for live sessions and pre-recorded music) with 100's of songs. I listen to them - and if i like that song, I keep it. If not, I toss it. PLUG FOR KEXP: non-profit, no ads, available as streaming too. KEXP plays new music from Death Cab for Cutie, the Editors, the Smiths, School for Seven Bells, etc.

  23. Lots of songs work for me; it's usually R&B. You know what's oddly a great song for running?

    Wear Sunscreen.

    Remember it from circa a hundred years ago? My husband had it on his playlist and I scoffed until I actually put it on my iPod. It is an amazing, inspirational song to use; and depending on how hormonal I'm feeling, I either run much faster or get choked up when it's on. Love your posts Crabby.

  24. I realized that this is the first time I head She Bang when it was not performed by that Berkeley student. I'm not sure a spouse would be a good source. I couldn't stand the music my husband listened to and after he died, the music sucked even more.

    Why did we have to listen the Beatles for 50 years again when there were so many more current songs we could hear like She Bang?

  25. You can find songs according to the beats per minute (bpm) which really helps me when I run. I try to find songs that are between 170-180 bpm now..but when I first started running I liked the ones in the 145-155 range.

    I also ask my teens for advice. How else would a song like "Indesctructible" by Disturbed, "Hell Yeah" by Rev Theory or "Run To The Hills" by Iron Maiden have ever made it to my list? LOL

    I am finding that 170-180 bpm is not such a good idea in the weight room. Lately I just listen to what is on the gym sound system but I think I need to come up with a good playlist for pumping the iron! Thanks for all the resources..I know where to begin!

  26. I listen to a lot of synthpop and industrial, and new-wave/80s pop, with a random smattering of everything else...

    here's what a playlist might look like:
    Looking For Strange (Super Strange Mix by Die Krupps)
    From This Height (Pocket Orchestra Remix)
    Lady Gaga - Bad Romance (Album Version)
    Duran Duran - New Moon On Monday
    Our Lady Peace - Made Of Steel
    Dido - Stoned
    NIN - Into The Void
    !distain - 25 Frames A Second

  27. This is why I run on the treadmill. I don't listen to music. I put my iPod on the book-holder, and WATCH TV. Oh, yes. Yes, I do.

    Run, Jack! Run, Kate! And I'll run through the forest with you!!

    (Can you tell I'm catching up on LOST, which I never watched until this year?)

    I DO have to be careful not to get too startled, though: falling off the treadmill is NOT fun, ok? Especially if you emit a startled little shriek right before you fall.

    Not that I would know that firsthand. I just IMAGINE it would be embarrassing. Ahem.

  28. Maybe it's the rebellious teen in me but I generally hate everyone else's music. Well into my 20's I just assumed that I had better than average taste - until I realized that everyone thinks that of themselves. Which is why I don't even bother reading other people's playlists.

    On the other hand, the no-homo thing saddened me greatly . I have not heard of that before:(

  29. I can't wait to try some of these suggestions!

    And OMG, I love Bdaiss's video! I never thought I wanted to learn tap before but that looks so fun. And who knew tap was so sexy? I had no idea!

  30. I am so boring. I have my hubby put 70's & 80's rock on my shuffle. I really hate that binging stuff at the gym that the younger people like.. sorry, I know others like it but it is not motivating to me. I also throw in some other newer stuff but some of that is new songs from the older groups! :-)

  31. I own a dedicated indoor cycling studio in Mass, and am always on the prowl for music. A tremendous source of hand-picked new music is at rollnsmokeradio.com

  32. i barely listen to music anymore when i work out. i only do now when a.) i'm on the stationary bike or b.) i'm on the treadmill.

    i tried having specific workout playlists ... but they got old. quickly. sooo ... now i just bring in the regular old ipod and just fast-forward through crap when necessary.

    because my music tastes are so varied, sometimes it really depends which song will push me through whatever part of my workout. sometimes it's country (random example: rodney atkins' "if you're going through hell (keep going)"), sometimes it's techno (say, dutch force, "deadline") or maybe it's some rock (example: fair to midland, "upgrade^brigade"). or maybe it'll be something completely random.

    i think i forgot the point of this comment ... except to say my workout music, when i actually use it, is varied and you should not come to me for advice. the end.

  33. These ideas are so great. I am lucky, I have three teenagers who love to surprise me with songs. often I just hit "shuffle", but here's my latest playlist:

    ch-check it out, Beastie boys
    one night in Bankok, from Chess
    Life After You, Daughtry
    Time for Miracles, Adam Lambert
    Home bythe Sea, Genesis
    21 Guns, Green Day
    You Raise Me Up, Josh Groban
    Endlessly, Muse
    Uprising, Muse

    Well, it goes on. I used to have polkas and ja, I will get more Lawrence Welk and also marching band stuff is good.

    One of my biggest probems is that I also swim and I swim with the songs in my head, but right now I am stuck on Miley's mountain song, I need to think of something else. Thanks, everyone!

  34. I am always on the lookout for a good playlist. I handed off my ipod to my hubby and let him update it with what he thought I would like to run to.

    Turns out he doesn't know me at all ;)

  35. Aside from Podrunner (and its siblings Podrunner Intervals and Groovelectric) and the occasional DDR music binge, I get a lot of stuff from Ektoplazm.

    They deal in free (and legally so) goa/psytrance/etc. and many of their offerings have the BPM of each track noted right there on the site.

  36. I make myself listen to the radio when I'm in the car and I flip between a lot of stations. I also have a Zune and a Zune Pass subscription, which is nice, because I hadn't bought new music since about 2004 and it was TIME.

  37. I'm pleasantly surprised. I have no knowledge of singers or bands, so a lot of those I hadn't heard before but were right up my alley for workout music! Thanks :)

  38. Um, I'm with Leah :) Nothing wrong with 50's r&r to get you moving and at least it usually has a tune too.

  39. I came up listening to all kinds of music. A few years ago, I took a free brazilian ju jitsu class and they played heavy metal and rock while we worked on techniques. The music, I must admit, made me train harder. On the other hand, when I'm practicing something like tai chi, I go for the more melodic eastern themed music.

  40. Oh crabby! Your posts never cease to amaze me. =) thanks for all the tips in finding music. I am sorry to say that your list goes way beyond any tips I would have. I just get what I like and mix what I have.
    I also am a Turbo Kick instructor so they send me stuff and I of course buy it. that might be considered cheating.

  41. I'm with Leah and Reb. (To heck with you young whippersnappers!)

    Except that I think I'm stuck in the 80s and 90s. I have to confess I like some of The Pogue's music -- the beat traditional Irish reels but updated with rock/punk. I'm pretty sure that the lead singer is trying to sing in English, but the only words I can clearly hear are the swear words.

  42. Hey Crabby!

    I have different playlists based on my type of workout. Lifting, cycling, or running. However, there are a couple songs that make the cut on all the lists.

    Guru Josh Project - Infinity
    Disturbed - Land of Confusion
    NRC - Here Comes the Rain Again
    Sponge - Molly(16 Candles)
    Armin Van Buuren and DJ Tiesto - Wonder Where You Are?

  43. awesome list. i have some of these, but I am getting the rest!!!! I teach a sclupting class, and i needed some new tunes. THANKS CRABBY! You'da best.

  44. Waaaa! I don't like listening to music when I'm working out. I use my workout sessions, especially Yoga, to zone out and just be one with myself. I don't think I can run with music blasting into my ears. Running is so calming and therapeutic. I think music will disrupt my conversations with myself.....

  45. I know I can only motivated myself to work out when I have some energizing tunes to keep me revved up.
    I've found some great workout playlists on fitness websites; I went running this morning to a great summer mix on Shape.com.
    You can see the playlist at http://www.shape.com/fitness/workouts/playlists/summer_mix.
    Let me know what you guys think!

  46. Animal - Neon Trees
    Beamer benz or bentley - lloyd banks
    better off alone - dj jurgen
    blah blah blah - kesha
    breakout - miley cyrus
    distrubia - rihanna
    down - jay sean
    driving me crazy - sean adams
    drop it low - ester dean
    drunk girls in the club - jump smokers
    dynamite - taio cruz
    firework - katy perry
    girls night out (GNO) - hannah montana
    give it up to me - shakira
    give me everything - pitbull
    hey baby - pitbull and tpain
    i do not hook up - kelly clarkson
    i gotta feeling - lil wayne
    i gotta get through this - daniel bedingfield
    i know you want me - pitbull
    if i had you - adam lambert

  47. love drunk - boys like girls
    mercy - duffy
    party rock anthem - lmfao
    patron tequila - paradisco girls
    please dont stop the music - rihanna
    pump it - bep
    rock that body - bep
    see you again - miley cyrus
    shots - lmfao

  48. You need to add Bowling For Soup "High School Never Ends." Trust me, you'll love it! It makes me smile!!


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