April 30, 2012

Workout Tunes: From Crappy to Happy

Strangely enough, this is not on my playlist.

Can you enjoy an exhilarating and rewarding cardio workout without musical accompaniment?

You can?

Well congratulations on your inner resourcefulness! Because I sure as hell can't. I have been known to actually cry upon discovering that my mp3 player failed to charge and I'd have to exercise without it.

 Artist's rendering of Crabby without functional iPod: rafa2010

Caffeine and music are, for me, the two magic ingredients that can transform intense aerobic and anaerobic exertion from a hideous form of torture into a blissful state of grinning idiocy. (Which, though it probably looks disturbing, is actually a good thing if you happen to live in my brain).

Crabby's Constant Struggle: Can You Help?
Here's the problem: finding the right workout tunes to engineer this motivational miracle! That can be tough. Especially if you are prone to being an obsessive-compulsive inflexible freak very particular about your musical selections.

Not only must a song align with my very odd musical taste, but the beats per minute must coincide with my footfalls. Which would be fine, if I exercised within the more typical workout playlist bpm range of 120-140. But I love sprinting on an elliptical at 160-200 beats per minute, which not only adds to the lunatic impression I give off, but also renders a typical workout playlist suggestion pretty much useless.

Of course, this is only the 3,743rd time I've talked about needing fast workout tunes here on the blog, and I also mentioned it at Shape Magazine's web hangout. So if you've got any suggestions I'd love to hear 'em.  But since Lee from Fitville innocently asked about my playlist in the comments last week, and she's got some great biking playlists over there, you'll just have to blame her if I couldn't resist spouting off yet again.

And so what are my latest discoveries in the workout music world?

New Hunting Grounds!
After, much unsuccessful rooting around "exercise" playlists, I've discovered that certain genres like country/bluegrass and "drum 'n bass" have more in the way of tunes at my target tempo. However, I suspect the number of people who have workout playlists like mine, with these both heavily featured, is probably... hmm... about 1?  Both these sorts of music have the potential to drive some folks nuts: bluegrass can feature whiny vocals and depressing lyrics; drum 'n bass can sound monotonous, overly synthesized and somewhat relentless.  I also have mindless pop tunes, funky retro stuff, Latin tunes, and even gospel, though as described below, with some important limitations.

The second discovery I've made? I'm getting even more sensitive to musical lyrics than ever, especially  now that I am wondering about the impact that earworms may be having on my impressionable brain.

Yep, I'm one of those folks who actually listens to the words in songs. Though  somehow, I wouldn't be surprised if Cranky Fitness readers are more prone than average to have this rare and abnormal compulsion.

Ready to Get Offended?
Even aside from possible brain-impacting implications, I find offensive lyrics... offensive! So as someone who is easily annoyed, I've already removed a lot of songs with icky messages. One can naively download something based on a thirty second clip and find all sorts of lyrical atrocities awaiting once the full version is played.

However, I'd be willing to bet that my criteria for what's offensive is not exactly typical. ( In fact, this might be a good time to mention that while I'm totally grateful to the folks at Frugal Dad for listing this blog as a "top fitness" site...

Thanks, Pops!

...I'd like to immediately warn any Frugal Dads who may have arrived here to stay the hell away from the rest of this post if they've got any of their Frugal Children anywhere near the computer monitor.

No, Really, Watch Out...
See I have no objection to swear words, or drug references, or or sexual innuendo. I saw no reason to remove the song "Bad Touch," for example, in which a typical verse starts off: "Love, the kind you clean up with a mop and bucket..." and ends with "And then we'll do it doggie style so we can both watch X-Files."  The chorus: "You and me baby we ain't nothing but mammals, so let's do it like they do on the Discovery channel."  Some of the lyrics make me giggle--sex is pretty damn funny when you think about it.

But Even I Have My Limits..
However, racist, homophobic, or misogynistic lyrics?  Eek! Even the catchiest of tunes is ruined for me if I have to listen to crap like that.  "No homo" popped out of one tune unexpectedly and that sucker was gone the next day.

And I can't do most religious music either, at least the kind that features a "Capital H" He or Him. And I know that sounds weirdly intolerant! But no matter how prevalent the belief may be worldwide that there's some powerful Guy up there who controls everything, I find the notion of a gendered deity who just happens to be male (and often petty and vengeful) pretty darn oppressive.  And something of a coincidence considering which gender has put itself forcibly in charge of everything throughout history.

photo: iansand
Yikes, what was that noise just now? Kinda splashy?

Was that the sound of hundreds of Cranky Fitness readers suddenly jumping ship?  Ooops! Sorry, by-the-book religious folks... though I'm guessing most of you didn't make it past "doggy style" anyway.

"Upbeat" Messages? Seriously, Crabby, Have You Lost Your Mind?
So a further wrinkle is my recent attempt to keep positive phrases running through my head as much as possible, on the off-chance that they may help reprogram my habitual cranky neurons into firing in a more optimistic direction.

A perky tune like Claire Lynch's "Great Day in the Morning?" Well, sure!  That has awesome brainwashing potential.  Whereas Maroon 5's "Harder to Breathe" with lines like: "You're not fit to f--kin' tread the ground I'm walking on?" Eh, not so much.

But an interesting thing I've discovered is that even country/bluegrass and funky/bluesy songs full of regrets about ruined lives, alcoholic tailspins, crappy jobs, faithless lovers and ill-considered bargains with the devil can be great fodder for inspiration. Often there's a sense of positive movement in relation to these unfortunate circumstances--courageous decisions to fight back or avoid wicked temptations in the future; some useful lesson learned; or even a slight sliver of hope for the future. All good!

How Weird is This? DIY Inspiration:
I've found it helpful to actually tailor visions in my own head to even "downbeat" lyrical suggestions. For example: Bruno Mars is warning me to Run Away... and while I might be easily able to resist his carrot (since, as it turns out, we all gotta share it), if I envision him singing instead about that third helping of dessert at a party that I tend to regret the next morning? Run away is indeed a great suggestion, thanks Bruno!

And when Bernice Johnson Reagon explains, in a very catchy song perfect for ellipticaling, how much freakin' better I'd feel if I'd just lay my burden down?  Well, I can just pretend she doesn't mean anything Christian-y.  When I let go of worrying, or feeling martyred about something, or overwhelmed or pissed off, that feels pretty damn good, so thank you too, Bernice.

And now, the Playlist Sharing Debacle:
So I spent an absurd amount of time trying to figure out how to have links here that allowed previews of some of the songs I like. Even though I know nobody cares!

But my experience was one frustrating FAIL after another. If anyone has any suggestions either for song sources, or ways to share previews, or perhaps fast-paced inspirational tunes about the sad inability of middle-aged bloggers to post multimedia widgets and how this can be a ultimately be a transformative and life-affirming experience, I'm all ears.

Alas, it seems there's some weird disagreement between the Amazon flash widget and Firefox; they're not speaking. Though the thing may work in Explorer. And Playlist.com is nearly useless as it doesn't seem to have anything that's not mainstream. Out of my last 75+ downloads I could only find 4 they've got, which might give you some indication of how weird my typical selections are.

Oh and iTunes hides the page urls when I try to visit a song preview page, and it wants me to sign up to "ping" whatever the hell that means, so screw them.

But if you've got access to a browser more flash-compatible than my version of Firefox and are seeing something other than the big blank space that I see below, then there should be eight tunes lurking behind there that it may be possible to preview. But I ain't holding my breath.

And here are four additional ones (out of dozens I looked for) than finally surfaced on Playlist.com:

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones


So does anyone else obsess about workout music?  What are your criteria for adding stuff to your exercise playlist?


  1. Actually, I think I might do okay with Bagels and Bongos. ;)

    So caffeine fuels a workout, eh? Good to know.

  2. Honestly, it was the playlist sharing debacle at the end that really got me laughing in this entire post - it is like all the energy of the song discussions + I am assuming caffeine suddenly all hit at once!

    Probably because I am mostly on the trails, but I don't even own an mp3 player. I do see people hike and trail run with them but I am more comfortable being aware of my surrounding.

    I actually think coming up with a good music list could be time consuming. I have been known to get up from a sewing project and change something because it is annoying me so much that I can't work on the project. :)

    And PS. Isn't it funny how sometimes you can be annoyed by your own previous favorite?

  3. Ah yes, QD, the musical foraging is indeed time consuming, and you're right, sometimes previous favorites can turn suddenly evil overnight and become intensely irritating!

    And I suppose if I had beautiful trails to run I'd be a bit less musically-dependent. Good for you for getting out in the "real" world!

  4. I'm another one who wouldn't run past the first mile without some music driving me along... I rely pretty much entirely on www.podrunner.com , they have a massive selection of fixed tempo mixes all the way up to a totally insane 180bpm, plus interval and staircase mixes if that's your thing. It's pretty much all techno or house of one sort or another, varying from ignorable-with-a-solid-beat up to pretty-damn-good-actually. So far I've only found one mix I really couldn't stand, which isn't bad out of the number I've used!

  5. There is no doubt that good music can be helpful when it comes to working out. I do not listen to any however. Running outside as I do, I think it's the safer choice to just listen to the world around me, and think about how to change it, lol!

  6. Dear Crabby - Oh what a conundrum... OF COURSE one can not go without musical accompaniment! Sure, sure... I like paying attention to my surroundings, too. But - really - life IS better when accompanied by a great soundtrack, isn't it?

    I, too, have cried, screamed and despaired over lack of charge. I have ALSO though gotten thoroughly fed up with whatever play list I, myself, selected and had running during actual events and ended up wanting to stomp the darned device into the ground. What's that all about???
    Anyway - there IS hope for discovering new and fun options, though:). For these, however - you will have to be brave. Very brave....For, to admit the following forays to others, you will need to step into the land of possible embarrassment.
    For instance - have you considered dabbling in musicals? I'm talking 1950-s style (non of that more recent stuff). Great lyrics (think Rogers & Hammerstein)and snappy tunes.
    How about You Tube and television commercials as possible sources? That's right... I have discovered many a fun song by watching a few home-made videos and saying "Hey! Where can I find THAT background tune?" (example "If I Had a Million Dollars"). Maybe these musical interludes are widely known to others - but, it's all new to ME. And, after all, isn't that what really matters?

    Then there are the more sophisticated sisters of the You Tube genre - namely: Actual Soundtracks From Movies. Pay attention next time you indulge in a movie and you may just discover a treasure trove of sweeping, or upbeat, or heart pounding options! Created by bonafide professionals to set a mood (or a contrast) - you have an entire world of moods, rhythyms etc.... The points are as follows: 1- do NOT give up or think there is no hope for new music! 2 - listen not to the opinions of others as to what is right for YOU! Know that it's very 'OKAY' to listen to music whilst working up a good sweat 3 - Consider alternative sources and fritter away as much valuable time as possible doing detective work to find new material. Just hit "play" and the rest of life will fall into place as it should :)

  7. I do workout dvds so I don't worry about music, but I do have a few walking workout playlists that are upbeat, to be honest, I hardly listen to the lyrics when I am focused on what I am doing, it's definitely more the beat, the song Mercy by Duffy always got me walking at a really good clip, so I like to pick songs that are similar in beat.

    I remember when Genie in a Bottle first came out, and then you sat and listened to the lyrics and I was thinking, should a teen be singing this?

  8. I completely understand your frustration, Crabby! I can't do a single workout, weights, running, jumping rope, or even yard work and cleaning without music. Music is my motivation. Well, that and anger.
    I've found that there are a few sites you can look for stuff on based on various ways to search.
    This one: http://runningmusicmix.com/
    is searched by genre, decade, and BPM
    This one: http://www.technosweat.com/speed.html
    Has some nifty charting going on with suggestions of heart rate, etc. But the BPM category is there. You can find a whole album, but they're originals max out at 155. It's a paid thing, though.
    There's FitStudio.com that's live stream workout music based on genre more than BPM.
    I've also found that if you find a song you like and the BPM isn't very high, you can change your stride to a double time beat and it works out.
    I tend to vary my musical taste anywhere from Duke Ellington to Pantera, to Sly and the Family Stone, to Ludacris, so I understand. I find that I can't do country at any point, unless it's the pop/crossover type like Stuck Like Glue from Sugarland, I don't do Christian, but older southern Gospel I enjoy (which is funny, since I'm an evil baby eating Pagan), and I don't do screaming heavy metal or gangsta rap. I can't listen to ANYTHING that refers to lady parts via the use of the "P" word as it instantly smashes my homicide button. I found a song by a South African group (I think) called Die Antwoord. Their song "I Fink You Freeky" is pretty fast paced and not overly obnoxious. I love the 2nd verse that's more of a rap where the guy repeats the phrase "Jump motherf*cker, jump motherf*cker, jump motherf*cker, JUMP!" It's got some foreign and some English in it. It's my power song (that specific part) when I need to bust out some fast and hard pushups or I'm dealing with heavy weight. Be warned, though. The video on YouTube is CREEPY AS HELL. If creepy doesn't bother you (as in Madagascar hissing cockroaches falling into frying eggs) then it's pretty funny. Dude smacks the shit out of a chicken that's on the kitchen table just as his rap starts and my kids made me back it up and we giggled for 20 minutes. (No, we're not cruel to animals, we just find humor in really effed up things)
    As far as specific tunes go, I have WAY TOO MANY that I listen to for WAY TOO MANY different workouts, so I have them grouped by the type of routine I'm doing. Cardio is mostly dance, hip hop and techno. Weights are usually rap, hard rock bordering on metal, and classic rock. (Jukebox Hero, baby!) and for when I've switched to garden/yard work I tend to lean toward soul, Motown, peppy 80's like the Bengals, and real old school jazz/blues. Ella Fitzgereald's Don't Mean a Thing is my digging/planting song. Makes me smile every time.
    K, sorry for rambling. DAMMIT I do this EVERY EFFIN TIME!

  9. OMG I love these comments. Thank you Shadowduck for great suggestions and Dr. J for perspective and Starving Bitch, you are right, "Mercy" is an alltime favorite and is on my "strength training: playlist.

    And holy crap Anonymous and Sinner Ella, you two are amazing so much awesomeness in both your posts I'm still giggling and taking notes. Although somehow the two have gotten mixed up in my simple mind and now I've got visions of clean-cut actors in 50's musicals belting out obscene references to female genitalia. Thank You for that, I think.

  10. I'll be mining your comments shortly, but for now I just want to add...

    Treadmill+Laptop+Netflix Instant(Mad Men/Dexter/latest action or horror flick)= happy running to nowhere over here. (I'd add wireless headphones as well. Best.Purchase.Ever.)

  11. First, I'm a music junkie too! Second, You MUST GET SPOTIFY. NOW. It's revolutionized my workout playlists. You can get virtually any song for free and it streams lightning fast, even in the gym. Plus they store all the files on their site so it doesn't slow your phone/computer down. Loooove it. Third, now I have a craving bagels. Seriously, I do.

  12. Howdy Leah!

    And bdaiss, that's an inspired idea! And wireless headphones... hmm, that DOES sound like an excellent idea.

    Charlotte, I am running of NOW to check out spotify, it sounds wonderful!!

  13. Well, i guess this is one of the areas where me being so doggone eclectic in my taste is a good thing. Except for a few things, most stuff doesn't bother me, as long as i can move.

    Also, this pretty boring, vanilla, mostly traditional Christian got through your post just fine. It's called respecting others beliefs, and i suggest it to people who claim to share my religion all the time.

  14. I listen to what they play at the gym. I can't stand anything in my ears, so I don't have my own music.

    I hope this is not too shocking for you! :D

  15. I'm no help because the one time I can't stand music is when I'm working out. I would find a whole playlist of music all one beat less interesting than a metronome, and besides, it wouldn't change pace when *I* do! So I listen to podcasts at the gym to drown out the music there. (Which I have been known to describe as elevator music for kangaroos.)

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  16. You are HILARIOUS!!! I will take some bagels please! :-)

    I am pretty boring p classic rock & some of the rock form the 80's bands. I like some newer stuff too & just have the hubby throw it on the shuffle. I won a shuffle nano so I make bring both to the gym just in case & make sure one of them is charged! ;-)

  17. You all have to check out “Haunted” by Matthew C. Shuman

    My trainer played it at the gym today and everyone was rocking to it! hahaha First thing I did when I got home was download it to my iPod! Apparently this song is the latest craze to exercise to. I can see why!!

    Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Haunted/dp/B007P6484G/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&s=dmusic&qid=1333909619&sr=1-5


  18. I see the 8 flash songs!! They DO exist.

    And I agree about the importance of the workout playlist selection. I personally like mindless pop tunes and dirty rap. The more sexual, the better, hahaha. I imagine they’re singing about me, because I’m so sexy from all the exercise… To add to the dilemma I get bored easily, so my playlist constantly needs updating.

    As for your tempo dilemma, have you ever tried speeding up songs you like? Supposedly “Mix Meister” and “Tempo Magic Pro” are software that can change the tempo of songs. I’ve only ever heard of them, so I don’t know how to get them, if they cost money, or how to use them. So helpful, right?

  19. this is why I run and workout and EVERYTHING SANS-TUNES.

    I will know what I like when I hear it---but I can never isolate it let alone git it on a device :)

  20. Never offended, always entertained :)

    I'm all over the place as far as music. One day it's Metallica, the next Jack Johnson or maybe The Cure or anything Punk Rock. It all depends on my mood, the weather, my caffeine intake :) and location. I have no explanation. I probably need some professional help. :)

  21. I agree. A good playlist is something that can keep you going on those days where you feel less motivated. For some reason the right tunage keeps your not focused on any workout-related pain. I also appreciate your humorous writing!

  22. hey crabby, try out digitally imported internet radio...It's all electronic, with many different styles (including a drum n bass channel). I listen to this exclusively when I work out. This is coming from someone who has almost a whole terrabyte worth of music at home - what can I say, I get bored!

  23. Wow, not only some more great suggestions but I love all the tolerance and respect for other's viewpoints, whether they be musical, religious (or anti-religious) or workout related (which can be a religion itself).

    You guys rock!!

  24. I don't have any suggestions on workout playlists but I still wanted to say wow over your comment on listening to lyrics. I pay attention to lyrics. My musician husband always seems surprised when I comment on them. Apparently he doesn't notice them particularly, which surprises me in turn. How can people listen to music without noticing the words, unless it's just instrumental?
    Thanks for brightening the day.

  25. Absolutely!! I definetely need that music (loud too :)), I do zumba almost every day th my DVD's and I have quite a bit of a colection of wonderful latin songs.
    I just "AMO MUCHO" the beat!
    If interested in learning zumba or any fitness,check out my site :) http:workoutzumba.com

  26. Dang it! Shadowduck beat me to the punch. I also love PodRunner, especially since DJ Steve lists his bpm. Can't go wrong!

  27. Without music...running is nearly impossible to me!! To hear yourself breathing as though you have never worked out a day in your life, just tends to bring you down and somehow makes you realize how tired you are!!! Thanks for the post.

  28. I would LOVE this workout. Hell, if I don't win it, I may just buy it.

  29. Crabby? Hearing your problem, I just HAVE to mention TrailMix. It's a well-rated 99 cent iPhone app that detects your footfalls and seamlessly remixes the beat of the music to match your pace. And yes it works on an elliptical: http://www.trailmixapp.com/

    Full disclosure: I am the mother of the developers. Fortunately you already know I'm a regular CrankyFitness reader, so you know I'm not just cruising in to promote TrailMix.

  30. More great suggestions, thank you all!!

    Mary, does the trailmix app work on droids, I'd LOVE something like that!

  31. For cardio workouts, I prefer instrumental electronic music...I need the beats

    When I'm lifting weights, I thrive on Rage Against the Machine - fast paced & aggressive gets me in the mood

  32. Matching the beats per minute to my workout. Now that "is" tricky. I find it hard to find a track which can sync up with a weight training workout. When the beat is absent, I guess this makes it a bit easier not to go out of sync.

    Best beatless example, and ideal for an early morning run, "has" to be: "Early" by Chicane. One of the best Ibiza Trance tracks.

    If selecting drum n bass, I'd have to go for "Inner City Life" by Goldie, anytime!

  33. I find any music which I would like to dance to is also the same sort id like to excercise to

  34. The only thing worse than arriving at the gym and discovering you'll be without your tunes for the duration of the workout, is when the gym themselves are playing something ridiculous through the speaker system! You'd really think more gyms would put some effort into their playlists!


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