February 12, 2014

Best Exercise Enhancer Ever: If You're Not Using It, Why the Hell Not?

By Crabby McSlacker

So yeah, this blog is usually all about the "we're all different, whatever works for you, go for it!" thing.

And yet... I am a fallible human! I sometimes secretly think there are a few universal Health and Fitness Truths that everyone should subscribe to. And if you do not agree with me, no matter how reasonable you sound and how happy you are, I still might silently but stubbornly continue to believe that your brain and body are not really all that different from mine.

Instead I suspect that you just haven't tried hard enough to be exactly like me! And perhaps if I just explain things properly, you will realize the error of your ways.

And so in this spirit of open-minded sharing of thoughts righteous judgmental jack-assery, I'd like to find out if you are using this classic method for making workouts more efficient and powerful and joyous.  And if not, find out why not!

Plus I wanted to share a new tweak I learned that, for me, leads to 47.3% more awesomeness. Approximately.

(Note: this method still doesn't help make my strength training workouts pleasant. Blecch.  This is another puzzling area of individual differences... I understand some of you actually prefer strength training to cardio. How is this possible?)

Anyway, so, are you good and annoyed yet?  If not, hang in there, you will be!

Music Boosts Exercise Performance!

Longtime readers may already have guessed that I'm talking yet again about the research-proven benefits of listening to music while exercising. You can read the roundup; study after study has shown music enhances athletic performance and makes exercise feel way easier and less miserable.

We humans are wired to respond to beats--a good beat makes your body want to move, even need to move. You know this intuitively, if you have ever tried to sit still and not at least wiggle, tap or thump something when a favorite song comes on.

In fact, the whole reason for this stupid annoying post is that after taking a couple weeks off for the flu, I returned to the gym with a fresh playlist.  I had negligently allowed my tunes to get too old, and my enthusiasm had been flagging.

But with the proper music, I had what could be described as a Fitgasm of bliss, rocking out on the elliptical.  Was I dancing like an asshole and silent-screaming along to the lyrics and pumping my fists and making a total complete fool of myself?  You bet!

Crabby Rockin' Out.. a couple years ago. (But note:
Old flattering pictures = motivation for sticking with damn MyFitnessPal!) 

However, when I look around the gym, there are rarely many others who seem to be enjoying their cardio.  Most people seem to be slogging, trudging, sucking-it-up, or at best, zoning out slack-jawed while watching television.  

I can only surmise these people are either (a) not listening to music or (b) listening to the wrong kind of music.

What Kind of Music is Best for Exercise?

1. Music You Love!

It is a source of much amusement to me how divergent our "ideal" playlists are, music is so personal!  Even great suggestions like Brooklyn Fit Chick's "Crystal Vases" spinning playlist contains songs that wouldn't work for me.

And so many playlists of "best workout tunes" contain dirge-like emo whining, screeching vocals, lame kindergartenish sappy melodies, cacophonous instrumentals, or hideously offensive sexist self-aggrandizing violence-promoting lyrics. Acck!

I think the biggest problem using the Magic of Musical Motivation is that it takes so much damn time and energy to find songs that are not only Not Horrible, but that you truly love.

And then when you find them, you can't keep playing them forever or they don't work anymore! I probably spend more time finding and futzing with music than any other aspect of workout preparation.

2.  Music at the Right Tempo

This is the thing I struggle with most.  Popular songs, apparently, tend to come in around 120 beats per minute, which is too f--cking slow to synchronize your movements to if you are doing something faster than brisk walking. My sweet spot is 150-170 beats per minute for running or the elliptical, though fast walking I can use "normal" songs. Research says lots of treadmill runners like 160 bpm too, it's not just me!  (But the scientists also lie and say faster tempo stops helping after 145 bpm.  No way, they're wrong--145 is still too slow!)

There are music sites that pre-select songs based on a certain bpm, and you may want to google and try some!  But for me?  Well, I'm too damn picky about songs I like.  Only about 1 in 50 or so make me feel like I gotta  move.

My temporary wonderful solution?  I had a Sony Walkman that would allow me to take a 120 ish playlist of good tunes and boost it up to 150+ without changing the pitch, just by hitting a certain setting.  Brilliant! This expanded my tune finding abilities considerably.

But then tragedy struck. 

(Actually it struck last summer--those who remember my menopause and memory loss post might recall that I dropped my sony walkman on the freeway and left it there for an hour or so.  It seemed to recover... yet a small crack widened over time and eventually the sound cut out.)

Anyway, since the walkman recently bit it, I was going to buy a new one but discovered it no longer contains the crucial playback tempo setting that I loved. Sony, you idiots! That was the best thing about the player, because the "Media Go" music management system certainly sucked, sucked, sucked. 

So now I'm back to an iPod, which I abandoned before because they temporarily miniaturized the Nano to the point of uselessness. But the 7th generation is back with a functional player again, yay!

Nano vs. Broken Walkman.
Adhesive tape didn't fix, alas.

But I was again left with the dilemma of songs being too slow and no instant mp3 playback fix.

My new solution?

Speed Up Your Tunes With Audacity!

If anyone has actually read this far and gives a crap, I can tell you more specifically how to do this in the comments.  But Audacity is a free audio editing program, and you can take an iTunes song (though you need to save it as an mp3), upload it to audacity, change the tempo without changing the pitch, and then re-import a new faster version back into iTunes. It may be even easier if you're not starting with an iTunes song.

Is this a hell of a lot of trouble to go to in order to turn a miserable workout into a blissful one? Well, not for me because I'm insane! But I totally understand it might be a bit extreme for normal people who are not so picky about their songs.

Is anyone else this batshit crazy about music and exercise?  And if you're not, why not? :)


  1. I am crazy for tunes but you can not let Yawn? Yuan? Juan! The weight lifting Nazi see you with ear phones on or you will get a lecture. Blah, Blah, Blah accidents... good form ... something about disrespecting the sport! What a buzz kill!
    I had not thought about speeding up good tunes from my reject list and I should have because I had a Spinning instructor that did this to the extreme so the song would sound vaguely familiar but you couldn't place it then it turns out to be Britney Spears latest hit.
    I agree 140 BPM is yoga music. I do like a few dirty lines in my music because I am guaranteed to sing those out loud and it seems to make people happy!

    1. Ah Cindy, you are a woman of much common sense and the Yuan-Nazi needs to chill because accidents are WAY more likely when exercisers are feeling grumpy and martyred, right?

      I LOVE dirty lyrics, actually, and I particularly like mouthing them at the gym when I'm pretty sure people can read my lips. But it's the misogynist stuff that gets to me. Not that I haven't let a few slip into my playlist if they're catchy enough...

    2. Cindy, unless your weight-room is blissfully silent this Yuan-Nazi would get an earful from me! Anything that messes up my lifting rhythm must be drowned out!

      Mary Anne in Kentucky

  2. Dirty lyrics reminds me of the time I was at the gym for a weights class, and the instructor was having trouble with her music (I can't remember the details, whether it was a disc, or some ipod connector or whatnot). Anyway, I had what (to me) was a pretty great workout playlist, so I lent them my ipod for the class. About halfway through Mumford & Son's "Little Lion Man" comes on, which has about 80 million f-bombs in it. The second I heard the jangly banjos, I ran up and told her "just skip this song!"

    1. Too funny OfF!

      I have to laugh when I hear a "clean" version of a song with dirty lyrics and it sounds so awkward and lame!

  3. I generally find that any time I want to do something in iTunes (make a playlist, clean up my collection, whatever) it takes about 3x as long as I set out intending to spend on it. Which means that Audacity (which sounds AWESOME) is probably a black hole I need to get away from.

    A lot of times, when I'm working out with headphones (which isn't all the time) I am listening to podcasts. So that's talking, not music. But I always have a "gym" playlist full of faster tempo stuff. Back when I was doing more spin classes* I had a great collection, and got to the point where I could essentially give myself a spin workout without an instructor because the music was so great.

    *I just had to update my LA Fitness membership with a new credit card # (thanks Target) and it showed that I hadn't been there since 12/30 when I went to a yoga class, and then before that it had been SEPTEMBER! This is definitely something that post-marathon when I'm not All Running All The Time will change, and I've been a member since 2006 and for many of those years went literally every single day, so it's still money well spent.

    1. I find the same thing with iTunes, and yeah, Audacity has a learning curve... athough the tempo thing is fairly straightforward. But I used to try to use it to edit podcasts and every single time I had to relearn how to more around in there, it was quite counterintuitive!

      Looking forward to hearing what Not Running All the Time brings!

    2. Aha, another podcast listener! I listen to them at the gym because the gym's own music has a beat that interferes with my own rhythm. (As I have ranted about before.)

      Mary Anne in Kentucky

  4. Yes! I agree wholeheartedly that music makes everything, including workouts, better. My playlist is huge and varied, which makes putting it on random really entertaining some days. That said, I'm not a stickler about tempo. I just cruise along to whatever song comes on and catches my fancy, adjusting from there.

    This is only for cardio, though. I don't bust out the music when I'm lifting because I have an unfortunate habit of catching earbud cords on things and jerking them out of my ears. If they were wireless, I totally would lift with them. I'd buy some wireless ones, but I'm so in love with the noise-cancelling Sennheisers hubs got me for Christmas that I don't want to switch. That's a thought for the future when these wear out, though. Heavy metal is great lifting music. :-D

    1. Also, all cats are Judgmental Cat. :-P

    2. OK heather, I have to confess I've done the catch-the-cord thing too when lifting, but still persist. Though even GREAT songs are wasted for me since I hate weights, so I tend to use lamer older playlists for that and save good tunes for cardio. :)

      And totally agree about cats!

  5. I don't listen to music when I work out very often but when I'm working (cleaning and ironing at venue) I always have music cranked up!!!

  6. There are times I like music, such as driving my car Bieber-like at over 130 mph on a highway, but when I workout, never use it. I am very glad, however, that you have found this useful app to help you find your kick-a$$ place in the gym!

  7. I am one of those that I just listen - I put stuff I like on there & may change it to a faster song during HIIT or intervals but I am not crazy like some. When I lift, many times I am so focused that I don't even hear the music! :)

  8. I do workouts from videotapes so there is just basic music in them and that is okay with me, if I ever have to trudge along on an exercise bike, elliptical or treadmill typically I will watch something on TV that I recorded. I guess I"m weird, I'm not a music while I workout girl, with the exception if I go for a walk by myself then yes I use my Ipod.

  9. Music is great -- without it, Zumba wouldn't work! Yes, i do like music when i work out. No, i don't have a portable anything, so when my exercise is walking, i'm stuck just walking. It's okay, though, it beats not exercising at all.

  10. Nope. Irks the hell out of me. I like the quiet of my own thoughts. Trust me, they can be really, really quiet.

    1. I would prefer to lift weights in silence, but until I can afford my own weight room or a different gym, I need to drown the crappy gym music out. Walking outdoors, now, that's good for thinking.
      Mary Anne in Kentucky

  11. I always workout to music. I couldn't get through my weight training exercises without music. I love the way music can bring back memories (could it be I'm getting old!!), and makes life worth living.

  12. I love music, and love the thought of working out to it, but it's not exactly compatible with road biking. So, oddly enough, I have now gotten to the point where I rarely listen to anything even when I run. That must be why I am such a lousy runner, I guess. But there is always music in my head, and as long as it doesn't get too ear-wormy, it works pretty well. No technology required to set the tempo that way, either. .

  13. I LOVE this idea! I am one of those strength not cardio types, but I absolutely work better to music I love, and it has to be upbeat (ideally with a strong bassline, badass lyrics and rather a lot of screaming) I spend way too much time on jog.fm, indie shuffle and other music sites looking for new stuff. It never occurred to me I could turn those quiet ballads I've had since before I started training and pick up the pace on them. I'll definitely give it a try!

  14. LOVE / GOTTA HAVE THEM TUNES!!! I'm doing a long distance type thing this weekend and the plan is to "treat" myself to music when I need it most, but not have it going for the whole time. I sometimes feel like a crack addict with the need for music while I move. Seriously. I have ditched out on workouts because the shuffle wasn't charged! How lame is that?!

    1. Glad to know that I'm not the only person that ditches a workout because the music player wasn't charged!

  15. Sorry I didn't get to reply to more folks (it was Cat Shelter and Assorted Errand Day) but I do love hearing how everyone else approaches the whole issue of music/no music. And that I"m not the only nutball out there!

    I had another over-the-top awesome workout today thanks to new tunes... be glad you all don't work out at my gym to witness the madness, I imagine it's a bit disconcerting... :)

  16. I need to have music. Especially during cardio. I get the lectures about my outdoor running and music because I can't hear traffic... blah blah blah. But for the most part I look both ways before crossing the street and use jogging paths and I'm also this thing called an adult. Anyways, I work out in my home gym usually and I always have music on. It keeps me going!

  17. "hideously offensive sexist self-aggrandizing violence-promoting lyrics"...pretty much the only kind of music I can lift weights to. I'm sorry. There's a lot of Eminem on my iPod. Don't judge too hard.


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