You don’t need a team of researchers to tell you that listening to music can dramatically alter your workout—but that doesn’t stop them from doling out the findings! From measuring how classical music of various speeds alters your cycling to studying how music impacts your gait, heart rate and aerobic fitness, you could spend the rest of your life poring over related research and never run out of material.
Some competitions ban iPods and other music devices because it may give participants an edge. Marathoner Jennifer Goebel famously made headlines when she was disqualified from the Lakefront Marathon in Milwaukee when it was discovered that the 27-year-old slipped on her headphones late in the race. The USA Track and Field rule is that elite runners competing for the USATF Championships cannot use musical devices. Goebel was slated to win the women’s division, and got that title for a couple of days before her illegal iPod use was proven and she had to give her title over to the literal runner up.
Personally, I’ve never ran, trained for a marathon or ran a half or full marathon with music. It’s strange, because music has always been a key part of my workouts. For some reason, I preferred training and even long runs with nothing but the sound of feet on pavement and the noise around me. Maybe it’s because I only ran outside (if it were a treadmill I would have killed for an iPod)—or perhaps I was meant to be an elite runner? (Kidding! That’s definitely not me).
Claiming Your Jams
It takes a lot for a song to make it on my permanent workout list, and there are definitely big differences in what I prefer for cardio vs. lifting. Cardio is all about uplifting, fast or strong beats with inspirational messages. Sometimes you just need Akon to tell you he loves the way that body bounce to power through another 20 minutes on the stair machine.
With lifting, I prefer “harder” and even angry rap. It makes me feel pretty badass. The same kind of music went for when I was training to fight (boxing, not MMA), too.
Only a very small handful of songs have remained on my workout playlists for years. Here are the top contenders. While I strongly prefer unedited/explicit versions, that just doesn’t jive with what needs to be clean versions for videos. In the spirit of a love for music videos and keeping it clean, here are my top picks along with the (mostly) edited versions of the songs.
- Cardio: Kardinal Offishal feat. Akon, “Bodybounce”
How can you not want to get in some cardio with this song—especially if that cardio includes some serious bounce-age? Plus, especially for a hip hop song, it’s a pretty body positive message. Akon doesn’t care about those stretch marks and neither should you. “They’re just bungee cords bringing you back when you dip.” If you want to be told “that’s the body of the century” and be reminded that you’re “really into looking hot / always at the body shop / working on that beautiful figure,” add this one. (Sadly, no real video exists! Akon, come on.)
- Lifting: Kanye, “Black Skinhead”
Say what you will about Kanye, he can put down some serious beats for lifting. I love lifting to this one really early in the morning when it’s till dark out. When insomnia strikes, I’m often lifting at 4:30 or 5 a.m. Having Kanye telling you, “Four in the morning and I’m zoning” and “I keep it 300 like the Romans” or “I’m aware I’m a wolf / soon as the moon hits / I’m aware I’m a king” is going to get you through that last set.
- Cardio or Lifting: Fort Minor, “Remember the Name”
This song is 100 percent inspiration for just about any high impact workout. Plus, as a writer, I love it because it’s really about a songwriter! Still, it gives you the exact equation you need for a successful workout. Ten percent luck, twenty percent skill, fifteen percent concentrated power of will, five percent pleasure, fifty percent pain. (Okay, replace that “pain” with “discomfort.”)
- Cardio or Lifting: The Script, “Hall of Fame”
I especially loved this when I was boxing, but it’s applicable to almost any workout. Every single line can be applied to your workout from “You could go the distance / you could go the mile / you could walk straight through hell with a smile” to “You can throw your hands up / you can beat the clock / you can move a mountain / you can break rocks.” There’s a reason it’s used in so many sports movies! The video is seriously inspiring, too, with boxing to ballet featured.
- Cardio or Lifting: Maino feat. T Pain, “All the Above”
When I say cardio, it should really be a slower and steady kind of grind (like steep hills for cycling or taking alternating stairs). Everybody loves an underdog story—and we all feel like underdogs during especially grueling workouts. With lyrics like “Take a look and you can tell / I was destined for greatness” and “How the hell can you stop me / why in the world would you try / I go on forever / that’s just how I’m designed,” you’ll definitely knock out that last hill, staircase or whatever’s in front of you.
- Cardio: Beyonce, “Grown Woman”
Can we just stop a moment and enjoy how adorable little Beyonce is in this video?
It’s rare that I have a song as long as “Grown Woman” on my playlist (the downloaded song is much longer than the video), but the lyrics and peppy beat have made it stick. Of course, my favorite line is “You really wanna know how I got it like that / ‘cause I got a cute face and my boot so fat.” Obviously, this one’s a must when you’re doing bum-intensive cardio.
Which songs have been your mainstay workout inspiration? Share below—with videos!
(Photo: Screenshot from Beyonce’s “Grown Woman”)