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Issue Date: November 2010 Web Features, Posted On: 11/8/2010


Rhythm and Workouts

In high school, I ran cross country and remembered loving it whenever I stumbled onto a song on my Walkman with a beat that coincided with my pace. Not only does the right music make a workout more enjoyable, but it can actually increase the effectiveness.

As a professional DJ, I started wondering a couple years ago about the possibility of organizing music with this in mind. Rather than stumbling on songs like this by accident, I could use the BPM data I've collected from DJing to put together a database of songs that work with various exercises.

The idea was interesting to me but also caught the interest of folks at Marie Claire and Real Age, who gave me columns in which to explore the subject.

In the past few years of organizing my database and writing about my findings, I've learned a number of things about music and the way folks incorporate it into their exercise routines. I'd like to share some of these finds, which you can bear in mind while helping your clients get the most from their workouts.

First, what makes a good workout song?

Generally speaking, a good workout song is up-tempo and contemporary.

There are, of course, folks that prefer songs from the 70s and folks who only like techno. But most of the music on the radio is there because people like listening to it.

As for tempo, Elvis once said, "Any audience, as a rule, goes for a fast number." This holds true with workout music as well.

This is likely common sense, but people will work out to something feisty, even if they don't know it--the energy gets to them. People will also work out to songs they know and love, even if they're a bit slow.

But, if you can hit them with something quick that they love, it's ideal. To that end, I'd start with anything that's on the radio above 130 beats per minute. You'll realize almost immediately which songs get a response and which don't. Thereafter, it's just a matter of switching out the losers while keeping the winners.

What to consider when making a playlist for a wider audience, rather than just your specific preference.

It came as a surprise, to me at least, that men pay little attention to the tempo of their workout music. I'd originally thought that my workout database would generate interest from all kinds of folks. But it's used overwhelmingly by women.

Men definitely listen to music while working out, but their interest is more in the tone of the music. Namely, guys will listen to glacial hip-hop and metal, as long as they sound aggressive.

Given that so many hip-hop songs are popular and clock in at 80 BPM, the opportunity here is to work them into a routine where the pace doubles the tempo. Basically, the 160 BPM range is great for running and spinning, but there aren't a lot of songs that fall into this range, as it's so brisk. Taking a few popular but slower hip-hop tracks and having folks do two reps per beat will allow you to flesh out this tempo range while appeasing men and women alike.

What are good places to source playlists?

iTunes has a constantly updated log of the Top 200 songs. Even if you don't have an iPod, this can be a great place to check out what's currently popular and listen to a 30-second sample. iTunes also plays host to a number of user-generated iMixes, wherein people assemble lists of their favorite workout songs. You can always consult these for new ideas.

There are also a number of paid and free apps available for iPods and iPhones, which will either allow you to manually or automatically calculate the BPMs of the songs in your library.

What are folks currently listening to while working out?

The most popular workout tracks, according to user ratings in my database, do a decent job of illustrating the points I'd hoped to make above.

Of the top 10, all but two are above 125 BPM. And each is either a current radio hit or remix of a radio hit. This list can also give you a good idea of what different tempos sound like.

Lady GaGa, Alejandro (Skrillex Remix), 127 BPM
Justin Bieber, Somebody to Love, 130 BPM
David Guetta, Fergie & LMFAO, Gettin' Over You, 130 BPM
Jason Derulo & Nicki Minaj, In My Head (Remix), 110 BPM
Enrique Iglesias & Pitbull, I Like It, 129 BPM
3OH!3 & Kesha, My First Kiss, 138 BPM
Katy Perry & Snoop Dogg, California Gurls, 125 BPM
Christina Aguilera, Not Myself Tonight, 120 BPM
Black Eyed Peas,Rock That Body, 125 BPM
Shakira, Waka Waka (This Time For Africa), 127 BPM

If any of this proves helpful at all, you'll be in better shape than I was when I first set out on my workout music adventure.

Have fun and good luck with your own!

Chris Lawhorn is the resident DJ at Marie Claire and Real Age. Each month, he reviews 300-400 new singles looking for the best in potential workout music. To vote on upcoming tracks, hear this month's contenders, and find more resources for matching songs to the pace of your exercise routine, you can visit his site Run Hundred.


Topic: Exercises/Training Tips

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