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
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
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
Have fun and good luck with your
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