What Is The Best Music To Workout To?

Woman running with headphonesMany people enjoy listening to music while exercising. However, did you know that the type of music you listen to can have an impact on how much exercise you do? For some people at least, the right workout compilation can be almost as effective as a personal trainer when it comes to developing the motivation needed to work harder, go faster, lift heavier.

What do you listen to when working out? Tell us below >>>

Many gyms are already using this theory, and have been doing so for years. Spinning classes (which Leonard Ayres would be proud of), BodyPump and fitness classes such as kickboxing and aerobics use music to help motivate. It works.

Music is Essential to Peak Performance


Over the last decade Dr Costas Karageorghis, a Sport Psychologist from Brunel University, has been studying the relationship between music and sporting performance – or in academic terms, the psychophysical and ergogenic effects of music.

Costas is not just a theorist though, for 4 years he was head coach of the Great Britain Students athletics team and is still a manager and coach of the Brunel University Athletics Team, so he can put his theories to test on a regular basis.

Costas describes music as a “type of legal performance-enhancing drug” and that “people’s emotional response to music is visceral” – the emotional response starts in the gut, it is almost primeval.

Of course, this realization is not new at all – armies have marched with bands for centuries, from brass bands in the British army to US Army marching songs, to medieval battle drums used by groups as diverse as the Vikings and Japanese warriors, to Samba music in Brazil which keeps crowds dancing all week through carnival and Zulu warriors beating their shields, people have used music and percussion to motivate and ultimately enhance performance.

Music To Motivate And Stir Emotion

Costas explained that music should not merely provide a good beat to exercise to, but it also needs to stir emotions and memories. Music is a very personal experience and the best workout tunes are those that are meaningful to an individual.

As a simple and often used example, training music from the Rocky 1 (composed by Bill Conti) can evoke so much emotional energy that a Rocky fan will immediately want to get up and start running up flights of stairs.

However, for somebody who has never watched a Rocky film, the music sounds like little more than a theme tune to a 70’s TV show. For the Rocky fans the combination of the percussion, electric guitar, vocals and brass section come together to produce a very powerful piece of music.

However, many of the songs from the Rocky movies motivate those who have loved the films and had an interest in boxing training. Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger (Gooveshark link) can motivate just as well. The steady guitar riff combined with dominant drum beat, which utilises all the symbols, provides and excellent intro before the bass and lyrics take over. In fact, if you are looking for a good workout soundtrack you cannot go far wrong with the Rocky Soundtrack on Grooveshark. It includes the classic Training Montage, Burning Heart, Going the Distance (great to get you in the mood), Gonna Fly Now and many others.

Musical Blinkers

Another important role of music is that it helps to improve an athletes focus by blinkering out all other distractions. In the same way that a race horse may wear blinkers to prevent it being distracted by other horses or the cheering crowds, music can block out conversations and other noises that interrupt your rhythm when exercise. Even a short interruption can reduce the intensity of a workout and the long-term effect of experiencing interruptions when exercising can be reduced levels of fitness.

Leonard Ayres’ Cyclists

Costas is certainly not the first person to investigate the effect of music on exercise. In 1911 Leonard Porter Ayres, a soldier and statistician from America, found that cyclists pedaled faster when a band played music.

Rocky Theme: Gonna Fly Now, by Bill Conti

Move To The Beat

This may not be true for everybody, but most people really do work harder when they exercise to the sound of familiar and energetic music. Dance music or heavy rock are often the preferred musical genres, both providing a solid rhythm and clear beat.

Dance music is engineered (or composed) for dance. Many tracks have a tempo to match heart rate during exercise, as this can make some clubbers feel more in tune with the music – dance to the beat. Many years ago (I think it was 1995) I spoke with a middle distance runner who loved house and dance music, and he explained that the real beauty for him was that the music seemed to resonate inside him and almost act as a catalyst to make him keep moving.

Music has the power to move us, both emotionally and physically. So plug yourself in and get fitter and leaner than you could ever imagine!

Learn More

Let’s Get Physical: The Psychology of Effective Workout Music by Ferris Jabr – scientificamerican.com. March 20, 2013

Behind the psychology of the most effective workout tunes by Megan Schmidt – philly.com. March 22, 2013

Grooveshark Gym Training Compilations

We have searched for workouts that you can access online and from your mobile phone, so next time you are in the gym, running or doing a home workout, you can have the best music to motivate you.

Grooveshark is a free music streaming service that allows you to create playlists, or listen to playlists created by others. They also have smartphone apps to allow you to stream to your phone – these use less bandwidth and battery than using the web browser.

Rocky Soundtrack – 29 songs in all

Running Music – Playlist by Julie H – this is an example of a long playlist used by a runner. 53 songs, around 3 hours of music. Not for everyone, a very personal collection.

Dance Anthems – Playlist by Kirsty Samson. 124 songs!

GYM Workouts – Playlist by Jillian Alston

Rock gym – Playlist by hunter. Starts with fun, features Bruno Mars, ends with The Fighter by Gym Class Heroes. A relatively low tempo mix.

Circuit Training – Playlist by Gerry Crabbe. 28 songs

Bleep Tests:

A pacer / bleep test with instructions and music from AC/DC and other rockers: Pacer Test Modern (22.56 minutes). This is the first bleep test with the music track we have heard. A great idea, many thanks to Fitness Gram.

BONUS: 20m Shuttle Run Beep Test.mp3 – Not music, but a beep test to test your fitness. The idea is that you position 2 cones (or other markers) 20m (65 1/2 feet) apart and then you run between the markers. You must reach the marker before the beep. The beeps are in a series of levels, each level with shorter duration between the beeps. See what level you can get up to!

Info: beep tests and fitness tests


Some YouTube Inspirations

If you have YouTube handy while exercising there are some great compilations which fit nicely with a workout.

Best Gym Workout Music # 262 minutes – starts with 3 1/2 minutes of Arnold Schwarzenegger with his “Who do YOU want to be in life?” speech.

Brasil Sambass [Brazilian Drum´n´Bass]47 minutes – Modern Brazilian samba drum music

Music For Training Vol.021 hour 20 minutes – features Darius & Finlay, Walter Gardini, Marco van Bassken and others.

Pump Up Songs 201272 minutes – “Pumped Up Songs To Inspire A Successful Gym Workout. By Dj Greg

Running Music43 minutes – music when running is a very personal experience often more so than when in the gym. But a good mix to keep you motivate. Samba influences.

Fatburner Dance Workouts74 minutes

More like this in the Fitness section

  9 comments for “What Is The Best Music To Workout To?

  1. frasnk Miller
    April 4, 2013 at 1:32 am

    Bob Segar Pink Floyed and also Sarah Brightman Adrea Bocelli abba pretty diversivied depending on if I really wanns go or just relax . .

  2. Richa Bajaj
    April 4, 2013 at 11:10 am

    I listen to Pitbull while I go for jog in the morning…

    His songs are fast and full of aggression :)

  3. MotleyHealth
    April 8, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    Just did a great workout on an exercise bike to Appetite For Destruction.

  4. Diego S
    April 10, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    My favorite songs to run to always seem to change depending what mood I’m in. But my all time favorite song for running is Time is running out by Muse – really gets me motivated to run faster :)

  5. Tracy S.
    April 12, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    I listen to Kid Rock – old and new stuff. I think it stems from seeing him live so many times. The energy and enthusiasm he puts out on stage inspires me. So when I hear one of the songs he played live, it just makes me want to MOVE.

  6. john
    April 18, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    I love working out to any type of rock. My favorite song to get things going though is “start me up”. ya ya.

  7. MotleyHealth
    April 18, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Yeah, that would work! Don’t make a grown man cry …..

  8. Trinne
    June 6, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Fast music seems to be good. like pump it of Black eyed peas

  9. Anon
    July 1, 2013 at 3:53 am

    You Know My Name-Chris Cornell (from Casino Royale)
    Sabotage-Beastie Boys
    Song 2-Blur
    Head Like A Hole-NIN
    Ulysses-Franz Ferdinand

    A lot of hard-rocking fast-paced stuff that sounds kind of angry is my favorite.

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