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Amplify Your Workout With Music: The Best Exercise Music For Cardio

Updated on July 17, 2011

Meet Your New Personal Trainer: An Mp3 Player Loaded With Good Songs For The Gym

by computerjoe at flickr
by computerjoe at flickr

You've got those running shoes laced up tight and an icy cool bottle of Powerade in hand--but if you haven't taken the time to load up that mp3 player with the best exercise music for cardio-- you're not ready to hit the treadmill just yet. Sometimes the right soundtrack is all you need to take it past the limit. Why else do fighters always get their song blasted over the loudspeakers as they swagger up to the ring?

Music as an impetus for ferocious physical exertion is nothing new--those savage ancient Greek warriors marched off to battle to the strains of Dorian music. But today, some cool research in the field of exercise science is unlocking the secrets of music's awesome abilty to incite and inspire. In a study performed at Brunel University, runners exercising on a treadmill tried to keep in time with the beat of selected songs--and when they were grooving to motivational rock or pop music, including tracks by Madonna, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and Queen, they had 15% greater endurance! Plus, rocking out to the right kind of music during a workout can pick you up when your energy is lagging, and give you the spike of determination you need to finish that last grueling mile.

Good songs for the gym are all-important--listen to the wrong music and you'll just want to throw in the towel.

by michael lokner at flickr
by michael lokner at flickr

The Science of Exercise Music

Dr. Costas Karageorghis, an exercise psychologist at Brunel University's School of Sport and Education, has the whole exercise playlist making skill down to a science: for the past 20 years, he's been studying the effects of music on sport and exercise. Dr. Karageorghis is the inventor of the Brunel Music Inventory Rating, a questionare that rates the motivational qualities of music for exercise .

What he discovered: the most important element of a workout song is its tempo, which should be between 120-140 beats per minutes (bpm). What does that mean for us non-musicians? It's how many times you tap your foot in one minute while you're jamming to that song. The magic behind this number: it reflects the tempo of the average person's heart beat during a typical treadmill routine. Of course, if you're a track star, you can rock out to songs with higher bpms.

So without fancy DJ'ing equipment, how do you know if you're favorite track is one of the best songs to workout to? Actually, depending on what type of music software you have on your computer, it may count the bpms for you. If not, you can test it using a watch and a foot-tapping or finger-tapping technique. Or, you can check out the link below to an online beat calculator that works for any song you have in the vast empire that is your iTunes library.

Timing is also key when it comes to choosing good songs for the gym: an unflinching beat can help you to synchronize your motion with the music, which helps you to move efficiently, improving your endurance and even reducing the risk of injury. Look for songs that feature a steady, forceful rhythm. You don't want songs with sudden changes in time signature or intensity--think free-form jazz, hardcore punk or indie rock. Save those as a soundtrack for your less sporty endeavors.

And let's not forget about the lyrics. I'm sure we've all secretly stashed a few weepy ballads on our mp3 players, but you don't want any downers on your exercise playlist. Another bad idea: grunge rock. I love Kurt Cobain as much as the next person BUT-- "I think I'm dumb" are not the lyrics which champions are made of. The best songs to workout to have lyrics that fire you up and inspire you.

Audioslave: Cochise

The Killers: Mr. Brightside

Cold War Kids: Hang Me Up To Dry

Rihanna: SOS

Best Exercise Music For Cardio

This playlist is definitely not all-inclusive. Music is such a personal thing. A song might have the right bpm, inspiring lyrics, and the most perfect rhythm known to the world. But if you hate it so much it makes you want to hit your head against a locker room wall, not hit the punching bag a few last times, then it's no good to you. You have to find the exercise music that works for you. But do check the list out just to see what kind of tunes tend to be the best exercise music for cardio. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

  • Black Dog by Led Zeppelin
  • Blue Monday by New Order
  • Bring Em Out by T.I.
  • Cochise by Audioslave
  • Dancing With Myself byBilly Idol
  • Drop It Like It's Hot by Snoop Dogg
  • Firestarter by The Prodigy
  • Hang Me Up To Dry by Cold War Kids
  • Harder to Breathe by Maroon 5
  • Runnin' Down a Dream by Tom Petty
  • Higher Ground by Stevie Wonder
  • Mr. Brightside byThe Killers
  • Push-It by Salt-N-Pepa
  • Run-Around by Blues Traveler
  • SOS by Rihanna
  • Stronger by Kanye West
  • The Heat Is On by Glenn Frey

All Time Classic Workout Song

Cool fact: According to an article in the NY Times, Dr. Karageorghis has written that the theme song from Rocky--from the famous scene when Rocky is running up the steps--is actually one of the all-time best songs to workout to.

by joshjanssen at flickr.
by joshjanssen at flickr.

What Do You Think Are The Best Songs To Workout To?

There is always a plethora of 'workout songs' CDs targeted at specific workouts and sports for sale at the music store. These are great for getting ideas. But music is such a personal thing, you're far better off putting together an exercise playlist of the songs that you know get you pumped.

Myself, I'm a rock 'n roll girl. I tried to showcase songs from a range of genres in my list--but there's so much music out there! So be a pal and leave a comment about what songs drive you to push it to the limit!


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