Best Workout Tunes!

Photo: wackystuff

I am always a sucker for lists of "best workout tunes" or "greatest exercise music" or "awesome playlists." This is because I NEED music to work out to, and the right tune can turn exercise from a dreary form of torture to a fist-pumping, heart-pounding, endorphin-generating, cardio extravaganza. I get so goofy and high when I hear good music, I'm surprised I'm still legally allowed to download mp3s.

But good tunes are hard to find.

To feed my addiction, I often find myself roaming the web checking out some fellow exercise enthusiast's "best workout playlist." Yet when I start sampling, what do I so often find?

Oh. My. God.

What planet, I wonder, are these people from? Who could possibly work out to such boring, grating, dirge-like, screeching, wimpy, offensive or just downright lame tunes? I am so often stunned by what execrable choices can land on someone's "best" list.

But the thing is, I know someone else listening to my playlist would find my favorites to be equally unfathomable and irritating. They'd think my taste in music sucks. They'd be wrong, but still. It's hard not to notice that musical taste is very personal. (And I bet many of you will hate my sample playlist at the end of the post.)

So what's the best way to find music you might actually like? Well, the short answer is a LOT of trial and error. However, here are a few ideas for expanding your search techniques, and I hope some of you will have better ones.

1. Steal from your spouse, partner, family members or friends.

Depending on your ethics, this may mean literally absconding with their mp3 player for your workouts, or asking for ideas, or gratefully accepting cd's burnt on your behalf.

There is often one person in your circle who not only likes to collect motivating songs, but who also likes to show off how eclectic and yet accessible they think their music is. If you are not yourself this person, take advantage of their desire to spread the musical love, and be sure to compliment their excellent selection even if only one or two songs are good and the rest are incomprehensibly terrible.

2. Expose yourself to a wider variety of tunes even when you're not working out.

You know that thing in your car with the buttons and/or dials that plays "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me," "All Things Considered" and gives you weather and traffic updates on the Eights? Well, if you're past a certain age, you may have forgotten that it also plays music. And if you're really determined, and keep hitting a lot of buttons, you may eventually find a station that plays music written after 1990. It may take many attempts to find a station that is not either playing the same old boomer music, or some genre like country or hip hop that may not be your favorite. And warning: along the way you may hear alarming bursts of talk-radio idiocy and petulance. But if you persevere, you may eventually start to hear thumping beats that make you want to nod your head or tap your steering wheel.

Alternatively, hang out in or near fitness classes, where upbeat music is played. Or, you can even go out dancing! You are more likely to hear music with a great beat on a dance floor than you are in a department store or coffeehouse.

3. Check with bloggers who have made lists or asked their readers for suggestions.

For example, Scale Junkie asked her readers for some ideas, and there tons of great suggestions in the comments of her workout mix post.

One problem with reader suggestions, however, is that in some blogs (like this one) it's really hard to put links in comments unless you know html. So to check out the listed songs, you may need to print off a hard copy or flip back and forth between different windows in order to find and preview the song.

So it's nice that some bloggers like the Fit Bottom Girls have created playlists full of workout songs you can check out. You can also get ideas from Music Savvy Mom, like this interactive workout playlist. Nicole from SparkPeople also shares some of her current favorite tunes. And there are fresh playlists every week at IntheGym.

4. Go to a big database and search through their categories or user favorites.

The advantage of a big sites like Amazon or iTunes or SonicTap is that they have huge catalogs and you can sample 30 seconds of the song before you buy.

However, has anyone else discovered how misleading that 30 seconds can be? And what horrors you can end up with?

I once got a song complete with gratuitious "no homo"asides, which, being a homo, I did not appreciate. (And here's an amusing explanation of the "no homo" phenomenon if you haven't come across it). And don't even get me started on the stupidity of so many of the lyrics. "You cheated girl; My heart bleeded girl... Gah!!! There is a reason I download many songs in Spanish or other languages I do not speak.

However, these big sites do tend to have sections devoted to exercise music where you can browse for new tunes, and there's a lot to look through!

For some reason I probably do most of my scouting using the user-compiled "iMix" feature of iTunes, probably out of habit. I search playlists for words like "cardio," "workout," "running," "spinning," "elliptical," or "exercise," and sort by "most recent." Not that you'd know from the average age of the songs on my playlists.

5. Let sites with fancy algorithms recommend things you like.

One of these is Pandora, which I love for creating custom radio stations. It takes songs or artists you like and then finds others that are similar to it, often in mysterious ways. However, I've found that while I have great luck with ambient, hanging out music (I have a jazzy "Diana Krall" station, and a chillin' "Buddha Bar" station, and an estrogen-packed "Shawn Colvin" station), Pandora has kinda sucked for me in terms of finding workout music. However, if you note my weird playlist below, who the hell could predict what I like? Not the Pandora people, alas. It would probably work much better for normal people. I've also noticed that iTunes Genius should be renamed Moron when it comes to suggesting tunes I would like.

6. Get pre-mixed or original workout music at set bpms.

Of course I have to mention my pal John at Hella Sound, who provides great running music at custom beats per minute so you can run or workout to the beat. (I believe I also have to mention that he provided our web design services and so he is probably technically a Cranky Fitness sponsor).

But just to show that I'm not totally pimping for friends with awesome products, there are other places to get music designed specifically for workouts, like Podrunner (free) or WorkoutMusic.com (not free).

7. Number seven has nothing to do with finding playlists.

But this whole subject reminded me of Heather's funny post on mp3 earbuds that I tried to work in somewhere earlier but couldn't quite manage. So what the heck; check out the post anyway.

8. And finally, check out a recent random playlist of Crabby's that you will no doubt find appalling!

(Let's see if this works...if not, you may want to try the link here.)

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So does anyone else have any song resources or favorite tunes to suggest?


[And yeah, I posted this over at Blogher as well... if you get bored, come visit me over at the 10X club where we have daily challenges that are so hardcore and intimidating virtually no one ever completes them! Er... I think that must be the reason].

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