Workout Tunes: From Crappy to Happy

Strangely enough, this is not on my playlist.

Can you enjoy an exhilarating and rewarding cardio workout without musical accompaniment?

You can?

Well congratulations on your inner resourcefulness! Because I sure as hell can't. I have been known to actually cry upon discovering that my mp3 player failed to charge and I'd have to exercise without it.

 Artist's rendering of Crabby without functional iPod: rafa2010

Caffeine and music are, for me, the two magic ingredients that can transform intense aerobic and anaerobic exertion from a hideous form of torture into a blissful state of grinning idiocy. (Which, though it probably looks disturbing, is actually a good thing if you happen to live in my brain).

Crabby's Constant Struggle: Can You Help?
Here's the problem: finding the right workout tunes to engineer this motivational miracle! That can be tough. Especially if you are prone to being an obsessive-compulsive inflexible freak very particular about your musical selections.

Not only must a song align with my very odd musical taste, but the beats per minute must coincide with my footfalls. Which would be fine, if I exercised within the more typical workout playlist bpm range of 120-140. But I love sprinting on an elliptical at 160-200 beats per minute, which not only adds to the lunatic impression I give off, but also renders a typical workout playlist suggestion pretty much useless.

Of course, this is only the 3,743rd time I've talked about needing fast workout tunes here on the blog, and I also mentioned it at Shape Magazine's web hangout. So if you've got any suggestions I'd love to hear 'em.  But since Lee from Fitville innocently asked about my playlist in the comments last week, and she's got some great biking playlists over there, you'll just have to blame her if I couldn't resist spouting off yet again.

And so what are my latest discoveries in the workout music world?

New Hunting Grounds!
After, much unsuccessful rooting around "exercise" playlists, I've discovered that certain genres like country/bluegrass and "drum 'n bass" have more in the way of tunes at my target tempo. However, I suspect the number of people who have workout playlists like mine, with these both heavily featured, is probably... hmm... about 1?  Both these sorts of music have the potential to drive some folks nuts: bluegrass can feature whiny vocals and depressing lyrics; drum 'n bass can sound monotonous, overly synthesized and somewhat relentless.  I also have mindless pop tunes, funky retro stuff, Latin tunes, and even gospel, though as described below, with some important limitations.

The second discovery I've made? I'm getting even more sensitive to musical lyrics than ever, especially  now that I am wondering about the impact that earworms may be having on my impressionable brain.

Yep, I'm one of those folks who actually listens to the words in songs. Though  somehow, I wouldn't be surprised if Cranky Fitness readers are more prone than average to have this rare and abnormal compulsion.

Ready to Get Offended?
Even aside from possible brain-impacting implications, I find offensive lyrics... offensive! So as someone who is easily annoyed, I've already removed a lot of songs with icky messages. One can naively download something based on a thirty second clip and find all sorts of lyrical atrocities awaiting once the full version is played.

However, I'd be willing to bet that my criteria for what's offensive is not exactly typical. ( In fact, this might be a good time to mention that while I'm totally grateful to the folks at Frugal Dad for listing this blog as a "top fitness" site...

Thanks, Pops!

...I'd like to immediately warn any Frugal Dads who may have arrived here to stay the hell away from the rest of this post if they've got any of their Frugal Children anywhere near the computer monitor.

No, Really, Watch Out...
See I have no objection to swear words, or drug references, or or sexual innuendo. I saw no reason to remove the song "Bad Touch," for example, in which a typical verse starts off: "Love, the kind you clean up with a mop and bucket..." and ends with "And then we'll do it doggie style so we can both watch X-Files."  The chorus: "You and me baby we ain't nothing but mammals, so let's do it like they do on the Discovery channel."  Some of the lyrics make me giggle--sex is pretty damn funny when you think about it.

But Even I Have My Limits..
However, racist, homophobic, or misogynistic lyrics?  Eek! Even the catchiest of tunes is ruined for me if I have to listen to crap like that.  "No homo" popped out of one tune unexpectedly and that sucker was gone the next day.

And I can't do most religious music either, at least the kind that features a "Capital H" He or Him. And I know that sounds weirdly intolerant! But no matter how prevalent the belief may be worldwide that there's some powerful Guy up there who controls everything, I find the notion of a gendered deity who just happens to be male (and often petty and vengeful) pretty darn oppressive.  And something of a coincidence considering which gender has put itself forcibly in charge of everything throughout history.

photo: iansand
Yikes, what was that noise just now? Kinda splashy?

Was that the sound of hundreds of Cranky Fitness readers suddenly jumping ship?  Ooops! Sorry, by-the-book religious folks... though I'm guessing most of you didn't make it past "doggy style" anyway.

"Upbeat" Messages? Seriously, Crabby, Have You Lost Your Mind?
So a further wrinkle is my recent attempt to keep positive phrases running through my head as much as possible, on the off-chance that they may help reprogram my habitual cranky neurons into firing in a more optimistic direction.

A perky tune like Claire Lynch's "Great Day in the Morning?" Well, sure!  That has awesome brainwashing potential.  Whereas Maroon 5's "Harder to Breathe" with lines like: "You're not fit to f--kin' tread the ground I'm walking on?" Eh, not so much.

But an interesting thing I've discovered is that even country/bluegrass and funky/bluesy songs full of regrets about ruined lives, alcoholic tailspins, crappy jobs, faithless lovers and ill-considered bargains with the devil can be great fodder for inspiration. Often there's a sense of positive movement in relation to these unfortunate circumstances--courageous decisions to fight back or avoid wicked temptations in the future; some useful lesson learned; or even a slight sliver of hope for the future. All good!

How Weird is This? DIY Inspiration:
I've found it helpful to actually tailor visions in my own head to even "downbeat" lyrical suggestions. For example: Bruno Mars is warning me to Run Away... and while I might be easily able to resist his carrot (since, as it turns out, we all gotta share it), if I envision him singing instead about that third helping of dessert at a party that I tend to regret the next morning? Run away is indeed a great suggestion, thanks Bruno!

And when Bernice Johnson Reagon explains, in a very catchy song perfect for ellipticaling, how much freakin' better I'd feel if I'd just lay my burden down?  Well, I can just pretend she doesn't mean anything Christian-y.  When I let go of worrying, or feeling martyred about something, or overwhelmed or pissed off, that feels pretty damn good, so thank you too, Bernice.

And now, the Playlist Sharing Debacle:
So I spent an absurd amount of time trying to figure out how to have links here that allowed previews of some of the songs I like. Even though I know nobody cares!

But my experience was one frustrating FAIL after another. If anyone has any suggestions either for song sources, or ways to share previews, or perhaps fast-paced inspirational tunes about the sad inability of middle-aged bloggers to post multimedia widgets and how this can be a ultimately be a transformative and life-affirming experience, I'm all ears.

Alas, it seems there's some weird disagreement between the Amazon flash widget and Firefox; they're not speaking. Though the thing may work in Explorer. And is nearly useless as it doesn't seem to have anything that's not mainstream. Out of my last 75+ downloads I could only find 4 they've got, which might give you some indication of how weird my typical selections are.

Oh and iTunes hides the page urls when I try to visit a song preview page, and it wants me to sign up to "ping" whatever the hell that means, so screw them.

But if you've got access to a browser more flash-compatible than my version of Firefox and are seeing something other than the big blank space that I see below, then there should be eight tunes lurking behind there that it may be possible to preview. But I ain't holding my breath.

And here are four additional ones (out of dozens I looked for) than finally surfaced on

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So does anyone else obsess about workout music?  What are your criteria for adding stuff to your exercise playlist?

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