Music to Kick Your Workouts Butt

"Music nerd" is a strong word that could mean a lot of things. I'm just saying.

Am I a nerd if I hear music when no one else does? (It's playing, really!) Am I a nerd if I can analyze the chord structure of most songs I hear? Am I a nerd if listening to music makes me wish I could drop everything, get out my guitar, and play along? (Part of the reason why I have to limit how much music I listen to at home. Kids gotta eat.) I'll leave that up to you to decide.

And my music therapy training only adds another level of "nerdiness." I may be talking to you in a coffee shop, but part of my brain is analyzing the background music (that you might not even be hearing.) Is this music intentional or random? (ie. a playlist or a “radio” station) Is the music working in this setting? Why was this music have been selected? Is it trying to get me to do something? It it working for that purpose? 

But these powers can be used for good as well.  For example, St. Louis gym Forward Fitness loved my post about creating sleep playlists. And so, I created some playlists to help their clients have more effective workouts (creating playlists might be one of my favorite things ever.)

You can access the playlists I created on Spotify.  But if you want to create your own, here are the steps and guidelines I used. 

  1. Choose the length of your work out. The length of the work out will determine the length of your playlist. Include warm up and cool down with time and music for stretching. (So you’ll actually warm up and cool down properly.)
  2. Figure out the phases of your workout. Ideally, you won't go from sitting to running full speed in a minute or two. You need to work up to that full speed. Beyond that, you may do an alternating pattern of pushing yourself and lower-key movement, ending with a hard finish. All of that sandwiched between a warm up and a cool down. I'm no fitness professional, so find one to help you map out your best routine.
  3. Pick a style. Consistency is the key to any great playlist. Sometimes you want 80’s pop and sometimes you want Justin Timberlake. Having several workout playlists allows you to pick the one that suits your mood at the time. You can be committed to your work out without having to be totally committed to one single playlist. Gather your favorite songs from this style for your playlist. (Hint: many internet music players have related artist search options and Spotify recently started suggesting songs for playlists.)
  4. Start and end with cool and relaxing music. The trainers at Forward Fitness incorporate 5-12 minutes to sit, massage your muscles, and cool down at the beginning and at the end of your workout. It helps you shift out of rush mode (fight or flight) into a more relaxed mode (rest and digest.) This allows your body to work better during your workout. Find cool down music that somewhat fits in with your style. Pay attention to what kinds of instruments are used in your selected style and search them with “relaxation” after it.
  5. Arrange your favorite songs according to your workout phases. Generally, you’re going to put your slowest, least intense songs after the first cool and relaxing songs. Your most intense song will be placed where you intend to peak in your workout. Other music will go in between. Keep in mind that you do NOT want to go from cool and relaxing to very intense music-this could put you back into fight or flight mode. Take the time to listen to the beginning 15 seconds of each song as you’re arranging them. You’ll be able to compare the pieces better to know where each should go. 
  6. Put it into action! Start using your playlist for your workout while paying attention to how you and your body reacts to each song. Is this song making your heart rate go up? Is it an appropriate time for that? Is it going up too much at once? Keep making necessary changes until your playlist is perfect.

That’s it! Now your music is going to kick your workout's butt.

Did you use this guide to create your own playlist? We'd love to hear it! 

(You can also find this blog post on The Huffington Post's web site!)