Musical Motivation: Exercise Soundtracks That Keep Us Moving

Everyone seems to have something they listen to that motivates them to keep going and push harder when they are working out. Something that allows them to focus while their mind and body are complaining about how tired, sore, or bored they are.

Many studies have shown that listening to music during low to moderate activity can improve performance, endurance, mood, and stave off fatigue. However, psychologists haven’t been able to determine if there is one type, style, or aspect of music that is more beneficial than another (Bicknell, 2013).

So, my own personal (and not professional in any way) theory is that you should just listen to something you love, that motivates you, and makes you feel good… because it’s all just about distracting you from yourself. At least, that’s the theory I came to through my own experience. For me, it’s all about drowning out the overly-dramatic voice in my head that’s saying, “I’m tired! I’m bored! I can’t go any further! This is hard! I feel like I’m DYING!” Then again, I have a good friend who is a long-distance runner who prefers a kind of meditative silence. Anything else just distracts her from getting in “The Zone.”

So, we can all learn two important things from this:

  1. We are all different
  2. Long distance runners are weird

But seriously, this all makes me really curious about what everyone uses as motivation during their workouts. So I did a quick, informal interview with a bunch of our staff members here at East Communities to see what they are listening to, and if they have any suggestions for us:

Erin (Membership Director)

I listen to Santigold when I’m running, pretty much exclusively. They just have the right pace and right rhythm to keep me going at a good pace. Sometimes I will honestly try to mix it up and listen to something different, but I always end up hating it and going back to Santigold… Sometimes Florence and the Machine works… but almost always Santigold.

Cinnamon (Executive Director)

When I first started running, I could only listen to Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie on Reggae Woman.” Like… over & over on repeat. It’s how I gauged my workouts: how many times I could listen to that song on repeat. After I started to get the hang of running, I moved on to the Black Eyed Pea’s song “The Boogie That Be.” Now I pretty much listen to anything that has a good beat and I just use those original songs as indicator markers. I’ll put together a playlist that has them play whenever I hit a mile marker. It’s a nice marker of time and distance, and I know that I can get through those songs and keep going, which was really helpful when I did a big, long group marathon run last year.

I’ve also been known to binge-watch The Walking Dead on the treadmill. It’s a great motivator to come in and work out if you ONLY allow yourself to watch an episode while you are working out. I also think I burned more calories because it’s scary and makes me jump while I’m working out too.*

*The YMCA does not condone you trying to scare yourself to burn extra calories. Safety first.

Sam and Bridget (Our New Personal Trainers!)

Sam: When I do legs, I always listen to heavy metal music.

Bridget: Me too!

Sam: The anger and drama in heavy metal just gets you mad and helps you power through the heavy lifting.

Bridget: This is kind of funny, but when I work on arms, I like to listen to girl power type music. Like P!nk and Avril Lavigne.

Sam: Me too! (Not really). I listen to rap, like Drake or Tupac when I do arms.

Lauren (Health and Wellness Director)

When I do weights, I listen to hip-hop. When I run, I listen to pretty much anything I can zone out to. I like anything melodic, like Florence and the Machine… but sometimes I’ll listen to podcasts or even Colts football games during football season. Anything I can zone out to.

Megan (Front Desk Staff)

When I do cardio, I like to watch YouTube videos like Nikki Blacketter, who does fitness vlogs. Then, if I run out of her videos, I’ll watch makeup tutorials. If I run out of interesting videos to watch, I’ll listen to just about any music that’s fast-paced. It helps distract me from the boredom from running indoors, which I don’t like much.

Stephanie (Front Desk Staff)

I’ll do two things at once: watch news (through reading the closed captions) and listen to music. I usually listen to Pandora stations for rap. Rihanna is really good workout music, too

Marcos (Youth & Family Director)

When I do weights, I don’t listen to any music. I just find it distracting. When I run, I almost always listen to the Kanye West Pandora station. It just has really good beats. The beat of the music almost always matches the rhythm and pace of my running. One of my favorite songs to listen to is “Jesus Walks,” by Kanye. It’s got this great Army-style rhythm that’s a lot of fun to run to.

Now, if you’ve made it this far, I know exactly what you are thinking: “But wait a minute! You haven’t told me what you listen to! I’m dying to know, because you clearly are a person of impeccable taste and worldliness!”

Don’t worry. I would never leave you hanging like that.

Personally, I never listen to music when I work out. I’m a podcast/audiobook person. I like listening to podcasts or audiobooks when I’m running because it makes me feel extra productive; “I’m learning something and exercising… AT THE SAME TIME!” Plus, music just doesn’t manage to drown out that whiny voice in my head that’s always trying to convince me that I’m dying and I should just go home and sit on the couch some more.

One of my favorite podcasts to listen to when I’m on a run is Snap Judgement. It’s a story-telling podcast from WNYC that is just always on point. They are always entertaining, thought provoking, and the stories are very well crafted and curated. One of my favorite books I’ve listened to while working out was Tina Fey’s Bossypants. It’s so funny that I found myself laughing uncontrollably and/or wearing goofy smiles while I was already breathless, on the elliptical at the Y. Despite the awkward moments and weird looks from fellow Y members at my seemingly unprovoked outbursts, it was worth it.

So, find your motivation! Whether its music, podcasts, audiobooks, TV shows, YouTube channels, or even (GASP!) meditative silence, go with it. If it helps you to enjoy your workout, you’ll be more motivated to keep it up and you’ll definitely see and feel the benefits.

If you still need some extra help finding the perfect playlist, Lauren (our Health and Wellness Director) put together this Spotify playlist based on the suggestions we got here!

Give it a listen:

Eleanor Earnhart

East Communities YMCA

Marketing Coordinator, Podcast Listener, and Sparkling Water Enthusiast

Listen to the East Communities April Playlist:Sources:

Bicknell, J. (2013, January 30). Music and Exercise: What Current Research Tells Us. Psychology Today. Retrieved from…


All opinions expressed here are those of their authors and/or contributors and not of their employer. Any questions or concerns regarding the content found here may be sent to

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