By Josie Rubio
When it comes to working out, music has been scientifically been proven to not only make your workout more enjoyable, but also improve your performance. But what if the ubiquitous dance music in gyms and fitness classes or the peaceful yoga playlists just aren’t your thing? The good news is instructors are experimenting with playlists to inspire better workouts, from punk jump rope to cycling to metal or classical music.
The Monster Cycle + Studio in New York City places a lot of emphasis on the music played during classes, with two large video screens at the front of the class, and special theme rides like “Pop Princesses” or “Guilty Pleasure.” Instructor Scott Meyer says, “It's a video ride, so when you're struggling for that last ounce of energy, either Beyoncé or Danzig will visually help you get through it, depending on the theme.” A “metalhead at heart,” Meyer leads a monthly Metal Mondays class where attendees—often wearing T-shirts of metal bands and a lot of black—can pedal to Judas Priest, Mötley Crüe, Slayer and Mastodon.
Meyer says he finds a metal playlist inspiring while he’s lifting weights for an added boost of energy. “I'm also a bit to old to get bones broken in a mosh pit, so I let all my rage out in class!” he says.
Peloton Cycle offers theme rides based on feedback not only from those who attend the New York City studio classes, but from people all over the world who own Peloton bikes and stream the classes at home. “Riders get really excited about hopping on a bike knowing that one of their favorite bands or artist is going to push them through a 45-minute ride,” says Peloton instructor Jenn Sherman.
The theme classes, which often sell out, vary week to week, but they have included “Throwback Thursday” and “Elton John vs. Billy Joel” rides, as well as Rolling Stones, Guns ’n’ Roses and reggaeton classes. “Our home riders are extremely passionate and verbal when it comes to all things Peloton, so the feedback about these rides has been amazing,” says Sherman. “Requests for specific theme rides flood our Peloton Facebook page daily and we try to give the people what they want! In most cases, a Peloton coach will host a theme ride from an artist or a genre that they love, and pretty often there are several of us dying to teach a particular theme from the same artist.”
Cycling instructors put a lot of thought into any playlist, Sherman adds. “As all indoor cycling enthusiasts know, the music is crucial to the ride and the workout overall,” she says. “We don't just slap a bunch of songs together and wing it. The music is choreographed specifically creating a soundtrack that takes the rider on a physical and emotional journey. The right song with the appropriate tempo will be the impetus to push you up that hill just when you think you cannot get that pedal around for another revolution.”
At Aqua Studio NY, there’s already a twist on the typical cycling class—the stationary bicycles are submerged in a pool. The Tribeca studio also has a Classical Restorative class, with a playlist of instrumental and classical music meant to help establish a mind-body connection. While cycling to classical music may seem unusual, several neuroscience studies found that classical music can lower the stress hormone cortisol while lowering perceived exertion during a workout.
On the other end of the spectrum, yoga classes often bring to mind harmoniums and kirtan music. But yogis are often mixing up the playlists, from punk yoga classes in Cleveland to metal yoga classes in Brooklyn.
Saskia Thode’s Brooklyn yoga classes not only have non-traditional yoga playlists—including heavy metal tracks from bands like Black Sabbath, Carcass, Napalm Death, Judas Priest, King Diamond, Mötorhead and Morbid Angel—but they also are held in settings that are somewhat unconventional. She teaches weekly classes at Saint Vitus, a heavy metal/punk live music venue, and twice a week at Cobra Club, a yoga studio/bar/coffee shop.
“I would usually listen to metal while practicing at home,” Thode explains. “During my teacher training we were supposed to think about playlists for our demonstration yoga class and I was thinking, what can I play that is me? Of course the answer was metal. One of my teachers encouraged me to play it and that's how it all started.”
The mix of unusual venues and music draws people who might ordinarily not try a yoga class. “Most people come in and say that it is a great idea, that they have been wanting to try yoga but don't like the idea of a studio and the atmosphere created in studios,” Thode says. “They come to metal yoga even though they may not even like metal because they know it is going to be different—that there is none of the yoga studio atmosphere that you may find that makes you feel uncomfortable, or where people look at you because you look different. I have people that show up in jeans because they don't feel comfortable in work out clothes. Everyone is accepted and there is no judgment.”
Music is also the driving force behind Punk Rope classes, which started in New York City in 2004, with at least 17 classes throughout the U.S. and in the U.K. After a knee injury in 2003, founder Tim Haft wanted a “fun, community-minded, rock-and-roll driven workout, which featured rope jumping.” When he couldn’t find one, he came up with Punk Rope, which blends jump-rope intervals with calisthenics, partner drills, fitness games and relay races.
“In my opinion, music helps to drive movement,” Haft says. “Rope jumping in particular is a very rhythmic activity and we find that the average person will typically complete around 140 jumps in a minute, assuming no misses.” For the jumping intervals, he selects songs with a fast-paced beat, and for the games and races, he plays short songs like “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones.
“What's cool is that when students really get into the music, they're no longer focused on the discomfort, which accompanies intense exercise,” Haft says. “Instead, they're just grooving as if they were out on the dance floor. And in many ways rope jumping is just like dance only your rope is your dance partner.”
Haft also has class themes. For African Liberation Day, he created an all-African playlist featuring such artists as Fela Kuti, the Bhundu Boys, Burkina Electric, Miriam Makeba and Salif Keita. One class had a cops-and-robbers theme, with “I Fought the Law” by the Dead Kennedys, “Police on My Back” by Clash, “Breaking the Law” by Judas Priest, and “Borstal Breakout” by Sham 69. “I try hard to play music that my students might not hear elsewhere and to include a wide variety of musical genres from jazz to blues to classical to funk to punk to electronica and so on,” he says.
While the music draws people into music (musicians and even music writers like Christopher Weingarden and Charlotte von Kotze), says Haft, the goal is a playlist that inspires a good workout. “No matter what your taste, music helps to drive movement,” Haft says, “so if I've done a good job in creating a playlist, then the students are going to push a little harder and get a better workout.”