Everyone falls off the fitness wagon sometimes. It's one of life's toughest commitments, next to marriage, tattoos, and telling your skydiving instructor to jump. I'm no hero when it comes to logging hours at the gym, but when I do manage to wake up and get a sports bra and leggings on at 8 a.m., I expect to have full musical accompaniment as I run, squat, and crunch. I'm sure a lot of you can relate when I say, "Music is life," and working out without it feels like you're in a miserable bootcamp where time slows and you can't figure out why you can't stop yawning.
Numerous studies have shown music's positive effects on exercise. Mainly, music serves as a distraction from fatigue and reduces perceived effort. On days when you're not really motivated to workout, music does a lot to boost your mood, and your endurance. It also helps you "get in the zone," where movements just flow, strength is up and fairly constant, and you're dialed in. Today's research now looks at music as an ergogenic aid, or performance enhancer, but it's not enough, however, to just make a playlist out of a bunch of your favorite upbeat songs. If you don't take the time to curate your workout playlists (Plural because you shouldn't run to the same playlist you lift weights or stretch to), music ceases to be fuel and instead, turns into an unwelcome distraction.
It takes a special kind of person to really buckle down and create these perfect workout playlists. There are so many things to consider, such as maintaining BPM; following a musical arch that builds up, climaxes, and mellows out during the right times; and each song's implicit and explicit mood and imagery. You'd be surprised just how many of today's upbeat songs have some pretty depressing lyrics! Few things in life suck more than being right in the middle of a sprint or a heavy set, and suddenly needing to change the song. It also doesn’t help when you fully intend to just skip a song, but you see all those notifications waiting for you.
Luckily there's been a rise in health and fitness apps that take the work out of finding the perfect music for your workout. Check out these best fitness apps for Android and iPhone the next time you literally want to just plug 'n play at the gym:
1. Aaptiv (7-day FREE trial, $9.99/month unlimited access to all classes)
I rarely hear of anyone sticking to, much less affording, a personal trainer, and relying on a gym buddy can be such a pain sometimes. Unfortunately, I’m one of the many that just workout harder and better in good company, and respond to pep talk. I also like knowing just how long I’m gonna be at the gym, and how long my focused workouts are. This app actually makes me look forward to going to the gym because the coaches are really effective at giving you that push, and they time intervals with great playlists, so you can always find your cadence without feeling fatigued. My personal favorite is Coach Ray W., because he says in one treadmill workout, “The intro to this song is a countdown to Beyonce’s rocket taking off, and guess what, you’re riding that rocket with her.”
Aaptiv’s guided workouts have great quantity and even better quality. It’s easy to find your #WOTD, and each workout description lets you know what music to expect. They’re not seamless playlists, but your coach makes it a point to tell you things like “The music fades out, but you’re still running up that hill! Keep pushing!”
2. RockMyRun (30-day FREE premium trial, $4.99/month or $35.99 per year)
A health and fitness app that gives you pre-mixed playlists while tracking your running distance. NOTE: You don’t have to be a runner to get a lot of use out of this app! It detects and adapts to your steps, set BPM, and your heart rate to give you seamless playlists – some curated and personally remixed by popular DJs, like David Guetta, Zedd, Afrojack, and Major Lazer.
3. Fit Radio ($3.99/month premium membership)
This one combines guided workouts with the ability to select your preferred, DJ-curated and mixed playlists. Every week the app drops 150+ new mixes across a variety of genres and even decades, and 24+ new workouts.
4. GYM Radio ($9.99 for 3 months, $24.99 yearly)
This app reminds me a little too much of a basic music streaming app like Pandora and Spotify, only the playlists are categorized by genre and type of workout. Tracks have been handpicked, but not seamlessly blended, and the free version’s ads and limited skips will probably annoy you. I imagine this “health and fitness” app would be more useful when you literally just want background music.
5. Spotify (30-day FREE Premium membership trial, $9.99/month)
Of course, Spotify is in my Top 5 “health and fitness” apps. It’s literally the best music streaming app available, in my opinion. The variety and categorization is amazing, and can actually lead you down quite a rabbit hole as you continue to discover amazing music. Every time I’m on the app (which is multiple times every day), I find myself saying, “Where have you been all my life?” to most songs. It doesn’t have pre-mixed or seamless playlists, or a coach talking in your ear, but if you’re looking to pay premium on anything, this is your one-and-done app.
Spotify also has a nifty social networking feature that lets you share tracks and collaborate on playlists with other users. This is great for when you have gym buddies because everyone can contribute!