Anatomy of the Perfect Workout Playlist


On Sunday, I’ll be joining 45,000 other idiots in running the Chicago Marathon. In the months leading up to the Big Day, I’ve woken up early every Saturday to lace up my shoes, struggle into a sports bra and what can best be described as “running spanx”, chug water and a few energy cubes, pop my headphones into my ears, and head out into the great dead rat and pee-covered asphalt playground of New York City on my weekly “long run.” During these countless hours and hundreds of miles, I’ve done a lot of thinking about Katy Perry.

I haven’t used brainspace on Perry because I’m particularly interested in her as a celebrity. I don’t care about her love life or her histrionic boob accessorizing, but she seems like a nice enough person and I hope she finds whatever whipped cream shooting happiness she’s searching for. I’ve spent hours thinking about Katy Perry because she’s somehow mastered the art of creating the perfect workout song, and she’s done it over and over again.

My brain’s incredibly picky about what I listen to when I’m running; the wrong song can be as distracting an irritant as a blister on my foot, a pain in my knee. But over my years as a runner, and the months leading up to Sunday, I think I’ve finally nailed down the elusive formula. And because I’m going crazy from not being able to run or bitch about running, I’m sharing that formula with you, Internet.

The following elements can be adjusted based on personal preference. And I’ve linked to songs that, for me, have fit the bill — you might hate all of them. You might also notice that many of these songs are “old” and thus “uncool.” To that I say — cool doesn’t matter if you’re just trying to get through 26 miles. Listen to what you like. Fuck being cool.

Katy Perry
The queen of my workout playlist, Perry’s songs are cliche riddled lyrical messes, but they’re inspiring as fuck when you’re covered in sweat salt and you’re only halfway up the big hill. Even songs of hers that I hate when I’m not running are suddenly better when sweaty. I can’t understand why. Her songs are an enigma.
Suggested tracks: Any, really, except ‘Ur So Gay’ because that one is just the worst.

Dad rock
My roommate/childhood bestie Hayley calls this “shed music” because it’s the sort of things our dads would listen to whilst doing yard work. No matter what you call it, white guys yelling about their feelings in the 1970’s and early 80’s are a great addition to your playlist.
Suggested tracks: The Who- Baba O’Reily. Queen & David Bowie- Under Pressure. And Bruce Springsteen’s Springsteenier songs.

Sexually Aggressive Women
Pretty self-explanatory
Sample tracks: Lil Kim- Suck My Dick. Missy Elliott- Pass That Dutch. Nikki Minaj- Whip It. Amanda Blank- Might Like You Better. Thunderheist- Jerk It. And this lady:

Douchebag Ibiza club jams
Just because men who are built like bags of oranges fist pump to them doesn’t mean you can’t run to them. Don’t be ashamed. Or just set your Spotify preferences to “private.”
Suggested tracks: Paul Van Dyk- We Are Alive. DJ Tiesto- C’Mon. Bloody Beetroots- Chronicles of a Fallen Love Affair. Jus Jack- One Day At A Time

The Hood Internet
I know I’ve fangirled about these Chicago mashup artists before, but it’s NOT ENOUGH. They’re the best. I should just send them every free shirt I get from running because I’d die of boredom if they didn’t exist.
Sample tracks: For a period of time earlier this year, this was the only thing I listened to while I ran. Their mixtapes are free to download and they’re always releasing new stuff.

Upbeat Wedding Dancey Hitz
I asked my boyfriend what he looks for in a workout song, and he pointed out that music that makes you want to get up and dance deserves its own category. So here it is. It’s own category.
Sample tracks: Outkast- Hey Ya, Michael Jackson – Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough, any old 90’s dance tracks, and even though I’m pretty sure he’s not getting played at wedding dances, this track by Chance the Rapper is pretty happymaking:

Loud guitars, fast drums, surprisingly dorky IRL lead singers.
Sample tracks: Iron Maiden- Run To The Hills, Le Tigre- Deceptacon, Slayer- Raining Blood, Metallica- Hero of the Day, L7- Shitlist

Inspiring instrumental songs
Stuff that makes you imagine that you’re in a movie about something other than one idiot flying halfway across the country to run a distance that has killed people.
Sample tracks: The Great Gates of Kiev, from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, the theme song to Chariots of Fire, Jupiter from The Planets, and the theme from Field of Dreams (shut up; it’s SENTIMENTAL TO ME, okay?)

Kanye West
Because duh. Exercise is for mental chest thumping, otherwise you’ll quit.
Sample tracks: Through the Wire, Power, Monster, etc etc etc

Hipster party
Imagine you’re at a party you’re only attending on the off chance that Bill Murray might show up and do something weird. Did you know that many of those tracks have great beats for working out?
Sample tracks: Animal Collective- Fireworks, LCD Soundsystem- North American Scum, Young Galaxy- Pretty Boy (Peaking Lights mix), Bjork- Army of Me, The Knife

Pop goddess anthems
Every radio hit’s upbeat remix.
Sample tracks: Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, Beyonce, Rihanna, Robyn etc

Lyrical pep talks
That song with the lyrics that make you feel good about yourself.
Sample tracks: Florence and the Machine- Shake it Out, Ghostface Killah- The Champ, M83- Intro, Angel Haze

And when that fails, Radiolab podcasts (I’m not kidding. They’re the best).

Got some suggestions of your own? Add ’em in the comments. And if you’re in Chicago, come out and yell for the marathon runners on Sunday. We’d love it.

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