I have had very few training partners in my life. Many have come and gone, so I usually try to keep my dependencies limited. The fewer the better. One thing that has always been a big part of my training is music. The right song/album, at the right time, can provide just what's needed to get the job done, be it enhanced focus, aggression, distraction, or serene calm. Training is the art of using the physical tools around you to build the strongest physical and mental self possible. Make no mistake, music can be one of the sharper tools in your shed if you swing it correctly.
Below, you'll find my favorite music to listen to while training, the workout I usually pair it with, and why.
1. Strength - Working to a Deadlift 1RM - At The Drive In - Arcarsenal (Song) or Mewithoutyou - Brother, Sister (Album) or 6x1 DL at 90% of 1RM 5min rest between sets. These tunes are some real pulse-raisers. While both bands are more of an acquired taste, there's no doubt that any listener will get "jacked up" by the tribal beats in both songs. Arcarsenal, specifically, has a nice 20sec tribal drum lead in so it is perfect for a DL one-rep max attempt. Just press play, get your mind right, step up to the bar, grip it, and rip it off the ground just as all hell breaks loose in your ear-buds. Mewithoutyou's "Brother, Sister" is one of my top 5 favorite albums of all time. I had never heard of this band until college, when I was at a show in Philadelphia (Electric Factory) seeing another band, and MWY was opening. They completely stole the show. Brother, Sister had just come out and they basically played it from front to back with an uNmatched energy and charm. Their fans went nuts, clapping, and stomping along, so I can't help but channel some of that on a particularly good deadlift/strength day. The album has a great sense of rhythm and there is at least 1 point in every song that takes my breath away.
2. Power Endurance - SkiErg Relay - Drake - Big Rings (Song)(On Repeat). This one is a bit on the nose, but I find it works. The rhythm, pace, and the lyrical message of the song are all consistent with the style of work during a SkiErg relay. The song is loud and aggressive just like your sprints will be as you try to carry your weight for your team. This is what I imagine Steph Curry listening to as he warms up with half-court spot up jumpers during the NBA playoffs, and if it's good enough for Steph, it's good enough for me.
3. Power Endurance - 2k Row For Time - Radiohead - Paranoid Android (Song). This is THE song that took me to my lifetime PR 2k row of 6:16. First, it's a song by one of my all time favorite bands, Radiohead, so that box was ticked. While people tend to either love them or hate them, it is hard to deny that The Bends and OK Computer are two of the most influential albums of our time. Further, if I had to pick one song to embody the insanity and greatness that is OK Computer, it would be Paranoid Android. It is truly a roller coaster of sound, pace, and melody, transitioning abruptly from soft, beautifully delicate melodies, to the jagged and harsh screeching guitar sound that only Johnny Greenwood can produce. All in all, the drastic changes in pace and sound throughout the song, along with some well timed lyrics make this the go-to song for a 2k row, in my opinion. The song pairs nicely with my 2k race approach (as detailed below) and breaks down as follows:
- 1:38 mark - The chorus picks up pace a tiny bit to mark the completion of your first 500m. At this point, take that first 500m, put it in it's box mentally, and move onto your next piece (the 2nd 500m, which will intentionally be slightly slower than the first 500m). Along with the tempo you will settle back into pace, slightly slower than your first 500m but that's planned because you know your first 500m and your last will be fastest.
- At the 2:46 mark the tempo picks up and this is right on time, because you are at 850m, which is a warning for the 3rd 500m block that is fast approaching.
- You will stay at pace until the 3:32 mark at which point you should be slightly over the 1000m (half-way) point and into the 3rd 500m piece (1000m-1500m) which is where every 2k row is won or lost. The race strategy that I prefer plans for a small drop in pace here. Essentially the 3rd 500m will be your slowest. It may only be a few tenths of a second slower in pace, but it will be slower. I find that a slower split in this 3rd 500m is almost inevitable since this is where people tend to break down mentally, so planning for it going in makes it less discouraging to the rower once the time comes. Lucky for you, Radiohead decides to back off a bit at this point in the song to help keep you grounded. Pace slows so you can settle in for the 3rd 500m/worst 500m.
- This is where you sort out your demons and get your head straight. Thom Yorkes lullaby will get you through the 3rd 500m by slowly asking you to control your breathing. Stay Calm. You will hold a slightly slower pace for the full 3rd 500m, just as planned, until 5:25 marked by the appropriately written lyrics, "the panic the vomit", which is your cue to begin your final charge. HARD.
- At this point I want you to give 20 hard, full pressure, strokes. Pace picks up again just in time for you to lose your mind on your 200m sprint all out HIGH stroke rate. Get to the finish any way you can. The song ends abruptly, as you undoubtedly will when you see the meters flash to "0". Finish before the song does and you'll have yourself a sub 6:30 2k, and a song that will raise your heart rate, and make you sick to your stomach, any time you hear it moving forward.
4. Strength Endurance - 10x10 Bench Press on 2min rest at 50% of 1RM - The Game - The Documentary (Full Album) on Shuffle. We Ain't, Westside Story, Hate It or Love It, How We Do, No More Fun and Games OR The Fugees - The Score (Album). 10x10 Bench Press is all about the pump. The soundtrack should match that. The workout will last about 30min so you'll need a full album to keep you jacked up throughout. Luckily, there are a ton of albums out there that will keep you as pumped as your chest will be. Personally, I prefer Rap/Hip-Hop for these sessions. The Game's "The Documentary" is his first album and it is full of absolute bangers. Almost every song is a classic. There is enough trash talking across all of the songs to keep your chin high, your Air Force Ones checked, and your chest puffed. I have survived many a 10x10 with the help of The Game. However, my "go to" album is The Fugees, "The Score". This is my all-time favorite Rap/Hip-Hop album. I might be biased because of the countless references to "the mean streets of dirty Jersey", but this is Lauren Hill at her absolute finest. She destroys every verse she appears on, making mince meat of "other rappers" in a way that only she can, with grace and grit all at once. Meanwhile, Wyclef holds down the hook, and Praz throws in a gem here and there (ex. "My panache will mosh your entourage. Squash your squad and hide your body under my garage"). All in all, these two albums serve their purpose, in that they get me pumped, and make me feel tough enough to get through a prison style session like 10x10 Bench Press on 2min rest.
5. Endurance or Recovery (Depending on Intensity) - 60min Max Meter Row/Ski/Bike or 60min Row/Ski/Ride at Easy Pace (Recovery) - Explosions in the Sky - The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place (Full Album) The key here is picking a pace and maintaining it... for a long time. If you choose a 60min Recovery Row/Ski/Bike, then I recommend Explosions in the Sky. The album listed above is purely instrumental, but you might recognize it as the soundtrack to everyone's favorite high school football TV show, "Friday Night Lights". The instrumental builds are slow, dramatic, and beautiful. Ideally, you'd listen to this during a recovery cycle through some gorgeous geographic landscape/scenery just as the sun sets/rises, but this album could even make a stationary bike in your basement feel like a "coming to God" moment. The pace of the album is consistent with slow builds and digressions throughout. It's a great album for just spacing out and taking your mind for a ride wherever the music takes it. Keep your work speed at conversational pace and you're good to go.
At the end of the day, fitness is all about using the available tools during a given training session to get the best out of yourself. Music is a tool that if swung swiftly, can strike the appropriate emotional chord to do just that. The point here is not that these are the end-all-be-all songs/albums for these respective workouts but that these are the tunes that work for me. My musical taste is specific to my history. A lot of these song and albums bring up emotions from when I listened to them most (or for the first time) and that's the driving force behind why they are chosen for certain training sessions. Give them a try. See how each of them works for you. Then, I encourage you to find songs and albums that better serve that purpose.
Red Sullivan is Fully Certified Gym Jones Instructor located in New Jersey. For more information on his fitness background, Training Philosophy, and Contact Information visit www.