When it comes to exercise, I've never been one of those people who enjoys group classes. Whether it be Zumba or SoulCycle, I just can't get into it. I prefer working out on my own. I like the feeling of covering my ears with headphones and letting my music guide me, motivate me and invigorate me. The music I choose to workout to plays a big part in how effective my training is. Over the years, I've clocked a lot of hours at the gym and there are certain artists I always come back to. These are the albums that pump me up, get my heartbeat racing and make it easier for me to push myself further than the day before. Here are my top 5 albums for working out.
BONUS: They're all bands led by kickass ladies.
Karen O is the ultimate frontwoman. She's ferocious, confident and a total badass. With energetic vocals, she moves from fierce screaming to quivering vibrato and then exploads into earth-shattering moans. The buzzy guitar riffs and aggressive drums will keep you motivated until the last few tracks on the album when things start to slow down. Take a quick break during "Maps" and then give one last burst of energy with "Y Control." The last two tracks are perfect for a post-workout cool down and some stretching.
The album kicks off with the "GO!" featuring Karen O. This is the perfect track to kick-off a high-energy interval and give it all you've got. The thudding "ay ay ay ay ay" will help keep you focused and stay in sync with your body's steps. My favorite track on the album, "Disparate Youth" follows. Although it's a slower tempo, the lyrics are so motivating you'll begin to feel a sense of euphoria as endorphins start flooding your body.
The record continues with mid-tempo songs accompanied by empowering lyrics that move your workout forward and encourage you to keep that head held high. Take a breather just over the halfway mark with "This Isn't Our Parade" and "The Riot's Gone." Then pick it back up and crush the rest of your workout until the album ends.
Most people know this album for M.I.A.'s hit song "Paper Planes", but don't be fooled, the rest of the album is equally killer. Kala kicks off with noisy "Bird Flu", the tribal drums and child-like vocals set the tone for the rest of the record, which is mostly chaotic but incredibly vigorous. The energy remains infectious moving into the next few tracks. "Hussel" starts quiet but by the time the chorus comes around, you will soon be doing just that.
The next track is playful, featuring young indigenous Australian boys rapping about swimming and fishing in the river. In "20 Dollar" M.I.A. borrows lyrics from Pixies' "Where is My Mind?" giving it a treatment that is so fresh and original, you'll have trouble deciding which version you like better. "XR2" is by-far the fastest track on the album with 130 bpm, save it for your highest incline/toughest rep. Then relax and let your heartbeat slow down to "Paper Planes."
M.I.A's label mates Sleigh Bells are the masters of combining sweet sugar vocals with harsh, loud and dynamic guitar. The mood is immediately intense. Heavy guitar distortion add fuzz and crunchy texture, while Alexis Krauss' good-girl vocals float along in perfect contrast. With lines like "you take a heart, I can take out you," the lyrics are empowering and determined. Think of all the people you are currently pissed at and smash those feelings against the floor like a guitar that has only seconds to live. Then get light on your feet with the ridiculously catchy "Rill Rill." The speeding metal riffs pick back up in "Straight A's" mixed with unintelligible high-pitched vocals will take you up a hill with a killer incline. Move into the equally energetic "A/B Machines" to get to the top. Finally, the title track is intense enough to carry you through your final interval.
I know I stand alone, or at least with very few when I say that I enjoy Solange much more than Beyonce *ducks*. Yep, I said it and you know what? I'm not sorry. Bey's little sis is unique, and subtle in her brilliance. Her soft and smooth neo-soul is the perfect soundtrack to low-impact jog, one that will keep you at a slower pace, and allow you to practice your breathing. Got your first 5K to prepare for? Put this on and take the slow and steady route. You'll be ready in no time.
Ready to get your butt to the gym? Here is the playlist featuring all 5 of my favorite workout albums for both Rdio and Spotify. Happy sweating.