Using song workouts to increase motivation and performance is a well-established technique for group fitness trainers.
Members will train harder, for longer, and will get better results from each session. Music is also a great way to make your fitness classes look more attractive to non-members. But what music should you pick?
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that faster tempo music can lead to more intense workouts, but why stop there? For a long time, boot camp owners have been using song workouts in their sessions.
A song workout is where you listen to a certain song, and tailor your exercise to it. Remember the macarena? It was a song which had specific dance moves for you to follow. Or there is the Cha Cha Slide, which gives you commands to follow (slide to the left).
Obviously, your boot camp can’t just be playing the macarena on a loop, that would be mind-numbingly awful for you and your members.
The trick is to find fun, repetitive songs and turn the lyrics into exercise commands. This article will demonstrate several songs that you can base workouts upon, but also help you to create your own.
How Do Song Workouts And Music Improve Exercise Performance?
There have been several studies into the effects of music on performance. A 2017 study in the International Journal of Physiology, Pathophysiology and Pharmacology found that music led to a significantly longer workout duration, and improved performance compared to the non-music group.
The evidence that song workouts can improve aerobic performance is a lot stronger than the evidence that it can affect anaerobic performance, but both appear to be improved by fast tempo music.
Interestingly, there does appear to be some evidence that whether you like or dislike the music can influence how effective it is at improving your performance.
This makes sense, if you hate Ed Sheeran then one of his songs is unlikely to motivate you as much as it would someone who loves him. No matter how fast the tempo is, or how well the song fits the workout.
Creating Your Own Song Workout Challenges
Creating song workout challenges involves quite a lot of planning. Not only do you need to find songs that fit your workout sessions, but you also need to pick songs that people like, and it certainly helps to have a theme.
If you usually train 60 year old women, then a playlist filled with UK Drill music or Scandinavian Thrash Metal is unlikely to go down well.
On the flip side, playing Dolly Parton’s greatest hits may or may not go down well if your membership is mostly 19 year old males.
The songs on this list are picked to appeal to 30-60 year olds, as they are a large bootcamp demographic.
But once you know how to pick songs for song workouts you will be able to create your own customised playlists. So, what does a song need to suit a song workout?
- A Fast Tempo – Music that is fast, exciting, and exhilarating will naturally lead to a more intense workout than a slow funeral dirge. The song doesn’t have to have a fast tempo, but the majority will.
- Well-Known – Think of your playlist as similar to a wedding playlist, you want music that a lot of people will recognise and enjoy. This is not the time to introduce people to your favourite Jazz song from the 1930s.
- Repetitive – The idea behind these songs is to assign exercises to certain words. For example, performing a jump squat every time they say “Jump” in Jump Around. Roxanne is the perfect example of a song workout as it has two highly repetitive lines “Roxanne” and “Put on the red light”.
- Fun – The songs should be funny, entertaining, and light. You don’t really want highly politicized songs such as Hurricane by Bob Dylan. Avoid controversial lyrics or upsetting themes.
- Around Three to Four Minutes – The idea here is that each song workout should last around 3-4 minutes long. That’s a good length for most workouts and should have a good lyric to music ratio. A 9 minute song like Free bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd with its 5 minute guitar solo is not going to work because 1) it’s too long, and 2) the lyric to music ratio is well off.
So, there you have it, these are the main criteria required for an effective song workout selection.
There are of course songs that will break some or even all of these rules yet still work. Finding what works and what doesn’t is half the fun!
There may also be the perfect audience for your 3 hour German folk music bootcamp out there somewhere.
And if you find them then you can ignore every one of the above rules and get cracking.
12 Fun Song Workouts
In this section, we have picked twelve song workouts that you can add into your boot camp sessions.
You can either use these, or you can use the templates to create your own ones. We’ve outlined how each song workout works, and you should be able to customise it to your own preferences.
Song Workout #1 Roxanne – The Police
The Roxanne song workout is by far the most well-known example in boot camps. It’s absolutely perfect! Not only does it have a fast tempo, but it has a lot of repetition, and it is entertaining. It ticks a lot of boxes.
There are a number of ways that you can use this as a song workout. You can either assign a different exercise to the two famous lines, for example:
- Roxanne = Star Jump
- Put on the Red Light = Squat
Or, if you have a large enough group, you can split it into two. One group performs a burpee every time the song says Roxanne, the other group performs a burpee (or whatever) during the response line.
If you know the song, then you will be aware that there are more “Roxanne” lyrics than red light lyrics, so keep that in mind when setting up your groups.
Song Workout #2 Our House – Madness
The song “Our House” by Madness is very similar structurally to Roxanne. It has the same call and response. This can be split in the same way as Roxanne.
- Our House = Squat Jump
- In the Middle of our Street = Standing Broad Jump
The song can also be performed in two groups, to continue that rivalry that we saw in Roxanne. In some ways, this song actually works better as a competition than Roxanne does.
To keep the workout fair, you will have to insist that people also perform an exercise to the alternative lyrics to “middle of our street” such as “was our castle and our keep”. Don’t worry, it will be obvious when you’re doing it.
Song Workout #3 Jolene – Dolly Parton
Okay, this may not be the most obvious workout song that you have ever heard but bear with us. Imagine getting all your members in the push up position, and then telling them that they have to perform one push up (or Burpee) every time that Dolly sings the name “Jolene”. That’s about 20 push ups (or burpees) within a 2 minute 43 second song.
Now, Dolly sings this pretty fast, so you may find that people don’t manage to hit four push ups in the time it takes her to sing four Jolenes, but that is not too big a deal.
This works with most exercises, squats are a great alternative, or medicine ball tosses, or kettlebell swings, if you have access to them.
Song Workout #4 I Get Around – The Beach Boys
This song works in the same way as Jolene, assigning an exercise to the term “Get around” or “round”. This is a lot tougher than Jolene though! The song is shorter, and the lyrics are much more common. Pick an easier and quicker exercise for this and use it as a workout finisher.
Song Workout #5 Tubthumping – Chumbawamba
“I get knocked down, but I get up again” is as close as a song will ever get to advocating multiple burpees! Get into the push up position when they say, “I get knocked down” then jump up when they say, “But I get up again”.
This song is fast paced, anthemic, and a lot of fun. It’s also an absolute killer for song workouts. You can make it easier by splitting the group into two and getting one group to perform an exercise during the call and the other group to perform an exercise during the response.
Song Workout #6 Everybody Get Up – Five
Not only does this song have clear instructions “everybody get up” and “Five will make you get down” but they also count out reps “one, two, three, four”. The song is perfect for boot camps. It is also guaranteed to get the loudest groan of any song on this list!
- Everybody get up = Squat jump
- One, two, three, four = Run on the spot
- Five will make you get down = Lie on ground (then do push ups or crunches)
Again, this song can be split into two groups if you want to make things a little easier (and more competitive) or it can be used as a really tough finisher. It works really well for planks too!
Song Workout #7 Hey Mickey – Toni Basil
Is this one of the most annoying songs on earth? Possibly. Is it a fantastic choice for a song workout? Undeniably! Add in some burpees, star jumps, squat jumps, or even some push ups, for every “Mickey” in the song and you’ve got an incredibly challenging 3 minute 48 second workout.
Song Workout #8 Sweetest Thing – U2
This song breaks a lot of our rules, it is medium tempo, and is pretty relaxed. But it works perfectly as a song workout due to its repetitive lyrics “sweetest thing”. You could do push ups, burpees, squats, lunges, or any exercise to this song quite easily.
It could also work out quite well as a cool down, pick a low impact exercise (perhaps an ab exercise) and perform one rep each time they sing, “sweetest thing”. The relaxing song could really help calm people down after a tough workout.
Song Workout #9 Jump Around – House of Pain
How much explanation does this need? It’s a song where the word “jump” is sung about 50 times! Pick a jumping exercise (squat jumps, burpees, jumping lunges, standing broad jumps) and perform one every time they sing “jump”.
Song Workout #10 Jump – Kris Kross
This is basically the exact same song workout as Jump Around but performed with your jeans on back to front (just watch the video if you don’t understand).
Song Workout #11 500 miles – Proclaimers
Something a little different to the other song workouts here. Marching in place during each verse and then performing a more challenging exercise (mountain climbers, squat jumps) during the chorus.
A great warm up if you use lower impact exercises, or a great finisher if you use more challenging exercises such as burpees.
Song Workout #12 Blue – Eiffel 65
Possibly the most annoying song in history, but also a perfect example of a song workout. The word Blue is used about 10,000 times in this song, so just pick an exercise (mountain climbers might work well) and perform one rep every time they say Blue.
Final Thought About Song Workouts
Song workouts are a great way to inject some fun into your boot camps, but you don’t want to overuse them. Adding them in for a fun warm up or a powerful finisher are great ways to spice up your sessions.
Have each workout planned out in advance, so that you aren’t left making them up on the spot, and try them out on yourself before subjecting your members to them.
You can find hundreds of fun song workouts over in the Workout Design Club, or Bootcamp Sumo, my one stop shop for all things bootcamp ideas.