Moved By Music

I love music. Any kind of music. I love music, just as long as it’s grooving.

Kenneth Gamble / Kenny Gamble / Leon Huff

I’ve blogged about my love for music on a number of occasions, I’m listening to music as I type, and have even gone so far as to include hand-crafted Spotify playlists to accompany many of my blog posts. I’ve had much success in the classroom using music to introduce new topics in health class, or to ‘change the state’ of the room (thanks Mike Kuczala!) and one way in which I build relationships with students is to get them to suggest songs for class playlists. You can learn a lot about someone from the music that makes them move.

Like many during the pandemic my exercise habits had to change, and I succumbed to purchasing a Peloton bike in a last-gasp attempt to be active and save my physical and mental health. I wasn’t using my gym membership and used to fall back on the fact that teaching PE and health meant that I was more active than most – my iWatch typically clocked me at 14+ hours on my feet and taking over 10,000 steps in a ‘normal’ day. Then ‘normal’ was no more and teaching remotely confined me to a screen in the basement taking less than 1000 steps per day. The Peloton was an investment in myself…and it’s been one of the best investments I’ve made since investing in a one-way trip to the US to marry my wife(!).

At the time of writing I am on an uninterrupted streak of activity, every day for the past 14 weeks. I haven’t been this active since my days as a college athlete, had forgotten what it felt like to intentionally sweat regularly, and despite telling my students of the mood benefits of being active I had forgotten what that exercise-high felt like after a good workout.

There are many reasons why the Peloton has succeeded in motivating me to return to activity where gym memberships and other methods have failed. It could be the ever-growing range of workouts, stretch sessions, yoga classes and meditations. It could be the dynamic and inspirational instructors (from whom I’m learning a lot about teaching through a screen), and it could also be the fact that the music chosen for the workouts is the perfect way to motivate me to work harder, faster and longer than I thought possible – and there’s a lot of science to suggest that it is!

Regular readers to the blog know that I love Kelly McGonigal‘s book The Joy of Movement and even coordinated a book club chat through the summer. In this ‘love-letter to physical activity’ she includes a chapter on the power of, and the science behind, using music to enhance movement. Much of what McGonigal shares explains why I have had so much success with the Peloton, and this blog post shares her words, and those from other authors, while providing real-time examples.

Monday: Kelly McGonigal talks about GROOVE, the term used by musicologists to explain our instinct to move when we hear music. She writes that “For most people the impulse to synchronize our bodies to a beat is so strong, it takes effort to suppress it.”

Determined to start the week off on a positive note I selected to do a 30 minute Ministry of Sound : I Love Ibiza ride with Ben Alldis. I’ve been known to tear up a few dance floors in my day (!) and this mix of dance music from some of the most iconic clubs in the world definitely got my groove on. How could I do anything but cycle in time to tracks such as ‘Bingo Bango’ from London’s Basement Jaxx or the club classic ‘God is a DJ’ by Faithless? True story, I went to high school with Sister Bliss from Faithless AND appeared in one of their music videos! As a teacher who likes to teach through stories, I appreciated the way that Ben took us on a journey, with the playlist taking us from our flight to Ibiza, to the club, and then onto the super club. 

Tuesday: As an (ahem!) 50 year old, the soundtrack to my life has moved from 7″ vinyl, to cassettes on my walkman, to my CD player, to my iPod, and now travels with me everywhere streamed via Spotify and despite the changes in technology, one constant has been the prominence of Soul music. Today’s ride was a 15 minute Soul Music ride with Ally Love. Ally chose a playlist that was personal to her and represented some of her favorite songs growing up, and those she still listens to today. The songs took her back to her childhood, listening to music with her Aunties, she has so many Aunties.

Have you ever played music in class and the students all start singing along because the song takes them back to Middle School, or a shared pop culture moment? Costas Karageorghis, author of the excellent Applying Music in Exercise and Sport talks about the power of lyrics to motivate us to move. Song titles related to our activity, or that make reference to movement or heroic imagery can all “touch us emotionally or provide a source of affirmation”. My ride today was literally a sing-a-long and it’s possible that I sang throughout the entire session. Starting with Sade’s ‘The Sweetest Taboo‘, I sang my way past Anita Baker’s ‘No One in the World‘ and exhaustedly belted out Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On‘. I can confirm Karageorghis’ theory that music can most definitely touch us emotionally!

Wednesday: In The Joy of Movement, Kelly McGonigal shares that “The brain responds to music it enjoys with a powerful adrenaline, dopamine, and endorphin rush, all of which energize effort and alleviate pain. For this reason, musicologists describe music as ergogenic, or work-enhancing.”

Having ridden today, I can attest to the ergogenic power of the music of Beyoncé! My 30 minute ride today was part of the Peloton Artist series, this one from their groundbreaking collaboration with Beyoncé which not only sees her music being highlighted through a series of rides, workout, yoga flow and meditation, but also launches a partnership between Peloton and HBCU’s. Read more about that here.

Having set personal records in my last two rides I was feeling tired coming into this 30 minute Beyoncé Two for One ride with instructors Alex Toussaint and Tunde Oyeneyin. It wasn’t even the first track that got me fired up to ride but the track BEFORE the first track – the background introduction tune was my favorite Beyoncé track, ‘Crazy In Love‘ and I came out pedaling! I didn’t PR today, but the standout track from the mix for me was Destiny Child’s ‘Lose My Breath‘. Remember when I said that music with lyrics that refer to movement has a motivational effect? This track repeats “Can You Keep Up?” throughout the track. I tried to keep up, I promise. Consider myself ergogenically energized after this ride.

Thursday: Queen B kicked my butt yesterday and I owed my body a recovery day. To paraphrase yesterday’s instructor Alex Toussaint, “I earned it so I deserve it”. That doesn’t mean that I couldn’t still use music to help me with today’s active recovery, for which I chose a 30 minute Prince Yoga Flow with Ross Rayburn.

There’s music that makes me move, and there’s music that moves me, and music by Prince has always moved me. I have collected his music for as long as I can remember, most recently the massive re-release of Sign ‘O’ The Times, with 64 unreleased tracks. Prince crossed boundaries, defied norms, raised awareness for many of the causes about which I am most passionate, and plays an integral part in the soundtrack to my life. Listening to his music following his passing continues to be emotional for me and his music takes me back to times and places in my life in every track.

Quoting Kelly McGonigal again, she says in her book “When you choose songs that inspire you, every burst of effort can also empower the story you want to tell about who you are and who you are becoming.” During the yoga session Ross acknowledged that he listened to Prince as he discovered the person who he was meant to be.

Prince’s lyrics inspire me too and I got lost in the playlist. EVERY single song resonated with me and presented me with a novel way in which to appreciate the music. Starting with ‘U Got The Look‘, taking a dance break with ‘Let’s Go Crazy‘ (I danced like no one was watching), through to the epic ‘Purple Rain‘, I heard Prince from a fresh perspective. No, literally, I was in downward dog with my eyes closed listening emotionally to a guitar solo at one point. This yoga flow moved me.

Friday: I exhaustedly made it to Friday, which has extra meaning these days when juggling teaching remotely through Zoom classes, and I was determined to finish the school week off with a victorious, energetic ride to set me up for a great weekend. I needed those tunes that resonate so strongly that irrespective of how draining the work week was, I would be able to have an awesome workout.

Costas Karageorghis talks about finding power songs, songs that alter our mood and physiology, inspiring us to workout, and he would know as that’s one of the services that he offers to athletes. You might not have heard the term before but you’ll recognize your power songs when you hear them. They have a strong beat, an energetic feel, and a tempo of around 120 to 140 beats per minutes. They also have other associations: the positive emotions, images, and meaning that the song triggers.

For my workout today I chose a 20 minute Pop ride with Leanne Hainsby. I was searching for workouts that included music by Jamiroquai, a band I’ve followed since college and ‘Canned Heat‘ (128bpm) was one of the power songs in this workout, along with ‘You Get What You Give‘ (114 bpm) by New Radicals. Watch that Canned Heat video and you’ll see where I get my dance moves from! When I hear both of those songs, again they take me back to specific times and places in my life.

Saturday: Having written about power songs, and quoting Kelly McGonigal when she said “For most people the impulse to synchronize our bodies to a beat is so strong, it takes effort to suppress it” I had an interesting conversation with a friend today. I was talking with Jorge Rodriguez for his excellent podcast and we discussed that I was writing this blog post. Jorge and his family are enjoying life in Saudi Arabia right now and I asked him about local music and live performances. He told me that public decency laws forbid dancing in public, and that this was never more apparent than when at a recent live Mariah Carey performance, despite the singers encouragement she simply could not get the audience to get up and dance. I can’t imagine what it might feel like to hear an irresistible Mariah Carey beat and to have to control the urge to move to it.

Returning to the Gamble and Huff quote from the start of this post – “I love music, any kind of music” from the O’Jays, I selected to take the 30 minute Philly Soul Ride with Jenn Sherman from which I got not only a great workout but also a history lesson on Philly Soul and all things Philadelphia International Records. This was a ride that I didn’t want to end and obviously the playlist was the cause of that. You might not think you know what Philly Soul is, but I guarantee you’ve heard ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us Now‘ by McFadden and Whitehead, and ‘Love Train‘ from The O’Jays. If the beat sounds familiar, that’s because it gave birth to Disco.

Sunday: This blog post has definitely been the most fun to write, especially since each day has been a dopamine fueled rush and has made me more intentional about selecting my workouts. So how do I select a final ride to share with you? I have so many favorite Peloton instructors and want to share them all with you. I could have selected Cody Rigsby‘s 20 minute 80’s ride (Hall & Oates, Teena Marie, Rick Astley), or Hannah Frankson‘s 30 minute Black History Month UK Celebration Ride (standout power song the 140bpm ‘21 Seconds to Go‘) but I chose to ride with former professional dancer, “and advocate for movement and sweat” Emma Lovewell. I’m a fan of older R&B so chose her 20 minute R&B ride that was probably the best playlist of the week. If this playlist was played on a dancefloor, I’d have danced through the entire thing. I warmed up to SWV, worked out with Erykah Badu, climbed with Mary J.Blige, and cooled down with Keith Sweat! Standout tracks for me came from Badu and Blige. ‘On and On‘ and ‘Family Affair‘, and I finished the week with my fourth personal record. Looks like there’s something in this theory of music moving us! I rode 45 miles this week, set those four personal records and earned more achievement badges and high fives than I ever expected. There is no doubt that today’s workout has motivated me to have a great week ahead!

If you have ANY questions about the Peloton experience, perhaps you’re considering getting one yourself, do not hesitate to contact me. I have a referral code that will save you $100 off your purchase. My Peloton has been the best investment in myself and I can’t speak more highly of the user experience.

If you are already a Peloton user, are we following each other? I’m on there as ‘SoSoulful’ (I could explain the name, but it’s a long story). Peloton have a great blog and I have written this post in the style of their Peloton Diaries feature. All words are my own and I am not affiliated with Peloton, just a huge fan of their work.

Peloton users have the option to ‘favorite’ any of the songs played in the workouts and they are stored on a designated Spotify or Apple playlist. If you’re interested, here are the songs that have caught my ear:

See you on the leaderboard!

6 thoughts on “Moved By Music

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