Workouts are just plain easier with music. There have been a slew of studies done on the effects of music on physical performance and conclusions for moderate exercise in general show that working out with some beats can make you run a little farther and feel better about it afterward.
Developers are all well aware of the psychology behind this. That said, these aren’t the apps designed to discover new music, so don’t download them for that. If you already have a music streaming service like Spotify, then there’s usually a workout channel or two, and if you actually pay for your streaming you have more control over your track selection and playlists. Songza is another decent streamer that’s often forgotten, but it offers decent workout options. And don’t forget the other biggies, Pandora and Slacker. If you don’t already stream or don’t have a fitness tracker, here are five apps designed specifically to match music with your workouts.
A newcomer to the music app space, Spring combines the best features of general music streaming apps, such as curated music selections and 35,000 songs with the added option to design your own interval training. The music will let you know when Spring is going to pump you up. Spring knows the science that explains why matching motion to music is effective, and makes full use of it. Spring doesn’t have a selection to match Pandora, but the app does include GPS to track the basics of your run like distance and your song-based performance so you can see what motivated you. The downsides: Spring is only out for Apple devices at the moment, and you only get five hours of streaming free. The upsides: Spring does work on your Apple Watch, and also works with Apple Health. The Android version of the app is set to launch late summer 2015.
RockyMyRun is all about the tempo. Also curated, their DJs make exercise mixes with steady tempos to keep up your endurance. This writer has personally been a victim of the mismatched station on regular streaming services, where you’re hitting your third mile and suddenly some out-of-place song comes on and you have to dig your phone out of your pocket to skip the song. By then your stride and momentum are both broken. RockMyRun helps you avoid all that. It can play seamlessly without long gaps between tracks that would otherwise kill your momentum and distract you with the question: “Did I just lose my connection?” Even better, you can play music offline.
Another great feature that keeps RockMyRun highly rated is the cadence matcher; the trademarked Body-Driven Music matches your music to your movement — or rather, to your steps. It’s like a modern version of those old military marching songs, but for civvies.
Even if you don’t use that, mixes BPMs are listed so if you already know what works for you, you can go right to it. The app works with MapMyRun as well as Nike+, Endomondo, and Runtastic. Register at no cost and you get all playlists under 45 minutes for free. Sadly, you need Rockstar level ($5 a month or $36 a year) to go ad free and get all the good stuff; continuous playback, four hour playlists, and access to Body Driven Music. Fair warning, their drum and bass offerings are a little slim at the moment.
Also unique to iTunes, FIT Radio is one of the original gangsters of Apple fitness music apps. Their curated mixes come in a bunch of shapes and sizes. They have workout specific mixes, new mixes daily, and a tap-and-play setup that doesn’t require creating playlists or caching any files. Of course the mixes keep BPM and rhythm continuity.
The free version only offers three to six mixes per genre and has ads , but you do get new mixes and the option to turn off the explicit lyrics. Paying for premium grants full ad-free access to the full mix catalog, including unlimited skips, and DJ profiles. A month is $4, a year is $28, life time is $80. Decent genre and station selection rounds out why this is a good choice for Android and Apple users.
Everything about GYM serves real gym-rat style with a dash of fist pump. It has a three main stations based on what you’re doing; Cardio, Gym and Hardcore. Cardio is a little more upbeat to motivate your cadence. Gym is steady, inspirational, with a definite focus on what’s hot in the streets; it’s definitely not your taxes. Hardcore is music that allows no flinching, and tells you to HTFU. New songs are added every day.
One annoying thing about Gym Radio is that between the constant requests to try premium and the ads, it can be hard to just get back to the radio screen. Premium gets rid of the ads, and gets you offline listening, skips, and new songs while they’re still new. However, it does have a “Workout Mode” that beeps at one minute intervals to help you keep track of reps. It’s also the best workout radio app for flossing (showing off), because it has a camera button in the app. Share your photo on Instagram and hashtag it (#gymradio) to get added to their hall of fame, which you can see within the Gym Radio app. Click on the photos there and you end up on the Instagram shot; great for anyone trying to build an Instagram following for your hot bod. Grab it on the Play Store or iTunes.
PaceDJ is totally free for both Apple and Android users. This is the app people who already have a long list of downloaded mp3s and want a player that will organize them for workouts. The BPM identifier starts by finding tracks on your phone, then guides you through the process of creating your first playlist for walking, running, cycling, or “other.” It starts with a median BPM setting based on your choice of exercise, (75BPM for cycling, 130 for running for example). It will warn you it’ll pick songs 10 BPM more or less than your target speed, as well as double tempo or half tempo songs (again, based on exercise choice).
If you’re not sure how many BPMs are comfortable, it has pace measurement and touch-drum features that let you figure out your comfortable range, or tap it out to correct it. Though if you already know but you don’t have many on-phone tracks, you can head to the Pace DJ website to find full exercise specific playlists with iTunes an Amazon links. On the other hand, if you have a massive library, be aware it will take some time for the program to sort your files.