Saturday, January 11, 2014

Pump It Up!

Music has become a perfectly integrated part of our culture. We listen to music in the morning whilst we brush our teeth, we learn about it at school, many of us either sing or play an instrument, and for exercise, music can be a great motivational tool.

When it comes to the newest trends and the most popular songs, I am the wrong person to ask. My iPod still has the same songs as five years ago, and the only time I find out about new songs either when my friends talk about it, or if it comes up on the gym's music channel during my cardio workout. In the past, I always got my best friend in Germany to supply me with the newest music whenever I went back to Germany. The same happened this Christmas.

The result was one of the coolest Christmas presents your friend can give you. She made me a workout playlist of 50 songs, all packed onto a USB in the form of Darth Vader. Music on a Star Wars themed USB? How cool is that? He is even holding a little red lightsaber. Have a look for yourself:

Anyways, enough about Darth Vader. What I actually wanted to say is this: when it comes to working out, don't forget your music. No matter if you are sweating on a treadmill, or lifting heavy weights with all the other beasts, music that can help push you that last bit that makes all the difference. I would also recommend changing up your playlist every now and then, maybe you could combine it with changing up your workout routine, every 4-6 weeks.

My workout playlist now is a weird mix of artistic (and not so artistic) master pieces. The music on my iPod ranges from terrible German Rap (which I find hilariously entertaining) to the common pop songs. The best of all, however, are the instrumental pieces. Surprisingly enough, I find instrumental pieces the most motivating. I feel like music is not necessarily about what people say (even though from time to time there is a guy screaming "ONE MORE REP" throughout my favourite instrumental piece, but hey, can't hurt), but how it makes you feel. There is music out there that makes me feel like I can conquer the world (some parts of the soundtrack of Pirates of the Caribbean for example). My boyfriend and I went to the gym at night, when not many other people were training, and I got my daily dose of cardio in. This time, however, with my new playlist blasting in my ears, I could go faster than usual, and I even had fun torturing myself on those machines! The music made all the difference.

Scientific research regarding the effect of music on exercising performance shows mixed results. In their study The effects of music tempo and loudness level on treadmill exercise, Judy Edworthy and Hannah Waring (2006) confirm that "fast, loud music might be played to enhance optimal exercising." In contrast, Schwartz, Fernhall and Plowmann (1990) find no direct linear relationship between music and any of the measured physiological variables (such as heart rate or aerobic capacity). However, I think it is save to agree with the following statements, which are conclusions drawn from a literature review by Kravitz:

  1. Subjects often reported that they felt like they performed better when their workout was accompanied by music. Therefore, music may improve a person's enjoyment and fulfillment of physical exercises.
  2. Music appears to provide a motivational construct to exercise, positively affecting the mental attitude of students.
  3. Music may evoke pleasant associations, whilst masking unpleasant stimuli (rapid breathing). It may also serve as a distraction from internal feelings such as discomfort and frustration.

Another example where music helped me achieve my fitness goals was during my half marathon last April. Before the run I put together a 2.5 hour long playlist, and I swore to myself that: a). I wouldn't stop running until the music finishes (unless I reach the finish line before then) and b). I would finish the race before the music stopped. I accomplished my goal and ran my 13.1 miles in 2 hours and 14 minutes (it really should have been 2 hours, but I got lazy in between...maybe next time). The music helped me take my mind off my aching knees and also got me to focus on my goal.

You see, music is a workout companion. Today it was even an integrated part of my workout. I went to Zumba with my mum, because she wanted to show me what she gets up to. I have to admit - it was actually really fun. I tried Zumba once before at my gym, but I left the class without losing a drop of sweat, so it didn't seem worth it to me. Tonight, however, the class was conducted my a small, energetic Russian lady, who wouldn't/couldn't stop smiling throughout the whole training hour. Her energy and happiness was infectious. For one hour I made a total fool out of myself, trying to align my hands, arms, legs and feed. It was amazing fun, and I actually left the room feeling like I got a decent workout. The music during Zumba workouts is very motivational, as it pumps you up, and you are basically not able to stand still anyways. This makes it a really fun workout, where you don't constantly think about "am I burning off that piece of carrot cake yet?" or "how long do I still have to gooooooo?" You have to concentrate so hard on coordinating your limbs that there is not space or time for any other thought. If you are just starting your healthy lifestyle, and are looking for a great beginner's exercise routine that is fun and you can to in a group, I would definitely recommend Zumba. If you pair it with the targeted weight training option and a customized nutrition plan, you are definitely on the right track to transform your body into a health machine. Follow the link to Register for free at  

Right, I feel like I got a little bit distracted today, and told you everything that was on my mind regarding music and exercising. But I am sure you got the gist. Music and working out are inextricably linked. Music can serve as motivation to give you that final push that makes all the differences. So plug in your headphones, get a good tune playing, and Pump It Up!


Edworthy, J. and Waring, H., 2006, "The Effect of music tempo and loudness level on treadmill exercise", Ergonomics, Volume 49 (15), pp. 1597-1610

Kravitz, L., The Effects of Music on Exercise?, Selected Articles by Len Kravitz and Colleagues, accessed 11/01/2014,

Schwartz, S. E., Fernhall, B., and Plowman, S. A., 1990, "Effects of music on exercise performance." Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation, Volume 10, pp. 312-316

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Step by Step

Happy New Years to all my lovely readers out there! I hope you enjoyed your holidays and had some time to reflect on the past year. I certainly did, and I would like share some of the insights I gained from this thinking process.

A New Years' Resolution is a common tool for people to 'commit' to a healthier and fitter lifestyle. Every time I return to my gym after the holidays I get frustrated because it is so packed! All throughout January and February I can watch people trying to stick to their promise to go to the gym more often and get fit. However, mid-February, it is back to normal and I am able to finish my workout in the usual 1.5 hours. Not that I don't think committing to being a healthier and more sustainable you is bad, but I don't think that you should go cold turkey on yourself.

Getting healthy and fit is nothing you can change from one day to another. It is a long and tedious process of motivation, commitment and sacrifice. In order to prepare yourself and your body, you need to take the challenge step by step. If you don't know where to start, or if you would like a support network and personalized advice, please Register for free at

If you want to change your habits in the long run, you need to do so step by step. If you cut out all sugar, carbs, processed foods or soda drinks from one day to another, you will not only be incredibly unhappy, but it is unlikely that you will stick to your goals. Your body might be used to all those things, and not having them will trigger mood swings, cravings and unhappiness. Many people in today's society are addicted to certain foods, and I admit that I am definitely one of them. I tried to cut out all sugars and carbs over an extended period of time, and I cannot say that it made me a better person (you are lucky you didn't meet me during my trial of the low carb diet). If you want to have long lasting success, you need to change small things, and turn healthier decisions into habits. Here are my top 3 tips and tricks that I have collected throughout the past years.

  1. Watch what you are drinking. Many people increase their calorie intake immensely through their drinks. Sodas, sweet teas and sugar-packed coffee drinks all fall into this category. Take my mum for example: She used to drink a chocolate mocha drink (made from powder) every day at work. She first switched to black tea with two teaspoons of sugar, and now has cut it down to one teaspoon of sugar. Obviously that wasn't the only change she implemented, but she herself said that she felt like it made a huge difference. She now only enjoys her chocolate mocha once on the weekend. You see, cutting something out completely is not always necessary (unless it is actually straight up damaging your health). Try to swap for healthier options. If you love your artificially flavoured soda, try some naturally flavoured water. Put orange slices, lemon slices, some strawberries and cucumber into a jar of fresh water and let it rest for a little while. You end up with a refreshing drink that not only has zero calories and helps you detoxify your system, but also is hopefully able to satisfy your cravings to the point you don't need soda anymore.
  2. Don't avoid movement. People nowadays get lazier and lazier. I can feel it myself. I complain if I have to go downstairs to fill up my water bottle, even though my tongue feels like a fluffy carpet (which is not exactly pleasant in ones mouth). Maybe you could make your new goal to take the stairs instead of the elevator, to park at the far end of the parking lot or to take a walk every night instead of sitting in front of the TV. If you decide to join a gym, start out with two days per week, to get used to the increased exercise and to be able to definitely fit it into your time schedule. You will soon enjoy working out and thus automatically dedicate more time and effort towards working out.
  3. TV snacks. I know that is a sensitive topic. We all love our sour worms, potato crisps or chocolate during our favourite movie or TV show. A friend and I actually discussed this topic a couple of weeks ago. Before we came to uni, we never had the urge to eat food whilst watching something. But since we watched a lot of TV and movies with our friends together, it became a social event which always included snacks. When you are watching TV, you don't realise how much you are eating, and before you know it, you have emptied the whole bag (and then feel sick 20 minutes afterwards). If you don't want to miss out on your treats, introduce some portion control. Put a serving of chips into a bowl before you get comfortable in front of your TV (and no, more movement to get the rest of the bag is NOT required in this instance). If you are willing to avoid unhealthy snacks, swap them. Instead of potato chips, try raw veggies (cucumber, carrots, peppers) and dip - it is delicious, fills you up and gives you a similar crunch to chips. If you are craving something sweet, go for dried fruits and nuts or dried banana chips (however, here portion control, once again, is crucial). If you are looking for something more smooth, have a serving of Greek yogurt and walnuts (fats around bed time are actually recommended). 

It's the small things that make a difference :)

Getting healthy and fit in the New Year is an amazing goal, and I hope I will be helping to guide and support you in reaching that goal. However, you should keep your aims and the corresponding measures realistic. Don't go cold turkey and deprive yourself, or knock yourself out in the gym. Instead, change your habits step by step to make long term, sustainable changes. 

Face the challenge step by step, and you will be successful in the end.