Lucy Siegle on music to get fit by

It is tantamount to treason to confess this in these days of holistic fitness, but I have never been able to get fired up about yoga. This is largely due to the lack of pumping music. Yoga teachers either play ambient panpipes or nothing. Each minute seems to last an hour and my body complains bitterly about being stretched in unfeasible directions.

Such is my legacy from an earlier career teaching 20 hours of aerobics classes a week. I was a nascent gym-goer at university, didn't like the music they played at the classes, so trained to be an instructor largely so I could have control of the stereo. Now I can't disassociate physical activity from banging house music at 140 beats per minute in 32-beat phrases (the standard song construction of eight bars of four beats).

This is not the lunatic dependency you might think. Music and exercise have long been proven to be symbiotic bedfellows. Dr Costas Karageorghis, a sports and exercise psychologist at Brunel University (and a musician), has spent more than a decade studying the link between athletic activity and music. He is also the architect of the Brunel Music Rating Inventory (BMRI), designed to rate the motivational qualities of music.

According to Karageorghis we have an underlying predisposition to react to musical stimuli. "Music is beneficial," he explains, "as a result of the similarities between rhythm and human movement. The synchronisation of music with exercise consistently demonstrates increased levels of work output among exercise participants." Choose the right music and, according to Karageorghis, you can up your workout productivity by as much as 20%. For James Cracknell, the rower, the right music was the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Blood Sugar Sex Magik album, which he sites as playing an integral part in his pre-race preparation and, ultimately, Olympic victory.

But perhaps the most useful facet of music - especially a song with "motivational" melodies and lyrics - is that it allows even the humble gym-goer or runner to practice a technique used by elite athletes: disassociation. During repetitive exercise, music essentially diverts attention away from the sensation of fatigue. Blast away Born to be Wild by Steppenwolf (this scores particularly well on Karageorghis's BMRI chart), or Reach by S Club 7 during the high intensity cardiac phase (using 85% of your maximum heart rate), and you can almost persuade your body that you are in fact having a nice sit down and a latte. Songs don't always need to be predictably saccharine and upbeat though. I have a friend who swears by Bob Dylan when running.

Not everyone, however, shares the same taste in tunes. "Can you turn that racket down?" said a participant in one of my classes before storming out, objecting to a particularly hardcore Prodigy remix. Reaching a consensus on music is notoriously tricky - which makes communal exercise classes problematic.

There are some parameters followed by professional fitness instructors. We are taught about "appropriateness" on our Exercise to Music RSA basic fitness instructor training. Appropriateness to the type of class (ie step, body pump etc) must over-ride any personal enthusiasm for a particular genre or artist, for example. Not everybody gets this - one instructor I trained with tried to teach all his classes to the Chemical Brothers. As they tend not to conform to 32 beats in a phrase this made choreography rather difficult. His classes involved a lot of standing around trying to pick up the beat in the manner of surfers trying to pick up a wave.

Essentially, we are taught that music should help participants get "in the zone", where they are working at around 80-85% of their maximum heart rate but are motivated enough to keep going. Instructors and gyms often buy ready-mixed CDs that come with a music licence for public performance (without which they can be fined heavily). A frequent moan by those who go to classes is that they hear the same old songs over and over again. This is mostly because only a limited number of songs are licensed each year, and teachers universally favour high octane numbers with rather literal physical exhortations such as Move Your Body and Shake That Ass. Some still find Kung Fu Fighting hilariously novel where there is kicking involved. The sad truth is, however, that most people respond best in motivational terms to quite horrific songs such as Eye of the Tiger or Simply the Best - music they wouldn't necessarily be proud to have on their iPod.

Most importantly, though, the tempo should mirror your heartbeat. The instructor should align the music with the arc of the class, from the warm up, to high intensity, to cool down. It's good to emulate this when you work out alone, too. Cooling down to techno, for instance, will leave you feeling twitchy all day.

These days you can find music tailored to suit a staggeringly diverse range of sports and exercise needs. In order to mentally prepare, golfers can get hold of a special range of music just for them at I have even stumbled upon Christian step music where you can move to the beat of Onward Christian soldiers and How Great Thou Art. If, however, you prefer cutting edge dance music, the Third Space gym in London's Soho does several sessions a week on its elevated glass floor to a live DJ accompaniment and Ministry of Sound started Pump It Up Dance exercise classes last year.

Some final words of advice: Enjoy the beat but don't let it consume you. Unlike music and exercise, athleticism and expressionism are generally ill suited. Really good, motivational music can make exercisers forget where they are and I have witnessed a few people singing on the treadmill - to their eternal shame. Let your favourite artist motivate you but don't try to become them. This month alone, I have already seen two women sweating in leotards and tights. Eric Prydz (whose number 1 hit, Call on Me's video featured a 1980s-style aerobics class) and Madonna have a lot to answer for.

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