The Emotional Workout Playlist

adp-emotional-2Photographed by Ruby Yeh.
Some days, you're on. The blood is pumping, energy is high, and you jump off the bike with a bright, shiny tomato face and the pride of a workout well done. Then, there are the other days — those days when you spend 30 minutes taking a leisurely stroll on the treadmill while playing Candy Crush. There's exercising and then there's just "going to the gym." Let's be real: If you can text, you can't be sweating that hard.
In the past, I've often fallen prey to this half-assery when it comes to exercise. I'd leave the gym sweat-free, telling myself I'd earned a frozen yogurt, then spend the rest of the day humblebragging about my super hardcore, responsible-adult morning workout. "Ugh, my hair's still wet from when I showered AT THE GYM this morning." I know, I know. Please shut up, past-me.
From the beginning, one of the crucial goals of The Anti-Diet Project was to change my relationship with fitness. Not only did that mean finding a way to integrate it into my life in a sustainable way, but also to stop with that bullshit. No more faux-workouts. Fitness doesn't mean you need to run a marathon or even go to the actual gym every day. But, it does mean you need to get your heart pumping.
I work out five days a week. Two of those days are with my lovely, whip-cracking trainer, Stephanie, and three are on my own. Knowing how easy it is to slip into slack-mode, committed though I was, I employed a few tools to keep me honest. First, I began wearing a FitBit to track my steps and aim for 10,000 every day. I don't use the calorie or food-tracking functions of the FitBit, but it is one of the best pedometer options out there (especially if you don't like the traditional hip-clip style, which, as a dress person, I do not). Second, and crucial to my workout, I began using a heart-rate monitor.
Before there were FitBits and FuelBands, there were traditional heart-rate monitors that helped you stay within your optimal heart rate while working out. Today, this is still one of the best, no-BS fitness tools out there. It keeps you directly accountable to yourself. There's no fooling it. You're either working hard, or you're not. While you can find monitors with all kinds of accessories and options, I went for the basic Polar FT4 — discreet and dummy proof. No way I could use the old "couldn't figure it out" excuse and have another easy-breezy Candy Crush workout.
Third, and perhaps the greatest tool in my arsenal: The Emotional Workout Playlist.
adp-emotional-1Photographed by Ruby Yeh.
The Emotional Workout Playlist was born the day I began tracking my heart rate. I first used the monitor while on Thanksgiving vacation in France. Barred from outdoor workouts by icy rain, I spent the week exercising on the elliptical machine in my aunt's 150-year-old attic (in between baguette breakfasts and tarte tatin, don't worry).
I started out with my usual podcast before switching to music. Beyonce's "Best Thing I Never Had" came on, and, naturally, I started crying. Next came Cee Lo, and the tears dried up the second the bouncy, bright tunes came on. After that was Alanis Morissette, and suddenly I was rage exercising. Finally, Adele started playing, and the cycle started all over again. A few minutes into this elliptical catharsis, I looked down at my watch display and saw I'd jumped from the low end of cardio to the pinnacle of my prime heart-rate zone. Furthermore, it hadn't been a few minutes — it had been half an hour.
If you've been working out your whole life, you're probably familiar with this phenomenon. But, if you're a newbie like me, let me break the news to you: Feelings make you move. Perhaps it's the aforementioned cathartic effect of exercise, or just the fact that moving music is, well, moving. All I know is when I listen to these songs, I work harder — but, somehow, it's easier.
This music makes my workout feel like the head-clearing, zen-making exercise I always heard it could be (but never actually believed for one second). Whether I'm at the gym or just going for a power walk around my neighborhood, I go a million times harder, and I feel both physical and mental relief when I'm done. Sure, I may look a little insane in the face when I listen to The Emotional Workout Playlist — eyes all weepy, head tossed back in anguish — but, who cares? Remember, no one looks cute on the StairMaster, anyway. Might as well lean in.
adp-emotional-3Photographed by Ruby Yeh.
Since this project is about sharing my personal journey with you, I knew that meant I'd be sharing this playlist. But, it took me a while to get up the nerve. This is a little like reading from my diary, or letting someone hang out in my bedroom and watch my trying-to-get-psyched-for-a-first-date dance. It's exposing and a little embarrassing to share The Emotional Workout Playlist in all it's dramatic, pop-y glory.
(Full disclosure: My Even More Emotional Workout Playlist is musical theater-based, a soundtrack I didn't think appropriate for the entire R29 audience. But, if you want it, I will gladly share. It starts with Sondheim and ends with Schwartz, and it is simply the greatest mix you will ever hear — if you like musical theater. If you don't, it will melt your iPhone.)
Each song on this list is one I find emotionally engaging. Whether it's unstoppably happy or a sad sucker punch to the heart, each one will keep you moving one way or another. Each one has a strong beat to it, too. Some are fast and some a little slower, but steady. I think of this playlist as interval training. The original draft of the EWP started slow and increased in speed, until one day I literally knocked a stationary bike off kilter. That's how hard I was going. For the safety of my knee joints and my gym's equipment, I learned to vary the pace.
So, here you are — my slightly embarrassing secret weapon. Use it wisely, and bring some tissues.
The Anti-Diet Project runs every other Monday — the next update will be 3/17. Until then, you can follow my progress at @mskelseymiller or #antidietproject on Instagram and Twitter — and feel free to jump in and hashtag your own anti-diet challenges and inspiration! Seriously, if you have an Emotional Workout Playlist, I want to hear it — bring on the feelings! (If you don't have one and you think I'm a total weirdo, then you can let me know that, too. I can take it. I've got tissues.)

More from Fitness

R29 Original Series