A Classic Workout: 12 of the Best Pieces of Classical Music for Exercise

by WiseFool

Classical music is usually synonymous with relaxation, but can it also be used to pump you up?

Typically, when we're looking for music to put on an 'exercise playlist', we'll choose modern music with a solid, steady beat. After all, the Moonlight Sonata wouldn't be motivational for a power walk, much less a jog.

Classical music is for relaxation. It's music to read to, music to send you off to sleep, to unwind, or to meditate. At a push, you might use classical music to exercise if your chosen exercise is yoga or Piilates. But for a run, lifting weights or a few rounds of gym equipment, you need something with a bit of oomph. So, that's classical music out, right? Wrong.

Why Classical Music is Actually Great for Exercising

Believe it or not, the same positive effects of classical music apply when used during a workout

Music can help motivate and stimulate your exerciseMost of us tend to lean toward modern, beat-heavy music when looking for soundtracks to our workout. However, classical music may, in fact, be more beneficial. And here's why.

1. Classical music helps relax the body - if you're relaxed, your heart rate will be lower as will your blood pressure.

2. Classical music also reduces the amount of cortisol (the stress hormone), in your body.

3. Music that is 'beautiful' (beauty in this instance is, of course, in the ear of the beholder), stimulates the premotor cortex; the area of the brain involved in movement

Whatever genre of music you choose, it's advisable to keep the music's BPM (beats per minute), around the same rhythm of your heart. In other words, as your workout gets more intense, the music's beat should be cranked up, too. 

Although the music below is not listed in any particular order, I have included the BPM of each piece, so you can select which tracks would be best for your warm up, light exercise, heavy exercise, cool down, etc.

Unter Donner und Blitz Polka, Johann Strauss II

Thunder and Lightening Polka

An upbeat, good old-fashioned dance number from Vienna, The Thunder and Lightening Polka not only provides a good solid rhythm, but is also a feel-good ditty.

It, like most polkas, has around 100 BPM - but the exact figure depends, of course, on who was in charge of the baton when the track was recorded.

In any case, Strauss offers a good piece for warming up or for light exercise here.

Mariss Jansons and The Vienna Philharmonic

Thunder and Lightening Polka, New Year's Day Concert 2012

Listen to The Ride of The Valkyries

One of Wagner's Most Recognizable Pieces

The Ride of The Valkyries, Richard Wagner

From Die Walküre (The Valkyrie)

Probably best known for being featured in the film Apocalypse Now, The Ride of The Valkyries is from act III of The Valkyrie; the second opera of Wagner's Ring Cycle.

Guaranteed to stir the blood, The Ride of The Valkyries has a BPM of 109, which, according to Jog.FM, is a good pace for a run of around eight and a half kilometers. 

It's not too intense, so for getting your heart pumping at a moderate pace, this is great.

Mars - The Bringer of War, Gustav Holst

From The Planets Suite

Written between 1914 and 1916, Holst's The Planets is one of the more widely known classical pieces, with Mars being used often in documentaries, television programs and films. 

This powerful and motivational piece offers an average 85 BMP, although, like several of the other pieces listed, the timing fluctuates.

As Mars gathers pace, though, it can make a good piece for a workout, as it'll urge you to intensify your exercise as it swells. 

Sir Charles Mackerras and The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic

Mars from The Planets Suite (Op. 32)

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Boléro, Maurice Ravel

Inspired by Russian dancer, Ida Rubinstein

Although it might not seem like the most pacey of pieces, the beauty of Boléro is that it offers a good, steady beat.

Or as Ravel put it, "Don't you think this theme has an insistent quality? I'm going to try and repeat it a number of times without any development..."

And it's faster than you might think. Jog.FM gives it a BPM of 140, which is a decent beat for some intense exercise. And, as the music builds, it's bound to spur you on!

Gustavo Dudamel and The Vienna Philharmonic

Ravel's Boléro

Marin Alsop and The Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra

The Opening of Fanfare for The Common Man at The BBC Proms 2012

Fanfare for The Common Man, Aaron Copland

Soaring score used in many television programs and for sports events

What about music to get you in the mood?

So, you've pulled on your running shoes, you're psyching yourself up for the hard slog ahead - stick a little taste of this in your ears and you'll be ready to step out that front door in no time!

It's only 66 BPM, so it's probably best for preparation and light warm up, but don't underestimate the importance of being mentally prepared before you go out to exercise. 

Edo de Waart and The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

Finale of The William Tell Overture

Finale of The William Tell Overture, Gioachino Rossini

Otherwise known as the theme from The Lone Ranger

Let's face it, it's difficult not to hear this and think, "Hi-yo, Silver! Away!" Just like Silver, it'll get ya going though, won't it? 

It's a pulse-quickener, and is bound to help light that fire under you. With a pulse of around 150 BPM, it's great for when you're hitting your stride.

Claudio Abbado with The Berlin Philharmonic

Prelude to Carmen

Prelude to Act One of Carmen - George Bizet

One to really get the blood pumping

The explosive prelude to Bizet's Carmen is a wonderful adrenaline-pumper.

If you need something powerful to get you up, or out the front door, I highly recommend it.

And at 116 BPM, it's not too fast for the early stages of your workout, either. 

The Sabre Dance, Aram Khachaturian

From the ballet Gayane

It's not your usual ballet music, is it?

The Sabre Dance is a high-octane piece, full of energy. In fact, at times, it might seem a little frenetic, but you've got to admit, it's not one for the slackers!

You might be surprised, though that Khachaturian's metronome mark is 132 BPM, so it's not beyond the realms of possibility to keep up with him. 

Seiji Ozawa and The Berlin Philharmonic

The Sabre Dance

Finale of 1812 Overture, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Complete with canons

Both literally and figuratively explosive, this is ideal for those moments when you hit 'the wall'.

If you need any kind of push, Tchaikovsky will give it to you here in spades.

It only has a tempo of around 80 BPM, but I'm not sure that really matters. After all, the canon fire will keep you running for your life.

Zubin Mehta and The Maggio Musicale Florentino

Performing The Finale of The 1812 Overture in 1991

Egmont Overture, Ludwig van Beethoven

For the play of the same name by Goethe

This is a great piece to use at the beginning of your workout, as it has a nice slow build - in fact, the opening is a little depressing.

However, it rises to a powerful crescendo, by which time, you'll be moving at full force.

With 150 BPM, it's certainly going to keep you ticking along at a fair pace.

Lorin Maazel and The New York Philharmonic

Beethoven's Egmont Overture

Orpheus in the Underworld Overture, Jacques Offenbach

Get those legs up!

Another one of those classical tracks that everyone knows, the 'Can-Can' as it's more commonly known is just crying out for you to lift those legs a little bit higher.

Versions I've found have vastly differing tempos, but the faster paced ones, like the one on the right, are around the 160 BPM mark. So, it's definitely one for when you're warmed up!

Listen to Orpheus in the Underworld

The Can-Can by Offenbach

Neeme Jarvi and The Berlin Philharmonic

Peer Gynt: In The Hall of The Mountain King

In the Hall of the Mountain King, Edvard Grieg

For act 2 of Peer Gynt, by Henrik Ibsen

I'm very fond of pieces that start slow and build, and they don't build to much more of a frenzy than the climax of In The Hall of The Mountain King.

It starts out at around 70 BPM, but, as you'll hear, it gathers speed and eventually reaches 94 BPM.

This is another piece that I highly recommend as a starter, because it's pulsing impetus will certainly give you the motivational boost you need to begin your workout. 

Updated: 04/30/2014, WiseFool
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Any other pieces of classical music that you like to listen to when exercising?

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WiseFool on 05/01/2014

Hello, Mira. Nice choice! I've only recently got into using classical for workouts. I'd always gone for more obvious choices, but I really enjoy classical and started to think, why not use it for exercise? It definitely works.

Mira on 05/01/2014

I never thought of listening to classical music while exercising. Your suggestions are great :) I guess I'd listen to nervy violin pieces, like Ravel's Tzigane, even if the BPM may look odd for exercising.

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