March 29, 2018

Need Workout Motivation? Try Pop Culture

Have you ever gone through the whole process of gym prep—you put on the clothes, fill up the water bottle, find the headphones—only to find yourself curled up on the couch, refreshing the same webpage? No matter how hard-working you are, motivation can be a fickle friend. Sometimes the gym is just too far away.

As a pop culture obsessive, one of my favorite sources of workout inspiration is in the TV shows, movies, and music that I can’t get enough of. My fitspo doesn’t come from Instagram posts of six packs; it comes from the following pop culture media and icons.

Music with a Big, Big Beat

This is the most obvious one, but music is a well-established way to improve a workout. “Music distracts people from pain and fatigue, elevates mood, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort and may even promote metabolic efficiency,” according to Scientific American. “When listening to music, people run farther, bike longer and swim faster than usual—often without realizing it.”

The neuroscientist Dr. Jessica Grahn explained to that “the songs that produce the most success for workouts are those that have a regular rhythm and tempo, particularly at 120 to 140 beats per minute.” Also important? Songs that evoke memories or are, simply, ones you really like!

Whenever I hear something I know I’ll want to work/jam out to at the gym, I add it to my workout playlist on Spotify. Here are 10 of my favorite workout songs.

  • “Finesse (Remix),” by Bruno Mars feat. Cardi B
  • “The Big Big Beat,” by Azealia Banks
  • “Disco Tits,” by Tove Lo
  • “WTF (Where They From),” Missy Elliott feat. Pharrell Williams
  • “Mi Gente,” by J Balvin and Willy William feat. Beyoncé
  • “Make Me Feel,” by Janelle Monae
  • “New Dorp. New York,” SBTRKT, Ezra Koenig
  • “Lemon,” by N.E.R.D. and Rihanna
  • “PARAD(w/m)E,” by Sylvan Esso
  • “We Found Love,” Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris

Toward the end of a workout, sometimes I play Europe’s “The Final Countdown.” Not only is it relevant, but it gives me an excuse to picture G.O.B. Bluth prancing around a stage.

Gym-Worthy TV Shows

Whenever I get behind on a TV show I love, I don’t let myself watch it right away. Instead, I save it for the gym. A workout on the elliptical goes so much faster if you’re not thinking about every single movement. My go-to gym show, which I watch on my phone while doing the elliptical, is Jane the Virgin. I get excited to go to the gym, so I can catch up with the Villanueva women I love spending time with.

Other great TV shows for the gym are GLOW, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Good Place, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and The Mindy Project. Mindy Kaling’s new show, Champions, is about a Brooklyn gym owner—if it’s as charming and funny as Mindy herself, it’s sure to be another great one.

Characters Who Kick Ass—And Will Make You Want to Do the Same

In no particular order, here are some characters who, because of their determination and tirelessness, inspire me to get off the couch.

Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: 1950s housewife turned comedienne extraordinaire, with the planet’s most enviable coat collection.

Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan), Love & Basketball: Relentless and supremely talented.

Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals), Flashdance: Have you seen that final dance scene? #Goals

Also, Kanye West’s video for “Fade,” starring the incredible Teyana Taylor, is kind of a Flashdance part two. Fortunately for anyone who Googled “Teyana Taylor workout” after the video released, Taylor has a dance workout program.

Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe), Parks and Recreation: He’s literally inspirational.


Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter and Gal Gadot): As Katie Stow put it in Elle Australia, “She is the strongest, most powerful, the smartest and the most impressive person in the whole film and so therefore she deserves to be the one to save the day.” Well said.

And finally, if you’re still looking for inspiration, might I suggest a real-life superhero? Check out The RBG Workout, by Bryant Johnson, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s personal trainer. The exercises are great! And as Johnson explains in the introduction, habeas corpus literally means “you have the body”: “YOU have a body, and in order for it to take care of you, you have to take care of it.”

About the Author

Grace is an Albuquerque-based writer and editor with a background in book publishing. She loves musicals, bar trivia, and breakfast burritos.

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