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A wise man once said, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” Whether simple or complex, harmonic or discordant, the tapestry of notes, tones, melodies and vocals that form the framework of music is not only beautiful, it’s a powerful tool. Have trouble studying? Download a few instrumental tracks and watch your retention soar. Can’t go back to sleep at night? I got a cure for what ails you and it starts with a pair of headphones.

I am a firm believer that with a specially designed playlist by your side, you can tackle just about anything. In my life, music has been especially helpful in my latest personal venture, competitive bodybuilding. Dedicating 2-3 hours a day, 6-days per week to rigorous exercise is not for the faint-of-heart, but I learned very quickly that music is a veritable Senzu bean; it has the unique ability to transform a lackluster gym session into a gains marathon. And it just so happens that video game music is very compatible with pumping iron and getting yolked, or whatever the kids are saying these days.

I’d like to share a sliver of my gym motivation playlist with you, including examples of video game tracks that keep me the most focused and energized during the multiple facets of my workout. The summer is right around the corner, so let’s get to work!

Warm-Up: Get your body ready for what’s to come

While our video game heroes tackle life and death scenarios without even the slightest pre-save-the-day stretch, I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for the average Joe. We don’t have multiple lives at our disposal after all. It’s not the most glamorous part of a gym session, true, but making sure your muscles are loose and ready to work is important for overall athletic performance and injury prevention.

I have quite a few gaming jams that pair well with the light cardio and active stretching components of a dynamic warm-up; but one track really sets the stage before the real work begins.
Ni No Kuni – Taking to the Skies

Ni no Kuni OST - Taking to the Skies

When it comes to video game music, JRPGs are in a league of their own. Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy were breaking musical barriers all the way back in the 1980s and still top of the pack today. Ni No Kuni continues the genre’s stellar soundtrack trend with a welcome addition to my gym-starter set list, Taking to the Skies.
The song kicks off with a burst of energy; orchestral instruments of all kinds sound off in a harmonious, uplifting melody. Over the course of the track, the tone changes from inspiring to subtle with surges of intensity throughout. It’s the kind of song that tells a story, one that is energetic enough to get the wheels rolling without pushing too hard.

Heavy compound weight lifting: Start your workout with your heaviest lifts

When it comes to general weight lifting, the standard recommendation is putting your heaviest, multi-joint exercises at the start of your workout; when you have the most fuel in the tank. These are your classic techniques like the bench press, deadlift, squat; the ones gym bros like to compare stats about.

For big power moves, you need a seriously powerful playlist. In fact, studies have shown that listening to faster tempo music while exercising can actually make you work harder. Luckily, in the video game world, intense music is just a boss battle away.

The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt – The Hunt is Coming

The Witcher 3 OST - The Hunt is Coming [EXTENDED version]

The Witcher 3 may be heralded is one of the greatest games in recent memory, but it also boasts an amazing soundtrack. The Hunt in particular is one of my favorite heavy-lifting tracks. Give it a listen and you’ll see why. The song begins innocently enough; with drum beats cleaving through eerie, atmospheric tones. After a few moments, the scene is set. You get the feeling that danger is coming. It’s menacing, it’s intense, and it gives me a swift kick in the rear when I’m lagging in the energy department. I feel like I’m going into battle every time this song comes on, a perfect sentiment to channel on an epic training day.

Isolation weight lifting & endurance: Stay focused all the way to the end

The next section of my training regimen typically delves into isolation movements or what I like to call the fine tuning work, which tackles individual muscle groups often at higher volumes. The heavy stuff has taken its toll at this point, but there’s way more work to do, more carpe diem-vibes to channel. Music to the rescue. A recent study has shown that exercising with music may make you less aware of your exertion. Researchers found that similar distractions during exercise boosted athletic performance by up to 15%.

While transitioning into the middle and latter parts of my workout, this is where I flood my gym playlist with lots of musical variety – a mix of upbeat melodies, unique songs, and tracks with vocals I can sing along with. The faster and more complex the music, the more information that our brains have to process, and the less likely you are to focus on how much you’re sweating or how tight your muscles are.
Katamari Damacy – Lonely Rolling Star

Katamari Damacy Soundtrack - 05 - Lonely Rolling Star

Katamari Damacy is a lot of things – whimsical, strange – but dull is not one of them. Lonely Rolling Star is the musical equivalent of a breath of fresh air…mixed with a highly-pressurized glitter bomb. It’s bubbly, unapologetically cute, and a nice reprieve from the doom and gloom of battle music and instrumental songs. When my muscles are screaming and I think about calling it quits for the day, this track is the veritable shot of energy that pushes me through to the end of the workout. The catchiness is over 9000 after all.

Cardio: Let the beat be your guide

The vast majority of people that I’ve come across either love or hate cardio. I can tolerate it in small doses, but running, stepping, or gliding in-place for hours on end is not my idea of a good time. To survive the treadmill, stairmaster, and elliptical, I aim for video game tunes with a good beat that you run, step, and glide to.

Beyond helping you keep pace (which in-turn helps you keep your footing so you don’t fly off the machine), listening to music with a steady rhythm stimulates the motor area of the brain which can provide a huge benefit to self-paced exercises like running or weightlifting. Here’s one example from my gaming gym playlist whose powerful bass lines literally keep me on track (and upright).
Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards – Ripple Star

Ripple Star - Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

Listening to Ripple Star from Kirby 64 while getting your sprint on is just about the classiest way you can run. The jazzy melody and rapid drum beat is what cardio dreams are made of. This track is so fast, I have to kick it into high gear just to keep up, so bluesy it’s hard not to picture myself running with a fedora atop my head and a saxophone strapped to my back. The song is a challenge as far as cardio is concerned, but the unique ragtime sound is a welcome, fun challenge all the way through. Running has never been so stylish.

Cooldown/Stretch: Time to take care of those sore muscles

If you’ve made it this far in your gym adventure, you’ve practically done it, the end is in sight! All you have left is a few static stretches, rehydration, and my favorite, the post-workout meal. The purpose of a cooldown period after strenuous activity is to essentially return your body to its normal, non-exertion state while promoting recovery. And for this, nothing is better than soothing, relaxing video game music.

For me, the cooldown has become my little treat after a hard workout. I find a little corner of the gym, start my stretching, and let the calm, melodic waves of my favorite video game songs wash over me. It’s crazy peaceful, and the perfect end to training day.

Kingdom Hearts – Dearly Beloved

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Kingdom Hearts 2 - Dearly Beloved II

Few songs can simultaneously reside within a writing playlist, sit comfortably in a nostalgia collection, embolden a relaxation compilation and jive at the gym, but Dearly Beloved is just that good. The main theme of the Kingdom Hearts series is sheer brilliance. It’s warm, melodic, and soothing, with a hint melancholy.

Dearly Beloved is the kind of song you play while pondering the meaning of the universe. Better yet, it’s the perfect anthem for letting your mind wander while you contort your limbs into awkward stretching positions. Yeah, it definitely helps take your mind off of the cooldown and onto other things like, when is Kingdom Hearts III going to come out?!

Venturing into the world of fitness competitions has been a wild experience for me. But being able to pair my newest passion with one that has been there from the beginning is priceless. It’s akin to two of your best friends meeting for the first time and really hitting it off, it’s like the first time you try the blissful combination of peanut butter and jelly and you’re changed forever.

A gym playlist doesn’t require video game music, but let’s be real, training tunes are so much better with them.

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