From Beethoven’s Ninth to Theme from Shaft: the best exercise anthems | Pop and rock Leave a comment

Isaac Hayes

With gyms reopened, what better way to warm up than a brisk walk to the horns and wah-wah guitar of Hayes’s soul classic? You’re John Shaft, scattering pimps and watch-sellers as you cut through downtown New York in your no-nonsense beige polo neck. It’s time to go to work.

Tykwer/Klimek/Heil ft Franka Potente

The exhilarating techno soundtrack to German thriller Run Lola Run beats any starting pistol. By the time Franka Potente’s deadpan vocals wrap round the driving piano, any runners out there pounding the streets will be torn between pausing for breath and thinking they’re zooming through Berlin on a Steadicam.

Chuck Berry

Warmup sets might seem old hat to a seasoned lifter, but there’s nothing wrong in revisiting the basics. It’s what Marty McFly did in Back to the Future when he performed Chuck Berry’s “oldie”, whose stomping 12-bar blues is a salute to the 1950s – a time when rock’n’roll was in its infancy.

Get lost … Eminem. Photograph: Nicky J Sims/Redferns


If pushing through a HIIT routine, this chugging call-to-arms from the rapper (and its narrator’s “I’m going back to work” ethic) are the ideal reminder that you’re only ever competing with yourself. Keep your eyes off your neighbours, and instead focus on your own form and breathing.

Wendy Carlos

Isolation exercises are awful after compound movements: proof life can bite twice. Take Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, who’s sure he’s paid his dues only for his victim to assail him with this overhaul of Beethoven’s Ninth.

Hans Zimmer

After four months of lockdown three, trying to beat your old PB may lead to injury. Fortunately, there’s no better recovery tune than this brew of synthesised strings and runway-level bass. If it can help Bruce Wayne recover from a snapped back, it can help you heal your clicky parts with mobility exercises.


When the second wind grips an exercising gamer, there’s every chance their brain will drop them into an F5000 racing hovercraft. Underworld’s contribution to the WipeOut 2097 game soundtrack is a feedback loop of synths over a beat that’s perfect for sprints – but not for the drive to the gym, unless you fancy picking up three points.

Jimi Hendrix
Flexing it … Jimi Hendrix.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

For your post-workout stretch, forget the mindfulness app and try something that balances flexibility with brain expansion. Hendrix’s sinuous licks can be heard in Withnail and I, when the Marwood character gets twisted around in the back of the Jag that his sozzled mate is driving. Too ferocious for downward dog, but a proper stretch should be its own workout too.

John Murphy

The end of your session is in sight, but you may need one last dose of gooseflesh to get you over the line. Remember the incendiary guitar track that played in Kick-Ass (2010) when an armed Year 7 took out a warehouse full of goons? Originally heard in Sunshine (2007), composer John Murphy remixed the piece into this escalating assault of bass and distortion pedals.

Vince DiCola

Rocky’s “Gonna Fly Now” may be the greatest workout anthem of all time but, three sequels later, Vince DiCola’s pumping Roland riffs effectively helped finish the cold war. No one can hear his exhilarating keyboard motif and not immediately want to either jog across Siberia or take on a brawler who’s at least one weight class bigger than you.

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