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Cycling music: Sounds to get you through the toughest indoor workout

Trixi Worrack warming up on a turbo trainer whilst wearing headphones
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Studies have shown that music helps not only RPE (rate of perceived exertion) but can also help with heart rate in certain situations. In Effects of music in exercise and sport: A meta-analytic review, by Peter C Terry, the findings supported the use of music to feel better about the exercise, provide a competitive advantage, and reduce perceived exertion. If you want to dive into scholarly articles, it's an interesting read. Even without the proof though, most people have an intrinsic understanding of this effect. You could kit out your pain cave with any of the best turbo trainers and your chosen indoor cycling app, but choose a bad playlist and your workout can be ruined before it even begins. The right music during a workout just makes the whole thing better, more enjoyable, and dare we say, easier. 

What is the right music though? There are certainly studies out there that look at it but everyone has their own interpretation. Some people try to match the BPM of the music to the cadence, others just listen to anything they like, some look for adrenaline-pumping rock music, while others want classical. 

One thing that's for sure is that we like what we like, and we generally have a good understanding of the type of music that gets us raring to go, so we asked our team to each come up with their own playlist, and also talk about what it means to them. It has become immediately clear that what works for you isn't necessarily going to work for the next person.

So, check our list of hacks for indoor cycling, grab a pair of the best headphones for cycling, and see which playlist you like best to get you through your next workout. 

Josh Ross's music for racing

There is no riding I do that's more intense than Zwift racing. A typical Zwift race sees me at a threshold or higher heart rate for more than 65 per cent of the race. That intensity means I like a very specific type of music for those rides. I want it to be happy, upbeat, and energizing. Nothing too complex and I enjoy something I can sing to. Sometimes when my heart rate is deep into the vo2 max zone, and the riding seems so difficult it's almost impossible, I will sing. Always badly, and often only a few words because I can barely breathe, but just enough to crest the hill or cross the finish. That's what my indoor cycling playlist is all about and hopefully, you enjoy it as much as I do.

Josh Croxton's eclectic mix

While I don't doubt the science that states that music helps reduce RPE, I often find that music fades into white noise when I'm riding on the trainer and doesn't get processed by my brain. I swear I could ride for an hour and I wouldn't be able to tell you a single song that I heard. That doesn't stop me from listening though, as the noise is better than the metronome that is my pedalling and my breathing, and every so often, a song will catch my attention with a big drop or a fun beat, and it's those moments that make it worth it. 

Like many, my music taste depends on my mood, and the music blaring out of my headphones whilst I'm struggling through some of TrainerRoad's finest over-unders is vastly different to the chilled music that plays whilst I'm hacking about in the gravelly lanes on a Sunday.

The following mix is an eclectic one, to say the least, with a good portion of house, a little bit of indie, a little bit of pop and some really random retro tunes that no matter how many times I listen to them, I can't help but dance... on the pedals. See what I did there? 

Mildred's love-it-or-hate-it industrial power metal mix

I'm going out on a limb here, because I know that plenty of people will hear my collection of tunes and wonder if I'm doing okay. However, I think there's a small portion of weirdos out there who will appreciate my penchant for metal mixed with high-energy electronica. From German industrialists Rammstein and '80s-esque Perturbator to pirate- and space wizard-themed power metal from the likes of Alestorm and Gloryhammer, with some wild cards thrown in. The point of this playlist is to keep energy high on the sprints, with a few slightly slower tempo beats to accompany the uphill slog, and hopefully help you to not take yourself too seriously.

Graham’s indoor spr-interval survival mix

Much like Josh Croxton, as the intensity increases and heart rate explodes, music just sort of becomes noise. So rather than fighting it, most of the music I listen to in the pain cave already sounds like incoherent noise anyway. Angry noise at that, which I didn’t realise until I put this playlist together. I must point out that the subversive nature of the music I have chosen to sweat to is in stark contrast to the psychedelic alt-rock and dub soundtracks I choose to explore the trails and lanes by day.

My ultimate playlist would simply be Destruction Unit’s Deep Trip album on repeat, although I appreciate that the barrage of chaotic sounds won’t be for everyone and, combined with a heart-gripping max-effort, is probably as close as you can get to replicating the feeling of a psychotic episode in your kitchen. Ultimately though, the incoherent onslaught of unrelenting fuzzy guitar and crashing drums means there is no let-up, erasing all thoughts as it forces you to try to keep up. 

It might come as a surprise that I also occasionally sing to make it through an effort, although instead of attempting to recreate the warbling charms of Rihanna like Josh Ross, it’s the non-sensical grumblings of Mark E Smith - which are pretty easy to mimic mid-effort.

Do you have a favourite workout tune or prefer a particular genre of music when cycling indoors? If so, drop it into the comments below and we'll collate your suggestions into a readers' playlist for a real eclectic mix. 

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Josh Ross

Josh hails from the Pacific Northwest of the United States but would prefer riding through the desert than the rain. He will happily talk for hours about the minute details of cycling tech but also has an understanding that most people just want things to work. He is a road cyclist at heart and doesn't care much if those roads are paved, dirt, or digital. Although he rarely races, if you ask him to ride from sunrise to sunset the answer is probably yes.
Height: 5'9"
Weight: 137 lb.
Rides: Look 795 Blade RS, Cannondale Topstone Lefty, Cannondale CAAD9, Priority Continuum Onyx