The Playlist That's Helping Me Actually Enjoy High-Intensity Interval Training

Because I'm not easily motivated (read: lazy), I need a good variety of catchy tunes to get my butt moving.
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Sarah Watts
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Because I'm not easily motivated (read: lazy), I need a good variety of catchy tunes to get my butt moving.

I'm pretty sure I was in the midst of eating cheesecake when I realized that I was currently the heaviest had ever been.

As usual, I deflected: It's not THAT bad, I thought. I just had a baby! I've been breastfeeding, and that always makes me gain. 

And then that "baby" toddled across the floor. He's 22 months old, and he's been weaned for four months. Oops. 

I went upstairs, stood on the scale: 166 pounds. That's 11 pounds higher than the day I went into labor with my first baby. I had nobody to blame but myself (and Aldi's frozen cheesecake).

Panicking, I did a Google search for "weight loss" and discovered something called high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which is any exercise that alternates between bursts of high-speed, high-intensity cardio (such as sprinting) and low-speed exercise. HIIT, according to webMD, torches calories, and is a much more efficient and effective weight-loss regimen than weight-lifting or straight jogging (or, say, eating cheesecake and watching Dance Moms on the couch). 

Although it's probably old news for anyone who's ever set foot in a gym, at 27, I've never actually tried to lose weight before. Everything having to do with weight loss and exercise — all of it — is novel to me. I completely don't understand exercise terminology. Burpees? Dive Bombers? All of them sound like Joe Dirt listing off different types of firecrackers

For my workouts, for now, I'm just concentrating on putting down the fork, getting off the couch, and running on the treadmill with varying intensity, at least twice a week. No weird terminology, no standing next to the guy who grunts when he lifts weights — just me, a treadmill, and my headphones. 

This is what feeling the burn looks like.

This is what feeling the burn looks like.

And because I'm not easily motivated (read: lazy), I need a good variety of catchy tunes to get my butt moving. Out of necessity, my Women-Centric High-Intensity Interval Playlist was born.

One song I run, one song I walk, anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes total, and I've had good results so far. For my running songs, I like to pick tunes between 150 to 160 beats per minute (bpm). Walking songs are significantly slower, closer to 100 bpm. 

Run: “Work” by Iggy Izalea. Iggy Azalea's gotten her share of flack, and rightly so. I cringe whenever I see her name on my Spotify playlist. Nevertheless, “Work” is the only song I like to start my workout with. So sue me — it's relatable and catchy, and she says the word work about a thousand times, reminding me that losing weight is something I have to, you know, put some actual effort into. Apparently I lack “follow through,” whatever that is. I'll look it up later.

Walk: For a “walk” song, any pick under 100 bpm will do. I like to keep these upbeat enough so I'm still walking at a fast clip, but not too energetic that I'm tempted to break into a run again. Suggestions include “Everything Is Everything” by Lauryn Hill, “Ghetto Gospel” by 2Pac, and “Hate on Me” by Jill Scott.

Run: “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + The Machine. This song clocks in at 150 beats per minute, and it's IMPOSSIBLE not to run with this song. Maybe it's the insistent beat. Maybe it's the lyrics (“Run fast for your mother / fast for your brother / leave all your love and your longing behind . . .”). Who knows? But it helps me run hella-fast. We're talking level six on the treadmill fast, you guys.

Walk: I suggest “Mad” by Anthony Hamilton, “We Can't Stop” by Miley Cyrus, or “Freedom! '90” by George Michael.

Run: “Work Bitch” by Britney Spears. Are you sensing a trend, here? Any kind of physical activity is a huge challenge for me. It's work. And I guess hearing the word work while I'm pushing myself so hard is pretty validating. It's almost as though Britney herself is standing behind me and acknowledging that I'm busting my ass, and that's the only thing to do if you want to see results. Wanna look hot in a bikini? Well, not so much, but I would like to lean over my computer without my stomach flab “liking” things on Facebook.

Walk: Try “Iko Iko” by the Belle Stars, “Imma Be” by the Black Eyed Peas, or “Teeth” by Lady Gaga.

Run: “Elastic Heart” by Sia. This isn't what I'd consider a sprinting song, exactly. It clocks in at 130 bpm, which is admittedly not as up-tempo as the other songs I've mentioned. But I'm obsessed with this song, so whatever. It's futuristic, raw, and pulsing; it makes me want to scale the top of my treadmill like a monkey, à la Shia Lebouf in the video.

Walk: Go ahead and slow down for this part. Like, way, way down. By this time in the workout, I'm sweating so profusely that I feel like I've just been slimed on Nickelodeon. I pick songs with a middle-school-slow-dance tempo so I can catch my breath and gear up for one last pell-mell burst of running. Suggestions include “I'm Not the Only One” by Sam Smith, “Radio Cure” by  Wilco, and “Inside” by Moby.

Run: “Run The World (Girls)” by Beyoncé. Just one more running song until I can collapse in the shower. I tend to save this song for last because it's so darn inspiring. And when you're running along to an inspiring song, you also start to feel badass and strong — “strong enough to bear those children / then get back to business.” Just imagine Beyoncé is singing about you, and you'll find yourself picking up your pace and plowing past the finish line. Plus, it's symbolic: With all the time I've spent on this treadmill, I feel like I'm literally running (across) the entire world. 

Certain songs more than others encourage me to really pound the pavement, but feel free to adjust this playlist based on your own pace and preference. By the end of this workout, you'll have tricked your mind into running for 15 minutes, on and off. So far, I've had substantially more energy throughout the week, and I've even managed to lose six pounds so far. If you're a self-proclaimed couch potato like yours truly, that's a goddamned miracle.

What are your favorite songs for high-intensity workouts?