Indie rock never gets a fair shake when it comes to workout music. Blame Zac Braff's Garden State soundtrack, which tarnished a genre that trashes and crashes and motivates your ass into gear just as well as heavy metal ( speaking of which... ) and punk. And indie rock pushes you as it surprises you. The tympanic-membrane-shredding of Sonic Youth's guitars. The organ-grinding-madness of Pixies' vocals. The brain-bending-powers of The Flaming Lips' bleeps and bloops. Indie rock is exciting, empowering, heart-clenching, gut-wrenching, and for all those reasons it's essential for any workout playlist. Indie rock is the uncharted, and you must venture forth not quite knowing what to expect. Except that with these 50 ultimate indie workout songs, you now have a guide. Venture forth.
1. Movement by LCD Soundsystem
The cymbal-crash chaos of this 2005 James Murphy track is the shortest on the self-titled double album, but bursts with adrenaline. Play it when you need to get yourself moving.
Motivating lyric: You're history and I'm tapped // You're fast asleep and I'm tapped // You're pillaging and I'm tapped // For best results well I'm tapped
2. "Z) Eliminator Jr." by Sonic Youth
There's just something about Kim Gordon panting and grunting over a single simple guitar riff for 40 seconds before launching into semi-incoherent shouting that's relatable to anyone who has ever worked out.
Motivating lyric: Take a walk in the park? Shit, yeah
3. "A/B Machines" by Sleigh Bells
Some songs propel a workout because of their encouraging lyrics. Others, like this one, propel a workout because they are REALLY FREAKING LOUD.
Motivating lyric: [That single scream at 3:00]
4. "Wide Awake" by Parquet Courts
Off the same 2018 album with the song "Total Football," this potent ditty is a pair of jumper cables for a fresh-out-of-bed workout. If you're not up an at 'em after the first few bars, there's not much more help for you.
Motivating lyric: I'm wide awake // Movin' and groovin' and I ain't ever losin' the pace
5. "XR" by Cymbals Eat Guitars
A song about the wildness of youth comes charged with a relentless snare and furious vocals that sound as if Joseph D'Agostino is rabid and ready to leap for the jugular.
Motivating lyric: Imagining victory // Our alternate history
6. "Run Run Run" by The Velvet Underground
Plug the 1967 classic into your mix right around mid-run. Lou Reed's delivery is tired though determined. A plodding guitar keeps pace, even through the head-spinning solo that feels like the whole thing is going to fall apart at any moment. Somehow, it all finishes strong.
Motivating lyric: You gotta run, run, run, run, run
7. "Kill V. Maim" by Grimes
There's so much weird and wild and wonderful packed into 4:06 that it wouldn't be a terrible idea to put this one on loop and let it ride.
Motivating lyric: Cause I'm only a man, do what I can
8. "Baptiss Blacktick" by Pavement
Somebody must have pissed off Stephen Malkmus on this 1993 deep cut from Westing (By Musket and Sextant). He snarls. He shrieks. He wails. He's a whip crack when you need one.
Motivating lyric: [incoherent screeching at 1:32]
9. "Stay Useless" by Cloud Nothings
It's a song about remaining sedentary, which is also strangely motivational.
Motivating lyric: Can I see what's going wrong with me // I used to have it all, now I'm alone // I never said, I'm better off this way // I need something to do, somewhere to go
10. "That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate" by Mission of Burma
You could spend an entire afternoon re-watching Dead Poets Society, or you could listen to this two-minute 1982 powerhouse for the same carpe diem effect.
Motivating lyric: This might be your only chance // To prove it on your own
11. "Junko Ozawa" by The Raveonettes
Motivating lyric: Prepare to die, prepare for war // I can tell the oceans in your eyes are red // I'm all fired up to end this now
12. "Bastards of Young" by The Replacements
The classic un-protest song doubles as a fist-raising kick-in-the-pants, particularly within the last frantic 30 seconds.
Motivating lyric: Take it, it's yours [repeat]
13. "Panic Switch" by Silversun Pickups
You know that moment when you're trapped beneath the threat of a descending bench press bar or facing the last brutal mile of a marathon training run? When the alarm bells of "I can't do this!" start to clamor? That's the panic switch.
Motivating lyric: Will you step in line or release the glitch? // Can you fall asleep with a panic switch?
14. "Idioteque" by Radiohead
This apocalyptic slow-build ratchets up the pressure until a sense of chicken-with-its-head-cut-off insanity kicks in. There's an urgency that hurries you to move, move, MOVE!
Motivating lyric: Throw it in the fire // Throw it in the fire
15. "Waiting Room" by Fugazi
For appreciating the health you have, and enjoying it for all its worth.
Motivating lyric: But I don't sit idly by // I'm planning a big surprise // I'm gonna fight for what I wanna be
16. "Dig Me Out" by Sleater-Kinney
The 1997 hit from indie-punk trio comes laden with a sneering resentment best reserved for the most hated of exercises.
Motivating lyric: One to get started // Three till we go
17. "Break My Body" by Pixies
As Frank Black howls, you pray for strength under duress.
Motivating lyric: I'm a building jumper // Roof to roof you'll see me flying in the air
18. "Pearly Gates" by The Men
You know that bar fight scene in Roadhouse? This six-minute-plus bottle-throwing, chin-targeting, no-holds-barred brawler of song is that scene, in song form.
Motivating lyric: We gotta go // We gotta go
19. "Paddling Out" by Miike Snow
For you swimmers out there, a salute.
Motivating lyric: You say isn't it hard? // Paddling out, paddling out
20. "Swim" by Surfer Blood
Seriously, that sport is no joke.
Motivating lyric: Relish in your energy // That's the line of symmetry
21. "New Day Rising" by Hsker D
Lyrics-wise, there's not much to the opener of D's 1985 album. But there's a force behind the frenetic drums, blasting guitars, and primal screams. It's audial horsepower.
Motivating lyric: [unintelligible]
22. "Midnight City" by M83
For every quiet moment in this track from 2011's Hurry Up, We're Dreaming there's a equal and opposite burst of intensity. And if you've never worked out with a sax solo in your headphones, it's time.
Motivating lyric: Waiting for a roar
23. "Assassins" by Lighting Bolt
It's the sound of blood pumping hard in your ears. It's the flush and rush of the pump. It's the lightheadedness of survival. It's madness.
Motivating lyric: [don't bother]
24. "Old Wounds" by PUP
This mauler feels unstoppable, a powerful hunger for retaliation fueling the entirety of its breathless two-minutes. Save it for your last set.
Motivating lyric: You keep trying to rip open old wounds // It's so embarrassing, don't you know I'm over you?
25. "Running" by Gil Scott-Heron, Jamie xx
The unlikely indie superduo races through several paces in this synth and spoken word drill sergeant of song.
Motivating lyric: Because I have to be running for something of more value // To be running and not in fear
26. "Wolf Like Me" by TV On The Radio
From the first drumbeat, there's a runner's high that permeates the whole thing-a fuzzy, elevated, ecstatic, yet wholly determined sense of purpose.
Motivating lyric: My heart's aflame // My body's strained, but, God, I like it
27. "License to Confuse" by Sebadoh
It's short, but the track's power resides in that earworm of a guitar hook that ducks and dodges vocalist Lou Barlow's lines as if it's in the first round of a prize fight.
Motivating lyric: Like I've been letting me slide // Just some nonsense on my mind
28. "Enfilade" by At the Drive In
From its ominous opening phone call, this 2000 caterwaul is an anthem for an uprising. Its chorus is frenzy, concentrated, and begs to be chanted at the top of your weary lungs.
Motivating lyric: Freight train coming // Freight train coming
29. "Heavy Cross" by Gossip
This eerie 2009 steamroller of a track features Beth Ditto styling all over janky guitars and punchy drums. It's Gang of Four by way of the dance floor.
Motivating lyric: We can play it safe or play it cool // Follow the leader or make up all the rules // Whatever you want, the choice is yours // So choose
30. "Golden Skans" by Klaxons
Here's a fun treadmill workout: Ratchet up the machine whenever the chorus of this 2007 track fires up. Then bump it back down to something manageable during the verse.
Motivating lyric: A hall of records or numbers or spaces still undone
31. "Cut-Out Witch" by Guided By Voices
Robert Pollard sings about a shifty witch while a haunting and ever-intensifying guitar chases you down. You'd better run.
Motivating lyric: Do you think she can change your life?
32. "I Break Mirrors With My Face in the United States" by Death Grips
The hip-hop-electronic-punk-rock-art-project-that-isn't-and-then-is-again delivers an onslaught of sound that leaves you feeling as if you've sprinted a 100-yard dash as fast and as hard as you can.
Motivating lyric: Don't break my concentration with those thoughts baby
33. "Romantic Rights" by Death From Above 1979
There's a chugging and a scraping to this 2004 track that feels like those times when you want to quit, but can't.
Motivating lyric: You're beating walls now you just won't quit
34. "Damaged Goods" by Gang of Four
Though it may be about another kind of "working out," there's enough sweating going on in the lyrics that it won't matter.
Motivating lyric: The change will do you good
35. "Abundant Living" by Iceage
The Danish punk-charged band starts this cherry bomb of a song with a battle-charge of noise, followed by the barking of vocalist Elias Bender Rnnenfelt. After that, you can't turn back.
Motivating lyric: In the gaslights fire // I felt the power
36. "Doin' the Cockroach" by Modest Mouse
What begins as a casual, meandering Mouse song gradually ascends into higher planes of hurry-up guitar and commanding vocals. Halfway through, you're swept along, blood burning and feet on fire.
Motivating lyric: One year // Twenty years // Forty years // Fifty years // Down the road in your life // You'll look in the mirror // And say, "My parents are still alive."
37. "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" by Arctic Monkeys
The English band unleashes on this fun-as-all-hell 2006 track off Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not.
Motivating lyric: Oh but you're an explosion (you're dynamite)
38. "The Rat" by The Walkmen
There's a chip on the shoulder of this song. That edge digs in, holds on, and doesn't release until it's 4 minutes and 22 seconds are over. Neither do you.
Motivating lyric: When I used to go out I'd know everyone I saw // Now I go out alone if I go out at all
39. "Last Nite" by The Strokes
And not only because Albert Hammond Jr. knows his was around TRX Suspension Training .
Motivating lyric: And I don't know why // I keep walking for miles
40. "Queen of Hearts" by Fucked Up
There's a lovely story in here about the proletariat and affection and the meaning of being alive, but you'll likely be pushing yourself too hard to pay attention.
Motivating lyric: Dawn breaks across this town and a new dawn breaks for me.
41. "Slow Hands" by Interpol
This one's for enhancing your time under tension. Think of it as slooooooow hands.
Motivating lyric: Yeah, I already know that there ain't no stoppin'
42. "My Shadow" by Jay Reatard
You know that feeling of competing against yourself? Of wanting to push yourself beyond what you currently are? So does this song.
Motivating lyric: The way you walk // The way you step on through // The way you do
43. "Titus Andronicus vs. The Absurd Universe (3rd Round KO)" by Titus Andronicus
There are moments during exercise when you will ask yourself the question posed, ad nauseum, in this 2012 offering from Local Business.
Motivating lyric: [you'll get the point]
44. "Race for the Prize" by The Flaming Lips
Okay, technically it's about a scientific race for a cure, but if you're listening that closely to the lyrics, you're not running hard enough.
Motivating lyric: Upwards to the vanguard // Where the pressure is too high
45. "Constructive Summer" by The Hold Steady
The something they are building does not preclude muscle.
Motivating lyric: We're gonna build something this summer
46. "Set You Free" by The Black Keys
From their 2013 album Thickfreakness, this juicy guitar jam charges toward a sprint finish.
Motivating lyric: I'll set you free [repeat]
47. "Arrows" by Mas Ysa
What begins as a whisper rises to a crescendo of hysteria. Thomas Arsenault orchestrates it all himself, too. And you think you're the one who's exhausted.
Motivating lyric: So run, if you can't fight us // Then you count to us, and you don't see it
48. "Gun" by CHVRCHES
There's a rage that runs through this 2013 banger that Lauren Mayberry's sprite-like voice only makes more threatening.
Motivating lyric: You had better run from me // With everything you own // 'Cause I am gonna come for you // With all that I have
49. "Booty City" by Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears
For glute day.
Motivating lyric: This is the best that I ever had in my life.
50. "Exercise Man" by Dean Ween Group
You made it. Feel the burn.
Motivating lyric: Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! // Youre the Exercise Man