Evolution of Fitness Music: From Fonda to Feed.fm

Fitness and music go hand in hand – so much so that it’s become a genre. More and more, there are new findings on the powerful relationship between energizing, inspiring music and fitness and wellness. Have you ever wondered where the idea of “fitness music” came from? How did this term become the catalyst for our work as curators today at Feed.fm?



Fitness music goes beyond conventional genres to include music that provides the appropriate motivation and rhythm for people during exercise or fitness routines. It has been a part of the fitness industry for many years, with its roots tracing back to the early days of aerobics and group fitness classes. 


Early Days of Workout Music 

In the 1980s, the VCR changed how we interacted with visual content. For the first time, you could replay a fitness session multiple times in the comfort of your own home. This created a fitness boom that allowed for advancements in the form of new modalities like Jazzercise and Step-Aerobics, and with them, a growing need for music that ensured users could reach their peak performance.


Soon, the first fitness influencers emerged using popular or popular-sounding music for their videos, like Jane Fonda’s ‘Workout’ and Richard Simmons’ ‘Sweatin’ To The Oldies.’ Music for working out was specifically chosen and designed to provide motivation and energy for participants and helped contribute to the success of aerobics videos on a global scale. It also paved the way for different fitness modalities using a similar framework to follow, like Tae-Bo, Zumba, and more.



With the rise of aerobics videos came an influx of high-energy pop songs with fast tempos like Olivia Newton-John’s hit “Physical”, Young MC’s “Bust a Move”, Salt-N-Pepa's “Push It” and Pointer Sister’s “I’m So Excited.” But utilizing popular music in workout videos was tricky; in some Richard Simmons videos, they would actually record covers of the songs they wanted to use, thus reducing the high musical licensing fees associated with popular recordings. Feed.fm helps today’s fitness industry access the music that can help transform a workout and keep users motivated.


Spinning into the 90s with Group Fitness Classes

In the 1990s, it was common to go to any friend’s house and find their parent’s stationary bike awkwardly placed in the corner of the living room. Spinning and group fitness classes became the new aerobics, and with that came a new wave of fitness music. Indoor cycling classes typically use music with a tempo of around 130-150 beats per minute; it’s often electronic or techno and is designed to create a feeling of constant momentum. At the time, electronic music wasn’t as big as it is today, so its pairing with fitness classes–including the new popular style of Eurodance–made for a crucial turning point in the popularity of the genre overall.

Getting large groups of people to move on the beat doesn’t work with low-intensity percussion. Having a more defined, four-on-the-floor bass drum rhythm creates a repetitive pattern in the music that is easier to lock onto. Other group fitness classes like step aerobics and cardio kickboxing also began gaining popularity, and like spinning, focused on the consistent beats and driving energy found in electronic and dance music to keep you moving throughout a workout. Finding workout hits with the right intensity became as important as the tempo of a song. 



The Rise of Hip-Hop and Pop Music in Fitness 

The late ‘90s / early ‘00s was a time of major transformation in fitness music. One of the biggest fitness music disruptors of the late 90s was ESPN Presents: Jock Jams, a series of compilations released on Tommy Boy Records, taking rock and hip hop and fusing it with house and EDM. This amalgamation of sounds made for wide commercial appeal, and while it was used primarily in the traditional sports environment, it was hard to find a summer birthday party that didn’t have Jock Jams on blast. The collision of sounds and sports led to innovations indicating where fitness music would head in the new millennia.

Hip-hop’s influence in fitness music took hold in the 2000s as new modalities and wellness categories opened up. Dance-based fitness classes like Zumba relied heavily on reggaeton, and hip-hop-specific classes quickly rose in popularity. The music used in these classes typically consisted of a tempo of around 130-140 beats per minute. 

Around this time, many of the chart toppers were pop artists experimenting with electro and EDM, like Black Eyed Peas, Missy Elliott, Katy Perry, Flo Rida, Pitbull, and P!nk. Fitness brands tapped into these artists’ celebrities for marketing, so it naturally became the soundtrack for what people wanted to hear in the gym, too.

There were also advancements in technology. People were now burning mp3 mix CDs and/or making playlists on an iPod or Zune. This allowed people to experiment more freely with the music they used for fitness, allowing the listener to choose their own fitness music experience.


21st Century Fitness Music

Today, fitness music continues to evolve and change with the times. From VCR all the way to an app on our phone or a smartwatch. Whereas yesterday’s fitness instructors would simply lean on their favorite uptempo songs or source “typical workout music,” today’s fitness businesses and content creators motivate end users with science-backed exercise music, specifically curated for their brand, audience, and fitness modalities


As we continue to see a wider audience engaging in fitness programs, it's essential to offer a broader range of soundtracks for workouts. It is no easy feat, and depending on your brand, it could go many ways, so it is vital to put time into creating a music strategy that works for the company and the end user. In-app music menus can offer end users a choice of genres or intensities, allowing them to choose their own workout music adventure. And when the music is right, it’s been proven to motivate fitness app users and keep them engaged with your app longer and returning more frequently. 

At Feed, we use our experience, data, and musical knowledge to solve music challenges for brands. In the ever-expanding fitness world, we deliver music programs that are efficient, effective, and personalized for your customers and customized for your brand. I like to think of it as giving brands a musical personality.

Fitness music has come a long way since its early days in the 1980s. From the aerobics-oriented music of Jane Fonda’s workout videos to the Top 40 hits, hip hop, and electronic beats that soundtrack today’s classes, fitness music has evolved in variety and precision. Today, music is a fundamentally important part of the fitness industry, providing motivation and energy for people to excel at their workouts.


Talk to a music specialist at Feed Media Group to create a music strategy that works for your company.