It first started about four years ago. Grimes had just released her second album, Art Angels, and my initial listen would serve as the backdrop for a routine workout session. This wasn’t new for me. As someone who has an inordinate amount of playlists curated specifically for the gym—spanning late '90s hip-hop to embarrassing, nostalgia-tinged pop punk from high school—it was often nice to take the guesswork out of what genre would motivate me best and simply select a brand new album to dive into. The results, of course, varied. (As much as I have come to love The Hotelier’s Home, Like Noplace Is There or Snail Mail’s Lush, they’re not the most motivating soundtracks for physical fitness.) Art Angels, however, was faring quite well. And then I got to the album’s sixth track: “Kill V. Maim.”
For those who have never listened to “Kill V. Maim,” the song has approximately 3,479 moving parts to it that all come together Voltron style to form the perfect workout track. After it finished playing for the first time, I immediately picked up my phone to start it over again. Then I listened to it a third time. And a fourth. And a fifth before ultimately deciding to just put the song on repeat. I completed the rest of my workout listening to just that one song.
The very next day, immediately after I completed my pre-workout stretch routine, I put “Kill V. Maim” on repeat again and noticed an uptick in my productivity and motivation levels. A workout that may have taken me an hour to complete the week before suddenly took a more efficient 45 minutes. No longer was I wasting time between sets, clicking “next” over and over and over again on a bloated playlist with songs about clever lines unread on clever napkins that I first heard at Warped Tour, which inevitably resulted in me checking Twitter since my phone’s open anyways and, oh wait, how many people have liked that Instagram post since I last checked approximately five minutes ago, and maybe I should text my mom?
At the gym, playing the same song on repeat eliminates the distraction that is our phones, and, if it’s the right song, actually makes you want to get up and move your body, which really is the whole point. A full minute between each and every set is instead slashed in half, if not more. Tacking five more pounds onto that barbell feels not just doable but desirable. Surely there’s some sort of scientific explanation—maybe something to do with endorphins or our cerebral cortexes—but honestly, I’m not sure I even want to know the specific reasoning. In some ways, this trick I stumbled on feels sort of like magic. That certain songs are imbued with a force that gives you superpowers. After a while, you start to lose track of how many times the song has even played through and enter a zen-like meditative space where you’re not really listening to the music at all anymore, you’re just listening to your body.
Since 2015, I’ve been on a constant quest for worthy singles to act as the sole soundtrack for my workouts. Chance’s “No Problem.” Sophie’s “Immaterial.” Blackpink’s “DDU-DU DDU-DU.” Pup’s “Kids.” They’ve all passed the litmus test. There is no right or wrong genre. A few months back I found myself listening to “Face My Fears” by Hikaru Utada, which is from a video game where you fight shadow monsters with Donald Duck and Goofy. This morning it was Rico Nasty’s “Time Flies.” But what about the very valid concern that listening to the same song over and over again will ultimately result in you hating it? The trick, I have found, is to retire these songs after a maximum of five workouts, TRL style, and then add them to a single playlist. Now you also have a go-to playlist of on-repeat bangers until you come across the next suitable candidate.
Of course, I’m not the only person who has experimented with this. One of my tennis hitting partners recently told me he’s been listening to songs on repeat at both the gym and work since he got his first iPod. My fellow GQ cohort Gabriella Paiella confided to me that she discovered the “one song for entire workout trick” a few weekends ago. “I ran all my miles on the treadmill without feeling like I was on the treadmill,” she said. “This was a game changer, because I hate the treadmill with my life.” A quick Google search indicates that there have been legitimate studies on this topic, which you can go look up yourself. I won’t read them. You’ve got to keep the magic alive where you can find it.
Originally Appeared on GQ