Your warm-up song sets the tone for your class; your cool-down song closes the chapter on your ride. Both are every bit as important as your energetic and inspirational songs sandwiched between them.
While I do have some guidelines that I use for my warm-up song selection, they aren’t set in stone. There will always be exceptions to every rule about selecting warm-up songs based on the type of profile you have, your audience, and the mood you want to set. Of course, personal preference comes into play. Below are the guidelines I use when selecting warm-up and cool-down songs and some of the exceptions I consider.
Choosing Your Warm-Up Song
Typically, when I choose a warm-up song, I try to select something with enough energy that would inspire a cadence of 75 to about 95 rpm. Most of the time I try to ride to the beat in the warm-up, but there is the occasional great song that is either too slow or too fast for a proper warm-up. In that case, I’ll ask riders to find whatever cadence allows them to progressively bring their heart rates up.
Even if you don’t ride to the beat in your classes, you may want to avoid songs that have a heavy dance beat (those are usually 125–135 bpm) during the warm-up, as that might inspire your beat-oriented riders to load on resistance and pedal at a 62–67 rpm despite your pleas to pedal at 80–90 rpm.
I prefer to select songs with limited or no words so I can explain my profile and not compete with the lyrics. If I am embarking on an endurance or mind-body–focused session, I’ll choose a gently rhythmic instrumental track with fairly low-key energy like an ambient or downtempo track. For other profiles, especially higher-energy interval rides, I sometimes want to start with a musical bang and will choose a song with a peppy tempo and message, while still encouraging my riders to be progressive about increasing their intensity. I will still begin with the main objective of the ride early on, but in this case, I will use a slightly lower-energy song for the second song to explain the details of the profile. This is often the tactic I’ll use with a theme ride; I want the first song to set the message of my theme.
Here is what I consider an ideal warm-up song: “Criminal Intention” by D. Batistatos. It is 6 minutes and 85 bpm, the perfect length and tempo for most people to warm up. It’s not too high-energy but there is just enough to attach your legs to the rhythm and wake them up. And there are no lyrics, so you can easily explain your profile objectives. I also use this song for moderate to somewhat hard efforts in the middle of a profile.
Choosing Your Cool-Down Song
For your cool-downs, the music should encourage riders to ease up, lower their heart rate, and get their breathing under control. While it’s nice to have a song with an 80–90 bpm/rpm tempo, there are so many relaxing, beautiful songs that work well for cool-downs and are in the 100–115 bpm range. I love using those—just have everyone pedal at whatever cadence helps them bring their heart rates and breathing under control.
If you use two songs for the cool-down, with the second one leading into a stretch off the bike, you can also step down the energy of the two songs, ending with a very calming, gentle song.
Cool-downs are a great place to play songs you may never play during your actual ride, especially in theme rides. I’ve ended with Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” Edith Piaff’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien,” and some humorous tracks that send my riders home with a smile.
My favorite cool-down song of all time is “Too Far” by Nacho Sotomayor. It’s 152 bpm, so if you ride to the beat, it’s not too fast or too slow at 76 rpm. It’s peaceful, calming, hypnotic. Just close your eyes and you can imagine walking on a beach at sunset with gently lapping waves tickling your toes. Your heart rate and breathing have no choice but to subside and your mouth has no choice but to smile.
What are your warm-up and cool-down secrets or favorite songs? Please share them in the comments below.
ICA members can access the two bucket playlists below. The warm-up bucket currently has about 250 songs and the cool-down bucket 470 songs. I am constantly adding to them as I discover new tracks. There is some crossover between the two playlists as there are songs that work well for both a warm-up and a cool-down, again, depending on the profile, objective, and message.