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The first listening game I ever played in a fitness class had simple instructions: Rack and load a barbell for high-rep back squats and queue up Moby’s “Flower,” a song that repeats the phrase “Green Sally up and Green Sally down” (often misquoted as “Bring Sally up and bring Sally down”) 30 times. Hit play, unrack, and listen. Every time you hear “Sally down,” squat down. Every time you hear “Sally up,” stand back up. The rest of the time, hold still at the top or bottom of the squat — and whatever you do, don’t rerack the bar.

As my gym friends and I prepped our squatting stations and hyped ourselves up, the fitness studio rumbled with murmurs of “You can do anything for three minutes” and whispered attempts to calculate 30-rep maxes. “This will be fun,” our coach said — a warning as much as a promise.

Three minutes and 25 seconds later, our class of 15 avid lifters was sprawled on the floor. It had been fun. Kind of. It had also been hard, humbling, kind of terrible. And if the smile on my face was any indication, it had also been the best.

I’ve only done the Moby challenge a couple more times in the decade since — the pace is well suited for strength moves like squats, pushups, and pull-ups if you’re interested in doing them for high reps without a break, which I rarely am these days. And yet it has inspired me to work listening games into my cardio routine.

Specifically, listening games turn my otherwise tedious treadmill sessions — the only way I run through the cold and dark of Minnesota winters — into some of my most smile-­inducing workouts.

Here’s how I do it: After choosing a song with a repetitive word or phrase, I hit play and begin jogging. Each time the word or phrase repeats, I add 0.1 or 0.2 mph to my speed. In between, I hold the new speed until it’s time to add again.

By the conclusion of the song, I’m running fast — even sprinting, depending on the song. Occasionally, a song will have so many adds that I’m sprinting by the end of the first chorus. In that case, I’ll reset to my jog and hold that pace until the chorus picks up again.

I always begin these sessions with dynamic stretching and a five-minute warm-up jog. Between efforts, I ­recover for at least a minute or for the length of another song by walking or jogging.

If you’re new to listening games, start with one or two songs, resting as needed in between, and extend your runs as your fitness improves. (I like to line up three to five songs that will help me progressively pick up my speed or incline, but you do you.)

Why does this music-based approach make me so happy? Well, research has shown that music can boost mood and motivation, pushing athletes to work harder and longer while helping them dissociate from fatigue.

Listening games, more specifically, evoke childhood memories of playing Simon Says and Red Light, Green Light — infusing workouts with a sense of play.

Plus, listening closely to a song — extra closely when it’s not in English — reconnects me to a sense I often take for granted (my hearing). Best of all, it can transform any treadmill sesh from a slog into a party.

Tempo-Driven Songs to Supercharge Your Cardio

These are a few of my current favorite listening-game songs.

Songs With 10 to 24 Repetitions

  •   “Fill Me In” by Craig David: Add speed on “fill me in.”
  •   “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani: Add speed on “Hollaback girl.”
  •   “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” by Céline Dion: Add speed on “it’s all coming back.”
  •   “Simon Says” by Megan Thee Stallion: Add speed on “Simon says” during chorus.

Songs With 25 to 39 Repetitions

  •   “Pump Up the Jam” by Technotronic: Add speed or resistance on “make my day.”
  •   “Con Altura” by Rosalía and J Balvin: Add speed on “con altura.”
  •   “Everybody Everybody” by Black Box: Add speed on “everybody.”
  •   “Bruk Off Yuh Back” by Konshens: Add speed on “bruk off yuh back.”

Songs With 40+ Repetitions

  •   “What U Gon’ Do” by Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz: Add speed on “what they gon’ do.”
  •   “Baby” by Justin Bieber: Add speed on “baby.”
  •   “Shake It” by Bow Wow: Add speed on “shake it.”
  •   “Rollin’ (Air Raid Vehicle)” by Limp Bizkit: Add speed on “rollin’.”
Maggie Fazeli Fard

Maggie Fazeli Fard, RKC, is an Experience Life senior editor.

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