I'm usually tired when I arrive at the gym in the morning. And if I'm not tired, I'm often bored - I am there an awful lot, and even though I have strategies to beat machine-boredom, it happens. But more often than not, once I get in the building I can motivate myself to exercise hard, despite my boredom and/or fatigue. So what's my "secret?" Music. Nothing psyches me up more than a high-energy workout mix. Music will inspire you, and research shows that music can distract you from fatigue so that you can exercise longer and harder.
It turns out that even some serious athletes use music as a source of inspiration to aid their performance in both training and competition. The British tennis player, Barry Cowen, listened to a personal stereo system during his match with Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001. And Cowen later partly attributed his excellent performance to the inspirational music he was listening to during the change of ends. Ethiopia’s Haile Gebreselassie set an indoor world record for 2,000 metres while his favorite song was playing in the Birmingham arena. He later suggested that the music gave him a rhythm that matched the required pace of the run. And in a longitudinal study of Russian weightlifters, participants found that their training quality, volume and intensity improved substantially when music accompanied weightlifting sessions.
There are all sorts of things mere mortals like us can do to harness the motivational power of music in our workouts. I often do intervals to songs - if I'm on the bike, I'll cycle at 70 RPM as a base, and then rev it up to 80+ during each chorus. Or if you have songs of differing beats per minute (BPM) in your mix, you can do longer intervals - speed it up for the high BPM songs, slow it down for the lower. If you're in the treadmill, do hills for the slow songs, and then bring your incline down to 1 or 2 and run or speed walk for the fast songs. If you want to get really fancy, iTunes will show you the BPM of your downloaded music, and you can make a mix tailored to your gym activity - you can make up a classic warm up, high intensity, then cool-down mix.
I suppose you want suggestions? I have eclectic music taste, and although I'd rarely listen to it outside the gym, I have a lot of cotton-candy pop, hip-hop and house music in my workout mixes. If you're interested, I'll see if I can make some of my workout mixes public on iTunes.
Another tip - for variety, I also listen to the PodRunner/PodRunner: Intervals mixes - they're organized by BPM, but a warning: they're geared more toward the high BPM activities (running, for instance). You can download these directly from the site, but if you do have an iPod, you can subscribe to the PodRunner podcasts on iTunes and you will have a continuous stream of new material.
For even more ideas, take a peek at this Boston Globe article from last April - I can attest to the fact that the majority of these'll get your heart pumpin' and your fitness level up.
Go for it!