The workout mix: a time honored tradition of fitness enthusiasts in gyms all across the world. Few things can inspire an athlete to push harder, to work longer … or to start a fist fight with other gym goers better than a carefully selected list of songs intended to get the heart pumping.

In recent weeks, Old Man Fitness has delved into some of the darker aspects of the fitness lifestyle: the injuries, the pain, the motivations that drive us to push beyond our comfort zones, but every once in a while, it’s important to remember what got us into fitness in the first place. No, I don’t mean the first organized sport you participated in, or the sad realization you had at 28 about needing cardio to avoid buying new pants … I mean back when fitness was a byproduct, not the goal: back when moving your body was about having fun.

At some point, years ago, running wasn’t “cardio,” it was just what got you to the other end of the playground faster – back when food was food and we never worried about the caloric content, back when when we tapped our pencils on our desks, impatiently waiting for recess to start so we could stretch our legs, our lungs, and our imaginations.

Eventually, our days grow fuller, more regimented, and “fun” becomes a vague concept we associate with far away tropical locations or the few fleeting days a year we’re able to sneak away from our jobs, responsibilities, and social lives to gallivant around in the woods with a rifle or a pack. We stop running across playgrounds and start jogging around the neighborhood. We stop tapping our pens on the desk in wait for recess, now looking at the clock and pining for the blessed reprieve of our beds… “only ten more hours to go, and I can finally get some sleep.”

During that one hour a day or so that we grant ourselves the freedom to haze ourselves in the gym, we devote ourselves to counting things. Four more reps, ten more minutes, thirty more pounds, and the only thing that can save us from seeing this part of our day as a function of the adult work life we’ve cultivated is our choice in tunes, blasting from our stereos, headphones or speakers.

The right beat, the right guitar riff, the right combination of vocals and emotion pouring out of Spotify, a CD, or if you’re like some the dudes I work with, a seasoned old cassette tape can take even the most arduous workout and turn it into a romp across the playground. It can take the salty old man that stumbled into the dimly lit, damp, cold garage beneath my kitchen and turn him into a light on his feet powerhouse – eager to get under the next bar, and antsy at the idea of improving.

What makes a good playlist then? Well, like so much of the fitness racket, it all comes down to personal preference. What gets my blood pumping might not work for you, in fact, I’d be willing to bet that most of you would probably laugh at some of the songs I tend to use to put me in the right state of mind (especially on heavy-weight, very low rep days). Like so many lifters that came before me, my moto-mix seemed to stop evolving somewhere around my senior year in high school, and while lots of songs have been added and removed since, the old standbys remain the same.

But then, maybe that’s why it works.