Want to Immediately Improve Your Workouts? Start Listening to “Big Bootie Mixes.”

The hour-long Soundcloud mashups command a legion of devoted, sweaty disciples

December 6, 2021 5:51 am
Working out? Queue up a BBM and put your phone down.
Working out? Queue up a BBM and put your phone down.
Getty/Instagram @twofriendsmusic

The first time I listened to a Big Bootie mix was at a postgame in Santa Monica. I didn’t handle it particularly well. My sole link to the party — a buddy who had gone to bed — was firmly out of the picture, so I was soldiering on into the night with a roster of randos (or at least a roster of familiars to whom I was a rando). At one point, someone managed to pull up Soundcloud on the big screen, and pressed play on “Big Bootie Mix Vol. 17.”

The mashup’s first three snippets: “Don’t You Worry Child (Instrumental)” by Swedish House Mafia ft. John Martin, “Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa and “Iris” by The Goo Goo Dolls. It proceeded from there, banger after banger, sometimes layered atop one another. I looked around the room in disbelief each time the mix cut on a dime and debuted a new, familiar melody — You guys hearin’ this?! — until I finally realized that this wasn’t new territory for anyone else in the room. Sometime around 2 a.m., a kinder peer took pity on me and offered a quick debrief: “These are perfect whenever you need a boost. I actually work out to them.”

The next day, in an attempt to sweat out all the damage that my late-night Big Bootie’ing had caused, I repurposed the discovery for some exercise, just as the partygoer had recommended. I selected one at random (Volume 15) and set out for a three-mile run down by the beach. I ended up running six miles at my usual three-mile pace. By the end of my workout, I was drenched in sweat, hangover-free and somewhat disoriented, though in an oddly satisfying way. I’d barely registered the last 40 minutes. I felt like I’d emerged from a daydream flow state. And yet I’d apparently covered a a lot of sand.

I’ve worked out to Big Bootie mixes consistently for about 10 months now. I won’t tee them up for every single run, cycle or lift, but on days where I’m looking to put in a tough track workout or summon some extra energy in the gym, I know where to turn. At first, being so late to the Big Bootie universe, I wondered if I was one of the select few who’d rather run sprints than take shots to the mixes. But it’s become overtly clear that exercising to the mashups is actually a niche national pastime — and if you’re stuck in an exercise funk, they could be just the thing you need to start turning in stellar sessions again.

The Big Bootie Mix project has actually been around for nearly a decade. It’s the baby of production duo Eli Sones and Matthew Halper, a pair of DJs from Los Angeles who met in middle school, spent high school playing around with Pro Tools, then looped back after college to work full-time under the name Two Friends. They’re repped by Creative Artists Agency, and have spent years making their own music, alongside official remixes for the likes of Lana Del Rey and The Chainsmokers.

But they’re best known for their Big Bootie mixes, which don’t necessarily put up “monster” streaming numbers, by Soundcloud’s standards, yet have attracted a consistent cult following. The hour-long mixes have registered at least five million streams per release for years now (the most popular mashups are pushing 20 million), and that doesn’t account for alternative listening platforms like Spotify or Apple Podcasts. YouTube is also a popular medium, because Two Friends splice music video clips from every single song that made a volume’s playlist. When two songs are playing at once, the feed will cut back and forth from video to video accordingly.

If that sounds like a sensory overload, that’s kind of the entire point. The videos get their fair share of looks — Volume 20 dropped a little over a month ago and already has half a million views — but it’s the euphoric, distractive chaos of the audio iterations that has people coming back for more, especially when they’re ready to put in up to 60 minutes of training. Search “big bootie working out” on Twitter, and you’ll find a bevy of accounts proclaiming they can’t remember what exercise even was before they discovered Two Friends.

According to Lucy Luneva, a PR manager at Fi, listening to Big Bootie mixes helped her lose 20 pounds after studying abroad in 2017. “I find them particularly effective for hour-long elliptical sessions,” she says. “They’re perfectly fast-paced to keep me motivated for the full hour. The best part is that there are a few life-changingly good drops that will reliably get me to sprint. Every. Single. Time.” For Luneva, like most BBM superfans I reached out to, the mixes’ penchant for distraction is second to none.

“You come to memorize what comes next. Instead of focusing on the white-hot fire burning through my muscles, I’m having a blast singing along (sometimes actually out loud) and looking forward to my favorite parts. It’s a really interesting phenomenon because you can never hear the individual songs from a mix the same way. Just this morning, I was in Starbucks getting breakfast and ‘Lose Somebody’ by Kygo and OneRepublic was playing. For me, it was unnatural hearing the song continue without transitioning into ‘UCLA’ by RL Grime. I had to play Volume 18 on my walk back to work.”

The vocal track changes every 15 seconds or so during a Big Bootie mix, though the instrumental backing track sometimes continues for a couple minutes. Personally, I’ve found that when the music is switching up that often, it commands more of my attention than the pain in my legs. We already know that listening to any sort of music has an ergogenic effect during exercise, but listening to it in its most dynamic (re: hyperactive) expression makes that immersion even easier.

And putting on a Big Bootie mix not only distracts from the pain of a brutal workout — it can also keep you from distracting yourself with your phone. Dave Shelton, a personal trainer, estimates that “nearly every personal record” he’s set in the gym has been assisted by Two Friends. And he appreciates that when he’s busy getting in the zone, he doesn’t have to bury his head in his phone.

“Having to repeatedly change the song during a workout gets annoying fast. But Big Bootie mixes are about the same length as a normal workout for me, so I never have to waste time scrolling for the next song.” It’s a massively underrated asset: the ability to throw on a mashup and forget about your phone. We’re huge proponents of minimizing phone use during workouts whenever possible. It keeps the hour sacred and can have tangible, positive effects on your form in the gym.

Big Bootie popularity spans generations and concentrations. A USA Weightlifting Level 1 Coach told me the mixes help him “psych himself up” for CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting sessions. A former college hockey player says his team would blast Volume 15 onto the ice as a “pre-game pump-up.” And a personal injury lawyer (yes, seriously) who trains frequently as a way of dealing with the stress of his job relies on the mashups to eke out one last rep. He wrote to me, verbatim: “Mike Ehline supports Big Bootay MIX!”

Online, you’ll find communities debating the merits of Volume 11 versus Volume 18, and why one is more optimal than the other for its activity. Consider this thread in the r/Rowing subreddit, where rowers rank BBM’s for “steady state workouts,” a common workout where rowers log up to 22 strokes per minute, sometimes for up to two hours. When you need to stay locked in — to the session and the beat — having a progressive playlist in your toolshed is a huge asset. The concept of pacing, in fact, is a recurring theme when it comes to the mixes. A trail runner I spoke to named Jack Nguyen professes: “The music selection and progressive BPMs has helped me improve my running cadence and endurance.”

Of course, that music selection might not be for everyone. While some might be mollified by the presence of some throwbacks throughout all the mixes (Volume 19, for instance, features “Dreams” by Fleetwod Mac, “Soak Up the Sun” by Sheryl Crow and “I Want to Break Free” by Queen), the vibe is generally bubbly and uptempo. It’s dance pop. And unsurprisingly, every choice from this century is a Top 40 crowd-pleaser. I have no doubt in my mind that there are many, many people in my life for whom listening to just two minutes of a Big Bootie mix would be a special sort of hell.

But for those who’d rather not, well, they don’t have to. And for those at all interested, the over-reliance on overtly recognizable songs makes sense. When the brain doesn’t like a song, it wanders. Your hands reach for your phone. The workout (or a potentially shitty party) suddenly becomes all too real. Big Bootie mixes are designed for a precise audience, like a foolproof wedding playlist. They take a while to produce (Two Friends needed seven months to finish Volume 20 after 19), but once they drop, they’re extremely effective at what they’re designed to do.

Do I have a favorite? Volume 15. And not just because it was the first one I worked out to. I find it contains a few more of those “life-changingly good drops” (to quote Luneva) than its companions in the series. This appears to be a popular take; 15 has a whopping 15 million listens on Soundcloud, second only to the legendary Volume 11 in the BBM pantheon.

As for the name. The early mashups all featured a beachy derrière on the album artwork, which eventually became an issue for A) Halper’s girlfriend and B) Sones’s mom. Seems pretty reasonable. The lads ditched the bums and now rely on a sort of adventure park premise, where you can only finish the ride (and “protect” Big Bootie Land) by completing the entire mix. It took me a while to earn my stripes, but I can now confidently recommend completing an entire workout while you’re at it.

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