Some recent research (Karageorghis et al 2009) has found the following relating to music:

Beats per minute (BPM) in music are linked to the desired heart rate BPM in exercise

Fast tempo/louder/higher intensity music has been shown to lead to shorter reaction times and higher arousal (also important for imagery/visualisation – remember you do not want to be relaxed during imagery as you will be aroused during competition). Tracks I have used with clients before have included lose yourself by Eminem and Aerodynamic by Daft Punk. The two occasions I used these were cup finals and both worked a treat! 

 Another track that worked well for an MMA client was ready or not by the Fugees. Although it was a slower track, if you listen to the  lyrics they have an ominous warning:

“Ready or not, here I come, gonna find you and take it slowly…”

Factors that seem to influence the motivational qualities of music:

Tempo (beats per minute)

Musicality i.e. harmony/melody/rhythm

Association (thoughts/feelings/images evoked) e.g. from film soundtrack (such as Rocky)



Athletes should have a number of tracks (a playlist) that can be used for arousal purposes (loud/intense & matching desired Heart Rate) during imagery. It might not be a good idea to use the same music all the time as according to some clients this reduces its impact on competition day.

Stating the obvious – music can also be used for relaxation as much as psyching up. The opposite would then apply – slow tempo/BPM, quieter and more association with relaxing. My track of choice is One Day Like This by Elbow.

The study does however suffer from one of the main deficiencies of sport psychology research in the present day – we know what works, but sometimes struggle to explain why. The next step with this research maybe to experiment on different types of music’s effects on certain areas of the brain and heart rate. To do this, participants would need to have their brain patterns measured by an MRI scanner whilst having their heart rate monitored and different types of music played to them. This may help determine the emotional and neurological responses to music, which in turn may shed more light on how best to use it in a competitive sport scenario.

A bit like the research from this man:

When he was played his favourite music (Bach) it had a profound effect on the part of his brain responsible for regulating emotion (the amygdala). Emotion is often described as the missing link in sport. We are always obsessing about thoughts and behaviour, but leave feelings out of the equation. If we could work out to elicit a positive emotional response and harness that in terms of performance enhancement it could be a very powerful weapon. Music can undoubtedly form part of that.