In a sport and exercise context, music is typically used in one of four ways; Asychnronous, Synchronous, Pre-task and Recuperative. The current article will explore how we can use listening to music before starting sport or exercise, as part of the physical warm-up or mental preparation. In this sense, pre-task music is applied immediately prior to a physical task or sporting event; this entails using a musical stimulus to arouse, relax or regulate the mood of an athlete or team (Lanzillo, Burke, Joyner, & Hardy, 2001). Pre-task music is also used to engender task-relevant images or facilitate mental rehearsal (Bishop, Karageorghis, & Loizoi, 2007).  To date, a small number of studies have explored the application of music as a form of stimulant or sedative prior to a task.

Effects of Pre-task Music in Sport

Lanzillo et al. (2001) examined the impact of pre-event music use on competitive anxiety and self-confidence among intercollegiate athletes from a range of sports. The experimental group listened to a 3-minute selection of their preferred tracks immediately before competition and results were compared against a no-music control group. Findings showed that athletes in the experimental group reported higher state self-confidence compared to the no-music controls. During another study conducted by Bishop, Karageorghis, and Kinrade (2009), a sample of tennis players were used to find out how changes in tempo and intensity (volume) of music influenced affective responses and subsequent choice-reaction task performance. Three different tempi and two intensities were compared against white noise and silence. A key finding was that fast, loud music produced more pleasant emotional states, higher arousal, and faster choice reaction time compared to the same music played at a moderate volume.

Most recently, Chtourou, Jarraya, Aloui, Hammouda & Soussi (2012) examined the effect of warming- up while listening to music on young sprinters’ short-term maximal performances during the Wingate test. Although RPE, and the Fatigue Index were unaffected, power output during the Wingate test was significantly higher after listening to music compared with the no-music warm-up (P < 0.05).

Using Music in Competition

To use music effectively on the day of competition, you need to prepare carefully. First, it is important to be aware of your optimal level of arousal in order to know whether you need the music to help you psych up or psych down. Gentle music with powerful lyrics is ideal for calming nerves and keeping a cool head.  Dame Kelly Holmes used this type of music including Alicia Keys’ “No One” track during her pre-task phase of her 800m race, before going on to achieve the first of her double Olympic gold medals in Athens 2004. This slow paced song containing the lyrics “Everything’s going to be alright, People keep talking they can say what they like, But all I know is everything’s going to be alright”, enabled Kelly to control her emotions and help her narrow her attention towards achieving her goal.

On the other hand, driving rhythms and movement related lyrics are good for increasing physiological arousal levels, for rowing champion James Cracknell, listening to “Blood Sugar Sex Magik”, an album by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, proved an effective pre-competition strategy for optimising his performance and aggression. Similarly, 400m runner Iwan Thomas who won gold at the European Championships and Commonwealth Games, found that music used in a stimulative role helped him to increase his levels of arousal to an optimal state both physically and mentally. Thomas used the minutes before he was called to the blocks to listen to music and stare down his lane, at the same time imagining himself running in a dominant and victorious way inspired by the music.

In a team situation, a coach or team manager might create an entire music-related routine to prepare for the impending contest. For example, AFC Bourenmouth’s Sports Scientist, Ben Donachie, says the Championship side uses music religiously before every match as a way of getting pumped up. When asked he said, “The players choose the music themselves which is mainly R&B/hip-hop with a high tempo, and play it loudly through a sound system before the warm-up and in the changing rooms.”

When devising your own personal music program for your warm-up it should build towards competition gently, so that by the time you switch off the last track, you are in an optimal psychological state to compete. The last piece of music is likely to stay in your head, so leave the most inspirational piece until last. Below are some ideas for your own Warm-up for Winning Playlist.

Example Pre-task Playlist 

R-Kelly – Worlds greatest

B.o.B – I’ve Got The Magic In Me

David Guetta – Titanium

Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now

R Kelly – I Believe I Can Fly

Eminem – Lose Yourself

Bon Jovi – It’s My Life

Michael Jackson – Beat It

Journey – Don’t Stop Believing