Part one in a series of posts celebrating the start of the Rio Olympics 2016 and the relationship between music, athletics, and getting in the zone

Music Moves:



Whether you’re competing in the Olympic games 100m at Engenhão stadium in Rio de Janiero or just trying to drag yourself out of bed on a Saturday morning after a night out, what you listen to before a competition or while you’re warming up is essential to get you in the right frame of mind.


The tunes that you listen to to get in the zone before a competition is known in athletics as “pre-task music”. For some, it’s a way to block out the crowds and find focus, for others it’s a power-up to make you feel like a winner. The American swimmer Michael Phelps (the most decorated Olympian of all time) puts on headphones before a competition to focus and block out the crowds. British runner Paula Radcliffe listens to “Stronger” by Kanye West; American swimmer Matt Grevers likes to listen to Incubus; Canadian runner Aaron Brown has a playlist called ‘Game Time’ which includes Fetty Wap, Drake and Michael Jackson.



Music affects how our body functions while we’re exercising. In one academic study from Athletic InsightThe Journal of Sports Psychology, a boxer who disliked standard relaxation music but listened to music to relax between training sessions. After discovering what music he found relaxing, the study developed a bespoke mix that worked for him. Building towards a competition, music was used as the trigger the right states of mind. Two hours before his competition a calming and relaxing music was played, which became more upbeat around 90 minutes before competition. when the boxer was 45 minutes away from the ring, and started both physically and psychologically warming up, the music amped up the beats and ultimately became more motivational.

“Athletes will have a collective playlist that runs from Christian gospel music to rap; punk to classical.”

For those of us not competing, it’s important to find music that helps you get moving and in the right frame of mind for a full workout. This could be something that inspires you lyrically, or something with the right BPM, some experts advise music at roughly 100BPM for a warm up, as music with a relatively slow tempo means you won't burn off too much psychological energy, leaving some headroom for big boost songs when you need to really need to dig deep, and are hitting the wall.


Peter Terry, Professor of Psychology and Director of Research Training and Development at the University of Southern Queensland says: “Any song that is closely associated with a significant prior experience – first love, successful performance – will often continue to have a dramatic effect upon a person’s mindset whenever it is heard.” Lyrics can be the key to motivating athletes at that crucial time before a competition. Pre-task music works when it unlocks feelings of triumph, positivity, and success. When warming up, even music where the lyrics direct movement can help, like “Keep On Running” by The Spencer David Group.

Music affects us, psychologically and physiologically, but what affects one person will leave another flat. Athletes competing in Rio this month will have a collective playlist that runs from Christian gospel music to rap; punk to classical. Whether you’re an athlete with a medal to win, or a Sunday sprinter, choosing music that works for you can help get you out on the track, and in the zone, and crucially, in the right frame of mind for winning competitions. 


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