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Adrenaline and athletic performance

Adrenaline in peak sports performance

Adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, is a hormone and neurotransmitter that prepares the body for a fight-or-flight response, enabling athletes to perform at their best during critical moments. In sports performance adrenaline prepares your body for an intense bout of physical activity. It increases heart rate, blood pressure, and energy availability. While beneficial in short bursts, prolonged adrenaline rushes can cause cardiovascular problems and chronic stress. Understanding the causes and effects of adrenaline rushes can help you harness its benefits while managing its potential downsides in order to optimise your sports and athletic performance.

My personal experience of an adrenaline surge on the tennis court

During a competitive tennis match, my opponent hit a short ball just inside the service line. It popped up high, and I instantly knew what to do. I got to the ball, prepared early, and executed a perfect forehand winner down the line. Instantly, a surge of energy coursed through me, causing my hands to shake and my mind to lose focus. This distraction continued through my next two service points and the change of ends. My hands kept shaking, and adrenaline kept pumping, hampering my performance. Intrigued, I later learned this was an uncontrollable surge of cortisol and adrenaline. While initially energising, it was detrimental without proper control.

What causes adrenaline in sports?

Adrenaline is released in response to physical and psychological stress. In sports, several factors can trigger this response. The anticipation of competition, the pressure to perform well, and the physical demands of the sport all contribute to elevated adrenaline levels. During a game or race, the brain perceives the activity as a challenge or threat, prompting the hypothalamus to activate the sympathetic nervous system. This, in turn, signals the adrenal medulla to release adrenaline into the bloodstream, and readies the body for rapid and effective responses. (MDPI)

Why do I get adrenaline rushes so easily?

Sensitivity to adrenaline can make some people experience adrenaline rushes more easily than others. Factors such as genetics, personality traits, and past experiences play a role in how readily one’s body releases adrenaline. For instance, individuals with a higher baseline level of anxiety or those who are more sensitive to stress may experience frequent adrenaline rushes. Additionally, people who are highly competitive or have a strong desire to succeed may also be more prone to adrenaline surges, as their bodies react more intensely to the pressures and challenges they face.

What causes high adrenaline levels?

High adrenaline levels result from both physical and emotional stimuli. Intense physical activity, such as sprinting, weightlifting, or competitive sports, and emotional stressors such as anxiety, fear, or excitement, can significantly elevate adrenaline. Lifestyle factors, including chronic stress and inadequate stress management, can contribute to persistently elevated adrenaline levels, which can have adverse effects on health over time.

The role of sound therapy in regulating stress hormones

Sound therapy, an ancient practice with modern applications, plays a crucial role in managing physiological stress responses. It regulates adrenaline levels which is the body system that controls the release of stress hormones. By using specific sound frequencies and rhythms, sound therapy helps modulate the body’s stress response, promoting relaxation and balanced hormone levels.

Managing adrenaline rushes with sound therapy techniques during a game

While adrenaline is useful for peak performance in short bursts, excessive levels can be harmful. Sound therapy can help balance adrenaline by promoting relaxation and reducing the physiological effects of an adrenaline rush. Sounds that promote alpha wave activity can calm the mind and reduce the body's fight-or-flight response.

Athletes can use sound therapy techniques like rhythmic drumming or tapping, guided meditations, body scans or conscious awareness of sounds to help bring their bodies back to a state of calm after a high-adrenaline activity.

Practical applications of sound therapy to enhance athletic performance

1. Pre-sport performance preparation:

Sound therapy before high-stress events, can modulate stress hormones. Listening to specific sounds, with conscious intention can lower cortisol levels and create a balanced state of alertness and calm.

2. Post-sport performance recovery:

After intense physical activity or a stressful event, sound therapy aids in recovery by reducing adrenaline and cortisol levels. Sound baths, relaxing music, or nature sounds can shift the body from a state of high alert to relaxation, promoting faster recovery.

3. Daily stress management for athletes:

Incorporating sound therapy into daily routines can help prevent chronic stress escalation. Morning sessions with upbeat, yet calming sounds can set a positive tone for the day, while evening sessions with slow, soothing sounds can prepare the body for restful sleep.

Research supports the efficacy of sound therapy in regulating stress hormones 

Studies show sound therapy effectively regulates stress hormones and adrenaline, enhancing athletic performance. Research in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found athletes who listened to calming music post-workout experienced lower cortisol levels and faster recovery. The International Journal of Psychophysiology highlighted that binaural beats, which use slightly different frequencies to create a perceived beat, induce relaxation and reduce stress markersThese findings suggest that incorporating sound therapy into athletic training and recovery routines can help athletes manage stress, maintain optimal performance levels, and enhance overall well-being.

Studies indicate that listening to calming and predictable music and sounds can help decrease heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormone levels​ (Voices)​​ (MediMusic)​. By engaging in sound therapy, individuals can achieve a state of relaxation, thereby balancing their autonomic nervous system. This balance helps mitigate the effects of adrenaline rushes, promoting a calmer, more focused state essential for peak performance in sports​ (MediMusic)​.

Moreover, the principle of entrainment, where the body’s rhythms synchronise with the rhythm of the sounds, aids in reducing tension and anxiety. This entrainment effect, coupled with the emotional associations and memories evoked by specific music, rhythms, timbre and sounds, contributes to a holistic reduction in stress levels​​.

Overall, sound therapy offers a natural and effective way to manage the body's stress response, crucial for athletes aiming to perform at their best minimising the adverse effects of adrenaline surges. 

To book a private or team sound therapy session, email us or book here.


This article was written by Nicole Sultana, she holds a B. App. Science in Sports Science/Human Movement, and is a Certified Therapeutic Sound Practitioner. She is the founder of Sound Consciousness, a company who provides wellbeing strategies and therapeutic sound practices to help you reach peak levels of performance in your life whether you are an athlete or someone who wants to achieve more out of your daily life. 


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