Perhaps the most clichéd, and yet the most powerful, statement made by neuroscientists is that “neurons that fire together, wire together.” It also finds resonance in the field of athletics and brain stimulation.
Let’s consider this—did you ever imagine that in the near future you could wear headsets that could improve your sporting performance? Enter neuropriming—the technology that has been gaining traction in the world of athletics.
Professional sport is all about extraordinary performances and major financial stakes, and any small advantage or improvement can make a massive difference to an athlete.
The theory behind the approach is to harness neuroscience to accelerate learning in order to improve performance. Neuropriming essentially translates into cognitive training for athletes.
- Neuropriming is a new approach that involves neurostimulation during athletic training in order to improve performance by strengthening the connection between body and brain,
- Neuropriming mimics the way your brain functions when you’re ‘in the zone’ to recreate that moment by optimising your motor cortex. The idea is to quickly allow you to master precise movements more accurately,
- Peer-reviewed studies support the claim that neuropriming helped users reach performance goals 45% faster than a control group, and increased gains from training.
What is neuropriming?
Neuropriming is a new approach that involves neurostimulation during athletic training in order to improve performance by strengthening the connection between body and brain.
The aim is to induce a state of hyperplasticity that facilitates the brain’s ability to adapt to training. It directly impacts the motor cortex, which is responsible for voluntary physical activity and movement.
The motor cortex develops pathways for neurons to travel. As you continue to perform the same activity repeatedly, these pathways are reinforced over time for better efficiency, known as neuroplasticity.
Neuropriming is designed to increase neuroplasticity and strengthen these pathways by sending electrical signals to your motor cortex.
Olympians and other sports professionals perform neuropriming using specially designed headsets that resemble and are worn like earphones.
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The band contains electrodes that send light electrical pulses to the motor cortex through the scalp. Several double blind studies have determined that the process improves athletic performance by 13 to 45 percent.
How does it work?
At its core, neuropriming is a relatively simple concept consisting of manually activating neurons by using electricity. It relies on the neurons firing off more frequently.
Neuropriming is based on something called transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS. tDCS is a form of neuromodulation that delivers direct current via electrodes in order to stimulate neurons, and has previously been used to treat people with brain injuries or similar conditions.
Neuropriming mimics the way your brain functions when you’re ‘in the zone’ to recreate that moment by optimising your motor cortex.
The idea is to quickly allow you to master precise movements more accurately, something that is extremely beneficial for professional athletes.
This is done by increasing neuron activity through neurostimulation—the soft electrodes in the headbands used for neuropriming send electrical pulses through your scalp, which makes neurons fire manually.
While this sounds extreme, the process of sending electrical impulses through the brain has been around for many years and, with proper guidance, is considered perfectly safe.
Athletes who have used this technology perform neuropriming during a warm-up for about 20 minutes.
They report that the painless pulses create a slight tingling sensation. The device doesn’t need to be worn for the rest of the workout, and the state of hyperplasticity induced can last for up to an hour, allowing the athletes to perform training drills as usual with the added benefit of improved performance.
Benefits and applications
As mentioned, the primary benefit of neuropriming is to allow the brain to learn new movements or actions at a much faster pace.
This allows athletes, who usually repeat the same movement many times, to perform better, and can also help in the reduction of training time. After years of training, many athletes report reaching a kind of plateau, and neuropriming has the potential to help them overcome this and improve further.
Peer-reviewed studies support the claim that neuropriming helped users reach performance goals 45% faster than a control group and increased gains from training. Acquiring a new skill requires effort and time. Neuropriming accelerates the process of learning new skills.
Additionally, it allows athletes to understand what actions or movements they were doing wrong or become more aware of things that have become ‘second nature’ to them that might be hindering progress.
Hyperplasticity can help reduce training time significantly. There is also a link between cognitive fatigue and endurance—when you’re tired, the rate at which neurons send signals to the muscles reduces. With neuropriming, you can keep cognitive fatigue at bay for a longer period of time, thus improving longevity.
Although the current applications of neuropriming are primarily in professional sports or athletics, there is a world of possibilities for how and where it can be used.
It could be equally useful for people who simply want to improve their own workouts, increase endurance or get better at a sport as beginners. After all, running faster or throwing better is not just linked to the muscles but also to the brain and the nervous system.
Apart from athletic applications, neuropriming could also be useful in learning a new skill or motor activity such as playing the guitar or lifting more weight.
Neuropriming is an exciting new technology based on neurostimulation, and the growing interest in it comes from a number of athletes who have found it useful to enhance their performance.
It strengthens the connection between the body and the brain and facilitates new learning by inducing hyperplasticity. While the technology is in its early stages, with proper guidance, it has been found to be safe and could soon become a part of even regular people’s workout routines.
In physical training, any small improvement or change to your programme can have exponential effects over time. Neuropriming can help you push your limits and take your performance to the next level.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.