Is Brain Stimulation the Key to Athletic Performance?

Halo Sport is a brain stimulator that claims to helps you develop muscle memory faster. On their website, they say: 

  • You can gain skill, strength, and endurance 45% faster. 
  • You can also break through plateaus and set PRs
  • Using their product will also increase neuroplasticity and accelerate learning in the motor cortex

And all of this is backed by 4,000+ peer-reviewed studies, trusted by NFL, NBA, MLB, and Olympic athletes. The company has more than 20 patents issued to them. 

Are you intrigued? I was. So, to dig into this device and the science behind it, I invited a Ph.D. biomedical engineer and neuroscientist to the Get-Fit Guy podcast. 

The guest—Dr. Brett Wingeier

Brett: I’m Brett Wingeier. I’m Chief Technical Officer and co-founder of Halo Neuroscience. I started my career in medical devices. I got my Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, electric fields of the brain. I was an athlete in college, which kind of guided part of what we do here at Halo. And then, after spending about 13 years building implantable neurostimulators for epilepsy, my co-founder and I realized that there was a chance to use this amazing type of neurotechnology in a wearable product. We started Halo in the fall of 2013, and we started the company to make Halo Sport, which is a headset that stimulates your brain to help you get better faster when you train.

Yes, you read that right. Brett said that they make a headset which stimulates your brain to help you get better, faster. 

The headset he is talking about looks very much like a normal set of headphones. Big ear muffs cover your ears with a band that goes over the top of your head. And the band, it turns out, is the important part. It’s covered in foamy pointed nubs that make contact with your scalp to deliver an electrical current to your cranium. This is not something you’ll find on your grandma’s headphones.

Parts of the brain

Let’s get back to what Brett meant when he said that the Halo headset stimulates the brain. What part of the brain is actually getting stimulated? Is there a specific part of the brain we use more in sports? 

Brett: What we’re stimulating is the primary motor cortex. And fortunately, the part of your brain that controls your body is right under the band of a pair of headphones.

That’s convenient!

Brett: Exactly. So, motor neurons go directly from there down to your spinal cord. And, when you learn anything from training, there’s a lot of parts of your brain involved—cerebellum, supplementary motor areas—but really that primary motor cortex is one of the key places where all that learning happens.

What is tDCS?

Now is probably a good time to mention a thing called transcranial direct current stimulation or tDCS. tDCS is a form of neuromodulation that uses direct current delivered via electrodes, which are generally attached somewhere on the head. 

tDCS was originally developed as a medical therapy for folks with brain injuries or psychiatric conditions. But, as Brett will get into later, there’s evidence that using tDCS on a “healthy individual” could be useful for various types of cognitive enhancement.

Brett: So, the underlying technology is something called transcranial direct current stimulation. And, it’s been around for about 20 years now. What we’ve done at Halo is we’ve put it into a product that everybody can wear and use. But what’s happening under the hood is if you take a little bit of electrical current and you put it on your scalp, enough of that makes its way through your scalp and through your skull that it makes your neurons more likely to fire together. And that’s the whole mechanism of learning. What neuroscientists say is ‘neurons that fire together wire together.’

You may remember me using that phrase in past articles about getting a bigger chest or rock climbing. Think of it this way: if you lift something heavy, it is not just your bicep (for example) that is being recruited by your brain, it is also all the stabilizer muscles that support that primary muscle. This means that part of getting better at a movement is not just making the muscle stronger but also developing the coordination of all the muscles learning to fire together (and wire together).

Brett: Exactly. So if you speed that up a little bit, then you accelerate the benefits from any kind of movement training.

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