Building a better brain – The FITLIGHT & Neuro Athletics Method
We have all heard of sports psychology, mindfulness training and even brain games as a growing fad amongst professional sporting teams, but neuroscience, what is that, what is the distinction, and relationship between neuroscience and sport. What are neuroscientists looking for and what have they found?
Neuro Athletics is a full-service sports neurology company focusing on making elite athletes 1% better by optimising their brain. After conducting over 1500 brain scans on elite level athletes it has become clear that the three areas to focus on to become better at sport are as follows;
1. Information processing speed
2. Visual system
3. Focus and attention
For an athlete to get marginally better at all three of the above components, we need to deploy a number of different assessment tools, training tools and programming tools.
All of these tools involve scientifically backed neuro technology (“neurotech”) to not only scan the brain, and look for areas of dysfunction, but also to train the brain in these three specific areas.
By training what your eyes see to how your brain processes how your body reacts, FITLIGHT is the type of neurotech that can be utilized to measure and improve reaction time, increase mental accuracy and enhance sensory processing. The system focuses on enhancing human performance and is the ideal tool to elevate any type of training.
Processing speed (PS) is individual cognitive ability measured by how fast individuals execute cognitive tasks, particularly elementary cognitive tasks (e.g., Salthouse, 1996). Working memory (WM) is a limited capacity storage system involved in the maintenance and manipulation of information over short periods of time (Baddeley, 2003).
Working memory is a component of executive functioning that temporarily holds, manipulates, processes, and stores information. It is required for more thoughtful/creative actions (taking directions from a coach while still having to make a play in a hectic environment) compared to more reflexive actions (reacting to a basketball hitting the rim). Research has shown participants with higher working memory capacity were better at maintaining attention and avoiding distraction, which are essential cognitive abilities in sports.
Reacting to more complex stimuli such as the use of colours using FITLIGHT can be a more effective way to train working memory compared to simply reacting to directional arrows (which can still be useful for improving the processing speed underlying WM). Training the working memory using FITLIGHT® on athletes in the NBA space has shown improvements in their ability to retain information from the coach and activate the short term memory circuit which is needed in all sports.
The visual system is one that becomes teasingly exciting to assess and train especially for players in the ball sport field. Paradoxically, brains are pretty slow; neurons and their synapses work millions of times more slowly than modern computers. It’s fascinating to know that when it comes to the visual system, both vision and touch are similar and boil down to the brain locating inputs that land on a sheet of sensory cells- the skin or reina- and both involve a great variety of different sensors.
One metric within the visual system that is wildly trained and assessed is visual acuity. Visual acuity is the essential building block of an athlete’s vision. You have probably heard these terms; 20/20 20/30, 2010, and so on. They describe how well a person sees, which is known as visual acuity. Elite athletes have better visual acuity, especially in sports that are visually demanding and those with better visual acuity are usually the ones who excel in sport. But how can we focus on this and train it using neurotech?
One prime example of this was a segment used on an elite tennis player where he was instructed to complete three rounds of a visually demanding task using FITLIGHT®. There were 6 lights set up, with all 6 lights had different colours flashing at a time frame of .5 seconds with a 1 second delay (this means that the athlete must hit/ react to the light within .5 seconds and after which he gets a 1 second rest). The key here was to only react to the purple and blue light with his right and left hand. This may seem quite easy at the start however adding more pressure to this exercise for example, having an athlete stare at a dot on the wall while completing the exercises will increase the demand placed upon the athlete’s visual system.
The variety of stimuli and effectiveness of the training protocols within the training system allows an athlete and a coach to have a never ending combination of colours and timeframes that can be altered and changed throughout the course of any training program. One key feature of the system is also a newly designed app and dashboard that gives immediate data to analyse and track the performance. Various markers are recorded, not only does it show how long it took you to respond, but it may also show how accurate your physical response was
Lastly, focus and attention require much more neural energy than ever before. Think about this as brain energy that must be conserved during a game and utilised at its optimum when needed. The prefrontal cortex is the neural real estate right behind your forehead. It’s discussed for so many aspects of neuroscience, you hear about it for decision making, executive function for planning, etc. This is the area of the brain that gets the most work done during our day to day tasks and if we don’t learn to train it, feed it and monitor it correctly, we won’t know how to use it correctly during a game.
How can we train this important piece of real estate? The most effective way of doing this is broken down into categories of demanding tasks such as those trained by Rob Bouw, our tennis player who we mentioned earlier. In block one of Rob’s training program, one of his protocols was to use FITLIGHT as a complex configuration exercise. His set looked like this:
1. Set 4 lights up, all different colours
2. Timing set to 2.5 seconds on with a 2 second delay
3. When the light flashes yellow he must deactivate it with his left hand
When the light flashes purple he must deactivate it with his right foot
When the other lights flash, he must hit the tennis ball to the wall.
These task orientated activities place an enormous amount of demand on the athlete and this demand creates a “neural pressure” which helps build and strengthen the neuronal pathways responsible for making sound decisions and maintaining attention and focus.
The right tech can have a massive impact on an athlete’s ability to perform and improve over time. The brain needs detailed programming in order to build better strength and endurance and this is exactly what we are achieving with FITLIGHT. Technology allows athletes to replicate different situations they might face during competition, becoming more informed about their training goals and take a data driven approach when training.
The most effective form of training involves recording response times to a visual stimulant, or recording reaction times to an auditory stimulant, and that’s exactly what we achieve with the integrated app.
As coaches, we now have the ability to capture data from an athlete, store it in a folder and access it when they enter training again.
Having the ability to track an athlete’s movements in real time has completely changed the way coaches and athletic trainers observe technique, instead of having to rely strictly on visual cues.
In 2021, we know that hard data is necessary and the world of neuro- technology is incredibly valuable when it comes to keeping athletes safe and improving output during competition. It’s no wonder that athletes, coaches, gym owners and athletic trainers are all starting to use this type of technology because we all know that those who are not using this type of technology are going to be left behind.
See the full presentation here: https://youtu.be/FTEP0V7-TwQ