Leading athletes are wilfully electrocuting their brains in the pursuit of an extra 10% in the gym. As the technology becomes available to London fitsters as well, would you consider plugging in to this trend?
Jump cables for your motor cortex. Sounds legit. But while that rings like something straight out of an old-school B-movie horror, this athletic performance enhancer is in fact highly modern and far from scary. For athletes ranging from NFL players to elite track runners, it’s a reality becoming as much a part of daily training as warm-ups and glucose drinks.
Electricity, the theory goes, primes your motor neurons to accelerate both strength and skill acquisition. The most shocking part: it’s no longer the preserve of Olympians or rogue scientists. Make a £500 investment and you too can get in on the action. But the question remains: why would you want to?
Specifically, what the hell would cranial electrotherapy stimulation do for you? After reams of research by the American military into the effects of a targeted electrical jolt to the brain, science cashed in its cheque and made available to the public devices that give you this effect at home. It’s neither cheap nor without critics. But aficionados argue it could make the difference between being good and being great — in the gym, on the track, even during your next triathlon.
You might have looked at a device without noticing it. Halo Sport’s stealthy, headphone-like product was seen on athletes pre- and post-Rio. Other devices have existed for some time — Alpha Stim, for instance, has been available in the UK for years, but with more of a focus on mental issues like anxiety and insomnia. Halo Sport is the first high-volt helping hand targeted directly at gym rats.
So should you make some room for a headset in your kit bag? To do so would certainly put you in good company. Some olympic teams are on board. As are the experts at Michael Johnson Performance, a centre considered to be among the best fitness facilities in the world. Individual athletes are reporting better recovery and workouts — anecdotally, mind you.
But then, you still need to work hard. This isn’t a magic bullet so much as extra ammo when you need it most. The pulses improve the communication between brain and brawn, the makers claim, maximising the muscle-mind connection, even when you’re fatigued. As any decent PT will tell you, optimising this link is crucial whether you’re training for sport or lifting weights, sprinting hard or jogging home.
Some scientists are calling BS. The benefits are being overplayed, they say. And what about the placebo effect? While the efficacy of a product like Halo Sport is best experienced on an individual basis, the research just isn’t there to appease leading neuroscientists, who are a sceptical bunch at best.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Just that we don’t know for sure yet. If you’re the fitness hipster type who moves with every trend, you could pick up a headset now and stay ahead of the curve. The product has a distinctly fashionable look akin to a set of Beats — and yes, it plays music too — so if nothing else you’ll end up with a snazzy new pair of expensive headphones that matches your gym attire. And if it lives up to its claims, making the purchase will be a no brainer.
Whether it’ll make you a better athlete or speed up your gym gains remains to be seen. The military say it made their snipers better. Current manufacturers claim it’ll help you hit your targets too. We say watch this space.
Boost your connection at the gym
Not sold on the science? Improving neural connectivity can be a DIY project too
1) Stretch your limits
According to recent Dutch research, regular yoga sessions can improve neural pathways in the brain. This adds to a mass of evidence showing yoga’s benefits for the mind-body connection, improving your control over your movements. We’ll see you in child’s pose.
2) Use your imagination
Imagining flexing and tensing muscles can improve signals from the brain in a similar way to that claimed by the electrical stimulation brands. A study in Neuropsychologia Journal found significant strength gains in participants who simply envisaged tensing their arms and fingers.
3) Sweeten the deal
Magnesium-rich foods such as dark chocolate and nuts have been found to be beneficial to your nervous system. Meaning that dark-and-nutty bar is just what your PT ordered. Just, y’know, within moderation.