02. Experts Corner

Harnessing the Athletic Brain

February 13, 2020

Everyone knows that the mental game is key with athletes, and in today’s competitive environment, the brain is considered the largest untapped resource in high performance sport. Though the question remains, ‘how to tap the immense potential of the human mind?’ As a devoted performance coach specializing in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), I’ve made it my career quest to discover the best methods available. Here we’ll cover the concepts behind the cognitive dimension of elite athleticism, why these abilities are highly trainable with the right Neurotechnologies and methodologies, and how to harness the athletic brain.

Why the Cognitive Dimension is Critical

Performance factors inside the octagon or boxing ring are many, however, brain processing speed is critical in combat sports.  The faster your brain can process incoming information from its environment the quicker you will be, to not only react but be accurately responsive.

Increasing brain processing speed gives the athlete a clear advantage on focus capacity and focus endurance in managing and processing incoming information.  But more important, is deciphering this information, giving it meaning and value, and executing a course of action in milliseconds.  These are key brain performance factors, whether it is striking or attack avoidance in mixed martial arts or boxing.

Visual Processing is a Form of Overload for the Brain

Brain processing speed, neuro visual acuity, and movement coordination are key performance factors in fight sports.  Your brain can learn and be conditioned to manipulate those sensory frequencies, and perceptively slow down your environment inside the cage. The performance benefits are greater responsiveness, decision-making accuracy, coordination precision, and avoidance of being overly impulsive under high-pressure.

The main reason why, is that all of your senses have different frequencies inside your brain. With specific neuro cognitive performance training your brain can reach enhanced levels of neuro-processing speed thresholds.  Stimulating the Warrior’s brain for focus, concentration, and attention is key.  In dynamic scenes, our retinas capture and deliver a stream of visual information to the brain at a rate of around 310 Gigabytes. The conscious mind however, is able to process around 120 bits of information per second. This is one reason why the brain’s attentional filtering systems are highly selective with this information, carefully guiding where we concentrate our mental focus.

Athletes Thrive in the Moment

Between stimuli and response there is a space, a gap.  In that gap there is power to choose a response.  In that gap is the brain’s ability to efficiently give meaning to incoming information, to process, manage, and choose a response; a precision action with speed and accuracy, without hesitation, freezing, or overthinking. This is paramount in combat sports, because you know that with one small decision error, you can be knocked out cold in an instant.

Attacks and attack avoidance inside the cage require fighters to be cognitively efficient, and yes, vision ranks high in the brain’s neural hierarchy.  But it is not just about how well you see...it’s about how quickly you can obtain meaning from what you’re seeing.  Your brain manages, deciphers, encodes, perceives, and manipulates all sensory information.  The bottom line? Your brain’s processing speed determines your level of performance. This is because your motor cortex relies on these brain signals for action and coordinated outputs.

The Athletic Brain is an Efficient Brain

This may all sound a bit daunting. However we have two primary skills at our disposal. The first is harnessing our attention to make sure we get the most useful decision-making information that we can out of every bit of information we absorb. When it comes to athletic prowess, sports science shows that this a key trait which differentiates the best from the rest.

Even more important than is every athlete’s secret weapon – neuroplasticity. The nature of change in your brain over time, is specific to the experiences you engage in.  Focus capacity and coordinated movement skills recruit dedicated neural circuitry, which is flexible enough to create new networks in flux.  Everything is in flux.  Everything is changing, and this includes your brain because it has the capability to rewire itself to perform under stressful conditions.

Neuroplasticity Provides Limitless Potential

We now know that neuroplasticity allows your brain to continually grow.  This growth comes from the way your neurons connect with each other, creating new networks of communication.  All neural links are shaped by stimuli, in other words by specific ‘experiences.’

There are 100 billion neurons in the human brain with trillions of connective networks that are continually changing with experiences.  With this knowledge, traditional training and drills can be complimented by targeting specific brain functions. The brain needs stimulation beyond a certain threshold in order to leverage the brain’s natural neuroplasticity process. This provides a key opportunity to increase your sports performance cognitively, as well as physically.

Fighters Need Both Speed and Mental Robustness

These are the type of mental domains that we target with our specific neuro cognitive performance drills. For example, not only is muscle fatigue bad in a fight, but mental fatigue creates a whole beast of problems - like competition-losing mistakes! This is even detrimental for the athlete with great stamina and cardio.

The continuous, rapid, and ‘fight-game changing’ amount of micro-decisions a fighter needs to make in their high-pressure environment inside the cage will spike the cognitive load in their brain.  Mental fatigue is very real!  The fighter who can sustain these high levels of cognitive load and stay ahead of their opponent’s decisions are the ones who can turn things around and make needed adjustments when most needed.

Fighters must make these decisions constantly, at lightning speed, under pressure and with the highest of accuracy.  Most mistakes happen when mental fatigue sets in. It occurs when the athlete’s brain is not able to efficiently process multiple information and an array of stimuli under high pressure and great physical demands.  These are extreme cognitive loads, and require unique neuro cognitive performance training to rise to the challenge.

Leveraging Neurotechnologies is Key

Our the goal is to heighten key factors of mental performance in the fastest means possible. To achieve this we utilize the best in neuroscience technologies like Halo Sport, Muse, Emotive, and especially NeuroTracker. Identifying and strengthening neural pathways is key to creating mental flow based on focus capacity, concentration, and attention. NeuroTracker is a prime example of a practical and flexible neurotechnology that provides this type of neural strengthening so well.

Having emerged out of over 20 years of neuroscience research, NeuroTracker training adapts speed and complexity in a way that maximizes your sport cognitive training at every step.  Focus, concentration, and attention are not simple, they are complex inside your brain but they can be trained, and NeuroTracker enhances these key capabilities. It also provides unique functional measures of athletic performance.  We have integrated NeuroTracker as a foundation of our fight sport neuro cognitive performance training programs.

Every Brain is Different

In a competitive environment reaching the next level will require a different you.  Athletes experience this difference, it’s different for everyone.  Everyone is unique because of the way the brain is wired.  Mental Flow differs from athlete to athlete, but it works.  Mental performance dictates physical performance and the call to optimize brain-body integration has never been louder than today’s hyper competitive environment.  Every elite level athlete seeks that one competitive advantage.

Insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result!  This is why performance data is key to intelligent performance conditioning. We have moved into an era where we can assess, measure, quantify, and train the brain to enhance human performance.  We now know that optimizing neuro cognitive efficiency increases sport performance in so many ways.

Traditional views on training must be reexamined. A continued unfolding for modern day Warriors must include the neuro sport sciences.  The brain is central to the body’s performance.  If you’re still training like a decade ago, you need to level up your game.  Get the mind right the body will follow.  Fight-Sport Neuro Cognitive Performance Training is the future and the future is now.

You can gain insights into Dr. Roman Velasquez's unique methods at his Neuro Peak Performance website. You can also check out lots of his cutting-edge training methods in action on his YouTube Channel.

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