02. Experts Corner

Why Cognitive Training is a Rising Athletics Trend

June 9, 2017

By Josh Freedland

When it comes to enhancing athletic performance, cognitive training is still a fairly new concept. Perceptions of what is meant by athletics performance training, however, are changing. This is especially true in elite sports. Nevertheless, not all athletes are integrating cognitive training into their training regimens, in part due to the current athletic training culture and the overall perception of training the brain.

Challenging an Established Culture

As witnessed in most industries, there is a culture that is firmly embedded in athletics training. Occasionally, a new trend will come along and challenge common practices, but there will be a lot of inertia and resistance to change. After all, there has been a set way of doing things for decades, and a culture cannot simply change overnight. A culture, however, can change over time. In fact, this change has occurred before in the fitness industry.

Prompting a Cultural Revolution

In the 1950s and 1960s, Jack LaLanne helped kickstart the American fitness revolution with “The Jack Lalanne Show.” He was responsible for introducing weight training and nutrition to the masses, although he too faced initial resistance to his avant-garde fitness ideas back in the 1930s.

Coaches, for instance, banned their athletes from lifting weights because they believed it would make them too slow and musclebound. We now know, however, that weight training helps make athletes faster and stronger. Similarly, jogging also gained popularity in the 1960s and one of the country’s first fitness chains opened in Venice Beach, California.

Over the next few decades, additional fitness centers would begin to take part in this cultural shift. Fitness chains started popping up all over the country and corporate gyms in office buildings became very popular. People began to realize the endless benefits of physical fitness on employee productivity, well-being and longevity. Gradually, physical fitness and going to the gym became ingrained in the North American culture.

Athletic Performance Revolution

Now, another athletic performance revolution is about to erupt. A lot more people are starting to see the value in cognitive training and embrace this athletic innovation. What most individuals don’t realize though, is just how long early adopters have been using this training technique. In fact, cognitive training has been used and demonstrating positive results in professional sports for decades.

It was recently revealed, for instance, that Michael Jordan secretly used strobe light training while playing with the Chicago Bulls. Jordan used this training method to help him better interpret visual cues, focus better at the foul line and perceptually slow down the game. Furthermore, you only have to look at this year’s Super Bowl to notice that a fitness revolution is brewing.

Both the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots use cognitive training techniques to remain ahead of the game. Matt Ryan and Tom Brady, for example, are known as disciples of cognitive training. Ryan, the 2016 NFL MVP, even informed the New York Times that he uses NeuroTracker, a cognitive training tool, to improve his situational awareness. Steph Curry, the 2015/2016 NBA MVP, also uses cognitive training in the form of strobe glasses to enhance his performance.

Gaining a Competitive Edge

While these athletes are not necessarily the biggest, fastest or strongest, it’s not too surprising that they’re dominating the competition in their respective sports. To get a competitive edge, it’s clear that they’re training both their bodies and their minds.

Despite proven results, however, not everyone is suddenly embracing cognitive training. At this stage, the public still needs to be educated on neuroplasticity and the uses and effects of cognitive training on performance. Neuroplasticity, which relates to the brain’s ability to change and adapt in response to new situations and changes in environment, is backed by decades of substantial scientific research. Cutting-edge technologies are using the concept of neuroplasticity to build cognitive training interventions to enhance and rehabilitate cognitive functions.

With greater access to information, people should become less skeptical about incorporating new methods into their training regimes. Once a definitive performance edge is established and proven, this trend is bound to become ingrained in how we work out. But, for now, the masses still have to catch up.

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