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How Olympic Athletes Are Using High-Tech Gear to Train Their Brains

July 26, 2016, 4:53 PM UTC
Richie Gordon, Power Ten Productions.

Usually when you think of world-class athletes, you think about their physical—not mental—capabilities. But that discounts the important mind-body link.

The theory that an athlete can perform better if he or she trains the mind as well as the body is the foundation of Halo Neuroscience, a San Francisco-based startup that offers headphone-like gear to stimulate athletes’ brains.

The company boasts that several Olympic competitors, past and present, are using Halo technology for their training. Among them are sprinters Mike Rodgers and Hafsatu Kamara, hurdlers Michael Tinsley and Mikel Thomas, and pentathlete Samantha Achterbert.

Rodgers will compete on the U.S. relay team and Kamara will run for Sierra Leone at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil next month.

As evidence that what goes on in the noggin affects physical performance, Halo cites a 2009 study published by the Journal of Applied Physiology, which found that cognitive fatigue hurts athletic results.

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The idea behind Halo’s headset is to apply light pulses of energy to the brain’s motor cortex. That stimulates the cortex and when paired with athletic training, the process can lead to better strength, “explosiveness,” and skill, according to Halo co-founder and chief executive Daniel Chao.

Other companies are also mining this opportunity. Bay Area-based Thync, for example, offers technology to calm or stimulate the brain “without pills.” But Thync targets consumers, not elite athletes.

For more, read: Can Brain Training Devices Make you Smarter?

Still, everyday consumers and non-professional athletes can have a go at Halo as well. The headset is available for pre-order with a retail price of $649.