Exploring sport coaching and psychology
Exploring sport coaching and psychology

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Exploring sport coaching and psychology

7.1 Exploring further

Here you will spend a few more minutes looking further into innovation 14.

Activity 6 Michael Johnson visits Halo Neuroscience

Allow about 15 minutes

In this video, Michael Johnson hears from Daniel Chao, the founder of Halo Neuroscience. How does the video expand your understanding of the claims made about this innovation? Can you detect any opinion that Michael has about this innovation?

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Skip transcript: Michael Johnson meets Daniel Chao

Transcript: Michael Johnson meets Daniel Chao

MICHAEL JOHNSON
So we're in San Francisco. We're on our way to see a company called Halo. And they are a technology company that makes a device and a system that supposedly will create this optimised learning state.
The prototype I'm about to check out has many applications in the medical space, but can also potentially help athletes amplify their training.
I'm always wondering, what's next? What's not out yet that's coming, that's on the horizon? So that really excites me. And in this city, you do get a chance to see some of those things.
Daniel Chao is part of the team of neuroscientists exploring every athlete's holy grail, their own untapped potential.
DANIEL CHAO
We're making a wearable device that stimulates the motor cortex. It's the part of the brain that's responsible for human movement. It puts the brain in a state of what we call hyper learning.
MICHAEL JOHNSON:
So what is the benefit to an athlete?
DANIEL CHAO
Let's think about something very practical. So if I had you just put out one rep as hard as you possibly can-- let's say that's 100 pounds-- on a leg extension machine. If I were to apply an external muscle stimulator to your muscles, I'm sure I could pretty easily get 200 pounds out of you.
So you're leaving a lot on the table. And it's not limited by your muscles. It's limited by your brain. So what we're doing is we're preparing the brain for a workout.
MICHAEL JOHNSON
All athletes understand the importance of warming up their body before they train. So why not stimulate your brain before a performance?
DANIEL CHAO
What we have here is our prototype version of the device. And you could see the business end of the system where the neurostimulation happens. And that we have set up to target the part of the motor cortex that's responsible for the movement of the legs.
Ryan, maybe you could tell us what you're feeling.
RYAN
It's just like a slight tingling. But you really can't feel much.
DANIEL CHAO
Yeah, it's just really a mild amount of electricity that we're using here.
MICHAEL JOHNSON
What is the benefit that you would be looking for specifically in this trial from the stimulation?
DANIEL CHAO
We're hoping to see at a given power output that the cyclist will have a lower heart rate, so that he's more efficient. And that we can measure his blood lactate levels and it would be reflected there as well. So in this case, the cyclist is literally learning how to be more efficient on the bike.
MICHAEL JOHNSON
As incredible as it sounds, it seems as if by sending small electrical signals to your brain, this device supercharges the pathways between the muscles and the brain, in theory, improving an athlete's output at the same level of effort.
DANIEL CHAO
So this is a mathematical model of what's going on with the stimulation in Ryan's brain.
MICHAEL JOHNSON:
So if we were stimulating the brain of an athlete who was, say, a swimmer and focused on shoulder movement--
DANIEL CHAO
Absolutely.
MICHAEL JOHNSON
--would we actually place this in a different area of the brain?
DANIEL CHAO
That's exactly right. So the part of the motor cortex that's responsible for arm movement is just off the shoulder of the skull.
MICHAEL JOHNSON
So depending on the sport, let's say then, that an athlete plays, you can map out what part of the brain needs to be stimulated for that particular sport that they're trying to train for.
DANIEL CHAO
Yeah, absolutely.
MICHAEL JOHNSON
It is pretty out there. The idea makes a lot of sense. And that's what makes it so exciting if this could work, because no one has figured out yet how to tap into that sort of extra ability that is there. That's what this claims to do. If it's effective in doing so, it could truly be a game-changer.
End transcript: Michael Johnson meets Daniel Chao
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Discussion

The film suggests that it is electrical pulses that are aimed at specific parts of the motor cortex that are responsible for movement in the targeted part of the body; in the case of the film it was the legs. The claim is that the device ‘supercharges the pathways between the muscles and the brain’ and this stimulates learning to be more efficient resulting in improved athlete output for the same level of effort. The participant on the treadmill, Ryan, describes the feeling of a ‘slight tingling’ sensation in the head.

Johnson does not give a great deal away about what he really thinks about the potential of this innovation, but it is noticeable that he does not have a trial of using the device. There perhaps remain unresolved questions about how it operates and precisely what mechanisms explain this heightened learning; there is also the question of the impact of these devices with sustained use.

If you visit the Halo Neuroscience [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] website, the details of the electrical pulses are explained under Frequently Asked Questions, as are questions about user safety.

One of the best independent summaries of the evidence and ethics of this innovation is provided by a short readable article Brain stimulation in sport: is it fair? Your conclusion from evaluating this innovation may, like Johnson, be slightly circumspect. However, this example does illustrate how you should be cautious in what you interpret from online sources, while also recognising that sport, coaching and exercise could look very different in the years ahead.

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