Olympic track athletes turn to neuroscience wearable for Rio prep

Rio-bound Olympians are finishing final preparations for the upcoming summer games, and for a select few athletes, that means tuning in with a new style of wearable.

Halo Neuroscience, a Silicon Valley startup that has designed a neurostimulation headset to help athletes perform better announced this week that a number of summer Olympians are using its product to prepare for the games. The athletes include:

  • Hafsatu Kamara, a 100m sprinter from Sierra Leone who will be running in her first Olympics
  • Michael Tinsley, a 400m hurdler from the United States who won silver at the 2012 London games
  • Mike Rodgers, a 4x100m relay sprinter for the United States who won gold at the 2015 World Relay Championships
  • Mikel Thomas, a 100m hurdler from Trinidad & Tobago
  • Natasha Hastings, an American 400m sprinter who won Olympic gold in the 2008 women’s 4x400m relay

The Halo Sport, which looks like a high-end set of headphones, temporarily induces hyper-plasticity in the brain through electrical impulse to help athletes to acquire skills faster.

It’s called neuropriming, and after about 20 minutes of use, the brain becomes more susceptible to retaining a skill. The key to success in many sports is repetition, and neuropriming aims to help athletes achieve consistency without investing as much time practicing a specific skill.

According to Halo’s website, pulses of energy improve the brain’s response to training, enabling the motor cortex to send stronger signals to muscles. Improved neuromuscular signaling means athletes get more value from each rep in the gym.

“Our device is different from just about any wearable out there,” says Daniel Chao, CEO of Halo Neuroscience. “Most wearables are passive devices that measure something about you, [whereas our device is] actually active in that it delivers an electrical waveform to the body.”

In fact, the Halo Sport does not track any data about the athlete at all. The only way to gauge success is by the feeling of the athlete and performance in the sport. While performance measurement can vary greatly between different athletes, Chao says it comes down to the coach and athlete’s own interpretations.

“It’s really important to us as a company to remain flexible [with interpreting results,]” says Chao. “Knowing that the applications of this technology are broad, we need to remain broad in our interpretation of the results.”

Chao says that if you were to divide the athletic brain into two general areas, there’s a psychological side and a neurological side. Sports psychologists have been working with athletes for years training the psychological side of the brain, but neurological training is a much newer field.

In addition to track athletes, Halo has worked with the U.S. Ski Team and three MLB teams. Halo did not disclose the specific teams it has worked with.

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Jackie Atkins
Jackie Atkins
Jackie Atkins is a competitive alpine skier, student and aspiring writer who primarily contributes stories about the intersection between technology and sports to ITBusiness.ca.

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