Neuropriming is something that’s been getting a lot of attention in recent years. It’s an interesting concept that athletes of all levels have been experimenting with.
But how does it work?
There’s a lot of confusion surrounding neuropriming and just how exactly it benefits athletes. In this post, we cover everything you need to know (and share some alternatives as well).
What Is Neuropriming?
Neuropriming is a unique approach to strengthening the connection between your brain and your body. Typically used by high-performance athletes, neuropriming is said to improve sports performance and produce measurable gains in less time.
Regardless of the sport you play, your brain has an important role in your success. While techniques and physical fitness exercises might come second-nature to you, that doesn’t mean that your brain isn’t working hard to help you along the way. The part of the brain that’s responsible for voluntary physical activity is the motor cortex.
With every movement you make, from casual walking to intense football drills, the motor cortex sends signals to your muscles. Neurons fire off at a rapid pace to make the muscle fibers contract, resulting in movement. All of this happens in an instant. Yet, it’s learned over time.
You see, the motor cortex develops pathways for neurons to travel. When you first acquire a new skill, such as performing a drill for the first time, you’re hyper-aware of what you’re body is doing to make it happen.
That’s because that neural pathway hasn’t been developed yet. As you continue to run the drill, the motor cortex will adapt and organize the pathway for better efficiency in the future. This is referred to as neuroplasticity.
Once those pathways have been established, you can continue to build your new skills. Your motor cortex will continue to adapt as you get better, pushing your skills to the next level.
So, how does neuropriming fit into all of this? Well, neuropriming directly affects your motor cortex. It’s designed to strengthen those pathways by increasing your neuroplasticity.
Neuropriming is designed to put your brain into a state of hyperplasticity. During hyperplasticity, neurons are firing off more frequently. The neurons are more stimulated and will fire off when stimulated by other neurons.
It’s this reaction and frequent firing that helps to improve performance. When neurons fire off together, those neural pathways can be established quickly. Plus, they will last with continued training.
To put it simply, neuropriming literally primes your brain for training. It puts your motor cortex in the perfect condition to learn skills and maximize your potential. While it’s predominantly used in the sports world, the training technique is said to be beneficial in everything from learning a new language to playing an instrument.
How It Works
Despite the complex nature of the brain and neuron activity, neuropriming is a relatively simple concept. At its core, this process involves manually activating neurons. To do this, electricity is used.
Currently, neuropriming devices come in the form of earphones. Of course, these aren’t your average earphones. Hidden within the band, there are multiple soft electrodes. They are designed to go through your hair and make contact with your scalp.
The electrodes then send electrical pulses to your brain, causing neurons to fire off manually. While this might sound intimidating, the process of sending electrical impulses through the brain has been around for over 100 years. It’s referred to as transcranial direct current stimulation. With proper guidance, it’s completely safe.
The position of the electrodes and the overall design of neuropriming devices is no mistake. The headphone makes it easy for the electrodes to make contact with the motor cortex, which happens to sit right above the ears.
When the device is turned on, the electrodes will send pulses to the motor cortex to put your brain in a state of hyperplasticity. According to athletes who have taken advantage of this unique training technique, the pulses do not hurt. Rather, they create a tingling sensation.
The good news is that you don’t have to wear the device and be subjected to electrical signals throughout your training session. Neuropriming is meant to be performed during a warmup.
Supposedly, a short 20 minute-workout while neuropriming can lead to lasting effects during your actual training session. The state of hyperelasticity lasts for up to an hour. Neurons will continue to fire off quickly after you have removed the device, allowing you to perform drills as you normally would.
During your supercharged workout session, your brain will work to reprogram itself. The technology is still in its early stages. However, professional athletes are already using it during their training routines.
Several studies were also performed by the company that developed the technology. Double-blind studies were done as well to test the efficiency of the technology. According to the findings, athletes saw a 31 percent improvement in their physical performance.
What Are the Benefits?
There are several ways that you can benefit from neuropriming. The biggest is the ability to learn new skills at a much faster pace. As we mentioned earlier, neuropriming prepares your brain and helps to create new neural pathways.
This applies to pretty much everything you do. That hyperplasticity supercharges your brain for better retention and recall. Typically, learning a new physical skill requires a lot of time and effort.
Any seasoned athlete will tell you that they got to where they are now by making small gains over a long stretch of time. The body has to learn how to make those movements. Drills are repeated thousands of times until a technique becomes second nature.
All that time is needed because the brain is trying to build those neural pathways. By increasing the frequency and efficiency of neural signals in the brain, you can cut back on your training time significantly.
Another big benefit is reaching your true potential. All athletes experience that dreaded plateau at some point. After years of practice, it can sometimes seem like you aren’t experiencing any improvements.
Truth is, everyone can see improvement. That plateau you’ve reached is not your true potential. The issue is that your motor cortex already has an established neural pathway. If you have been performing the same exercises and drills for years, shaking that pathway off is easier said than done.
This doesn’t just apply to athletes who are good at what they do. Have you ever tried your hardest at a sport or activity to only realize that you simply aren’t good at it? Well, you may have just developed bad techniques.
The motor cortex doesn’t care about whether the movements you’re making are right or wrong. If you have done the wrong moves enough to develop neural pathways, that’s the way you will be doing it until you take the steps to improve.
Neuropriming can help you overcome that plateau or performance hurdle you’re experiencing. In fact, many athletes during the studies reported that they were more aware of what their body was doing. This is pretty impressive considering that years of training often makes things “second nature.”
That hyperplasticity opens up a world of possibilities. Not only are you more aware of what you’re doing, but you’re at a prime state to make improvements. With multiple neuropriming warmup sessions and corrective training, you can get over those performance issues in no time.
You may also be able to benefit from greater endurance with neuropriming. Endurance and fatigue levels are affected by several factors. Genetics and your actual muscle activity come into play. However, the same goes for your brain.
A study in 2009 found that cognitive fatigue can limit your athletic performance. To put it simply, the rate in which neurons fire off to your muscles decreases the more you work out. This is what triggers that fatigued feeling.
With that said, feeling fatigued doesn’t always mean that your muscles have reached their capacity. Your brain is just telling you that you’re tired.
Neuropriming can help you push further by keeping those neurons firing. Your motor cortex stays in an excitable state, allowing you to keep central fatigue at bay and exert as much as you can.
Is There A Better Alternative?
While neuropriming can be an exciting thing for athletes and coaches to think about, it’s possible to take things even further.
Reflexion takes a more sophisticated approach when it comes to improving cognitive performance in athletes. Neuropriming is a relatively simple input that leaves little room for a customized approach.
Reflexion brings clear and tangible benefits to your peripheral vision, decision making, short term pattern memory, and hand-eye coordination. All of these aspects can be tailored to an athlete’s specific sport so the training stays specialized to what they can benefit from most.
Another neat thing about Reflexion compared to neuropriming is how fun it can be. The drills and exercises athletes go through are quite addicting and can be directly linked to improved performance in their particular sport. This makes it get athletes invested and using it consistently.
The interest in neuropriming comes from a large wave of athletes who want to do some form of cognitive training. The pros are doing it, and they want to as well.
However, neuropriming isn’t the only option. If you want to take your training even further we’d love to hear from you. Reflexion is the best cognitive training solution for athletes on the market, and we’re just getting started!