Sports and fitness enthusiasts can be found in every demographic, and even authorities from the halls of science and medicine have become outspoken advocates for its role in improving quality of life.
Although motor control is essential to performing in sports and fitness, the degree and quality of that performance is managed entirely by the brain. Both voluntary and involuntary processes within the human frame are driven by the brain. Everything from basic organ and gland function, to swinging a golf club, requires the finely calibrated function of the brain, and is the reason that many professionals and enthusiasts have undertaken to develop it. The continuous search for improvement is what has brought many elite performers to undertake training their brains through the application of neurofeedback.
Neurofeedback training for athletic performance
Neurofeedback is a digital method of training sites, circuits, and networks of the brain, by using sensors that read the electrical signals that the brain emits. Neurofeedback technology allows rewarding and training the same brain sites that are also involved in controlling the physical body. This has been successfully adopted by professionals like Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings football team, professional golfers like Bryson Dechambeau and Blake Adams, as well as US Air Force and NASA pilots, who have discovered how neurofeedback has made one of the best contributions to their unique skill set.
All athletic and fitness skills are known to be supervised by areas of the brain called the sensory and motor cortices. These are closely related areas of the brain that allow the integration between the sensory information that comes in from the outside, and the subsequent interpretation, construction, and execution of a response. These parts of the brain are known to be highly developed in individuals who have an advanced level of performance in a physical task. The defining feature and basis of learning is referred to as neuroplasticity, which denotes the brain's ability to change its own structure and function in accordance to how it is used, and the demands placed upon the body.
Peak performance involves more than just the sensory and motor cortices which govern the physical movement of the musculoskeletal system. The power of healthy focus, and executive function in general, carry an enormous amount of advantage in sports and fitness, and are governed by the frontal lobes of the brain. The prevalence of ADHD and other attentional disorders are additional factors that impact sports performance, and is also known to be associated with frontal lobe function. Neurofeedback can be used with spatial precision to reward and train these parts of the brain, with about a 90% documented success rate. ADHD has been one of the most successfully treated disorders in neurorfeedback’s history, earning the approval of an EEG diagnostic biomarker by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Equally as likely to have an effect on physical and athletic performance is the presence of any other cognitive or mental dysregulation such as depression, anxiety, epilepsy, PTSD, among others. These pathologies have associations to specific parts of the brain, and give neurofeedback the advantage of targeting its training and development.
Neurofeedback identifies elite brain performance
What allows neurofeedback to have a positive effect on physical performance is the role that the QEEG (quantitative electroencephalogram) brain map plays in having a clinical-grade assessment of the athlete’s unique brain. A common factor across different cognitive and mental pathologies is that the associated brain areas are either too inhibited (underactive), or too excited (hyperactive). A brain map is the necessary first step to beginning brain training, as the results of the brain map reveal which brain functions are most valid targets to pursue in the neurofeedback course.
The additional advantage an athlete’s brain may present for neurofeedback training is consistent with the higher than average level of health they tend to possess. The brain is a biological organ, which fundamentally depends on the function of all the other systems of the body. In those who have an advanced physical skill, the brain area/s associated with that skill are already well developed and will therefore have a better ability to respond to training and reinforcement.