Electrical Stimulation: The Magic Bullet in Improved Human Performance?

Posted on April 25, 2018 5:15 PM

A top goal among coaches is to help clients, students and athletes move better. The reasons are simple: When people move better, they feel better, are more likely to see results and are motivated to train more consistently. The reality, though, is that progress is often slow, which leads to diminished results potential and motivation.

But what if you could give that progress a boost with neuroscience? Daniel Chao, MD, MS, founder and CEO of Halo Neuroscience and TRX Summit presenter, believes you can.

In this post, Chao shares how he came to that conclusion and why it’s time to stop thinking so much about the body and focus more on the brain.

The Brain.

More than 15 years ago, Chao says he had what he calls his “F&#k You” moment. The doctor of neuroscience was studying at the Stanford University School of Medicine, when he grew frustrated with medicine’s ineffectiveness at treating neurological issues.

“We were learning about drugs and antibiotics and cholesterol drugs, drugs for pain, etc... and these drugs were amazing,” he says. “But then when you get to drugs for the brain, the wheels fall off.”

He wondered what could be done to change this and thought that maybe drugs weren’t the answer.

Chao says, “Being at Stanford, you can’t help but be inspired by what’s around you. You see the semiconductor industry take off like it did. Computers are being built all around us and the brain is like a computer. So, I thought, what if we could modulate the circuitry that is our brain with electric fields.”

This became the inspiration for his first company, NeuroPace, which he started just over 10 years ago.

“We proved that you could use electricity to better treat a human brain disease far better than you could a drug,” Chao says.

The company focused on epilepsy, which he says is a condition that responds poorly to medication.

“In only 1/3 of cases are drugs effective. So we developed a product that uses a medical implant to generate electric fields that treat the brain. And the results are way better. In some cases, our patients are effectively cured. Someone who had 20 seizures a month is having none.”

He adds that, after receiving the implant, many of his patients were able to get a driver’s license, move out of their parents’ homes and get jobs.

“It was really amazing to see how different lives could be if people were adequately treated,” he says.

Despite this amazing success, Chao believed that he could do more.

“The one thing I wanted to improve upon—and this is maybe my second “F&#k You”  moment—is how invasive the product was. It relied on a surgery with electrodes implanted in the brain and pulse generator implanted in the skull. You can imagine only severely epileptic people would be willing to go through the surgery.

He wondered if there was a way to help people from the outside without surgery and implants. It turns out that the answer is yes; scientists had been working on ways to use external electronic stimulation to treat neurological conditions.

After diving into the research and seeing the potential benefits of electrical stimulation on the brain, he shifted his sights to human physical performance. And thus was the origin of Halo Neuroscience, which manufactures specialized headphones fashioned with electrodes on the underside of the arch that deliver electrical signals to the brain.

According to Chao, these electrical signals help people understand movement patterns more effectively and efficiently.

He explains, “The electrodes are targeted to the neuroanatomy called the motor cortex, which controls movement in the body. When you put on the headset, those electrodes that you see on the underside of the arch of the headset land right on the motor cortex; in some fortuitous neuroanatomy, the motor cortex sits right above our ears, so the headphone form factor is perfect for us.”

Daniel chao

Chao says that after 20 minutes the signals that emit from the Halo Sport and into the brain creates what he terms “hyperplasticity” or hyper learning. This makes it possible for the wearer to understand and internalize optimal movement patterns more quickly.

“The idea is you put on Halo Sport like a regular set of headphones and give us 20 minutes—usually during your warm-up,” Chao says. “This induces a temporary hour-long state of hyper learning in your motor cortex. Then, what you do for the next 60 minutes is you feed that motor cortex quality reps and our promise is that you will learn the movement faster.”

When an individual learns movement patterns faster, the satisfaction rate also sees a significant increase, he says.

“Ultimately, our goal is to put people into a virtuous cycle instead of a death spiral,” the doctor says. “A death spiral happens when people put in the work, but don’t feel the results. That’s a recipe for jumping off the wagon.”

Conversely, a virtuous cycle is when a client puts in the work and feels the results.

“You’re then inspired to put in more work,” he says.

And, according to Chao, it can streamline a coach’s ability to fast-track client success.

“There’s such a premium on controlled movement,” he says. “Every trainer has a list of clients that learn, but it’s slow. And I’m sure you’ve wished there was a way to speed up the process. This helps you learn movement faster. We still need quality reps and still need to train. But what we can help with is that learning process. We can accelerate it. We help ingrain muscle memory in a movement at an accelerated rate.”

In a world where coaches have limited time to incite change, helping to improve the learning process may be a boon.

“Proper movement is about performance and injury prevention—two things everyone wants. The clients we work with—there are a lot of things competing for a very finite chunk of time. What can we do to maximize the limited about of time that they have with you? We can do that with neurostimulation.”

Chao is thrilled to share more about what he’s learned at the TRX Summit next week.

“We’re gonna dig into neuroscience. We won’t just talk about the theoretical; we’ll also talk applied neuroscience. What people want are things that offer them an advantage in everyday life. We’ll talk about neurostimulation and the future of human performance.”

Chao concludes, “Maybe we’ve over-thought the body and are reaching a state of diminishing returns. You know, protein shakes and whatnot is great, but the improvements are merely incremental. Let’s talk about the brain and what can be done to maximize the neurologic component of athletic training.”


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