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Above the Neck and Brain Training

Above the Neck and Brain Training

Strength, endurance, cardiovascular, and flexibility training have long been understood as necessary to optimize sports performance. Sports Neurology is revealing the critical role of the brain and nervous system in sports performance. Focus, concentration, speed of mental processing, vision, balance, and proprioception are examples of Neurological functions critical to peak performance. These functions can be objectively assessed, and because of Neuroplasticity, they can be trained and improved. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections – especially in response to learning or experience (training).

Our Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine incorporates several opportunities to train the brain and nervous system for optimized, peak performance. Preseason brain training, off-season brain optimization, and/or ongoing in-season “maintenance” brain training are beneficial options. In addition, training the brain during periods of treatment and recovery from musculoskeletal injury helps keep an athlete’s head in the game, with both generalized vision, cognitive priming and cognitive endurance training as well as sport and position-specific virtual and motor imagery-based brain training. Furthermore, we believe some forms of brain training have benefits over and above sports performance. We’ve seen and expect continued evolution of evidence demonstrating improvements in academic performance, professional/career performance, improved quality of maturation/aging, and optimization of neurological health across the lifespan.

Vision-based oculomotor as well as visual perceptual training options with both “analog” and computer-based interfaces are performed in the Performance Space within our Center. We have access to formal Neuro-ophthalmological consultations, if indicated. We also have access to Ocusweep, a state of the art and portable tool allowing assessment of visual acuity, depth perception, visual fields, contrast sensitivity, and visual search speed. Further evolution of commonly used simple visual reaction-time training has resulted in our use of dual-task visual, and motor training with a cognitive load with the SMARTfit™ system. Exercise that simultaneously engages the full body and multiple senses (eyes, ears, feet, hands and vestibular system) requires more complex cognitive function to make decisions and execute skills.

SMARTfit™ technology uses alphanumeric targets displaying colors, numbers, letters or symbols to provide a highly stimulating environment for improving neurological and physical fitness. Athletes, clients, and patients participate in these training drills:

  • Play cognitive games while running, playing ball, balancing, and doing core stabilizing exercises;
  • Think under pressure, apply strategy and technique, and manage footwork, balance, ball control, speed and agility; and
  • Get instant feedback with measurable and tracked results.

The benefits include functional physical fitness (cardiovascular, strength, agility, plyometric) along with neural and cognitive improvements. Proprioception, vestibular function, cognitive agility, motor coordination, focus, memory, and decision-making skills are examples of brain-related training. This kind of training assists with peak performance as well as rehabilitation after injury, development of motor skills, fall prevention in seniors and benefits in patients with neurological diagnoses.

We have collaborated with Axon Sports to provide a variety of brain training options. These programs and modules facilitate the development of “chunking” for rapid advancements in pitch recognition, scheme recognition, and other sports and position-specific skills through the use of high-definition video footage. Other modules promote brain training through motor imagery, which can be used to rapidly advance mechanical skillset development. And cognitive priming or cognitive endurance programs improve speed of mental processing as well as quality of decision-making through the addition of progressive cognitive loads, including complex tasks and distractors.

Our technologically advanced Center affords us the opportunity to take a closer, more precise look at an athlete’s, client’s, and patient’s inherent skills (skill assessment), identify gaps (opportunities for improvement), and facilitate the brain’s ability to fill those gaps through training with the proper set of learning systems, via Neuroplasticity.

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