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tDCS coming to an Equinox gym near you: Good, Bad or Depends?


Brain-Zap­ping Work­out Tech Is Com­ing to an Equinox Near You (Giz­mo­do):

Ath­letes are gen­er­al­ly will­ing to enter­tain any sci­en­tif­ic-sound­ing trend that promis­es an edge. For ref­er­ence: Michael Phelps and cup­ping or Shaquille O’Neal’s ener­gy-enhanc­ing bracelets.

Which is prob­a­bly why Equinox jumped at the chance to offer Halo Neuroscience’s brain-zap­ping, sup­pos­ed­ly per­for­mance-enhanc­ing head­sets as part of its advanced per­son­al train­ing pro­gram at 22 of its fit­ness clubs around the U.S., begin­ning this month.

Halo’s head­sets employ a tech­nol­o­gy called tran­scra­nial direct cur­rent stim­u­la­tion, or tDCS. The idea is to apply a mild elec­tri­cal cur­rent to the brain, result­ing, in this case, in improve­ments in an athlete’s phys­i­cal prowess…Now, with the Equinox part­ner­ship, Halo is bring­ing its $749 brain-zap­ping head­set to the masses…While many stud­ies do sup­port the idea that tCDS can have gen­uine effects on the brain, the sci­ence is still divid­ed on whether Halo’s prod­uct could real­ly work the way the com­pa­ny claims…

A review of research on tDCS and exer­cise per­for­mance from last year, for exam­ple, looked at 12 stud­ies on endurance and found that only eight had pos­i­tive results. Among the stud­ies that mon­i­tored peo­ple while they were actu­al­ly exer­cis­ing, those results were even lower…But even if it does work to improve ath­let­ic performance—which it very well might—there are still a whole lot of ques­tions to answer. For how long will the effects last? Does it work bet­ter for some kinds of sports than oth­ers? Is it as effec­tive as oth­er per­for­mance-enhanc­ing meth­ods, like say, sim­ply chang­ing up prac­tice rou­tines or diet?”

The Review Study:

The Ergogenic Effects of Tran­scra­nial Direct Cur­rent Stim­u­la­tion on Exer­cise Per­for­mance (Fron­tiers in Phys­i­ol­o­gy). From the abstract:

  • The phys­i­cal lim­its of the human per­for­mance have been the object of study for a con­sid­er­able time. Most of the research has focused on the loco­mo­tor mus­cles, lungs, and heart. As a con­se­quence, much of the con­tem­po­rary lit­er­a­ture has ignored the impor­tance of the brain in the reg­u­la­tion of exer­cise per­for­mance. With the intro­duc­tion and devel­op­ment of new non-inva­sive devices, the knowl­edge regard­ing the behav­ior of the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem dur­ing exer­cise has advanced…there has been emerg­ing lit­er­a­ture demon­strat­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty to influ­ence exer­cise out­comes in healthy peo­ple fol­low­ing stim­u­la­tion of spe­cif­ic brain areas. Specif­i­cal­ly, tran­scra­nial direct cur­rent stim­u­la­tion (tDCS) has been recent­ly used pri­or to exer­cise in order to improve exer­cise per­for­mance under a wide range of exer­cise types. In this review arti­cle, we dis­cuss the evi­dence pro­vid­ed from exper­i­men­tal stud­ies involv­ing tDCS. The aim of this review is to pro­vide a crit­i­cal analy­sis of the exper­i­men­tal stud­ies inves­ti­gat­ing the appli­ca­tion of tDCS pri­or to exer­cise and how it influ­ences brain func­tion and per­for­mance. Final­ly, we pro­vide a crit­i­cal opin­ion of the usage of tDCS for exer­cise enhance­ment. This will con­se­quent­ly progress the cur­rent knowl­edge base regard­ing the effect of tDCS on exer­cise and pro­vides both a method­olog­i­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal foun­da­tion on which future research can be based.

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