Brain Training for Optimizing Endurance Performance

Sunday marked the end of the 107th Giro d’Italia, a three-week race through some of the most beautiful and demanding terrain in Europe. Understandably, much of the commentary has focused on the mind-boggling power numbers unleashed by the top riders on the mountain passes, final sprints, and time trial stages. The commentary of former elite racers has been fascinating as they struggle to comprehend the horsepower of the current generation of riders. There is a vital subtext missing here.

In addition to legs and lungs, bike races are contests of sustained perception, and selective attention, impulse control, emotional regulation, and rapid decision-making. Though hidden from view, the breathtaking performances of athletes like Pogachar, Milan, and Ganna depend heavily on these critical brain functions. Success requires that these systems operate at a very high level and be resilient to the effects of mounting stress and fatigue. When these functions are compromised, performances tank.

Like the maximal capacity to utilize oxygen during exercise, the capacity of these core brain functions varies within the population. Some have special talents, most don’t. The good news is that like our legs and lungs, our brains respond to consistent, systematic, and individualized training. Quantitative assessment and targeted “brain training” that harnesses this capacity of neuroplasticity is catching on in elite level ball sports because it works.  Endurance sports are lagging in this regard.

While sport scientists focus on squeezing a bit more juice from the increasingly tired oranges of training methods, nutrition, and recovery techniques, I believe that the brain holds untapped potential for better than marginal gains in cycling and other endurance sports. We are beginning now by offering assessment and personalized, computer-based training to help you maximize your potential.

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