Why Cognitive Training is the Next Big Development in Sports

In recent decades, the application and development of science in sports has boomed. Elite teams and athletes have sports scientists working with them to push limits further than ever before.

Perhaps one of the most interesting recent examples of this is the concept of marginal gains, an idea championed by Sir Dave Brailsford, former Performance Director of British Cycling and GM of Team Ineos. Marginal gains is the concept that it is possible to increase performance by 1% in many specific areas and these tiny improvements add up to create significant overall improvement. This philosophy aided in the incredible development of Team GB’s cycling team, changing them from a laughing stock to a thriving team that won 16 Gold medals across Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

Sir Dave Brailsford (left), the pioneer of the Marginal Gains Philosophy

Brailsford made changes across a wide array of areas previously thought unimportant in order to create these marginal gains. This included the team bus layout, introduction of antibacterial hand gel to reduce infection and illness and adaptations to the warm-up. These marginal gains accumulated and the significant improvement was indicated by the medal haul.

However, one seemingly neglected area of sports science so far has been cognitive training, despite how important mental toughness is perceived to be in sports. We are forever bombarded by quotes expanding on the idea of ‘mind over matter’ but little is done to actually train the mind. We need to train the mind to be more resilient to the mental fatigue that we will inevitably face in competition to improve decision making, reduce our perception of effort and enhance positive thinking and motivation.

Some athletes have already started on a journey of cognitive training. Tom Brady has used brain training to sharpen his mind, relax his brain post-game and to improve his sleep. He also uses it to build resilience to protect against future concussions.

Cognitive tasks like a Go/NoGo task can help athletes like Brady, who are tested under extreme pressure,to make smart split-second decisions. This has been shown in a study with fencers that showed that they had better reaction times in discriminative tests but not in simple reaction tests (Di Russo et al., 2006). This demonstrates that they have the ability to make good decisions consistently under pressure. 

Response inhibition tasks like the Stroop task can help to train our mental endurance and tolerance to mental fatigue. Mental Fatigue has been shown to significantly reduce endurance performance through an increase in RPE (Marcora et al., 2009). By performing cognitive training we can increase our tolerance to mental fatigue, reducing its negative effect. In fact, using Brain Endurance Training over a 12-week programme was shown to yield 3x the improvement in athletic performance in a time-to-exhaustion trial (Staiano et al., 2015).

Cognitive training creates huge improvements in performance. Its lack of adoption so far is somewhat nice to know as it shows that there are still boundaries to break in sport and I’m sure with adoption we will see records being broken even further. It also allows the introduction of new metrics. An objective mental stress test, yielding a mental stress score, will be able to assist with athlete monitoring above and beyond current subjective measures. Perception gap, a new metric that is part of the Rewire system, is a measure of the difference between Self-Rated RPE and objective work output with data from heart rate monitors and power meters. By tracking this you can measure your mental performance over time. The goal is to reduce the perception gap when under mentally fatiguing situations so that your mind is not a limiter to achieving your true athletic potential.

If we thought marginal gains were squeezing the last bit out of human performance, we were wrong. 10 years of science has already shown that cognitive training has the potential to yield huge improvements in athletic performance. 

Buckle up and get ready for the next wave of athletes to break records and achieve new heights in athletic performance powered by new brain training solutions hitting the market over the coming years.

Join our growing community on Instagram and subscribe to our newsletter to find out when Rewire will be available.

Studies Covered in Article for Further Reading

“Neural correlates of fast stimulus discrimination and response selection in top-level fencers”
by Francesco Di Russo, Francesco Taddei, Teresa Apnile and Donatella Spinelli
Neuroscience Letters, 2006

“Mental Fatigue impairs physical performance in humans”
by Samuele M Marcora, Walter Staiano and Victoria Manning
Journal of Applied Physiology, 2009

A Randomized Controlled Trial of Brain Endurance Training (BET) to Reduce Fatigue During Endurance Exercise” 
by Walter Staiano, Michele Merlini and Samuele M Marcora
Conference: ACSM Annual Meeting, 2015

Rewire Fitness Product Updates (Nov 21)

So many exciting things happening over at the Rewire HQ. Here’s a recap of new developments and opportunities from the last month.

We are very pleased and excited to announce that Dr. Walter Staiano has joined our team as our Rewire scientific advisor. As many of you already know, Walter is one of the leading researchers and experts in neurophysiology & brain endurance training (BET) and one of the founding researchers in the landmark study discovering BET back in 2009. Walter’s research has been featured in best selling sports performance books: Fitzgerald M. 2016,  How Bad Do You Want It?, Hutchinson A. 2018 Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human PerformanceZaichkowsky L.,Peterson D. 2018 The Playmaker’s Advantage. Most critically, Walter is also the leading expert in the practical application of the science working closing with olympic and world championship athletes and teams as well as the British Ministry of Defense. We are thrilled to be working with him closely on the Rewire product and can’t wait to share new developments over the coming months!

CES Unveiled Event in New York, NY

A few weeks ago we had the opportunity to exhibit our product at an invite-only press event in New York City hosted by the CES organization called CES Unveiled. We had a great time sharing the product with the press, investors and industry leaders at the gala event. We’ve also been invited to be part of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this coming January. Some press from the event below…

https://www.cta.tech/Resources/i3-Magazine/i3-Issues/2019/September-October/Mark-Chisholm-and-Jeremy-Snow

Patent-pending Rewire Fitness Wireless Brain Training Hardware

We’ve finalized our mechanical and hardware manufacturing specifications and have a beautifully designed brain endurance product in the works. If all goes well we aim to make this product available for pre-order by early next year with a target release date of March 2020.

Many athletes and coaches have been asking us when Rewire will be available for their particular sport and we’ve seen a wide variety of interest from athletes across many disciplines including: Triathlon, Skiing, Sailing, Swimming, Mountain Biking, Road Biking, Marathon Running, Weight training, Crossfit, Obstacle Course Racing, Semi Professional Football, Ultra Cycling, Amateur Boxing, Soccer, Spin Cycling, Personal Training, Wrestling, Rugby & Rowing to name a few 😉 Thank you so much for those that have reached out to us it has been very inspiring and helpful as we think through our long term roadmap plans. Though there are some details that remain confidential with our plans due to our patent pending status what we can say is that in addition to supporting competitive triathletes and cyclists in our very first release we will have some features that all athletes will be able to use from day 1 to improve their athletic performance. We can’t wait to share these details and thanks again for your interest and patience and stay tuned for more news to come as we lead up to launch.

Thanks all!

Rewire Team

How the Rewire Brain Training System Works

The mental side of athletic training and competition is a critical component to all levels of performance from the amateur to the professional and yet very little time is dedicated to cognitive-based training. The current brain training solutions for athletes are ineffectual and do not translate to true athletic performance gains because they are performed out of context from real-world training and do not replicate the mental and emotional challenges normally faced during competition.

The Rewire product is the first mental endurance training solution for athletes that can be used during real-world training. The brain training protocol used by Rewire is based upon the findings of 10 years of scientific research around mental fatigue in endurance sports. Studies have shown that over time brain fatigue training can reduce an athlete’s level of perceived exertion (RPE) thereby increasing their athletic potential and mental toughness over time. By focusing on brain training that fatigues the mind during workouts,  athletes can reproduce real-world scenarios that they will face in competition without risking injury or over training.

THE SCIENCE

Screenshots of one of the Rewire brain training protocols called a Stroop Test

The brain training protocol used in the Rewire system is based on a series of simple neuropsychological tests displayed on a smartphone during indoor training. The tests activate the part of the brain responsible for the suppression of actions that are inappropriate to the goal-driven task at hand. In other words, the Rewire system creates situations very similar to competition where will power, self-control and focus are required in order to complete the workout successfully. This brain training protocol otherwise known as inhibitory control testing has been shown in studies, including Brownsberger et al., 2013, to influence an athlete’s perceived level of exertion (RPE) and, as a result, their endurance performance. So if you can add more mental load to every workout and adapt over time what the science has shown is that you can reduce your level of perceived exertion thereby improving both your physical performance and your mental toughness over time. For example:

Staiano et al., 2015 showed that brain training is highly effective in improving endurance performance when combined with traditional physical training. Those in the brain training group had three times the improvement in time to exhaustion (TTE) than the control group (+126% compared to +42%) over a 12 week training period. In this study, participants in the brain training group had a lower RPE than the control group. This indicates that that the increase in endurance performance was due to having a reduced perception of effort as a result of brain training.


The science has also shown that what you believe about your abilities and your level of self confidence goes a long way towards achieving your athletic potential and goals.   Self-talk is a psychological technique for improving self-belief, reducing the perception of effort during training and racing and keeping on task during challenging situations. Self-talk phrases, otherwise known as mantras, consist of simple phrases that your repeat in your mind whenever you need to stay on task.  For example, during a particularly difficult interval session you might repeat “calm and focused” or “strong and steady”. A study by Blachfield et al., 2013 showed that using self-talk significantly reduces an athletes RPE and increases their Time to Exhaustion (TTE). The improvement in endurance is likely due to the decrease in RPE.


‘I like to create mantras for different parts of the race because it brings my attention and focus back if it starts to wander.’

Laura Kline, Rewire Athlete and Former World Duathlon Champion
Screenshots of the Rewire mantra customize screen (left) and the screen that appears during training intervals with random mantras (right)

HOW IT WORKS

The Rewire app connects, via Bluetooth, with your power meter, heart rate monitor and the Rewire brain training straps designed for each sport so that you can add brain training easily to your traditional endurance workouts. For example, if you are a cyclist: simply pair your biometric devices with the Rewire app, mount your smartphone to your stem and attach the brain training straps to your handlebars to start your indoor training workout. For runners, it’s even easier: simply put your smartphone in front of you on your treadmill, attach the brain training straps to your hands and start your workout.

Diagram of the Rewire training system used for cycling

At specific intervals during each workout, the brain training tests will appear on your smartphone screen and you will be challenged to complete each question while also keeping up your target physical performance goals. The Rewire system will also automatically identify the most difficult parts of the workout and display your pre-programmed self-talk mantras just prior to each difficult effort so that you can utilize the benefits of self-talk. 

PERFORMANCE METRICS

Screenshots of workout metrics during training (left) and the workout metrics summary after your workout is complete (right)

In order to measure your performance the Rewire system records all of the traditional physiological metrics such as average heart rate, average and normalized power, intensity factor (IF), training stress score (TSS), cadence, interval time and total workout time.   Additionally, the system also tracks your mental performance including response time, accuracy, RPE, session RPE and a proprietary metric called your perception gap. Your Perception Gap is the difference between your self-rated RPE (how hard you felt like you worked) compared with your expected RPE based on how hard you actually worked under the conditions of mental fatigue, using data from the power meter and heart rate monitor. By measuring the difference between your perception vs. your actual physical performance the Rewire system establishes a methodology whereby you can measure your mental performance over time. The goal is to reduce the gap in your perception when training or competing under mentally fatiguing situations so that your mind is not a limiter to achieving your true athletic potential.

Screenshots of the Rewire performance metrics screens including summary of all workouts (left) and mental endurance chart explanation (right)

From within the Rewire app you can view the details of every workout as well as your performance by day, week, month or year and view your cumulative mental performance ranking and your best mental performance workouts.   

THE WORKOUTS

Screenshots of the Rewire workout categories (left) and a workout details screen with mental and physical performance goals (right)

We have created a library of workouts for all training intensities and durations. We also know that, as athletes, we are always time crunched between our training schedule and managing work, family and other priorities. That’s why we’ve created workout options that can be done during your regular training that require no additional time or if prefer you can do supplementary workouts called ‘double-ups’ taking only 15-20 minutes on either side of your planned workout.

WHAT COACHES AND ATHLETES ARE SAYING


‘It’s not letting your mind wander and your legs slow down as it keeps you focused the entire time.’

Laura Kline, Former World Duathlon Champion and Rewire beta athlete.


‘As triathletes, we often focus on just swimming, biking and running and don’t think about the mental aspect of things. Having this app has really helped me focus on that and sharpen my mind while I’m doing my training.’

Rebeccah Wassner, Three-Time Winner of the New York City Triathlon and Rewire beta athlete.


‘Most of us are looking for distractions while riding indoors, whereas Rewire provides something that commands absolute focus.’

Joe Holmes, Former Elite Road Racer for 20 years and Cycling Coach and Rewire beta athlete.

HOW TO GET THE REWIRE BRAIN TRAINING SYSTEM

We are currently in the final stages of manufacturing and will be offering pre-order discounts this Fall (2019) with the goal of making this product available for the 2020 winter training season.

Interested? Join our growing community on Instagram and subscribe to our newsletter.

Can’t wait until it is publicly available? Submit an application to become a Rewire beta athlete


The Science Behind Mental Toughness

Mental toughness can be defined as a personal capacity to produce consistently high levels of subjective or objective performance despite everyday challenges and stressors as well as significant adversities. (Gucciardi et al., 2015)

Clearly, mental toughness is a beneficial quality to have, it allows you to push past inevitable setbacks to achieve success. But how do we become more mentally tough?

In a study by Jones et al., 2002, athletes ranked 12 attributes of mental toughness in order of importance. Numerous studies, including this one, show that the most important attribute of mental toughness is self-belief in your ability to achieve goals. Self-belief in yourself can be developed through vicarious experiences – by watching others who have embarked on a similar path and have achieved success, you can develop the belief that you can achieve that same success yourself. What you believe about yourself and tell yourself are crucial to mental toughness, Rewire has integrated self-talk mantras to help develop this and in turn, build your mental toughness.

“This record was in my mind for a long time, I’m so happy to have made it reality today.”

Geoffrey Kamworor – On his Half Marathon World Record (2019)
Integrated Self-Talk Mantras in the Rewire app.

In this same study, athletes ranked ‘bouncing back from performance set-backs as a result of increased determination to succeed’ as the second most important attribute of mental toughness. One of the athletes involved with the study was quoted as saying ‘Nobody’s rise to the top is completely smooth, there are always little hiccups or turns in the road.’ Negative results provide increased determination as no one ever wants to be known as a ‘failure’. This increased determination coming from failure is a key part of mental toughness, it differentiates those who will never give up from those who will.

The third most important attribute of mental toughness was a self-belief that you possess unique qualities and abilities that make you better than your opponents. Rewire is all about developing qualities that set you apart from your competition by providing mental training so that you can develop your mental endurance above that of your competitors, allowing you to have that self-belief that you are better than your opponents.

‘Every quarterback can throw a ball; every running back can run; every receiver is fast; but that mental toughness that you talk about translates into competitiveness.’

Tom Brady

The fourth attribute, and the final one we will discuss, is the ability to remain fully focused on tasks in the face of competition-specific distractions. Numerous distractions can occur in competitions, causing your mind to be taken off the task at hand reducing your performance. Using Rewire helps to develop your mental focus. You are ranked on mental focus after every training workout, with the ability to track it over time.

The metrics available in the Rewire app.
The metrics available in the rewire app including Mental Focus.

Laura Kline, Rewire Athlete and Former World Duathlon Champion, tells us: ‘It’s not letting your mind wander and your legs slow down as it [Rewire] keeps you focused the entire time.’

To summarize, mental toughness is universally accepted as a key part of athletic performance, as Eliud Kipchoge says: “If you don’t rule your mind, your mind will rule you”. Mental toughness allows you to achieve high levels of performance even in the face of setbacks. It’s time we started to work on it….

‘If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it.’

Michael Jordan

Studies Covered in Article for Further Reading

‘What Is This Thing Called Mental Toughness? An Investigation of Elite Sport Performers’
Jones G; Hanton S; Connaughton D.
JOURNAL OF APPLIED SPORT PSYCHOLOGY
Copyright © 2002 by the Association for Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology

‘The Concept of Mental Toughness: Tests of Dimensionality, Nomological Network, and Traitness’
Gucciardi F; Hanton S; Gordan S; Mallett C; Temby P
Journal of Personality 2015
© 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

How to use Self-Talk Mantras to Effectively Increase Performance

Does talking to yourself really help increase your performance? Yes! According to numerous studies, including this one from 2013, using self-talk significantly reduced an athlete’s rating of perceived exertion (RPE) – essentially how hard you feel you are working. This in turn led to a significant increase in time to exhaustion (TTE) meaning that the athletes could continue to work at the same intensity for longer (Blanchfield et al., 2013). In essence this means that by using self-talk techniques, you can increase your performance in endurance activities (or at least make it feel easier!).

So how can you use self-talk effectively to improve your performance? Pick four mantras, either from the list (below) or ones that you have created yourself. They need to be meaningful to you, so take your time to think about which resonate with you the most. 

Pick another two for the late stages of the race or training session suited for times when you can feel the lactic acid moving round in your legs and all you need to do is keep pushing and take your mind off the immense pain. Kline, the former World Duathlon Champion, says: “I might start a race with a mantra in my head ‘Calm and focused.’ And then I’ll reach a point where there’s going to be a lot of climbing and I’ll say ‘Consistent climbing’ over and over in my head. Then I’ll get to a point in the race where it’s go time… I’ll say ‘Bring it home’.”

Early Stage

  • ’Calm and Focused.’ – Laura Kline, Former World Duathlon Champion and Rewire Athlete
  • ’You’re doing great’ – Ryan Hall, Olympian in the marathon
  • ’Stay relaxed’ – Tyler Pennel, Former U.S. National Marathon Champion
  • ’Calm Confidence’ – Annie Bersagel, Former U.S. National Marathon Champion
  • ’Swift and smooth’
  • ’Steady forward momentum’
  • ’Your race. Your pace.’
  • ’Keep this up’
  • ’One step at a time’
  • ’You’ve got this!’
  • ’Feeling good’
  • ’Going strong’

Late Stage

  • ‘Bring it Home’ – Laura Kline, Former World Duathlon Champion and Rewire Athlete
  • ’Tough times don’t last, but tough people do’ – Ellie Greenwood, Western States Record Holder
  • ‘Just keep pushing’ – Ian Sharman, Former Winner of the Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run
  • ‘Whatever it takes’ – Ryan Vail, Former USA Cross Country Team
  • ’Never give up’ – Chrissie Wellington, Ironman World Champion (2007-2009)
  • ’Fortunate, Fearless and Fast’ – Payson McElveen, Professional Mountain Biker
  • Go faster. Push harder. Today, define yourself.’ – Deena Kastor, Olympic Marathon and Long Distance Runner
  • ’Beast mode on’
  • ’Breathe in Strength. Breathe out weakness.’ – Amy Cragg, Olympic Marathon and Long Distance Runner
  • ’Shut up legs!’ – Jens Voigt, Previous holder of the Hour Cycling Record
  • ’Push through this’
  • ’Consistent Climbing’ – Laura Kline, Former World Duathlon Champion and Rewire Athlete

The mantras that you have picked should be meaningful enough to you that you can remember them without any problem. However, you might wish to have an extra reminder. Write them on your hands or fingers if you need, or even engrave them onto the handlebars of your bike. The good news is with the Rewire system you can program your personal mantras right into the training app and they will appear during the most challenging points in your workout automatically. Throughout exercise use the phrases as and when you need, repeating them over and over, taking your mind off the pain.

Using mantras in the Rewire app

By using these mantras, your perception of how hard you are working will be lower and this will allow you to push yourself beyond the previous limit set by psychological factors, thus enhancing your endurance performance.

After a few sessions you will have become accustomed to using self-talk and will likely have naturally selected the mantra which fits the best for each part of the race, those being the ones that you repeat the most since they mean the most to you.

Keep pushing!

Talking Yourself Out of Exhaustion: The Effects of Self-talk on Endurance Performance
by Blanchfield AW, Hardy J, De Morree HM, Staiano W, Marcora SM
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 2013