What if we could practice for those most difficult moments that we’ll face in competition. For those moments when your mind begins to unravel and self-doubt starts to creep in. How could this type of practice change our lives, not only for sports but for anything that requires mental toughness?Sun Sachs
On this episode, Ed Gibbins sits down with Sun Sachs, CEO and Co-Founder of Rewire Fitness. Sun started Rewire over a year and a half ago and we discuss his inspiration behind the product, what the system involves and its applications in sport and in life. We also discuss current affairs at Rewire including our beta program as well as some plans for the future.
Ed: Firstly, can you tell us a bit about your background?
Sun: Yeah, of course, so I grew up in the mecca of endurance sports in the United States: Boulder, Colorado. I spent my early years in road racing as a junior and pre-junior and then as the sport of mountain biking came into being in the 80s I started to get on the mountain bike circuit. I did NORBA, downhill, slalom, cross-country, BMX and bike trials. I competed at a national level in cyclocross and I was also a bike messenger for seven years. So the way of the bike was my life, my whole lifestyle, and as I started to develop my career, I kind of shifted into different types of endurance sports like adventure races, triathlons, long-distance swimming, and more recently I’ve transitioned into doing some alpine climbing, which I’ve been really excited about – kind of growing in that experience recently. So just a lifetime and endurance sports. And then meanwhile, I also have been in software development for 25 years, so building all kinds of products many different kinds of apps since the advent of the smartphone and many web applications, working with some great team members. So it’s a combination of being a lifelong endurance athlete and software development – I’m also kind of a performance nerd!
Ed: So you’ve lived your life on two wheels and been all across the endurance world. Can you tell us how you started Rewire and why?
Sun: Yeah, so I’ve been aware of this science for quite a long time. Basically the science around Brain Endurance Training (BET). I had really just been so excited about it from when I first heard it and had been waiting for a commercial product to come to market and it really never did. One day I was on the trainer and I had this epiphany, I just thought: “Oh, this is how it could be done!” I kind of saw it as a user interface problem – like how do you do brain endurance training while you’re also doing your workout? It’s a little bit tricky. So I got together with my co-founder Cody and we developed a prototype and within a few weeks we had something working and we’ve been at this for about a year and a half really just honing in on the software and the hardware and furthering the product with beta testing. So that’s kind of how it started.
Ed: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s really interesting how no one has sort of done anything with the mental toughness world. Every athlete knows the importance of mental toughness – when we’re talking to our athletes they say 50% to 90% of their performance (some even more) is on the mind. But, how many people actually spend time training their mind and what is there for it? So that’s what we’re going for. Can you speak a little bit more to why mental toughness is so fundamental to sports?
Sun: Yeah, of course. I mean it’s one of those things that’s almost cliche! We all know how important mental toughness is, and the traditional way to build mental toughness or resilience is to beat your body up! You can go on a five-hour ride, three-hour run – it works, but you can’t do that every day! And so, our solution is that we think of it rather than a hammer of beating your body up, it’s more like a scalpel. It’s very targeted, it targets the part of your brain that’s responsible for impulse control, for effectively managing your willpower, and your perception of effort. So what we’re essentially doing is adding more mental load to the workout, so that you adapt over time and become more resilient when you’re under fatigue. Basically, when you’re in those moments of competition or even just having a tough day, that’s when you want to be able to have that breakthrough of the wall and be able to up your game, and not have your brain be the limiter. So that’s a big part of why we develop the product. And then when you think about it, on the hardware side for sports products, at some point you can’t get a faster bike, right? You can only get so aero! At some point you just can’t put any more hours into training, what then? We’re down to the point where, with sports science which is evolved tremendously over the years, we’re down to marginal gains for athletes that take sport very seriously. What’s the new frontier? The obvious area, which has been sitting in front of us for decades, is mental performance. And so our goal is really to help athletes unleash their ultimate performance, to create opportunities for them to build their self-confidence, to build their mental resilience, and to give them practical ways to do that, with the software and the hardware combination
Ed: Definitely, when I spoke to Walter last time we spoke a little bit about David Goggins and the kind of athletes that just train their mind by pushing that body, and that’s great to a point – but bringing it into much more controlled environment is definitely needed.
As you mentioned, you’ve been following the science for over 10 years now are there any studies have jumped out to you and really forged Rewire?
Sun: Yeah, there’s definitely quite a few. I’ll mention one that our chief scientist did where he basically took 35 amateur cyclists and he had them trained for three months. The control group trained on a trainer three times a week and the test group basically did the same indoor training but also layered on brain training. And as you’d expect in three months of consistent training the all the athletes improved, you know on the physical side. The control group improved by 40% but the brain endurance group improved by a 120% basically a 3X Improvement in performance! And what that actually translated to was five minutes longer on a time to exhaustion test, which is basically an effort where you go until you literally can’t go any longer! Five minutes is significant, 3X is insignificant. You don’t get that from an aero helmet!
Ed: No, you don’t! Yeah, definitely and with the Rewire team being all athletes we all understand the importance of mental toughness in sports. I know when playing rugby some of my best performances of come when I really had to use my mind in the best way. And equally the other way around when failures occurred it’s because I’ve made bad decisions at that moment and having that ability to keep focused and keep mental toughness is crucial and I think when we look at the highest level of sports and the highest athletes up there, they’ve all got a certain level of mental toughness.
Sun: Yeah, they’ve done some comparisons in one study between amateur and elite athletes basically looking at their mental resilience. And the elite or pro athletes when under a lot of mental load, even specifically during this cognitive type of training, they had a much more realistic or accurate perception of their effort and were able to maintain their physical and mental goals. Whereas the amateur athletes just didn’t have that same level of resilience built up. What’s exciting about that is that just shows that there is something cognitively that influences performance significantly and from what the science has shown it’s something that could be trained. That’s what we aim to do: create tools for athletes. The other aspect of mental toughness, there’s another study where they basically looked at all the attributes of mental toughness. On the psychological side, there are factors that are obvious and ones that are not so obvious. So self-confidence ended up being the number one attribute for mental toughness – that’s kind of obvious. But positive cognition was the second one, and that’s basically the things you tell yourself when the going gets tough. So if you start to do a negative spiral, I would say probably all of us know how that can go. But if you can shift into more of a positive mindset and keep the motivation up, that’s really where you’re going to see great results. So with our product, we also think about it in terms of mindset and in terms of mental and physical recovery. So not only do we have a brain endurance component. We also have a tool that will help athletes sort of reset their mind or get into a positive mindset before competition. We all have our pre-race rituals and the things that we like to do to get into a good mindset and this provides tools that will help you go through those steps that help you have a calm, ready state before competition.
Ed: Definitely! Science, over the past 10 years, is really starting to show the importance of the brain in performance. When we look at the older studies – it’s heavily focused on physiological aspects and now it’s starting to show it’s how the brain perceives that. And how we respond to that, and how we train our minds to improve performance is really starting to get crucial. And you mentioned pre-game rituals and rituals in the game. It’s really interesting because every athlete knows the importance and uses them. For myself, I have three clicks and a tap on my leg and that would be my reset button if I encountered any bumps in the road. So we all know how our mind works and we’re just needing to start to train it now. As you said we need to ‘unleash our performance’. So you mentioned the mindset recovery component of the Rewire system, can you speak a little bit more about what that involves?
Sun: Yeah, definitely! So we combine different scientifically proven protocols that will activate your physiology for recovery and get yourself into a positive mindset. They can be used either actively or passively. So for example, you can go through an exercise where we use box breathing, used by the Navy Seals, and that actually brings your body into a parasympathetic response and you can literally see your heart rate variability (HRV) improve over that session. And then we have protocols like binaural beats so you can literally just listen in your ear buds. And it’s a two-tone frequency, which follows the phenomenon known as brain entrainment, which basically your brain hears these lower-level frequencies and it tries to mirror them. So if we want somebody to get into a relaxed state we can play a theta waves binaural beat, and it is blended into some relaxing music. So it just feels like you’re listening to calm, meditative music, while at the same time, it’s entraining your brain to be in a more relaxed state. You can use it in a variety of ways: at the end of a recovery session to help you get in the right mindset, pre-training to have a positive perspective and build your confidence, you can use it before competition with a series of different steps that you can choose from to get into you in a calm, ready state. So there’s really a lot of different ways it can be used. And the other aspect of it is we track your physiology so we have some objective and subjective measures. We measure your own perception of relaxation and then also your heart, HRV and other data points. So you really can understand what’s effective and what’s working for you. Then in the future, you can basically choose the protocols that work best for you.
Ed: Can you explain in more detail about what the product is and how it’s working?
Sun: Yeah, so it’s a hardware and software product where you basically have wireless buttons that you hold in your hands or attached to a training device like a bike, rowing machine or any number of different training equipment and then you use your smartphone to do cognitive tasks while you’re training. So you might get on a bike trainer and do a normal workout and while you’re doing that you’re layering on brain training by looking at your phone and answering these cognitive tasks questions. Then on the metrics side, we also track your physical performance, which is your objective metrics and then a number of cognitive metrics and lastly we compare all of that against your subjective rating of effort. That allows us to track your mental resilience over time, so you can really see a measurement of how you’re doing and how you’re improving.
Ed: That last bit that you just mentioned about having that metric that tracks your mental toughness. I heard on a Joe Rogan podcast with Ross Edgley, the first man to swim around Great Britain, they were talking about “when are we going to get that metric that tracks our mental toughness”. That’s now! You’ve been training with the product since you first created it. How can you say it applies to sport and also life in general?
Sun: If you can do something that will prepare you for those moments in life when things feel like they’re unravelling and when they feel almost impossible to get through. If you can actually train for those moments, how would that impact sport, but also your life in general. Walter mentioned in his studies in the last podcast episode, the mental resilience really kicks in when you’re at a heightened level of fatigue. So what’s what it really is doing is preparing you for those toughest moments in life. Just imagine if you could do something that would prepare you for how to respond well when things get tough and to keep a calm mind and a positive outlook, the benefits would be profound. I’ve noticed definitely in sport it’s made the training feel easier. It’s made me a lot more confident going into a workout, hopefully soon a competition! And then in life too, I definitely have a busy lifestyle with this startup and my other responsibilities. And I’ve found a growing level of resilience having done this consistently now for the past year and a half and it’s really helped me just overall with my quality of life.
Ed: The perception of effort part that you mentioned that’s critical! I spoke a lot with Walter about that last time, that sort of the piece of the puzzle that is going to increase your performance as you reduce your perceived exertion at the same intensity. So it’s a critical part of it. We’ve been running our second beta program for the past two months. Please can you speak a bit about that?
Sun: Yeah, we have a great group of men and women, elite and amateur athletes mostly in endurance sports. To top line some of their resumes and accomplishments: a former world duathlon champion and ultra runner, the current world record holder for Lands End to John O’ Groats, winners of prominent triathlons and we just recently started collaborating with an elite junior bike racing team in Europe and then quite a few coaches. We’re also collaborating with some organizations in your world, with elite and pro rugby teams. So we started to cross over into a lot of different sports and it’s really been interesting to see how many different types of athletes are interested in this! We’ve had applications to our beta program from strength athletes to tennis to sailing to boxing. You name the sport, athletes are interested in this! And now is really the time because you know, as we mentioned, this is the next frontier for performance and people are looking for that. They’re looking for new ways to get better and this area of performance is virtually untapped. So we’ve been excited and it’s been really helpful to have our beta athletes help us with improving the product and really making it seamless as possible for training and competition.
Ed: So like we mentioned the majority of our current beta test is with a range of abilities of cyclists and triathletes. We will also be starting one with runners soon, can you speak about how the system is going to integrate with other sports?
Sun: Yeah, definitely. So, we started with endurance athletes. Definitely partially based on my background and the sports that I know. But, we definitely see this to be a product that is applicable to all sports. And we’re building some foundational pieces to it. Right now, we have a lot of cognitive training that’s based on visual tasks, so in other words, you’re looking at the screen of your smartphone. But, we’re also adding audio-based tasks so athletes will be able to go out for a run with our brain training wireless buttons that they can hold in their hands and they can basically answer cognitive questions while they’re running or doing a variety of other sports: could be in the gym, out on the track, could be playing soccer, could be any number of sports. So we definitely aim to provide some tools that’ll make it easy and seamless for any athlete to use these tools.
Ed: Definitely, I mean it is an exciting avenue that we’re in. A brand new field, and brand new kind of training and something for the future with the brain being the next frontier in marginal gains. Thanks for talking to me today Sun! I think we’ve got a really exciting future. It’s a really exciting new world that we’re exploring in terms of unlocking that next performance gain by training the mind, so I’m really excited and happy to be a part of it. And yeah, let’s keep it up!
Sun: All right. Thank you so much, till next time!
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”Marcus Aurelius