The San Francisco Giants Think These Headphones Will Help Them Win
Halo Neuroscience claims their brain-stimulating headsets will make the team’s practices more effective
Anyone who’s played a sport has heard the phrase, “Practice makes perfect.” If you spend hours in the gym shooting threes, you could become Steph Curry. Or play catch every single afternoon and you can become Corey Kluber. The San Francisco Giants think they’ve figured out a way to make their practices even more perfect: neurostimulation.
This season the Giants announced a partnership with the San Francisco-based tech company, Halo Neuroscience, after the team had some surprising findings while testing the company’s brain-stimulating headphones last year.
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]There are electrodes that send out electrical pulses that stimulate the motor cortex.[/quote]
Every winter before spring training, the Giants run a conditioning camp for their top prospects. Last January, the Giants gave half of their prospects access to Halo’s headphones, known as Halo Sport, to use during warm-ups, and the other half got nothing. At the end of camp, the players who used Halo Sport improved their training and results more than those who did not. After looking at the results, the Giants decided to partner with Halo and begin incorporating Halo Sport throughout the organization.
Now, it might sound ridiculous that a pair of headphones could magically improve an athlete’s performance, but there’s plenty of evidence showing it’s true. We spoke to Halo Neuroscience CEO and Co-founder, Dr. Daniel Chao, to discuss the partnership, his company and how the heck a pair of headphones can make you better at sports.
How did Halo Neuroscience get started?
My co-founder, Brett Wingeier, and I worked at a company called NeuroPace, and we helped develop a neurostimulator to help treat people with epilepsy. Basically, it was a pacemaker for your brain. It may sound crazy to use electricity to treat this disease, but it actually works far better than any drug. Despite how well it worked, the rate of adoption was very low because patients needed to get electrodes surgically implanted in their brain, which is very invasiveness. So Brett and I started to think about how to use neurostimulation noninvasively, and we founded Halo Neuroscience to do so.
So how did your company create Halo Sport?
We started reading every properly controlled research trial on neurostimulation, and we noticed a credible pocket of data that we became excited about, and it had to do with stimulating the part of the brain called the motor cortex, the part of the brain that controls movement in our bodies. We built our own device to replicate the studies, and we did it fairly easily. So we started thinking about who needs to move for a living, and that, naturally, led us to athletes.
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]It's about building muscle memory faster[/quote]
We started doing testing in our lab in San Francisco on regular people, not necessarily athletes. We’ve tested Halo Sport on thousands of people by now. Then we took the technology into the field and started partnering with elite athletic organizations, such as the Michael Johnson Performance training center. When we got improved results with elite athletes, we believed that we had a real product.
How does the Halo Sport work?
Halo Sport is just a fancy marketing name for a motor cortex specific neurostimulator. When you put on Halo Sport, those special features underneath the headset naturally go over the motor cortex. Those features are actually electrodes that send out electrical pulses that stimulate the motor cortex. After a 20-minute neurostimulation, which we call neural priming, Halo Sport will induce a state of hyperlearning, known as hyperplasticity, in the motor cortex. We tell athletes to use the headphones 20 minutes before their workout while stretching and warming up. When the neural priming session ends, they start their athletic training session and begin feeding their brain with movement-based repetitions. For a basketball player, that can be shooting free throws or dribbling. For a baseball player, it can be throwing or fielding grounders. If athletes feed their brain deliberate and trained repetitions after neural priming, their brain will learn more in that training session than they would’ve without it.
To put it in more friendly language, it’s about building muscle memory faster. What makes Steph Curry or Madison Bumgarner better than other athletes and rise to the top? It’s that they learn more neurologically with the same amount of practice. All athletes train and put in hours of thankless work, and it’s largely repetition to encourage the brain to build muscle memory around these movements. So there’s something about Steph Curry’s brain that allows him to learn faster with the same amount of practice. We’re one of the first companies to take a deliberate neuroscience based approach to athletic training.
Image via Halo Neuroscience
Wouldn’t it be better if athletes wore the Halo sport throughout their entire workout and not just while warming up so their motor cortex is stimulated constantly?
Yes. What we want to do is maximize the overlap between this state of hyperlearning and the athletes doing training repetitions. This state of hyperlearning starts about five minutes into the neural stimulation session. So obviously, you should wear it throughout your workout to maximize the overlap between the hyperlearning state and the training session. But in the majority of sports training, wearing a headset isn’t very convenient. So for most athletes, warm up with it on for 20 minutes, you’ll still have plenty of time to feed the brain these training repetitions. You get a good hour of hyperlearning even after you take off the neural stimulator.
How did the partnership with the San Francisco Giants start?
You can imagine that a professional baseball team gets approached by companies like Halo multiple times a week, so the Giants have a system in place for testing technologies. Their training staff took an interest in Halo Sport back in 2015. The Giants run a conditioning program for their top minor league prospects for three weeks before spring training every year. The idea was to add Halo Sport into this training program. We split the prospects into two groups, one would get Halo Sport and the other would not. Both sets of athletes would do the same exact training, and we would test them before and after the three weeks. It was a nicely controlled experiment. We looked at the data at the end of the training program and it was very clear that the athletes who got Halo Sport did much better than the athletes that did not.
After the experiment, Geoff Head, the Giants head of sports science, and David Groeschner, the head of athletic training, took the results to the Giants CEO Larry Baer and the top of the Giants organization, and they approved a partnership. We have Halo Sport available in all Giants facilities, both major and minor league.
What does the future hold for Halo Neuroscience?
We see ourselves not as a sports performance company, but as a human performance company. There’s a lot we can do with Halo Sport beyond sports. As a doctor, I want to see Halo Sport being used for research and medical purposes. We actually have a clinical trial going on right now for stroke rehab using Halo neurostimulation. What if we could help someone with a stroke recover from their physical therapy at the same rate we can help Madison Bumgarner with his physical training?