I’ve always been an early adopter of wearable tech. It’s an unavoidable side effect of being a run-loving tech journalist. I’m always on the lookout for innovations that can help you train better, run faster or just enjoy both of these things more. And for me that last bit definitely follows the other two. If I’m training more effectively, I’m running better and if I’m performing better I’m normally having a lot more fun.
When I got wind of Halo Sport, a set of ground-breaking headphones that claim to be able to improve the effectiveness of your brains communication with your muscles and thus make your training more efficient, I was really interested to give them a go and see for myself.
How does Halo Sport work?
Think of Halo sport as a turbo boost for the old adage ‘practice makes perfect’. The result of 15 year’s academic neuroscience research, they operate on the basic principle that the brain learns from repetition. Whether you’re trying to throw 180 in darts, sprint 100m in under 10 seconds or bash out Beethoven’s best on the grand piano, this innate ability to adapt to training and learn new skills – Neuroplasticity – is what drives human improvement.
Repetitive training is what enables the body to reproduce the required strength and skill more easily when it comes to game time. The only problem is that perfecting a skill can take a long time. You might need to repeat the same drill thousands of times to reach the levels of performance you’re chasing. That’s where neuropriming comes in.
“By stimulating your motor cortex for a period of 20 minutes during athletic training (neuropriming) and increasing the excitability of motor neurons, Halo Sport puts your brain into a state of heightened plasticity known as “hyper plasticity” or ‘hyperlearning’, for up to an hour. During this time, the brain’s ability to adapt to training becomes more potent and that allows an athlete’s brain to learn quicker and achieve results faster.”
My first thoughts were what the heck does being neuroprimed feel like? Can it really make me a better runner? And would it be something I could easily adopt into my everyday fitness habits?
I was lucky enough to be one of the first around the world to try out the headset for a month and it’s been fascinating. I wrote a longer piece on my reaction to the Halo Sport over at Wareable.com but here’s my Halo Sport review reduced to a four-point at-a-glance:
- There’s plenty of science that shows the efficacy of the Halo technology but as an individual it wasn’t easy to attribute improvement to the Halo alone. But that’s no different than many of the things we runners put our faith in without really knowing if they’re definitely working, see protein shakes, compression socks, tying and untying your shoe laces 16 times on the left shoe before each race etc. So that doesn’t mean it’s not working, there’s just no in-your-face feedback.
- The headset is a bit bulky. You have to be willing to be the person in the gym wearing the massive cans. Again I’ve done/worn more ridiculous things in order to get some marginal gains. See compression socks.
- They’re not the easiest to carry around, particularly if you’re a commuter like me who already carries a laptop, gym kit, water bottle etc and this is a bit of a problem for making them slot seamlessly into your everyday training habits. If these were available at gyms to borrow though, I’d be inclined to grab a pair for certain important sessions.
- You still need to know how to train for these to be of any use. They won’t tell what you what a good strength sessions or speed session looks like. Or what good technique is. And you can’t escape bad training no matter what tech you’re wearing.
Do you really need a Halo?
As with all the tech I test at some point it’s time to send it back to the manufacturers. At that point the it’s always interesting to see if I miss it so much that I’d run out and buy one for myself?
During the month I used it I did see improvements in the weight I was lifting in the my strength sessions and some faster times over a mile and 5km. But it’s very hard to attribute these directly to the Halo effect.
For that reason, in its current incarnation I’m not 100 per cent sure I personally need the Halo Sport. I am chasing improved performance but perhaps not quite seriously enough to ignore some of kinks I think Halo needs to iron out.
That said, if I were a professional coach at a Premier League team or working with a team of Olympians I’d certainly be taking a long look at how these could give my people the edge.