As we’ve covered in previous blogs, dual-tasks are an excellent method for evolving NeuroTracker training. They bring some key advantages for boosting neurophysical fitness, including training mastery of specific skills under pressure, extending learning to very high-performance levels, and increasing training motivation. Here we’ll cover the key concepts and take a look at how they are being put to use in the professional sports world.
Types of Dual-Tasks
There are 3 different ways that tasks can be blended with NeuroTracker training, and as we will explain here, they test very different abilities.
1. Motor-skill tasks – these are the most popular way to train, involving movement, balance and proprioception abilities. The focus is on the accuracy of coordinated movements or holding certain positions, such as sitting on a bosu ball or standing on a balance board.
Even simple activities can be challenging. This is because of the conscious and unconscious attention involved with the complex signaling through the sensory and central nervous systems to the brain. Here is an example of one of our NeuroTracker team members demonstrating the use of balance skills for soccer performance.
2. Physical tasks – whether it’s cardio or strength-based work, the primary goal is engaging in physical exertion. These exercises can be used to train up a user’s ability to maintain concentration and focus under the effects of fatigue.
In-field research has shown that NeuroTracker can enhance this form of cognitive resilience, and also that short bouts of intense physical stimulation can give the brain a measurable performance boost.
3. Perceptual-cognitive tasks – here the aim is to expand the mental dimension of NeuroTracker training by perceiving, understanding and responding to environmental cues coming in through the senses.
A key benefit of this modality is the domain of situational awareness and decision-making. This is why some elite military groups and professional sports teams use a special NeuroTracker mode where virtual scenes are integrated directly into the NeuroTracker. These require awareness under pressure to make a correct decision such as a tactical action, passing play, or a Go No-Go response. However perceptual-cognitive tasks can literally be as simple as counting down in 3’s, or spelling certain words. These still add a significant challenge to training, as they heavily tax working memory.
Using Progressive Overload
Multiples studies show that dual-task training is made most effective by following two simple rules. First, train-up on just NeuroTracker for 15-30 sessions. This isolated conditioning prepares the brain for more efficient learning. Second, start with simple dual-tasks at the beginning, and steadily progress to more complex tasks over time. Tasks to start with early on can be as simple as just standing, or getting into a sports pose – as pro snowboarder Josh Miller demonstrates in this video.
By effectively tapping into neuroplasticity, this progressive overload approach leads to quicker mastery of complex tasks further down the line. In this video you can see how the approach works over time.
Mixing it Up
As mastery is progressed across a range of different dual-tasks, a great way to keep augmenting learning is to combine different tasks at the same time. A simple example is standing on one leg while catching a ball. Keep in mind that this increases training difficulty exponentially, requiring some level of automaticity to be achieved for each sub-skill.
However, this approach can be used over time to reach extremely high-levels of performance training. One such example here is with neurovision specialist Kyla Demers, who combines puck handling, while on a balance board, with Optic Flow.
Taking a different angle, NeuroTracker trials can also be mixed-up with more intense exercises, jumping in and out in a circuit training fashion. In this video renown NeuroTracker expert Mick Clegg is coaching world-class Taekwondo fighter Aaron Cook, showing just how frenetic this training method can be.
Training Attentional Switching
Depending on the complexity and type of dual-task, it can be necessary to briefly place total focus on the added task. For example, this might be looking down occasionally when puck handling. This form of rapid switching of attention is a useful real-world skill, but with NeuroTracker, it takes some practice to perfect. The key technique is for the user to predict when they will be comfortable tracking all their targets using working memory – in essence being able to imagine how the balls will continue to move on their current trajectories. Then, they briefly shift their attention away from tracking, to focus intently on the added task. A moment later, when attention is switched back to NeuroTracker, the predicted path of the targets is synchronized again with visual processing.
Extended Uses of Dual-Task Training
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of dual-tasks is how they reveal an inter-dependency between cognitive and physical abilities. In principle, almost all physical actions are performed via the central nervous system, relying on cognitive processes, even if they are performed automatically or unconsciously.
In one particular NeuroTracker study, this inter-dependency was used to identify individuals who were at heightened risks of ACL injury, specifically due to cognitive demands. This is because motion-tracking data revealed that when performing NeuroTracker (to simulate competition demands), some athletes were susceptible to negative changes in motor-skills.
This effect has been noted the other way around too. In the NHL it was found that the effort involved in executing an important pass or shot, drastically reduces situational awareness. Opponents are aware of this lapse in awareness, and use it to time aggressive tackles. Consequently, a high percentage of injuries and concussions occur precisely at this moment. Therefore, an effective injury prevention approach would be to train-up the combined neurophysical capacities to be able to perform complex motor-skills under pressure, while retaining situational awareness. This is why some teams use NeuroTracker as a performance readiness assessment to help time when it’s best to get athletes back into competition after prolonged injuries.
Lastly, a yet to be published pilot study has showed transfer from NeuroTracker training, directly to improved visuo-motor balance. In this case it appears that increasing the efficiency of mental processes can lead to improved physical abilities, and do so surprisingly quickly.
The main take away is that NeuroTracker with dual-tasks can be used in many sophisticated ways, with lots of room to evolve overall neurophysical abilities to very high-levels, while also to addressing skill-specific needs. If you want to find out, then also check out this blog.
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