Harness biofeedback for peak performance

Biofeedback allows athletes, or anyone for that matter, learn to have improved control over the natural mind-body functions that allow us to perform at our best. When it comes to sport, there are some common applications of biofeedback that can highten our awareness of what is happening in our bodies when we under presssure. With practice we can then move on from greater awareness to having conscious control.  Biofeedback is an instrumentally-enhanced learning process that ultimately results in a change in behaviour without the equipment.

  • Heart rate: focusing on heart rate can impact upon reaction time or upon endurance and cardiovascular efficiency depending on how this is training carried out.
  • Respiration: breathing patterns - the type, rate and depth of breathing can have a massive effect on performance. Respiration and heart rate variability (HRV) biofeedback are often harnessed together as they have such a direct link.
  • Muscle tension: Excess tension in the muscles at the wrong time can inhibit performance as this impacts upon the ease of movement, timing and flexibility. It can also lead to injury or delayed recovery from injury.
  • The Sweaty hand: The nervous, sweaty hand is a sure sign of anxiety and reflects an activation of the sympathetic branch of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) or Electrodermal Activity (EDA) as it is called now, provides a very sensititive indication of ANS activation.
  • Cognition: many sports require intense and prolonged attention and concentration. The emotions and stresses of performance disconnect us from the ability to think clearly. Using neurofeedback or a combination of biofeedback and neurofeedback the athlete can learn to develop hightened ability to concentrate and find peak performance states.
  • Skin temperature: Stress causes the small blood vessels in the extremities to constrict and this obviously inhibits blood flow to the area. We can easily monitor skin temperature with a sensor at a finger tip or toe and learn to increase the temperature as blood flow increases to the area. This can give us another piece in the jigsaw of how stress affects and athlete and can be used to facilitate recover from intense exercise or from minor injury.

Each of these properties can be easily measured using one of our NeXus systems with the appropriate sensors. It is possible to find inexpensive ways of measuring these individual properties but for best professional results we recommend a "multimodal" approach where we monitor these types of signals simultaneously.  You can often see more clearly how an individual is responding and discover levers to high performance much more easily this way.  It elimates the need to make assumptions when you can measure directly.

The NeXus 10 is very popular for multimodal data capture in peak performance applications

As we have written about elsewhere, one of the complications of application is that the approach needs to be indivualised. What one person perceives as stressful might result in little or no response from another. There is no universal measure of stress. We can only examine how an individual thinks and feels in a situation and observe the response of their ANS.

Mind Body states and behaviour

We also need to remember that there is no universal "ideal resourceful state" for peak performance.  If our state is the "bundle" of what we are thinking and feeling this ripples through into our body and affects us from top to toe.  Our state does more than influence what behaviours are possible for us - it absolute determines them. Of course what behaviours we can carry out create our results in sport and in life. 

When creating a biofeedback for peak performance approach, this needs to be mindful of the nature of the individual's sport and whether it is a group activity or solo event. You dont need the same strategy for snooker compared with soccer for example.

For biofeedback and neurofeedback to be applied successfully it needs to fit within the toolset of the trainer/coach and efforts need to be made to more objectively measure emotional constructs that apply in a particular sport.  The NeXus types of system hardware - whether the NeXus 4, 10 or NeXus 32 have all the power and sensors necessary. Further work is needed to quantify stress levels during performance and blend the biofeedback methodologies with other skills such as mental rehersal, visualisation and NLP.

Contact us for guidance on putting the NeXus units to work for peak performance