This is fun. And by “fun” I mean it has all of the makings of a hilarious ethical battle in professional sports at some point.
It’s from Outside Magazine, and describes a new technique that could dramatically enhance athletic performance. It’s called transcranial direct current stimulation, and it’s basically giving your brain a little shock in an effort to bypass the central regulator which most researchers believe we all have. Once that central regulator is down, your brain won’t shut your body down when you’re fatigued. You’ll just keep going.
Here’s how it works:
tDCS is disarmingly—almost disturbingly—simple: you connect a voltage source (a 9-volt battery will do) to two electrodes placed on opposite sides of your head. The precise placement of the electrodes determines which regions of your brain the current flows through. As it passes, the current changes the excitability of the neurons in the affected region, making them slightly easier to trigger (or harder, depending on which direction the current flows). Edwards and Putrino’s primary interest in tDCS is to help patients recover from brain and spinal cord injuries—but “rehab and high-intensity training are not as different as people believe,” Putrino says. “Whether you’re a high-end athlete or a patient fighting locked-in syndrome, you’re dealing with the same limitations of muscle fatigue.”
The ethical part of all of this will be fun. As the article notes, it tDCS doesn’t give you more power or performance, really. It just unlocks what you’re capable of doing already, breaking down a barrier. Much in the same way a good trainer can train you to fight through pain and fatigue to get that extra bit of oomph. But because it’s new and weird, I assume people will fall into the old PED arguments rather than actually look at the science of it all and see if it works and what the pros and cons are.
(thanks to Will Carroll for the heads up)