Gina Luckenkemper just won silver in the 100 meters at the European Athletics Championships in Berlin. Her recipe for success also includes neuroathletic training with a nine-volt battery. Photo: Getty Images
By Martin Lewicki | 09. August 2018, 13:31
German sprinter Gina Luckenkemper took silver in the 100 meters at the European Athletics Championships in Berlin. One of her recipes for success: she licks nine-volt batteries. Absurd? Not really, it’s part of her neuroathletics training. FITBOOK explains how it works and whether anyone can use it to boost performance.
Licking a battery just before a competition to give yourself a little energy booster sounds as promising as it is bizarre. But then why does Germany’s top sprinter Gina Luckenkemper do it?
At the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London, the then 20-year-old sprinted under the eleven-second mark in the 100-meter dash, the first German to do so since 1991. Now she won silver at the European Athletics Championships in Berlin with a time of 10.98 seconds.
After her success in London, she explained last year in the "Aktueller Sportstudio" (current sports studio) of the ZDF, how she licks a nine-volt battery in the warm-up phase before a competition. What causes smirks and amazement is part of their so-called neuroathletics training, which was developed by sports scientist Lars Lienhard. Together with trainer Ulla Schmid-Fetzer, he wrote the book" Neuroathletics training. Fundamentals and practice of neurocentered training" – the first work ever on this topic. We spoke to the two experts to clear up the curious method.
What is neuroathletics training??
„Neuroathletic training is athletic training that takes into account neuronal laws. In contrast to more biomechanical approaches, the focus here is on the central position of the brain and nervous system and the systems that control movement", explains training expert Lars Lienhard.
This is where sensory priming comes in, to German "sensorisches Vorbahnen" take advantage. „It involves using a strong, positive-acting stimulus to ramp up the activity of certain areas of the brain so that the subsequent stimulus- i.e. the actual training can be better integrated", adds co-author Ulla Schmid-Fetzer. This, he says, is a very big gain, especially in motor learning.
„Shock" on the tongue supports learning processes
But what does the tongue have to do with it? „Stimulating the tongue results in a great deal of neuronal activity. Their representation in the brain (homunculus) is also right next to an area of the brain that is very important for motor learning. Structures that are adjacent to each other also activate each other. This means that if one area is very active, this also leads to neuronal activity of the areas next to it. The tongue is therefore ideally suited for "sensory priming", says Lienhard.
„If a battery is now briefly held on the tongue, the increased neuronal activity leads to the following activity being better controlled. Sensory priming should therefore take place immediately before the action that is to be improved.", Schmid-Fetzer adds.
Examples of use are the shooting techniques of soccer players, the angle techniques of shot-putters or the arm work from the starting blocks of sprinters.
Small battery, big impact
The nine volt battery is a convenient way to deliver a small shock via electrostimulation to the tongue a few seconds prior to a learning situation. „ The idea of stimulating the tongue, and thus certain areas of the brain, with the help of electricity originally comes from research on motor learning", says Schmid-Fetzer.
According to experts, the effect has been proven in several studies. Both neuronal activity and blood flow to the targeted brain areas had been shown to increase in the process. He also said that in practice, nine volts has been shown to be absolutely sufficient, after all, the tongue is very sensitive.
„But more importantly, the effects can be seen quite clearly in training. Of course, it must be tested with each athlete individually whether, how, when and to what extent this makes sense", Coach Lienhard says.
However, not every kind of learning can be supported via tongue stimulation, but specifically the process that is necessary for motor skills- for athletes for the movement technique- is responsible.
Are batteries good as an energy booster?
Conclusion: You can’t directly increase your physical performance by licking batteries they are not energy boosters. But the small electrostimulations can help in training as well as in the warm-up phase to optimize movement sequences, and thus ultimately contribute to a better output of the athlete.
„However, it is important to remember that this type of stimulation is only a small part of neuroathletic training", points out expert Schmid-Fetzer. In the end, it’s just one of very many building blocks that lead to world-class performance for athletes like Gina Luckenkemper.