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The next hot PED? How about electrical currents to the brain?

Aug 4, 2014, 4:19 PM EDT

9 volt

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)

  1. raynman49 - Aug 4, 2014 at 4:30 PM

    And hardware stores run out of batteries and electrical wire as every teenager who reads this site is on a mission!

    • Caught Looking - Aug 4, 2014 at 9:04 PM

      Perhaps this is Radio Shack’s master plan to try and stay in business.

    • jfk69 - Aug 5, 2014 at 7:36 AM

      I just got my old TENS machine out of the closet. Still can’t hit or get my fastball out of the 80’s. However I have noticed hair growth where I attached the electrodes.

  2. juvenile1 - Aug 4, 2014 at 4:39 PM

    Breaking News: The Cubs have signed The Energizer Bunny to a Major League contract

  3. Glenn - Aug 4, 2014 at 4:42 PM

    The science on this is so preliminary that a lot more research needs to be done before any validity, or even safety, can be ascertained.

    • stex52 - Aug 5, 2014 at 12:56 PM

      Yeah, like that will stop people from trying it.

  4. moogro - Aug 4, 2014 at 4:43 PM

  5. Charles Gates - Aug 4, 2014 at 4:43 PM

    Need you to podcast this so I can listen via earbuds.

  6. dowhatifeellike - Aug 4, 2014 at 5:07 PM

    Is this why I stopped being a good student at roughly the same time that I lost interest in holding a 9V to my tongue?

  7. kiwicricket - Aug 4, 2014 at 5:17 PM

    “the current changes the excitability of the neurons in the affected region, making them slightly easier to trigger”

    …Sounds like a multifaceted tool to me…

    • stex52 - Aug 5, 2014 at 12:54 PM

      So you’ll be taking it on dates in the future, Kiwi?

  8. The Bronx Bombers - Aug 4, 2014 at 5:18 PM

    The Yanks invented roids…this must be a joke

  9. thailer35 - Aug 4, 2014 at 5:22 PM

    Here’s what I don’t understand. Aside from pitchers, who has that much muscle fatigue in flippin baseball?! C’mon folks, most of this sport is standing and sitting in the dugout. And as for pitchers, the last thing I want is for my guy to hurt himself because he can’t read his own body the same way. For a defensive lineman or linebacker I can kinda see it. For baseball? I don’t get it.

    • apmn - Aug 4, 2014 at 6:05 PM

      Think off-season training…build more muscle because you can train longer. I predict this is going to result in many strained hammies.

      • stex52 - Aug 5, 2014 at 12:59 PM

        It’s hard to see how bypassing the body’s signal that things aren’t all right is a good plan in the long run. I do think it will lead to more injuries if implemented.

    • asimonetti88 - Aug 4, 2014 at 6:24 PM

      Your point of potentially overtraining is well taken, but the rest of your comment is incredibly silly.

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - Aug 4, 2014 at 6:29 PM

      Aside from pitchers, who has that much muscle fatigue in flippin baseball?!

      You get fatigued from the travel schedules, living out half of a 7 month season in hotel rooms/suitcases.

  10. Chipmaker - Aug 4, 2014 at 5:30 PM

    The olde 19th-century guys wouldn’t stand for this. They had to cranially stimulate themselves with gaslamps.

    • spursareold - Aug 4, 2014 at 6:28 PM

      Will this DC current stimulation increase bat flipping?

  11. rickrenteria - Aug 4, 2014 at 5:46 PM

    Anyone who thinks a huge % of MLB players aren’t currently on PED’s is naive. For every one Biogenesis caught in the US, there are 10 which aren’t. Plus in baseball-crazy countries like Venezuela, DR, Mexico, Japan, Puerto Rico and CUBA, they are much, much harder to find.

    • DugoutDirtbag - Aug 4, 2014 at 6:19 PM

      Not to nit-pick, but Puerto Rico is not a country..

      • tedwmoore - Aug 4, 2014 at 7:54 PM

        So long as we are picking nits, Cuba is not an acronym. Or, at least, the country name is not; maybe there is a CUBA out there.

    • rickrenteria - Aug 4, 2014 at 8:55 PM

      You’re right about Puerto Rico, of course. My fault.

      I put Cuba in caps because of the capital letter monsters Cuba is sending to MLB lately, like Puig and Abreu (among others).

  12. mribiscairo - Aug 4, 2014 at 5:48 PM

    There’s a fascinating podcast on this subject on a recent episode of Radiolab. One of the producers flew to one of the businesses pioneering this bizarre treatment and for a baseline, they had her get into a first person shooter-type fight simulation. She could barely get through the first couple levels. Then they juiced her up with some electricity and had her try again- she scorched her way through all levels on the first try, completing the most difficult one with a 100% success rate.

    Bizarre, but true.

  13. ezthinking - Aug 4, 2014 at 5:50 PM

    Or it does the same as a line of coke.

    • mribiscairo - Aug 4, 2014 at 6:04 PM

      Only if the jolt of electricity also makes you want to chain smoke, incessantly repeat pointless stories and call old girlfriends at 5 a.m.

      • Chipmaker - Aug 5, 2014 at 1:07 PM

        It can turn you into Quentin Tarantino? Weird.

  14. nottinghamforest12 - Aug 4, 2014 at 7:11 PM

    Bender has been doing this for years. It’s called jacking on.

  15. fansrus - Aug 4, 2014 at 8:09 PM

    Now batting fourth for Transylvania, Frank N. Stein!

  16. 4cornersfan - Aug 4, 2014 at 10:46 PM

    I tried this procedure on my second ex-wife because she always said said that she was too tired to fool around, and she disappeared with the credit cards for 3 days.

  17. thomasgarvey - Aug 5, 2014 at 1:00 AM

    I better check my calendar. I thought this was August, not April 1st.

  18. gloccamorra - Aug 5, 2014 at 2:11 AM

    Not a single “turn on the juice” joke? You guys are falling down on the job.

  19. jfk69 - Aug 5, 2014 at 7:38 AM

    Arod discovered this while playing around with one of Madonna’s sex toys.

  20. jimmyt - Aug 5, 2014 at 7:50 AM

    If you’re good enough, you don’t need any help.

  21. gloccamorra - Aug 5, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    This is actually old tech. There was a retired army general who used electrical stimulation to stay healthy, he said. I think he used a big dry cell battery connected to his big toe.

    The latest research is by the military in using coded ultrasound. Supposedly, soldiers will be able to literally dial up alertness and aggressiveness as needed, then dial back for R&R.

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