Designing a Cognitive Training Plan for Your Athletes

Initiating cognitive training requires a strategic approach. Designing a plan that effectively targets the individual's specific needs, while also keeping them engaged and challenged, is both an art and a science.

Designing a Cognitive Training Plan for Your Athletes
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Initiating cognitive training requires a strategic approach. Designing a plan that effectively targets the individual's specific needs, while also keeping them engaged and challenged, is both an art and a science. The process can be intricate, with numerous factors to consider, such as the individual's current cognitive strengths and weaknesses, the sport's demands, and the available training tools and techniques. This guide aims to simplify this complex process, providing step-by-step guidance for designing an impactful cognitive training plan.

Historical methods of cognitive training: In the past, cognitive training was primarily based on a set of standardized tasks that individuals would repeatedly practice. Coaches and trainers would select tasks based on general understanding and sometimes even intuition, with limited options for customization. The focus was often on finding new and more difficult tasks rather than tailoring the tasks to the specific needs and goals of the individual.

The repetitive nature and limited flexibility of traditional methods: This traditional approach often resulted in repetitive training sessions. Individuals would undergo similar routines without much variation, leading to potential stagnation in progress. Furthermore, the lack of flexibility meant that as individuals progressed or their needs changed, the training might not evolve correspondingly. In essence, while the traditional methods served as a foundational approach to cognitive training, they had their limitations in terms of adaptability, engagement, and effectiveness.

The New Era of Cognitive Training: While traditional methods laid the groundwork for cognitive training, Soma introduces a new era of cognitive training, marked by dynamic adaptability and precise personalization. No longer confined to static tasks, individuals can now benefit from tasks that can be continually adapted. 

The true strength of cognitive training lies in its adaptability. With Soma, we're no longer restricted to one-size-fits-all tasks. Instead, we can mold and shape tasks to meet the specific needs and challenges of each individual. Much like the foundational exercise of the barbell bench press in physical training, cognitive tasks can be seen as foundational building blocks. The bench press, in its most basic form, seems straightforward. Yet, by introducing variations like tempo changes, resistance bands, chains, or even unstable elements like hanging plates, the exercise transforms, offering increased challenges and benefits. Similarly, with the capabilities of Soma Analytics, foundational cognitive tasks can undergo transformative adaptations, maximizing their impact.

Now that we have clarified how Soma allows you to customize tasks with a high level of specificity, let's move on to designing a cognitive training plan with Soma Analytics.

Cognitive Demands

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Cognitive demands refer to the specific mental capabilities or outcomes that one aims to develop or strengthen. By emphasizing cognitive demands, you can more easily select the most suitable tasks to achieve desired outcomes. Simply choose the demand and then select tasks that train that specific demand. This streamlines the process, allowing you to filter out irrelevant tasks more efficiently instead of sifting through a multitude of options.

Cognitive Demand



Memory refers to the ability to hold and use information consciously.


Attention involves focusing mental awareness on relevant environmental cues and maintaining concentration.

Response Inhibition

Response Inhibition refers to the ability to suppress inappropriate, irrelevant, or suboptimal actions.


Decision-making is the process of selecting an option or course of action from several alternatives.

Once you have decided on the cognitive demands you want to focus on the upcoming plan, the next step is to conduct a baseline test.


To effectively measure an individual's current cognitive capacities, it is recommended to start with a baseline test tailored to the individual's needs. 

Here is a structured approach to set up this foundational assessment:

1. Test Duration: The length of the baseline test is crucial. We suggest a duration no shorter than 30 minutes to ensure a comprehensive assessment. A test that's too brief might result in sparse data collection, potentially affecting the quality of results and impeding informed decision-making. Additionally, a baseline test that's too short may not sufficiently challenge the athlete, resulting in an inaccurate assessment of their capabilities.

2. Task Selection: Choose between three to six tasks that align closely with the cognitive demands you want to target. These tasks will form the essence of your baseline assessment. Avoid overthinking this step, as your main objective is simply to gather data for each cognitive demand you want to focus on for the current program.

Cognitive Tasks

Below is a list of cognitive tasks, categorized by their main cognitive demand. While each task involves multiple skills, the classification emphasizes the most significant one.

πŸ’¬ Voice Command Task

βœ‹ Right Hand

🀚 Left Hand

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3. Data Analysis: After the individual completes the baseline test, analyze the data to start creating a training plan based on their performance. Focus on areas where they show difficulty. Depending on their needs, you might concentrate solely on one specific cognitive demand or balance several. For example, if an individual excels in decision-making but struggles with inhibiting responses, incorporate more tasks focused on inhibition than those on decision-making in their training. They could undertake two inhibition tasks for every decision-making task. This approach not only maintains their strengths but also improves weaker areas, equipping them mentally to tackle a variety of challenges.

Task Selection

With the foundational data gathered, it's time to design the cognitive training program. This stage can feel like navigating a vast, unfamiliar forest due to the plethora of cognitive tasks available. This abundance of choices makes the process exciting, but it can also be overwhelming, especially for those new to this field. The key isn't to find the "best" task universally, but rather to select the "right" one that aligns with the specific goals of the individual.

Using Soma simplifies this process. When you start with a task, if it turns out to be less challenging than needed, there's no need to discard it completely. Instead, you can modify its difficulty level or utilize one of Soma's unique training modes to customize it to the user's requirements.

In the past, if a task didn’t sufficiently challenge the user, the typical response was to look for a completely new task targeting the same cognitive function, replacing the one that wasn't effective. However, with Soma, you have the flexibility to take the existing task and enhance it using a specialized mode to increase its cognitive load. This allows for a more tailored approach, ensuring that the training remains relevant and challenging. We will delve into this in greater detail in the subsequent step.

As previously emphasized, it's important to tailor your approach based on the specific areas where the individual faces challenges. Depending on their unique needs, you might concentrate on improving a single cognitive demand or balance the training across several demands. This personalized approach ensures the cognitive training is effective and relevant to the individual's requirements.

⚠️ We recommend selecting 10-18 cognitive training tasks per training program.

Below, we present two approaches: one applies a specific focus per session with a 2:1 ratio, and the other addresses all demands within each session.

In this example, the athlete will engage in two sessions focused on inhibition and one session centered on memory.

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Here, the athlete will perform two tasks aimed at inhibition and one task designed to enhance memory in each session.

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Building on the selection of tasks, the true transformation in cognitive training arises when you meticulously adapt these tasks to meet the specific challenges and needs of the individual. With Soma, this level of customization isn't just an added feature; it's a fundamental aspect of the approach. Whether it's adjusting the task's complexity or merging it with physical challenges, the customization possibilities are vast and game-changing. 

To facilitate this, we provide a comprehensive chart outlining various modes that can be integrated into cognitive training tasks. These modes are designed to ensure that each training session is personalized. For achieving the best outcomes, it's recommended to incorporate 1-3 of these modes into each training cycle. By doing so, the cognitive training plan becomes highly tailored, perfectly aligning with the individual’s unique requirements.

As you proceed with developing a customized training regimen, it’s essential to ground your decisions in data. Monitoring metrics such as reaction times, accuracy, and variability is crucial. These metrics serve as key indicators of the effectiveness of your chosen tasks. This data-driven approach affords you the flexibility to either tweak the training plan for better alignment or to continue with the current trajectory if it proves effective. Should a task prove insufficient in terms of cognitive load, the first step should be to modify it using one of the modes, instead of immediately looking for a replacement. This method ensures a more efficient and targeted approach to cognitive development.

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Before to moving into the periodization phase of the cognitive training plan, it's imperative to select the appropriate strategy for incorporating Soma into your athletes' training schedules. A range of methods is available, each of which can be tailored to meet the specific needs of each athlete. Below, we have outlined all available methods along with recommended tasks per session, the duration of these tasks, session lengths, and the frequency of sessions:

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Initiating your workout with cognitive tasks can significantly increase the perceived effort, effectively pre-exhausting the brain. This sets the stage for a more intense physical training session, leveraging the initial mental fatigue to amplify the physical challenge and benefits.


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Weaving cognitive tasks into the intervals between physical training sets transforms rest periods into active cognitive engagement opportunities. This approach not only enhances the overall effectiveness of the training session but also maximizes the workload, striking a balance between physical exertion and mental agility.

⚠️ Repeating Tasks

In an intermixed format, you may choose to include 4 tasks per session and repeat all tasks twice. For instance, repeating 4 tasks, each lasting 3 minutes, twice would result in a total session duration of 24 minutes.


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Blending cognitive exercises with specific heart rate zones during warm-up, cool-down, or cardiovascular sessions offers a seamless blend of mental and physical training. This strategy is particularly beneficial for maximizing time efficiency, aiding in rehabilitation, or combining cardiovascular with cognitive training.


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Engaging in cognitive tasks after completing a physical workout takes advantage of the residual mental fatigue, pushing cognitive boundaries further. This method is ideal for individuals aiming to challenge their mental capacity without disrupting the flow of their physical training sessions.

⚠️ Important

All integration methods are flexible. Feel free to adapt the durations of tasks within a session or even repeat the tasks twice within the same session.

Examples of Training Structure Layouts

Below are various layout examples for your reference. These examples are designed to demonstrate how you can easily adjust an athlete's session load through task duration to ensure they are performing at least 20-30 minutes of training per session.

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Now that you've assembled all the necessary components, the next step is periodization. This entails organizing the cognitive tasks you've chosen in a manner that each session or week is progressively more challenging than the last. We'll delve into two straightforward periodization methods. Within these methods, there are various strategies you can tailor based on individual requirements.

Progressive Overload

Progressive Overload, is a concept widely recognized in physical training. While traditionally linked to the gradual increase of weights in resistance exercises, its application in cognitive training emphasizes a consistent escalation of cognitive load to create adaptations in the brain.

Here are three methods to achieve progressive overload, allowing you to increase the overall load each week. You can choose to use one method or combine multiple methods for optimal results.

Intensity: Progressive Overload emphasizes the importance of consistently amplifying the challenge faced by the brain. As illustrated, the task intensity starts at 70% in the first week. With each subsequent week, it experiences a 10% increment, culminating at 100% by week 4. This progression ensures the cognitive tasks become incrementally more demanding, pushing individuals to constantly evolve and adapt. 

Intensity Progression Over Weeks

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Session Duration: Duration plays a pivotal role in cognitive endurance. As displayed, the session begins at a baseline of 20 minutes in week 1. With each passing week, there's an augmentation of 5 minutes, reaching 35 minutes by the fourth week. This deliberate increase compels the brain to maintain its performance levels over longer periods, simulating the prolonged focus and concentration required in sports.

Session Duration Increment Over Weeks

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Frequency: Frequency is a testament to both the brain's adaptability and its recovery capacity. The chart begins with a foundation of 2 sessions in the initial week. However, the rhythm intensifies, adding one session each week, culminating in 5 sessions by week 4. This progression underscores the brain's capacity to handle more frequent challenges, further fortifying its adaptability and resilience.

Frequency of Training Sessions Over Weeks

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To summarize, you can adopt a single strategy or merge one or two strategies for progressive overload. The paramount objective is to ensure that each subsequent week presents a greater challenge than the previous one.

Undulating Periodization

Undulating periodization is a training model that emphasizes the regular and systematic variation of intensity and volume within short cycles, either daily or weekly. Contrary to traditional models, which might emphasize a linear progression or consistent phases of training, undulating periodization introduces waves of training intensities.

Dynamic Adaptation: By constantly fluctuating the intensity and volume, individuals are perpetually adapting. This ensures they don't hit plateaus or get too comfortable in their routine.

Diverse Stimulus: Athletes receive both high-intensity, low-volume training and low-intensity, high-volume training within a short period. This varied stimulus can foster multifaceted development, both physically and mentally.

Micro-cycles: These are short, frequently changing cycles (often weekly or daily) that provide a mix of intensity and volume. This offers the athlete a chance to recover and adapt quicker than longer cycles.

For undulating periodization to be effective, understanding and manipulating the core variables of training is essential. Here are insights on fine-tuning the stimulus.

Manipulating Task Intensity

  • Definition: Task intensity refers to the degree of effort or cognitive strain involved in a specific cognitive task or training session.
  • Application in Undulating Periodization: The intensity of workouts or cognitive tasks can vary either daily (DUP) or weekly (WUP). For instance, an individual may engage in high-intensity tasks early in the week and taper to moderate or low intensity towards the end.
  • Benefits: Such variation challenges athletes differently each time, enhancing their cognitive and physical resilience. The constant change can lead to improved decision-making, faster reaction times, and better overall performance.

It isn't merely a matter of high versus low intensity; it's about grasping the cognitive strain a task places on an individual. Within the realm of undulating periodization, intensity isn't fixed. Purposeful fluctuations between intensities aim to emulate the unpredictable demands of real-world sports. 

Consider a soccer player: they might confront high-intensity scenarios during a pivotal match segment and experience more moderate moments during routine plays. Training needs to echo these variances.

Daily Variation of Task Intensity over a Week

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Weekly Average Task Intensity over a 4-Week Period

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Modifying Task or Session Duration

  • Definition: Task/session duration pertains to the length of time an athlete spends on a particular cognitive task or training session.
  • Application in Undulating Periodization: The duration of a specific task or the number of tasks can be altered frequently. Athletes might tackle longer sessions one day and shorter, more intense ones the next.
  • Benefits: This constant change ensures athletes don’t stagnate with a set routine. The flexibility in duration enhances cognitive adaptability, especially in sports requiring prolonged concentration or quick switches in attention.

Duration is more than a mere measure of time; it signifies an individual's endurance and focus. In the world of sports, some moments elongate, as seen during a heated tennis rally, while others are fleeting, like a swift basketball counterattack. Undulating periodization captures this ebb and flow. Through the consistent alteration of task durations or their frequencies, athletes gear up for both the prolonged challenges and quick sprints in their respective sports, refining their aptitude to adapt on the fly.

Weekly Average Session Duration over a 4-Week Period

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Daily Variation of Session Duration over a Week

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Switching Task Frequency

  • Definition: Task frequency concerns how often specific workouts or cognitive training sessions occur.
  • Application in Undulating Periodization: The number of training sessions can be changed week-by-week. Some weeks may be packed with sessions, while others might offer more days of rest and recovery.
  • Benefits: Such variations ensure athletes remain sharp and adaptable. Increasing session frequency can intensify cognitive training, while decreasing it offers vital recovery time, reducing the risk of mental fatigue or burnout.

It isn't solely about the frequency but also about discerning the rationale behind it. Some weeks are intentionally dense, designed to bolster cognitive endurance and mirror situations where athletes may grapple with consecutive challenges. On the other hand, less intense weeks mirror phases of decreased exertion, underscoring the value of recuperation and tactical planning.

Undulating periodization revolves around the systematic variation of intensity and volume in short cycles, creating waves of training intensities instead of linear progressions. Key aspects include dynamic adaptation, where athletes constantly adjust to varying intensities, and diverse stimulus, offering both high-intensity, low-volume and vice-versa within short periods. The model also emphasizes micro-cycles, short frequently changing cycles that aid quicker recovery. For effective undulating periodization:

  1. Task Intensity: It's not just high vs. low but understanding the cognitive effort. Intensity should emulate real-world sports, reflecting the unpredictability of actual game scenarios.
  2. Task Duration: Beyond just time, it represents endurance and focus. The model captures the essence of sports moments, from prolonged challenges to quick sprints, training athletes to adapt swiftly.
  3. Task Frequency: It's about the rationale behind training frequency. Dense weeks improve cognitive endurance, while lighter weeks emphasize recovery and strategy.

In essence, undulating periodization is about continuous adaptation, ensuring athletes are always challenged and never stagnant.

Example Plan 

Below is an example plan that includes all steps, illustrating the baseline test followed by the tasks and modes applied for each session, and detailing how the program will be periodized.

Baseline Test

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Training Plan

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To summarize the process for setting up a cognitive training program:

Select the cognitive demands specific to the current mesocycle.

  1. Choose tasks that align with these demands and conduct a baseline test to assess the individual's present capabilities.
  2. Utilize Soma's customization modes to tailor the tasks precisely for the individual's needs.
  3. Select the appropriate strategy for incorporating Soma into your athletes' training schedules. 
  4. Decide on a periodization strategy to systematically plan the training progression.
  5. At the conclusion of the training cycle, conduct a retest with the initial baseline to evaluate progress.
  6. Use the results from this retest to make informed adjustments for future training plans.


How Long Should A Training Cycle Last?

The duration of a training cycle usually spans 4 to 6 weeks. However, it should be tailored to accommodate the specific requirements of the athlete and their training timetable.

​How Often Should I Perform A Baseline Test?

We recommend conducting a baseline test at both the beginning and conclusion of each training cycle. However, if time is limited, you might opt for a baseline test every quarter instead.

Baseline Testing Per Training Cycle:

Week 1: Initial Baseline Test

Weeks 2 and 3: No tests

Week 4: Final Baseline Test

Baseline Testing Per Quarter:

Q1 (January): Baseline Test

Q2 (April): Baseline Test

Q3 (July): Baseline Test

Q4 (October): Baseline Test

This structure allows for flexibility in testing frequency based on time constraints and objectives of the training program.

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