Performing an entire cognitive training session prior to physical training fatigues the brain and increases the athlete's perception of effort. This is not a bad thing, the increased perception of effort over the athlete's physical training increases their tolerance to a higher perception of effort. This is very useful for a competitive athlete when competition time comes.
Pre-training also has the benefit of having cognitive training completed before physical training. Many athletes find this easy to adhere to as they can complete this during their own warm-up, and then join in on a team session or a solo session without disruption. This can be particularly helpful for athletes in teams where it may be harder to adhere to a post-session program, having to stay longer to complete another training session when everybody else is finished.
Like all models of integration, how you integrate cognitive training depends on the athlete, whether they are an individual or in a team, and even where they are in their season.
Pre physical training integration can look like,
- A bike warm-up while also performing cognitive tasks at the same time.
- Cognitive tasks performed immediately before physical training starts.
This is an uncomplicated placement for cognitive training with a pre-fatigue goal for the brain.
Research has shown that averaged across the 2 physical tasks, handgrip endurance performance improved (p.05) more following pre-fatigue BET (24.2%) than physical training alone (12.5%). The BET group showed higher prefrontal oxygenation at post-testing (p.05) but the same RPE, motivation, cardiac and EMG activity compared to controls.
Pre-physical training is an excellent place to position cognitive training. You will want to take the following points into account,
- Prep your athlete carefully, making sure they understand that the physical session may feel harder, and explain why this is a good thing.
- Design your cognitive training plan for the situation. If you want your athlete to integrate the plan into their physical warm-up, you can ask them to perform the plan while they use an exercise bike, or even add a specialized mode like adaptive heart rate mode, to some tasks to assist with their warm-up.
- Periodize your cognitive training. No matter where you place the sessions, periodization is the only way to carefully manage load and ensure your athlete is on the right track to the results you want.
For additional information on building your cognitive training plan, the below articles will be helpful.