Count the San Francisco Giants among the handful of pro sports teams admitting it's using Halo Sport headphones.
With Opening Day next week, the Major League Baseball club, which has won three World Series championships this decade alone, made its partnership with Halo public Wednesday. The entire organization -- from its four minor league teams to the big leaguers -- will be using the high-tech devices this season.
Halo uses a technology known as tDCS -- transcranial direct current stimulation -- to shoot electrical currents through the brain. The headphones' foam spikes are designed to speed up the neurons to the brain's motor cortex, a practice called "neuropriming," which the company says improves athletic performance.
"We're trying to improve our team speed and explosiveness," Geoff Head, the Giants' sports scientist specialist, said during a phone interview from the team's spring training in Scottsdale, Arizona. "And we've already seen some improvement using the headphones."
Many athletes use technology and wearable devices in an effort to gain an edge on the playing field. The announcement by the Giants and Halo comes about three weeks after the MLB said it's allowing players the option to wear Whoop biometric wrist monitors to track heart rate and fatigue during games this season.
The Giants are the first major professional sports team to publicly acknowledge its testing Halo Sport headphones. More than 50 pro and college teams use the device, but many prefer not to be revealed for competitive reasons, said Halo co-founder Daniel Chao.
The Golden State Warriors piloted the headphones during their record-breaking season last year. World-class athletes, such as US Olympic track star Mike Rodgers and NFL Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones also buy into Halo's belief that a stronger brain equals a stronger body.
New York Mets All-Star slugger Yoenis Cespedes uses Halo, as seen three weeks ago during a spring training workout that aired live during on ESPN's SportsCenter with baseball analyst and US Olympic softball star Jessica Mendoza.
During the intense session, Mendoza said she noticed the "beams radiating through my head" from the headphones that "kinda felt like a small burning sensation." Mets strength and conditioning advisor Mike Barwis described it to her as having "a heightened neuro response."
"Just to give us an edge. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't, but there's a high percent chance, maybe it gives us an edge," he said. "[It feels] like little ants crawling on your head, it's pretty cool."
Chao said he began working with the Giants shortly after a 2015 meeting with Geoff Head, a sports scientist, and Dave Groeschner, the team's longtime head trainer. The team agreed to use Halo headphones as in-house research during an offseason conditioning camp for its top 18 minor league prospects in Arizona in January 2016.
"Anytime we want to introduce new technology, we want to make sure we do it from the ground up and do our due diligence before any buy-in," Head said. "With the technology boom, you can get fooled with some fancy, flashy devices that may not actually do what they say they're supposed to."
Chao, borrowing a hockey reference, said, "As a company, all you want is a shot on goal. They either adopt them or not."
For two weeks, the coaches split the minor leaguers into two groups -- nine players using Halo and nine not -- to measure and compare their training. Both groups participated in 20-minute daily warm-ups and an hour of training focusing on skill, mobility, speed and power.
At the end, the Halo group made the biggest improvements in speed, including in the 20-yard dash, compared with the other group of players, who showed "modest" gains, Head said.
"We thought there were significant enough improvements to believe that, yes, there is some validity to the science behind this and that it will make an impact on improving player performance," he said.
Some experts, however, still aren't sure devices like Halo improve performance.
Amy Yotopoulos, mind division director at the Stanford Center for Longevity, said earlier this year that more rigorous research needs to be done. "At this point, there's no evidence that this actually works," she said.
Head declined to discuss the Giants' findings for competitive purposes (naturally). But he said the team is "comfortable and confident" with using the technology.
"Some players have gravitated almost immediately with using the headphones as part of their daily routine," he said. "Overall, we believe there's some weight to this."
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