May 27th, 2013

Shooting Science: Monitoring Brain Waves and Muscle Activity

“[Elite] shooters have this specific thing that happens in their brain when they are shooting well. Maybe you’d call it a ‘quiet time’. One interpretation is that it is a lack of self-instruction or analysis. Once you are an expert you really shouldn’t be [thinking] ‘don’t do this, don’t do that’.”

In this video from USA Shooting, a scientist uses brain wave (EEG) and muscle activity monitors to study the biomechanics and cognitive functions involved in competitive shooting. The study explores how elite shooters control their muscles and mind before executing a perfect shot.

In the video, USOC Sports Psychologist Lindsay Thornton works with pistol shooter Teresa Chambers to evaluate (and optimize) Teresa muscle and brain wave activity during shooting. One purpose of the study is to see how a shooter’s muscles function before, during and after a firing sequence. The goal is to use the muscles in the most efficient manner. This reduces fatigue and improves shot-to-shot consistency. Thorton says: “We are trying to define [muscle activity] efficiency with numbers so we can replicate that.”

Thorton is also exploring how a top shooter’s brain functions when he or she is “dialed in” and shooting most accurately. Thornton explains: “We are looking at EEG activity, which is brain wave activity. Research studies show that shooters have this specific thing that happens in their brain when they are shooting well. Maybe you’d call it a ‘quiet time’. One interpretation is that it is a lack of self-instruction or analysis. Once you are an expert you really shouldn’t be [thinking] ‘don’t do this, don’t do that’ — everything should be pretty automatic.” Interestingly, the test showed a specific pattern of Alpha band brain waves right before a trained shooter breaks the shot.

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