11 Ways To Boost Your Gym's BrainPower

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New advances in brain research have moved our understanding of brain function ahead by leaps and bounds.
Although many questions remain unanswered, the most important insight is that of neuroplasticity: the brain’s ability to make structural and operational changes as a result of life experiences. A cognitively-enriched  environment produces opportunities for long-term brain enhancement. And one of the best things anyone can do to build their cognitive horsepower is constantly varied movement, performed at high intensity across broad time and modal domains.
This is especially true in children, but the brain never loses its ability to change and improve. We are all able to increase our brain’s functional power by learning more, doing more and experiencing more. Intelligence  is not predetermined by genetics, but  earned through enriching environments and experiences.
If you own a CrossFit gym, you already have everything you need–except the ‘how-to’ guide.
The easiest, and most fun, way to start a cognitive enhancement program at your gym is by combining mental exercises with physical ones. These are some samples; rationale, programming and progressions will soon be available at CrossFitBrain.com.
Frequent intervention is best. Each activity below is short; they can be plugged into a school curriculum, a CrossFit Kids class, or an adult group.
Each exercise, activity or puzzle below will challenge the athlete  to achieve accurate answers quickly, while developing the capacity to overcome distraction.
Using the equipment already in your box and a few decks of cards,  here are 10 BrainWODs to start increasing your own brainpower and the life-changing potential of your gym.
Visit CrossFitBrain.com to learn more about brain-based learning, the science of how puzzles improve your brain and general principles governing the way we solve problems in real life.

#1 Working Memory Wall Ball

When To Use:

  • warm up activity or “death by” WOD
  • kids groups

Benefits:

  • working memory and auditory memory

(working memory is your ability to put information on a cognitive ‘shelf,’ complete a distracting task, and retrieve from the ‘shelf.’ The challenge is retrieving everything from the right shelf in the correct sequence.)
Equipment:

  • the number recall worksheet (attached)
  • a wall ball
  • numbers on the wall written in chalk

How to play
Each athlete needs a wall ball and wall configuration (use numbers on the  one of the 3 options attached)
Athletes stand in front of a wall. When the coach says the first 3-digit number, the athlete performs three wall balls, reaching a full squat position and throwing the ball to hit each number in the correct sequence. Upon successful completion, the coach issues a new number; digits increase as the game goes on.
Rules

  • Play three rounds at each stage before adding another digit.
  • Athletes must wait for all numbers to be called out before they make the first wall ball shot.
  • The ball must hit the number accurately, or the rep doesn’t count.

Scoring

  • Score is determined by the number of complete rounds (3 sets of digits = 1 round.)

Variations
Large group options:

  • Partner up and each pair of athletes works independently with the number sheet
  • All participate and coach yells out the number sequence. Athletes write the correct sequence after performing the wall balls.
  • Elimination: in teams of three, each person is responsible for a set of digits and the last team standing wins.
  • Death by wall ball EMOM starting with 3 numbers in 1st min,  4 numbers in 2nd min, 5 numbers in the 3rd……. .

Coaches may add an interference to increase the challenge at any time:
1.) Delayed recall –  athletes perform a separate task for time or reps (:20, :30 etc.) before beginning the wall ball. The longer the delay, the greater the challenge.
2.) “Be that guy” interference…. yell random numbers while the athlete is doing wall ball.
3.) Backwards recall – athletes must flip the number sequence during the recall (Ie. 40927 becomes 72904)
4.) Ask the athlete to recite their phone number right before they begin the wall ball shots.

 

#2 Tabata Cards

When to use:

  • An additional round in ‘Tabata This”
  • A warm up activity
  • Kids groups

Benefits:
–      challenges working memory, processing speed and delayed recall
–      a way to start training for the memory championships
Equipment:
–      24 cards per athlete
How to play:
– Using the Tabata clock, the athlete turns over three cards and has 20 seconds to study. At the :20 mark, the athlete turns the three cards face down for 10 seconds.  Immediately after the 10-second rest, the athlete has 20 seconds to study a new set of three cards, followed by a 10 second break (in which the cards are turned face down.) Continue for eight rounds, keeping each set of three cards separate.  After eight rounds the athlete attempts to accurately recall as many cards as possible in order, for a maximum score of 24.
Rules:

  •  The athlete must name the card before turning it face up.  A correct match equals 1 point.
  • The athlete turn the cards over in the same order they were given.

Scoring:
The number of cards correctly recalled out of 24 = total.
Variations

  • 1 card per round
  • 2 cards per round
  • 3 cards per round, but fewer rounds
  • Recall the numbers (void the suits)
  • Recall the suits (void the numbers)
  • Burpee penalty for every missed card


 

#3 Plate Puzzle

When to use:

  • warm up or cool down activity
  • team building activity
  • kids groups

Benefits:
This activity will challenge executive processes such as planning, organizing, logic updating and inhibition.
Equipment:

  • 1 plate stack per athlete/group, comprised of 45lb on bottom, 35lb, 25lb, 10lb and 5lb or 2.5lb
  • chalk for making circles on the floor (optional)

How to play:
The athlete lifts and carries the weighted plates to each circle.
The distance between circles will depend on the amount of available space in your facility, but use the same distance each time.
Draw three circles an equal distance apart. Stack the plates from heaviest to lightest, choosing weights based on the individual’s ability, on the first circle. The number of plates in the puzzle must start at four and can be as high as six. The goal is to move all the plates to another circle by only moving one plate at a time.
Rules

  • A heavier plate may never be placed on top of a lighter plate.
  • Plates cannot be ‘switched’ while stacked.
  • Only one plate may be carried at a time.

Scoring:
Record the time the athlete completed the puzzle.  For a tie breaker, record the time each stack was made:
Stack of 2  ______
Stack of 3 ______
Stack of 4 ______
Variations

  • Use more plates to make the activity harder, or fewer plates to make it easier.
  • Assign a ‘time cap’
  • Assign one point for every ‘stack’ that created. A stack consists of two or more plates in one circle that are in the correct order.

References
Celeration of Executive Functioning while Solving the Tower of Hanoi: Two Single Case
Studies Using Protocol Analysis, Gwenny T.L. Janssen *1,2, Hubert R.A. De Mey Jos I.M. Egger and
Cilia L.M. Witteman.

 

#4 Card Match

When to use:

  • during a workout such as Cindy, Helen or Michael
  • kids groups
  • “break” during an AMRAP

Benefits:

  • Improves memory, concentration, focus, attention and spatial memory

Equipment:

  • deck of cards

How to play:
Place the deck of cards in a grid (8 x 7,) facedown.  On 3,2, 1 Go!, the athlete flips two cards at a time, looking for a match.
Repeat until workout is finished.
Example:
Card Match ‘Cindy’:
3 card flips
5 pull ups
10 push ups
15 squats
20 min time cap
Rules:

  •  1 point per match
  • Athlete must turn BOTH cards face down if a match isn’t made.

Scoring:

  • add 1 rep onto your “Cindy” score per match found

Variations:

  • Change the number of flips permitted each round
  • Issue a scoring bonus to an athlete who completes three consecutive matches
  • “Zebra” – cards of opposite colors count as a match (5 of hearts can match 5 of clubs or spades, but not 5 of diamonds)
  • “Tornado” – cards are scattered instead of organized in a grid.

#5 Alternating Attention Warm up

When to use:

  • during dynamic stretching or other warmup

Benefits:

  •  improves awareness, alternating attention and concentration skills

Equipment:

  • none

How to play:

  •  Athletes perform a dynamic stretch movement, alternating between left and right arms or legs.
  • When stretching their left limb, the athlete recites the alphabet;  when pulling on their right, they count.
  • Left knee pull = A, Right knee pull = 1, Left knee pull = B, Right knee pull = 2…  all the way through the alphabet. The athlete should end with Z=26….

Rules:

  • Athlete must perform the stretch for full benefit. It’s easy to slack on the movement while thinking.
  • Athlete must stretch and say the number or letter at the apex of the stretch.

Scoring:

  • Coaches should check on athletes during the motions.  M=13 is the halfway point.
  • At first, athletes will move slowly, but will speed up and can eventually be timed.

Variations:

  • Using backward lunges, have the athletes start at Z/26 and work backwards to A/1
  • Athletes name an item in the category beginning with the correct letter (categories can include food, animals, cities, exercises, etc.)
  • Use the phonetic alphabet (A=alfa, B=bravo, etc.)

#6 Word List Recall

When to use:

  • Beginning of any class

Benefits:

  • improve long term memory and delayed memory recall

Equipment:

  • word list

How to play:
Show the athletes a list of 15 nouns at the beginning of class.  At the end of class, the athletes recall as many words as possible.
 Rules:

  • Athletes have 5 minutes to study the word list before it’s hidden or erased
  • athletes are not allowed to record words on the list
  • athletes may not listen to others as they recite words

Variations:

  • Large group option: athletes write their list and hand it to the coach

Scoring

  • One point per correct recall
  • use numbers of Pi instead of words
  • use names and faces
  • increase the challenge with more words, decrease with fewer words
  • shorten or increase the study time
  • use a paleo grocery list
  • use names and faces of members in the gym for ice breaker or “getting to know you” activity

#7 Categories

When to use:

  • During rest breaks within workouts (minute on/minute off, or between rounds in Fight Gone Bad)

Benefits:

  • improve Executive functions (a collection of cognitive processes.  Generating answers is challenging on its own, but the frontal lobe has to decide which answers “fit” before the athlete speaks them as “final answers”.  Because memory retrieval is automatic, the frontal lobe acts as a funnel or filter to find the most appropriate response. Thought organization is essential for optimal executive functioning.)

Equipment:

  • category ideas, pen and post-it notes for each athlete.

How to play:

  • – Athletes record as many items as they can recall from a given category. 

Category  Ideas:

FlowersSports TeamsMusic/genres/songs/artistsType of ShipsFurnitureAnimals-Ice cream flavorsFoods eaten by the sliceSchool suppliesOffice supplies -Cities, States, Provinces,CountriesThings made of glass– Books/authorsRestaurantsChristmas songsThings that are (color) Words beginning with(letter)Movies/Actors-Brand names– Colors

 
Rules:

  • athletes have one minute to record as many words as possible.
  • plurals of the same word do not count.

Scoring:

  • 1 point added to their workout score for each word

Variations:

  • Use a different category each round

References:
CATEGORY FLUENCY TEST
CERAD administration and scoring procedures for Verbal Fluency (Morris et al., 1989).

#8 Apples

When to use:

  • during warm up or cool down
  • throughout the class

Benefits:

  • improve cognitive flexibility, attention, working memory and auditory memory

(The challenging part is keeping track of the constantly-changing order of apples.)
Equipment:
instruction card for moves.
How to play:
–      Start with a description of 3 apples sitting on table in any order (e.g. Red, Green and Yellow.) The athlete may view the apples from any angle (looking down on them or looking at them at eye level.)
For example, the original setup is green apple on the left, red apple in the middle, and yellow apple on the right:
Original – GRY
1st move – Take the apple on the left and move it to the middle –  RGY
2nd move – Take the apple on the right and move it to the left –  YRG
3rd move – Take the apple in the middle and move it to the right – YGR
and so on…..
 Rules:

  • after the coach has set the original order of  apples, they  no longer refer to them by their colors; only by left, middle and right.

Scoring

  • check in with athletes to see if they have kept up with the correct order,
  • OR wait to the end and see who has been able to follow along.

Variations:
Use other objects that may have relevance to the athlete, like plates or kettlebells.

#9 Movement Password

When to use:

  • part of a warm up
  • reinforcing new movements at the end of class
  • kids groups

Benefits:

  • working memory
  • spatial memory
  • trial and error, deduction, concentration, attention
  • team building

Equipment:

  • cones to indicate the number of movement passwords

How to play:

  • Lay out 4-5 cones.
  • Write down a secret movement password.  For example: 3 Push up, 3 burpee,  3 squats, 3 planks.
  • Tell athletes the movements chosen in the password are only gymnastic movements done without equipment.
  • In the first round, give the athletes the rep scheme and a list of 10 movements to pick from
  • Once the athletes grasp the concept, give them a clue on rep scheme. For example, “ascending by  3s”  or “the code is  9 push ups, 12, situps, 15 squats, 18 jumping jacks”
  • Instruct the athletes that in order to crack the code they must step up and guess a movement at the first cone.
  • When an athlete guesses correctly they move to the next cone to attempt to crack the code.
  • When an athlete guesses incorrectly, they have to start at the beginning.
  • Coach notifies the group when they have the correct movement

Rules

  • Each group requires a different code.
  • The first athlete goes to the back of the line after an incorrect guess and the next athlete makes an attempt
  • Once the code is cracked, each athlete is responsible for running through the password. AMRAP style.
  • Don’t allow the athletes to talk, cue or remind other members of their team what the movements were.  Watching only.

Scoring:
Crack the movement password
Variations:

  • Give the athletes a list of exercises
  • Give athletes equipment in a pile at the start
  • Include mobility movements
  • Make as many movements in the code as you wish
  • Can make the athletes guess the rep schemes as well.
  • Add a time cap


 

#10 Number MasterMind 

When to use:

  • the beginning of class on the white board as “puzzle of the day”

Benefits:

  •  problem solving, decoding

How to Play:

  • Post the puzzle on a whiteboard.
  • Provide an answer box and notecards.
  • Have athletes perform a “buy in” exercise for each notecard.
  • Athletes may drop their post in note with the answer on it in the answer box
  • coaches draw from the box to choose a winner.
  • Winners collect points and points can = shirt or perk

Rules:

  • Athletes find the correct numbers in the four positions of the grid.
  • A Tick mark is provided for every number in a row that is in the correct position.
  • A ‘x’ mark is provided for every number that is in the answer but in a wrong position.

Scoring:

  • time it takes for the athlete to get the correct answer

Variations:
– see Mastermind board game in Wikipedia

#11 Tribond shuttle run

When to Use:

  • warm up or cool down activity

Benefits:

  • improve executive functioning, deduction and problem solving.  Can also be a way to work on comprehension, making connections and finding similarities and differences.

Equipment:

  • List of tribonds and the answer key
  • cue cards
  • individual white boards
  • Multi-color Post it notes
  • answer box

How to Play:

  • Lay the cards face down on the floor in a shuttle run configuration
  • Assign each team or athlete a differently-colored Post-It note for each tribond shuttle run.
  • On “3,2,1…Go!,” the athletes run to the first card, flip it over and read the word.
  • They run back to start, and then to the second card, flip it over and read the word. They sprint back, and finish at the third card.
  • After all words have been read, athletes attempt to make the connection between the words on the cards.
  • Athletes record their answer on the Post-It note and deposit the note in the answer box before continuing to the next shuttle run.

Organizing the cards:

  • Some words share a common root, prefix or suffix (Eg. Foot, Base, Room = Ball)
  • Some words are part of a common theme (Eg. Bicycle tires, Toothpaste factory, Chemistry labs = tubes)

Rules:

  • Athletes must label their final answer with the tribond they completed or drop it in the correct answer box
  • Athletes may confer with their team to arrive at the final answer

Scoring:

  •  If the coach wants to measure processing speed, they record the time it takes the athlete to arrive at the correct answer after finishing the shuttle run.
  • Otherwise, they record the time it takes to complete all tribonds

Variations:

  • All tribonds follow the same theme (a common word OR theme)
  • Tribonds alternate between common word and common theme
  • Athletes create their own tribonds


———-
These games are used as part of a master plan for individual athletes, or in a group setting. Applicability is broad,  but not appropriate for every single case. Delivery, testing and research are presented in our book, Enrichment Through Exercise; on our site, IgniteGym.com, and on our upcoming site, CrossFitBrain.com.

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