What is Proprioception?
Proprioception refers to the body’s ability to sense movement within joints and joint position. This ability enables us to know where our limbs are in space without having to look. It is important in all everyday movements. Take, for example, the complex task of driving. We are able to keep our eyes on the road and simultaneously adjust our arms and hands on the steering wheel, and apply the appropriate amount of pressure to the pedals to maintain speed. If humans had to observe their limbs to successfully accomplish tasks, we would have to look down at our feet every time we wanted to change from gas to brake, or stare at our arms if we wanted to make a right turn. The distraction would make driving nearly impossible.
How is Proprioception Important in Fitness?
As important as proprioception is in daily activity, it is especially so in complicated sporting movements, where precise coordination is essential. Without this kinesthetic sense, you would not be able to maintain your balance without looking at your feet, or tell if your knee is bent or straight unless you look at it. The better your proprioceptive sense, the better your joints can adapt to changes in position, such as running on uneven surfaces. Proprioception is not an all or nothing sense. Instead there are degrees of sensitivity and accuracy. Proprioceptive senses can lessen with aging or injury and can improve with neuromuscular training. This helps teach body awareness and trains the nervous system to generate power and strength when it is off-balance or in an awkward position.
Good proprioception is important in balance, agility, athletic performance and injury prevention. If you have sprained an ankle for example, your ankle joint’s proprioceptive sense is reduced (unless you have specifically rehabilitated to regain that awareness). This makes your ankle, and the muscles surrounding your ankle, less efficient and more prone to re-injury.
To improve your proprioceptive sense, try these exercises:
1. Stand with feet together and eyes open. Feel balanced here and notice how your body stays still or makes slight adjustments.
Then, close your eyes and work to maintain the same balance.
2. Lift one leg up to move into a one-legged standing position, first with eyes open. Then, with eyes closed. Try this exercise on both sides.
If you’re looking to take this to the next step, advance to one legged standing balance with movement such as swinging other leg back and forth, touching foot with opposite had, bouncing a ball at a wall, or sword fighting with a PVC pipe…
3. Work through the movement of sitting down and standing back up from a chair with your eyes closed.
4. Walk up a flight of stairs, moving slowly, with your eyes closed.
Then, try walking down the stairs backwards, this time with eyes open.
If you have any questions on your proprioception or how you can improve it, don’t hesitate to ask!
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