Two Ways to Train Your Proprioception

In a previous post, we talked about what Proprioception is, and why it’s important. (Click here to catch up.)

Today we’re going to talk about how to train your proprioceptive sense.

Why bother training your proprioception?

I mean, we automatically have a sense of ourselves in space, right? Well…. Yes and No. Some people struggle with their proprioceptive sense more than others do. This is especially common with neurological or developmental challenges, or in the case of injury and/or surgery. Yet they may not realize that they struggle, because to them it’s “normal.” They don’t even realize it could be easier.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, proprioceptive training can help even high-level athletes and dancers perform at their very best. Proprioceptive training will improve balance, agility, and coordination, and helps prevent injury.

Speaking of injuries, it’s crucial to re-train your proprioception after an injury or surgery. 

Injuries disrupt your proprioceptive sense. For example, if you sprain your ankle, you’ve probably lost some degree of proprioception in that ankle. If you don’t thoroughly re-train your proprioception after your sprain heals, you’ll have much higher odds of re-injuring the same ankle in the future.

How do you train your proprioceptive sense?

Learning any new motor skill requires us to use and train our proprioceptive sense. But the more complex the activity, the more it will require you to fine-tune your proprioception. For example, yoga or martial arts will train your proprioception much better than running on a treadmill will. (But running barefoot on the grass through varying terrain will give you an impressive amount of proprioceptive training.) The key is to continually increase the degree of challenge you put on your proprioceptive sense.

Here are two types of challenge that will help you train your proprioception:

1. Variety.  In order to improve, your proprioceptive sense needs to receive a lot of new data about the components that determine where you are in space. This means you need to continually add variety to your daily activities in order to give new information to your proprioceptive sense.

For example: if you’re a runner, running barefoot will give your feet (and therefore also your legs, hips, and spine) an incredible amount of new data about joint angle, etc, because the sole of the shoe keeps your foot from sensing its contact with the ground as clearly.  Don’t want to go barefoot? Try mixing up your training, so you’re getting more variety. Try dance, soccer, gymnastics…whatever appeals to you.

If you’re not very physically active right now, then adding any new physical activity to your life (even once a week) will add variety to your physical repertoire, and improve your proprioception.

2. Awareness.  This can be difficult for some people, because the challenge is completely internal, not external. Instead of adding a new activity, you challenge yourself to discover some new piece of information about the WAY you’re doing something that’s routine. Once an activity becomes familiar, it can be quite challenging to pay close attention to it and notice something new.

For example: if you do yoga regularly, it can be a challenge to approach each asana with a fresh set of questions about what exactly your body is doing, and how. Instead of merely going through the motions of the pose, or simply pushing yourself to stretch a bit farther, try spending at least a portion of each class challenging your awareness of where each and every little joint is in space, or where you put the most pressure into the floor. Or try closing your eyes and noticing how clear (or unclear) your body awareness is when you don’t have visual feedback.

On the other hand, if you spend most of your day behind a desk, practicing awareness is perhaps even MORE important. Spend a few minutes each day noticing how you’re sitting in your desk chair. Do you put your weight more to one side or the other, for example? And if you shift your pelvis a bit left/right or front/back, how does that affect the way the rest of your spine stacks on top of your pelvis? You can also try closing your eyes for a few moments, and notice whether you’re better able to sense your body if you remove distracting visual information.

Quick Review:

Training your proprioceptive sense will increase your balance, agility, and coordination, and will help you both prevent and recover from injury. In order to train your proprioception, try increasing the level of proprioceptive challenge by adding more variety or awareness to your daily routine.

Get started now!

Take a moment right now to think of something you do regularly during the week. For the next week, every time you do that activity, experiment with adding more proprioceptive challenge by adding more variety or by doing it with more awareness.

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