Train Your Brain: Proprioception For Performance & Fitness
Ever considered training your brain when you step food in the gym?
Probably not, guess what? You were doing it anyway. You see, practice makes permanent, and perfect practice makes perfect. Anything you're doing repetitively (i.e. how you train) gets embedded into your brain. Your body adapts to the stimuli you provide it, and this includes 'instructions' on how to perform movements, or motor engrams. This should dictate your training decisions, including ensuring that your training is relevant (functional as a term has been damaged in the fitness industry through misuse, so we'll stick with relevant).
If you're an individual-and especially if you're an athlete-your training should include proprioception, one of the must-includes for how I train folks. I have to give credit to Speed of Sport, Nick Curson for first drilling in the importance of this oft-overlooked training skill.
What Is Proprioception?
Proprioception is a sense or perception, ideally at a subconscious level, of the movements and position of the body, independent of vision; this sense is gained primarily from input from sensory nerve terminals in muscles and tendons (muscle spindles) and the fibrous capsule of joints combined with input from the vestibular apparatus.
What this means is that your proprioceptors (i.e. on your hands and feet), send information back to your nervous system, ideally without you having to think about it. Have you ever tripped and caught yourself? You didn't have to think about that, right? You just instinctively did it in a flash.
THIS quality is what we seek to replicate with training-we're all born with proprioceptors, it's just that no one trains to develop them.
Why Is This Important For Athletes?
Think about the first time you shot a free throw, threw a ball, etc. You likely had to think about it. This was the proprioceptors in your hands sending information up the nerves, up your spine, and to your brain, before nerve signals headed back in a feedback loop. However, look at the same skill, repeated countless times. Does Steph Curry have to think about how to do the skill of shooting a free throw when he's at the free throw line? Obviously not. Under the hood, what's going on here is the propriospinal process.
This means that enough repetition and proprioceptive training (i.e. practicing the shot in this case) has 'downloaded' the new information from the movement in such a way where the proprioceptors only have to send the information up into the nerves, spine and back down. Thus, you can react to information about your body in place, or in space (kinesthetic awareness) in a split second.
If sports are won and lost on fractions of a second, don't you think this is something worth developing if you could?
Why Is This Important For Everyone?
Everyone else will still want to include proprioception on a baseline level. This is to keep you as able-bodied as possible as you age so you don't 'un-learn' any skill or movement patterns you like to perform/need in daily function.
Furthermore, this also will help bulletproof you from injury.
What are the benefits of training your proprioceptors?
How To Train Proprioception
Basic proprioceptive training is not that hard to kick off. It starts by taking off your shoes and training barefoot as often as you can to train the proprioceptors in your foot (not to mention build up the muscles in your foot).
I also recommend including barefoot balance training, which can simply be getting into certain positions (i.e. standing on one leg).
Remember, just because some trainers who didn't know what they were doing started doing stuff like squatting on proprioceptive pads, doesn't mean that what said pads were intended for is a bad idea. In fact, it's the opposite.
So check out some of the recommendations and let me know how it's working for you, or if you have any questions on how to include proprioceptive training into your regimen.