What is Proprioception and Why Do You Need it?
Updated: Sep 19, 2022
PRO-pree-oh-sep-shun. Or Pro-PRY-oh-sep-shun?
Say it whichever makes you happy, but more importantly, we need to understand what it is and why it’s important for the artistic athlete.
First up: What the heck is proprioception?? Proprioception is our body’s sense of itself and where it is in space. This can apply to the body as a whole or to specific joints. Think about when you go to pick up your mug and bring it to your mouth. Your hand knows where to go to get the mug and where your mouth is. Now think about doing say a skill on silks, where we need to wrap our legs around securely. Our body learns to feel how and where to move the leg to get around the silks and in the right spot.
So now, why do we care: If our bodies or specific joint cannot feel the position and orientations that they are in, then we will not only be less able to complete our movements properly (say if we are landing misaligned or if we are inconsistently positioning a limb), but we are also at an increased risk of injury for those same reasons. If we cannot feel where our limbs or our body is, our risk of falling, landing or moving poorly is increased.
Shouldn’t this be important for every athlete? Or every human for that matter? No body wants to be missing their mug to their mouth! Yes it is. But it is especially important for the artistic athlete as we know that this population tends to have higher rates of hypermobility compared to other athletes and the general population.
People with hypermobility tend to have decreased ability for proprioception.
Therefore, this adds another factor increasing their injury risk due to hypermobility, on top of unstable or less stable joints.
So, proprioception is important, but it’s ability is generally decreased in hypermobile populations, and many artistic athletes are hypermobile. What to we do?
Follow this link to download your free Periodization Template for the Artistic Athlete, a printable resource to help you plan your training to prioritize recovery and optimize performance!
Like most other skills, proprioception can be trained and gained! Regular proprioceptive exercises are so important to include in an artistic athlete’s training program. These exercises often center around a couple concepts:
When someone is hypermobile, their connective tissue provides less stability than that of an average person. Luckily, we have our muscles to provide extra support. We need the muscles on both sides of the joint to contract together to create tension and therefore provide stability.
Balance exercises challenge our bodies to maintain their center of gravity within their base of support, while we are or aren’t moving. Challenging our base of support, for example with a wobbly surface or a smaller surface, forces our bodies to have to work harder to keep it's position to maintain it’s center of gravity, therefore helping to fine tune our proprioception.
Take a look and try out some of these exercises:
Let’s start with isometrics for a hypermobile elbow; this means contracting the muscles in a static position. Here I am finding the neutral position for my straight elbow, not sinking into the joint but holding it with my muscles, and then trying to weight bear without losing that position. I can progress this by increasing the load (e.g. by lifting the hips or by moving to a single arm) or by adding in more dynamic movement around my arm.
Next up, we can try an isometric contraction at a mid point in our movement. This helps to make sure that our muscles are working throughout a motion, and an extra squeeze will help promote that proprioceptive sense within the joints.
Let’s try just an exercise with our lower body this time, a regular box squat. Now, slow it down, can you go 3 seconds down, 3 seconds up? Can you pause at the quarter and half marks?
Lastly, let’s make it even more challenging by adding some dynamics and change of direction. In a single leg stance we’re going to quarter squat, reaching our foot out each time in the shape of a star. Be sure to maintain alignment of the base leg throughout the exercise.
Struggling with proprioception? Feeling clumsy or disconnected from your body? Try out these exercises in your program for a couple weeks and let me know how it goes! Don’t have a program or not sure where to get started? Message me here and we’ll get a program tailored to your needs