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How to improve proprioception

Hadyn Luke posted this on Tuesday 15th of October 2013 Hadyn Luke 15/10/2013

Tags: Training methods

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How to improve proprioception

In this blog we look at proprioception, it’s relevance to personal trainers and other fitness professionals working in a gym environment, and how it can be improved through training.

What is proprioception?

Proprioception is the sensory information that gives us an awareness of the position of the body.

Everything we do, whether standing, seated or during a workout, requires some level of proprioception, directed by our proprioceptors or proprioceptive tissues: the sensory and motor nerves that help us perceive movement and spatial orientation.

Proprioception involves both conscious and unconscious reactions, depending on the activity involved. While simple posture and movement is controlled by unconscious proprioception, complex motor activity requires conscious harnessing of our multi-component sensory system.

Proprioception encompasses:

  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Agility
  • Posture

How is proprioception used in gym training?

While every client that a personal trainer works with will have some level of proprioception, it is possible to train people to develop their abilities, in the same way that they can train for endurance or strength.

Proprioception is an important part of core stability training, as a good awareness of how the body moves and how its different parts relate to each other can help with a variety of exercises that train core strength.

When a fitness professional is working with a client on their core stability, they should build up the training programme gradually, only progressing to more complex exercises once the client has mastered the basic movements.

Why is proprioception training important?

The benefit of working with a personal trainer to develop better proprioception is that clients can hone their ability to carry out activities that require a high level of balance, coordination and agility, such as:

  • Maintaining stability and equilibrium on an uneven surface
  • Changing direction quickly and suddenly, even when moving at speed
  • Throwing, catching or hitting a ball

The better developed an individual’s proprioception, the less likely they are to injure themselves during a gym work out, a sporting activity or in everyday life – for example, regaining their balance when they trip to avoid a fall (see our blog on Neuromotor exercise training).

What training will help proprioception development?

Regular training in a gym environment under the supervision of a fitness professional will help an individual to develop their proprioception, as will following group exercise such as step and dance classes.

Floor exercises

Proprioception training should start with floor exercises, as it’s important to master technique on a solid, stable, flat surface before progressing to unstable surfaces such as balancing boards.

These include the stork stance, where a client stands on one leg and holds the position for 30 seconds, before closing their eyes and holding the position for a further 30 seconds. 

More advanced floor exercises might include jumping and hopping, either on the floor or on to a box, and changing direction suddenly, starting with moving slowly and progressing to moving at speed.

Unstable surfaces

Once a client has developed sufficient skill on a stable surface, a personal trainer can progress them to working with any or all of the following:

  • Balance boards/wobble boards
  • Stability trainers
  • Bongo boards

To start with, a client should be allowed to get used to simply standing on the balance board, before progressing to standing on one leg. They can then move on to exercises on an unstable surface, which can include lunges, hip abduction or adduction, and mini squats.

An adjustable balancing board will allow progression once an exercise has been mastered and all of these unstable surfaces can be used in conjunction with other training equipment such as small weights, medicine balls and resistance bands.

Fitness trainers who are working with clients who play specific sports can tailor the training to suit, for example a tennis player could practice balancing on the balls of their feet and leaning forward, in preparation for returning a serve. 

Proprioception training – other considerations

As with any training activity, fitness professionals should be aware of the age, fitness levels and training experience of their client before devising a suitable programme, and progression should only occur once the client has mastered an exercise.

All clients should wear the appropriate footwear and ideally training should be carried out after warm up but before the body is fatigued from cardio or resistance training, to reduce the risk of injury. 

As the speed at which the central nervous system works can slow with age, this can be a consideration when asking older clients to perform specific tasks that require quick reactions. A personal trainer should also be aware that overweight clients may find that some movements, such as jumping, can place too much stress on their joints. Clients with acute inflammation of the joints should avoid these kinds of activities and those who start with very poor proprioception should be taught in a one-to-one situation rather than in a class or group exercise environment.

Finally, it’s essential that personal trainers keep an eye on their clients’ posture and technique while carrying out balancing and other proprioception training to prevent injury. 

 

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