Have you heard of proprioception? Consciously using this physiological process makes it stronger, and in turn you can improve the results of any physical activity you engage in. Whether you are a casual or dedicated cyclist, runner, weightlifter, tennis player or endurance athlete, proprioception makes you more efficient.
When you move your body as efficient as you possibly can, your performance benefits. This means understanding and improving your proprioception makes it easier to set personal bests in your chosen athletic endeavor.
Proprioception can be defined as "knowing where your body is in space."
A Simple Example of Proprioception
Do this. Stand comfortably, with your feet a little less than shoulder width apart. Close your eyes. Now lift one of your feet off of the floor. You are instantly aware that you have rebalanced your body so you are poised on one foot, not both.
How do you know that without being able to see?
The answer lies in the proprioceptors that live inside your muscles, joints and tendons. They are neurons that recognize when your body parts move. They sense your mechanical movements and are activated when your limbs bear a load, when they move, and they understand the velocity of your limbs.
They are some rather capable nerve cells that even recognize when you are approaching a limit in what your limbs can do and how they can move.
Proprioception improves the more often you activate your proprioceptors. If you do certain things that engage these neurons, they become more capable. The more you are unconsciously aware of where and how your body moves and exists in space, the more efficient and capable any physical activity becomes.
How Better Proprioception Improves Your Athletic Performance
People engage in sports and athletics for a lot of reasons. Some like to stay fit, others are driven by competition, and everyone that works out or exercises in any way receives many mental and physical health benefits.
No matter why you enjoy riding your bike, hitting the weights, running marathons or otherwise testing your endurance, stamina and strength, increased proprioception can improve your results. Your range of motion improves. You become stronger. You develop better balance and coordination. You recover more rapidly from limb and joint injuries. You even get better at avoiding injuries in the first place, and also avoiding a subsequent reinjury.
These are all significant benefits for the weekend warrior and the serious athlete.
Everyone can use better balance. This is the quickest way you will notice your physical activities improving. Your balance becomes more unconsciously effective as your proprioceptors become more efficient.
Just about any physical endeavor becomes more enjoyable when you can prevent injuries and recovery time is quicker. A better range of motion is beneficial for many reasons, and more strength is something cyclists, runners and other athletes will never turn down. These are the benefits of healthy proprioception.
How to Get Better Proprioception and Improved Athletic Results
Okay, now for the good stuff! You can "recruit" muscles that are necessary to perform certain movements, rather than letting any muscle volunteer to do the job. You actually train your body to use the muscles you want it to.
And here is maybe the best news ... you can keep right on performing your regular workout, with a few simple additions. Here's how easy it is to develop more balance and coordination, strength and range of motion, injury avoidance and injury recovery.
Only do this if you are not putting yourself at risk of injury. Your brain immediately becomes more aware of your movements as a survival response, and so do your proprioceptors.
Sit on a balance ball at your desk. You can do this at work or home when you aren't exercising. Buy a BOSU (both sides up) ball and stand on it with just one leg. Work each leg for 30 to 60 seconds. Walk, run or cycle on uneven terrain when you can.
Lift a barbell with one arm instead of both. Try a one-arm pushup. Performing single-arm movements that usually require both arms engages stabilizers and proprioceptors in a new way.
Use plyo lunges or box jumps to work multiple muscle groups. Squat jumps work well here too. Plyometric exercises improve stabilizing and balancing proprioceptors.
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