Stimulate Your Senses: Improve Your Proprioception

Another stimulation for our muscles is known as proprioception. It’s your muscle’s and joint’s awareness of its environment.
If you close your eyes and move your arm in a new position, this is how your body still knows where it went. On a sidenote maybe this is why throwing kids in the air is so much fun for them, its a huge stimulator for their proprioception. Its also very important for functional movement; by enhancing proper positioning during a complex exercise and maintaining proper postures specifically allowing for co-contractions and enhanced motor timing. Further, proprioceptive training has been shown to be effective intervention and improve your outcome following an ankle sprain and decrease the risk of future sprains. Therefore, to get the most out of your performance an athlete must supplement some proprioception training into their programming regardless of strength or endurance goals.

Here are 5 ways to Improve your Proprioception:

1. Use bands to redirect your faulty movement. We spoke on this before to improve your squat. But there are several ways bands, via Reactive Neuromuscular Therapy (RNT) can improve your proprioception.
Here a few ideas:

Have the band pull your knee in towards valgus as to promote normal motor control of the knee by the pt during a SL bridge. Progress to a a dynadisk/uneven surface.

The band prevents knee bend for patients struggling with TKE during gait or to improve glut facilitation with a hip hike

2. Go Single Leg (SL) and Go Asymmetric. We'll go more in depth on this in with an upcoming post... However, SL activity will improve not just your feet and ankle but also your knees. SL and asymmetric motions like cutting and pivoting promote enhanced neurosensory processing in competitive athletes according to PT research.

3. Try exercising with your eyes closed. I remember reading about how Mark Twight, the trainer for the cast of ‘300’, would occasional train heavy lifting blindfolded. This would completely challenge and even exhaust their nervous system. BUT this also taught their muscles to adapt faster when exhausting demands were put upon it the next time. What an easy way to improve proprioception; just sprinkle it into your routine or set!

4. Do Slow Eccentrics. Few times do we perform motions slowly and with holds. And your muscles move best eccentrically. This is because muscles are stronger eccentrically (its easier to lower a heavy bench than to press it up). If we use the muscle when it's the strongest for more time (i.e. slow eccentrics) we will promote the most muscle growth (because we did the most muscle breakdown).

In fact, research has shown eccentrics cause a greater amount of stress to the muscle and therefore will increase motor unit recruitment, meaning you fire more fast twitch fibers.
This carries over to stronger muscle concentrically by the way! So more time spent under tension will improve strength and improve proprioception because you are forced to control (read co-contract) and stabilize during the eccentric motion. In addition, you're training more muscle fibers to be in control during this. The key to proprioception is often improving motor unit recruitment and eccentrics give us the most bang for our buck for this.

Slow eccentrics also add tension to tendons and joints where a lot of your proprioceptive fibers are located further improving motor learning. Eccentrics also can improve flexibility as well; increasing the sarcomere length under tension gives the proprioceptive fibers feedback to become ok with a new end ranges and tensions.

Implementing slow or static eccentrics can be done several ways:
  • Stop half way on your squat, deadlift, pull up, push up, etc and hold for 3” than lower very slowly taking 3-5” to return to the starting position
  • When performing a set number of rounds (ex: 3RFT), make the last round half the reps and add in eccentrics. This will really improve your PR next time you try the workout (This is a great way of improving your Fran Time!)
  • When doing as many rounds or reps (AMRAP) for time alternate rounds or reps with eccentrics. 

5. Use Dynamic Effort (DE). DE lifts involve moving a submaximal weight with maximal speed. Typically 50% of your 1 RM will be sufficient. The idea with DE is that you use different motor control patterns to move quickly and thus slightly different mechanics to perform. You're improving your proprioception by training a fundamental or even complex movement to fire quickly and achieve peak force. You may have good form on your squat or deadlift but do you have it when you move very quickly. If the body is used to moving weight at a different velocity than DE will challenge the system to respond faster and improve motor recruitment when you go heavy again. Again, it's about maximizing our motor unit recruitment, this can be done going really heavy or really fast (but with great control). We love to go heavy but DE can be almost have influential.

Start with a few rounds of DE KB Deadlifts prior to training with a DL/hip hinge motion.


Contributed by Dr. Jake McCrowell


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