Lost in Space

proprioception

Have you ever felt awkward while learning a new physical skill? Maybe you had a difficult time understanding how to side step an opposing player on the field. Or remember how unstable you felt while learning to ride your first bicycle.

The sport of CrossFit requires mastering many technical and skilled movements. Learning these exercises is tough enough without the added difficulty of having little or no body awareness. Toss in some weights or rings and things really get interesting.

Try this experiment: Close your eyes and touch your nose. If everything is working properly, this should be easy because your brain can sense your body, as well as its position and movement through space. This is called proprioception.

Proprioception, or “Muscle sense,” is the awareness of where our bodies and limbs are in space and the strength of effort being applied to move. Proprioception is different from our sense of balance (Equilibrium), which comes from the fluids in the inner ear. Simply put, proprioception is the sense of yourself.

Consider this: If you were standing in a space with absolutely no external stimuli – no light, no air movement, temperature perfectly matched to your body and deprived of all external sensory input – you would still know that your hand was raised in front of your face. This is because of your proprioceptors. Our proprioceptive sense comes from the nervous system as a whole. Its input comes from sensory receptors—nerves from inside the body rather than on the surface—and the stretch receptors in muscles and the joint-supporting ligaments. Without proprioception, we’d need to consciously watch our feet to make sure that we stay upright while walking.

Can enhancing your proprioception make you a better athlete? Absolutely. Understanding how our bodies move in space is just as critical to functional training and sports as it is in everyday life. Proprioceptive ability can be trained, just like any motor activity. For example, standing on a wobble board or balancing on one leg is often used to retrain or increase proprioceptive abilities.

Training with a sense for how your body responds and adjusts to changes in position, speed, and balance will greatly enhance the skills needed to perform more efficiently and dynamically.

So be aware. “Sensing” your own body can be more complicated than you realize.

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