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Updated: May 19, 2010 15:19 IST

Know your moves

Y. Ramakrishna
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Don't move: Maintaining balance. Photo: K.R. Deepak.
Don't move: Maintaining balance. Photo: K.R. Deepak.

Communication and an understanding of one's body are equally important while exercising.

Among the popular terms recently used in the fitness industry, proprioception and kinesthetic awareness are the most widely recognised in relation to body awareness. Understanding how movement affects efficiency can lead to understanding how the body communicates with itself. With the latest emphasis on creating a connection between mind, body, spirit and emotion, body awareness represents the next frontier of movement education.

Understanding it

Human beings “train” for proprioception in the quest for efficient everyday movements. Proprioception is unconscious initially, but can be enhanced with training. There is a fine line between proprioception and kinesthetic awareness. Our body automatically coordinates with stimuli obtained from the immediate experience and turns them into physical action.

Pain caused by sprained ankles, and a variety of other injuries common to highly trained athletes, often has nothing to do with strength. They often have little to do with flexibility. And rarely do they have anything to do with endurance. More often than not, sprains and strains have to do with balance. Proprioception, to be exact. The term proprioception refers to a sense of joint position. Slight deviations in terrain require slight adjustments of balance to avoid injury. Kinesthetic awareness, or the ability to know where your body parts are in three-dimensional space, is required for every movement we make. We can train our bodies to improve the proprioception within the muscles, just by creating balance challenges for ourselves.

Workouts

One-leg balances.

Forward-backward leg swings with knee flexed / extended.

If you lose balance and must touchdown with your right foot momentarily, relax, support body weight on your left leg again, and resume the exercise.

Finally, be sure to coordinate arm activity with your leg swings. That is, as your right leg swings forward and up, your left arm should also swing ahead, as it would do during running. As your right leg moves backward, your left arm also retreats. Try to keep the overall feeling of the exercise as close to the sensation of running as possible.

Once you have completed two sets of 30 reps with your right leg, carry out the same movements with your left leg.

Toe walking and Heel walking.

One-leg squats. Complete 15 reps, rest for a moment, and then hit 15 more reps with your left leg.

If you can begin holding dumbbells in your hands as you do the squatting. Begin with five-pound and work your way up gradually and progressively.

Closed eye advanced one-leg balances.These are just like the one-leg balances except that you must keep your eyes completely closed as you perform the routine.

High-bench step-ups.

One-leg balances on a wobble board.

One-leg squats using the wobble board.

To counter the thoughts of those who might still advocate faster movements for the development of proprioception, it is necessary to differentiate between proprioception and kinaesthetic awareness. Kinaesthetic awareness is about the ability of an athlete to perform a dynamic sporting skill, perhaps from an unstable position, and involves the conscious control of the body in space and time in order to affect a sports skill.

This differs from the more automatic nature of proprioception responses. Above all, be creative and have fun with these proprioception exercises.

Contra-indications

Acute inflammation and postoperative conditions are two common reasons why certain clients should avoid proprioceptive exercises.

Another potential contra-indication is joint instability.

Balance type drills are seen to improve not only proprioception, reducing potential injury, but also the ability of an athlete to express power.

To increase complexity, change variables such as the surface used; the distance covered; the duration of the activity; or the weight of the objects used.

Y. Ramakrishna is a Sports Performance Enhancement Specialist at FitnessOne India Ltd.

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