What Is Proprioception?
Proprioception is our ability to sense where our body is in space. In a nutshell, it’s our “sense of self.” A quick example: Imagine it’s pitch black in the van and you need the bathroom. Would you be able to walk to it? As long as nothing is in your way, you’ll likely get there perfectly fine. You can thank your proprioception for that. It’s what’s helping you put one foot in front of the other even when you can’t see a thing!
Proprioception plays a huge role in our daily lives and we likely don’t realise it. It’s mostly at a subconscious level, although we can definitely draw our attention to it when we choose. It’s very much intertwined with our ability to balance. When proprioception isn’t working properly, we’ll see things like clumsiness, falls, bumping into object and all sorts of movement inefficiencies. As with everything in our bodies, if we don’t use our proprioception skills enough we lose them.
All of that was my long-winded way of saying THAT’S why it’s so important to make sure we’re doing exercises that target balance. Because through balance training we also increase our proprioception… a skill that’s alarmingly underappreciated.
Let’s put balance exercises back on our health and fitness radars.
In this blog, I demonstrate 6 balance exercises and describe variations depending on your fitness level and exercise experience.
EXERCISE 1: Walking Lunge Robots
Stand with your feet together and good posture. Lunge forward on your left foot while simultaneously rotating your trunk to the left. Place all your weight on your left foot and raise your right foot in a single leg balance hold for 1-3 seconds. Next, repeat the movement on other side by lunging forward on your right foot while rotating your trunk to the right. All your weight shifts to the right foot and raise your left foot to hold a single leg balance for 1-3 seconds. That entire sequence was one rep.
BEGINNERS AND SENIORS: Take out the balance hold. Instead, you’ll simply lungewalk forward (with the trunk rotation) on your left foot and then your right without any stops in between lunge steps. And make sure you’re doing this along a wall or rail for safety!
EXERCISE 2: Arabesque Windmills
Stand on your left foot, with your left knee slightly bent. Reach your torso forward as you lengthen and lift your right leg behind you. Reach your arms out to your sides and hold for a moment. Once you are stable, slowly rotate your right arm forward while your left arm goes back, and then rotate the other way. This is one rep. You absolutely do not need to touch the ground as I’m demonstrating in the pic. You can simply pike forward from your hips as much as feels right for your level, and then do the rotations from that point. Do 5 very slow reps and then switch to other leg.
BEGINNERS AND SENIORS: Keep your back leg’s toes on ground and keep your torso upward as you rotate your arms. Please make sure your back is not rounded! The lean-forward motion that the advanced exercisers do comes from the hips and not the back. This takes practice and experience to learn, so to be safe keep yourself more upright and don’t attempt to bend forward past your ability level as you attempt this move.
EXERCISE 3: Split Squat with Front Leg Raise
Stand with good posture in a split stance—one foot forward and the other back. Back foot’s heel should be raised, and ensure your weight is evenly distributed between the front foot and the ball of the back foot. Lower self down to perform a split squat. To do this, your hips drive straight downward and your chest stays directly above your hips, no leaning forward. As you raise back up from the split squat, simultaneously raise the front leg off the ground, shifting all your weight to the back foot (heel goes down for this). Hold your front leg raised like that for 3 seconds, that’s one rep. Do that 5 times and then switch sides.
BEGINNERS AND SENIORS: For the balance hold portion, instead of holding leg up, you’ll place the toe of your front leg down while keeping all your weight on the back leg. As for the split squat portion, only lower yourself as low as you feel stable, don’t go too deep into it… and do be mindful of your posture. Your torso should be upright with a straight spine as you lower into the split squat.
EXERCISE 4: Grapevines
Stand erect with your knees slightly bent. Staying on the balls of your feet, do a quick step to the side with your left foot, and then quickly step your right foot behind your left. Another quick step to your left again with your left foot, and then bring your right foot in front of your left. Continue this pattern. Eventually switch and go the other direction. Continue practicing grapevines for 1 minute. Work on building your speed as your skills improve over time.
BEGINNERS AND SENIORS: You’ll do the exact same foot pattern, however, you’ll take your steps down to a slow walk. Make sure you’re upright with good posture and not looking at your feet. Use your peripheral vision and your proprioception to continue your sideways steps safely. I highly recommend doing these along a rail or wall for seniors.
EXERCISE 5: Tabletop Reaches
Advanced, you’ll start in a hand plank with your feet spread a little wider than shoulders, and your hands slightly wide too. Make sure your neck is aligned in a neutral position. While looking at the floor, raise and fully extend your right arm and your left leg out at the same time. Keeping your core tight, very slowly drive your right elbow and left knee together. Repeat 10 times then switch to the other side. Note, this is a very challenging move and really is designed for advanced exercisers only! Intermediates, you should modify this to take out the elbow/knee crunch. So, you’ll extend your arm/leg as explained and then instead of driving elbow/knee together, you’ll set them back down so you’re back to traditional plank position.
BEGINNERS AND SENIORS: Start on your hands and knees on a soft padded surface, with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees hip width apart. Raise and fully extend your right arm and your left leg to about parallel with the floor, and then drive your right elbow and left knee together (if you feel your back beginning to round you’ve driven them together far enough), then extend back out again. Continue moving between curling and extending, making sure to keep your core muscles tight and under control throughout the move. Repeat 10 times and then switch to other side.
EXERCISE 6: V Hold
Begin seated. Extend your legs out & lean back so that body is in an opened up V position. DO NOT allow your back & shoulders to round! Hold as long as you can. Continue practicing this pose for 1 minute. There are multiple options for this pose: hands behind head with legs straight is the most challenging. You can also extend your arms straight forward with bent legs as I’m doing in the pic.
BEGINNERS AND SENIORS: Begin seated on a padded surface. Grab either your knees or thighs with your hands. Slightly lift your feet off the ground, leaning carefully back to counterbalance the move. Once in position, work to straighten your spine and ensure your neck is neutral and aligned as well.
If you are interested in a program to increase your fitness, lose weight, increase muscle or improve any aspect of wellbeing such as mobility and flexibility, I can design a program specific to your needs via my Online Personal Coaching Program.
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