If you’ve ever worked out with a trainer—or even taken a strength-training class—you may have heard the term proprioception before. It sounds like fancy fitness speak. But it really boils down to simply being more aware of your body and how it moves.
“Proprioception is the body’s internal perception of movement and spatial awareness from a stimulus,” says Aaptiv Trainer Michael Septh. “It can also be looked at as your body’s ability to feel and correct joint alignment without having to look.” That means it could help you become more familiar with hip alignment in a plank or shoulder placement in a row. It helps you to know where your body should be without constant form corrections.
Why You Need to Work on Proprioception
In addition to helping you maintain good form through a movement, proprioceptive exercises can help with injury prevention or recovery post-injury, Septh says. Rather than letting any muscle take over, “It helps you learn to recruit the muscles that should be functioning under certain stimuli,” he explains. If you’re doing a deadlift, for instance, you want to feel it in your hamstrings and glutes. Proprioceptive exercises will help you become familiar with the feeling of doing the move with proper form and muscle recruitment. This way, you’re not accidentally letting your lower back (or another muscle group) do all the work.
Also, proprioception is particularly important when working on balance. You need to know where your body is in space in order to keep it steady, Septh says. “With proprioceptive training, a person can understand how their body is affected by different stressors and then react more efficiently,” he adds. “Whether you’re just beginning to run or lift or move in general, an increase in proprioception will take your training further for longer—with a better overall response from your body.”
How to Incorporate Proprioceptive Work into Your Workout
Now that you know why this skill is so important, it’s time to start adding it to your regular workout routine. Septh recommends these exercises and drills to build a better sense of body awareness.
Stand on a balance pad or a Bosu ball on just one leg. “The uneven surface under your feet is creating proprioception by working each side,” Septh says. Hold each side for 30 to 60 seconds, increasing your time the more you do it.
Just as standing on one leg brings a better understanding of your body and its alignment, doing single-arm exercises accomplishes the same. Try a single-arm row or overhead press for practice. “Both exercises force you to recruit stabilizers that you normally would not have to find if you’re using a barbell with both hands,” Septh explains.
Close Your Eyes
Even if you’re doing an exercise you’ve done many times before (squats, anyone?), closing your eyes while going through the motions will help you tune into how your body feels as you do it, rather than what it looks like.
Squat jumps, box jumps, plyo lunges—these exercises all recruit multiple muscle groups to perform the skill, Septh says. You have to learn to use a few different muscles simultaneously as you jump up, then call on the stabilizing muscles to return safely (and softly) back to the floor. This brings your attention to what your muscles are doing through the entire move.
Just like balance and strength, proprioception is something that needs to be practiced in order to see improvement. Work these small changes into your workouts to gradually boost your body’s proprioception. You’ll see benefits and performance improvements in every facet of fitness.