You Can Train Your Body's Awareness for Better Performance in Workouts, Sports, and Life

Photo credit: kupicoo - Getty Images
Photo credit: kupicoo - Getty Images

The year is 1984, and the Boston College Eagles have possession of the ball and are down four points against the University of Miami Hurricanes with just six seconds left to play in the Orange Bowl. Doug Flutie, the quarterback for BC, takes the snap and throws a desperate 63-yard Hail Mary to wide receiver Gerard Phelan, who catches the pass in the end zone through a crowd of defenders to give BC the win.

This historical game, known to many as the “Miracle in Miami,” exemplifies the magic often performed at by elite athletes that seemingly defies not only the laws of physics, but also the known boundaries of human capability. The players moved in ways that put their bodies in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, and that was due to more than just conditioning – they were fully aware of their places on the field, and what to do to enable the result they wanted.

Among trainers, coaches, and kinesiologists, however, that magic goes by a different name: proprioception. It’s completely trainable. More importantly, its game-winning, competition-crushing, performance-enhancing benefits are not limited to top athletes. By incorporating exercises and training strategies that build “proprioceptive awareness” into your workouts, you can not only accelerate your results in the gym, but also reduce your risk of injury and build your dominance in whatever sport you play.

What Is Proprioception?

In its simplest terms, proprioception is your awareness of your body’s position in space. Some trainers call it a “sixth sense.” It’s what allows a runner to pound the pavement (or track or trail) without looking at his or her feet; a basketball player to dribble and shoot without looking at the ball; a soccer player to score without taking his or her eyes off the goal; and your ability to execute a deadlift perfectly without glancing at a mirror to check your form.

In short, proprioception is your unconscious, automatic, and instantaneous awareness of every muscular contraction and joint movement you make. It’s the manifestation of your mind-muscle connection and the result of “practice makes perfect.” And training it purposefully can make you a stronger, more powerful, more effective lifter/athlete/human being.

How to Enhance Your Proprioception

Proprioception is a combination of balance, coordination, and agility, so that’s how you train it. If most of the exercises in your workouts require both feet to be anchored to the ground and both hands to be on a bar, mix up your routine with moves that don’t.

Weave in unilateral and offset training, perform exercises that entail multiple planes of motion, do ballistics and plyometrics, and incorporate moves that require you to split your attention (e.g., by focusing on one limb [e.g., the one holding weight] while feeling the correct movement of distal ones), such as the Turkish get-up, for example. The more you challenge the skills mentioned above (balance, coordination, stability), the better your proprioceptive awareness will be, and the better athlete you’ll become.

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