Proprioception: What it is and How to Train it

Proprioception: What it is and How to Train it

Proprioception is a term you can easily find in any training or injury management book.

Maybe your trainer talks to you about the need to develop proprioception through movement to improve your performance, or a training partner tells you that you’re unsteady in strides because you lack proprioception of the body.

Where’s the truth in all of this and how can the famous, and apparently important, proprioception be improved?

What is Proprioception?

The sensory information we receive about the position and movement of our own head, torso, and joints.

Yet proprioception is a vaguely defined term, sometimes insufficiently characterised because of the unknown mechanisms that regulate it.

What is Proprioception?

So, we’re still unclear about its definition: What is the sensory information that refers to proprioception?

This sensory information is not based on what our vision or auditory system captures, but on what our proprioceptive system detects: through the activation of the proprioceptors, located in areas of deep tissue, capable of sending afferent information to the nervous system about where our body segments are located.

Proprioception is sometimes defined as the sixth sense, and is characterised as the most unique, as a sensory deprived subject (blind, deaf, or both) still knows the spatial position of the rest of their body relative to their centre of mass, any joints and the state of their muscles.

What is proprioception for?

Proprioception helps us be more conscious of our body.

To be more conscious of our muscular system and how it behaves in space, and to improve our dynamic adjustments of the static position of our joints by moving in space to maintain balance.

An altered proprioceptive system negatively affects our motor control, making us ataxic (erratic movements), decreasing our capacity and speed of reaction, and increasing the risk of injury to one or more of our joints by restricting the uptake of important information by our neuro-muscular system.

Functions it acts upon

Proprioception acts on the regulation of body control in closed control tasks at slow or moderate speed, where the feedback is compared to a standard or a target pursued during the course of the action rather than on the actual control of the action.

Loop control mechanism

Closed loop control mechanism.

In this way, proprioception plays an important role in maintaining balance when maintaining a monopodal support (on one leg), or while walking slowly on a slackline, one of the most unstable surfaces we can find.

Slackline

Slackline.

However, in those processes where muscle control in a critical time interval is more important, proprioception loses a great deal of weight over physical control.

Runner

Girl running.

For example, during a run, where the foot rests on the ground for a shorter time than the threshold of uptake, sending and processing of the proprioceptive stimulus, what will determine the protection of the ankle joint will be the control of the neuromuscular system that we have, and the habituation to the gesture, which makes us more efficient at it.

What Proprioception Exercises should I do?

Proprioception exercises are based on the modification of classic muscle development exercises with loads by versions performed on unstable surfaces. You can complement the information we present here by consulting this link.
The unstable surface presupposes the creation of a proprioceptively enriched environment that will progressively challenge the muscles, and especially the proprioceptors and nervous system responsible for capturing, sending and interpreting information from the environment.
The assumption that a subject can train proprioception simply by stimulating the proprioceptors is unrealistic, and even more so when this is linked to the fact that a possible proprioceptive improvement can improve the balance of the body as a whole, in any kind of task.

Proprioceptive ankle exercises

Proprioceptive ankle exercises are those that expose the ankle joint to a changing external environment.

Progression:

  • Exercise 1. Static bipodal support in Split position on the floor.
  • Exercise 2. Static bipodal support in Split position on a bosu.
  • Exercise 3. Static bipodal support in Split position on a board.

Execution of monopodal support on a board

Execution of monopodal support on a board.

Pressure platform

Changes in the position of the CDG on the pressure platform.

Proprioceptive knee exercises

Proprioceptive knee exercises are those that expose the knee joint to a changing external environment.

Progression:

  • Exercise 1. Static monopodal support on floor.
  • Exercise 2. Static monopodal support on bosu.
  • Exercise 3.Static monopodal support on board.

Proprioceptive shoulder exercises

Proprioceptive shoulder exercises are those that expose the shoulder joint to a changing external environment.

Progression:

  • Exercise 1. Pike-Hold supported by both hands on the floor.
  • Exercise 2. Kettlebell bottom up hold.
  • Exercise 3. Turkish Get-Up with Kettlebell.

Proprioceptive elbow exercises

Proprioceptive shoulder exercises are those that expose the elbow to a changing external environment.

Progression:

  • Exercise 1. Push-up position with support on the ground
  • Exercise 2. Push-up position with support on a bosu.
  • Exercise 3. Push-up position with support on a Foam Roller.

Proprioceptive wrist exercises

Proprioceptive shoulder exercises are those that expose the wrist to a changing external environment.

Progression:

  • Exercise 1. Hold a tray in the palm of your hand and keep it balanced.
  • Exercise 2. Pick up a tray that a colleague is carrying, with the palm of the hand and keep it balanced.
  • Exercise 3. Hold a tray with a ball in the palm of your hand and keep it in balance without dropping it.

How is proprioceptive training done?

Proprioceptive training should be carried out under the supervision of a professional in Physical Activity and Sport Sciences who is responsible for providing information and managing the control of this type of muscle work, as it’s easy to abuse it and apply it as protection against possible future joint injuries in cases where it’s not appropriate.

RECOVERY PERIOD FOR INJURED ATHLETES
Time of injury (Medical diagnosis)REHABILITATIONReturn to competition (Medical discharge)
PREADAPTATION
1st2nd3rd4th
Medical treatmentMedical treatment + Individual trainingSpecific individual trainingReturn to group training
DOCTOR
PSYCHOLOGIST
PHYSIOTHERAPIST (RehabilitATION)
PHYSICAL TRAINER (Readaption)
TRAINER
MULTIDISCIPLINARY TEAM

Graphic representation of the stages of multidisciplinary rehabilitation and readaptation of the athlete.

Complete sessions of 20-25 minutes can be carried out during the readaptation phases of an injury, or small blocks of 5 minutes as part of a complete training session, where we work on a particular movement where we are interested in developing our proprioceptive system.

Equipment for proprioception work

Any type of surface that involves external instability is useful to apply in exercises as material for a proprioception training session (or part of a session) in a suitable way.

The cheapest and easiest to find materials that you can use for your exercises of this type are:

  • Fitball.
  • Bosu.
  • Balance toner.
  • Proprioceptive board.
  • Mat.
  • Slackline.
  • Foam Roller.

Proprioception as prevention

Proprioception is trained, erroneously, to prevent injuries, when its capacity to prevent injuries is limited, and is reduced to people who present some type of alteration of this system (injured people undergoing rehabilitation, or neurological patients).

If you’re looking for injury prevention work, you should work on the specific gesture to be improved (for example, in the case of a footballer who’s unstable with studs, running on the field with the boot on).

You should increase the number of stimuli (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic and tactile) to which you are exposed, to improve dual attention and motor skills.

Fitball - Proprioception

And you need to improve your specific learning of the gesture and technique, as well as its adaptability to the environment and your individual physiognomy in relation to your muscular system in a specific way.

You should also secure your neuromuscular function through strength training and developing your muscles; and your proprioceptive system with all the information from the exercises we’ve proposed in this article.

Effects of training on nerve plasticity

Effects of training on nerve plasticity and stimulus adaptation and response.

Nevertheless, proprioceptive training is a tool that in the right context can improve a wide range of variables related to motor control, somatosensory management, and balance, both static and dynamic.

Bibliographic References

  1. Kim, D., van Ryssegem, G., & Hong, J. (2011). Overcoming the myth of proprioceptive training. Clinical Kinesiology, 65(1), 18–28.
  2. Proske, U., & Gandevia, S. C. (2009). The kinaesthetic senses. Journal of Physiology, 587(17), 4139–4146.
  3. Riva, D., Bianchi, R., Rocca, F., & Mamo, C. (2016). Proprioceptive Training and Injury Prevention in a Professional Men’s Basketball Team: A Six-Year Prospective Study. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(2), 461–475.
  4. Rodríguez, B. (2017). Readaptación físico-deportiva de una jugadora de rugby tras la reconstrucción de ligamento cruzado anterior (LCA).
  5. Tuthill, J. C., & Azim, E. (2018). Proprioception. Current Biology, 28(5), R194–R203.

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Review of Proprioception

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About Alfredo Valdés
Alfredo Valdés
A specialist in Pathophysiology and biomolecular effects on nutrition and sportive activity who will show you the elaborate world of sports nutrition in his articles, employing a simple and critical writing.
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