What is Proprioception?
Proprioception is defined as:
The unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body itself. In humans, these stimuli are detected by nerves within the body itself, as well as by the semicircular canals of the inner ear.
As adults, it can be difficult to learn new movements because we lack proprioception. Our brains have trouble connecting the movements of our bodies and it’s tough to learn new movement patterns.
As children, our brains have more plasticity. They’re just starting to form the neural connections that help us learn new movements. When motions become ingrained at such an early age, the proprioception of movement patterns becomes second nature. The brain becomes adept at communicating to the body, and the body performs an action correctly and efficiently.
For example, I started playing ice hockey at an early age. I had ice skates on my feet nearly every day from the time I was 5 years old and learned quickly how to move efficiently on the ice. My brain formed the pathways that instructed my body how to move correctly without having to think about the physical act of the movements.
The constant repetition of practice day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, made ice skating just as familiar as walking. I had the proprioception to move efficiently as a result of my brain-body interaction. I haven’t skated in 3 years, but I know that I could still put on ice skates today and skate just as well as I could at the height of my ice hockey career.
Proprioception and Triathlon
So what does this mean for triathletes who come to the sport later in life? Is all lost because you didn’t swim, bike, or run as a child? The answer is NO! The good news is that the brain is constantly changing and growing. Through conscious effort you can still train the mind and body to work together, but it does require focus and dedication.
You can’t just go out and hammer away lap after lap or mile after mile and expect to develop proprioception. The important word in our sport of triathlon is efficiency, and you can’t achieve efficiency without proprioception.
How to Achieve Proprioception while Training:
1. Be mindful.
Don’t just put on the music and “go ride.” Think about your actions while swimming, biking, and running. Be mindful of how you are moving.
2. Slow down.
You can’t be totally engaged in your movements if you are training at 100% effort all the time. Take time to slow down in order to feel exactly how the activity should be feeling. Slow your pace while swimming to slower than you think you can go. Choose a larger than usual gear on the bike to force yourself to slow and feel the pedal stroke. Run hills in order to feel what the push off in the run should feel like.
3. Drill, Drill, Drill
Perform strength and functional drills that you can integrate into your movements. Choose an aspect of your swim stroke that needs the most work and find a drill. Execute 1 leg drills on the bike to get the feel of the entire pedal stroke. Complete 3-4 different run drills before starting each and every run. After performing these drills at the start of a session, then go on to complete the prescribed training. Be sure to keep the focus of the drill in mind the entire time, and integrate the movements of the drill into the activity.
4. Go to the Video
Have someone video you performing the activity. Our perception of how we look while moving is often vastly different from how we actually look. With smart phones everywhere, it’s easy to get a video of yourself while executing a session. Ask someone to record you, and then watch the video. Make notes for correction, and then choose drills that will aid your shortcomings. Work these drills into your daily training.
5. Be Consistent
In order to truly gain the proprioception that will aid your body in moving efficiently you need to repeat, repeat, repeat movements day after day. You can’t just do it here and there and expect to make the connection. Commit to moving correctly. Commit to integrating these steps into your daily routine to help you get the most out of training. In the end, you’ll become faster, fitter, fresher, and more efficient.