14 December 2019

Balance and proprioceptive training

October 29, 2008

Balance and proprioceptive training are regularly used in elite sport. Here Sportsister looks at how you can help prevent injuries and optimise performance through using them too.

Every sport requires balance and stability. Whether you are standing to throw a dart, jogging down the road, rowing in a skull or doing a back-flip on a beam, balance and stability are essential to maximising performance and preventing injury.

Proprioception is the body’s ability to know where it is in space. What this means is that if you close your eyes you can still bend your elbow or knee to 90 degrees accurately. Receptors in your joints send messages to your central nervous system in regards to its position, which responds by sending messages to the muscles to activate or relax to control this movement or maintain a position.

Proprioception is essential in dynamic sports for injury prevention. For example, if you are jogging and your foot lands on the edge of a pothole or gutter and starts to roll out, if your proprioceptive system is working well the muscles around your lower leg will activate appropriately to correct your ankle position. If it is not working at an optimal level, this message will not occur as quickly and your ankle will continue to roll out and you are likely to sprain the ligaments or even worse break a bone.

Balance and proprioceptive training are regularly used in elite sport. The better an athlete can control their movement, the more they optimise athletic performance as well as minimising the chance of injury. A range of scientific studies have shown balance training decreases the incidence of ankle and knee injuries in football, rugby and netball among other sports. Through agility training involving change of direction on variable land surfaces you can maximise your stability and body control.

How good is your balance and proprioception?

Try these progressive steps (in a safe place where you have something to hold if required) to test yourself:

1.      Stand with your feet together for more than 30seconds

2.      Stand heel to toe for more than 30 seconds- try both feet in front

3.      Stand on one foot for more than 30 seconds- try each foot

4.      Repeat steps 1-3 with your eyes closed

5.      Repeat steps 1-3, this time standing on a pillow or other unstable surface

6.      If you are still going, repeat steps 1-3 while standing on a pillow and your eyes closed

Improving your balance and proprioceptive skills can be as easy as standing on one foot while brushing your teeth or talking on the phone. It is most beneficial to progress these exercises to make them relevant to your sport.

Suggestions for running and change of direction sports such as netball or hockey include:

  1. Agility runs with short sharp change of direction running in all directions;
  2. Leaping exercises from one foot to another in all directions- gradually increasing the size of the leap and maintaining one foot balance when you land;
  3. Extended hopping and bounding on the same foot in all directions- maintain one foot balance on landing;
  4. Running drills and training exercises on a soft or uneven surface;
  5. Standing on one foot on a pillow while throwing and catching a ball off a wall.

For greatest benefit, design the proprioceptive training to be as sport specific as possible. A kayaker or rower can sit on an unstable surface while adding different exercises and movements. A thrower or cricketing bowler may train proprioception in the shoulder and upper body by rolling an exercise ball on a wall while maintaining shoulder blade position.

Balance and Proprioceptive training should be added to your greater training program to optimise performance and prevent injury. The faster and more efficiently your body responds to unexpected changes and movements the more likely you are to prevent injury occurring.

Andrew Griffin, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

Andrew is an Australian Physiotherapist currently working with the English Institute of Sport, primarily associated with the British Synchronised Swimming team.

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