Close your eyes and clap your hands. Pretty easy, right? This action would not be possible without proprioception, a sense that we use unconsciously everyday.
What is it?
Proprioception is the ability to sense the position, location, orientation, and movement of the body and it’s parts. We use it all the time to know what position our body is in without thinking about it. The nervous system is responsible for this sense by communicating with our muscles using complex signals.
What Happens as We Age?
Along with other systems in the body, proprioception automatically declines with age. The disadvantage with proprioception is that is it a less obvious decline. Muscle strength, digestive, and circulation declines are more noticeable. The degeneration of knowing where our body is in space can be dangerous. It becomes harder to detect changes in pressure in our ankles, knees, and hips which leads to increased falling rates as you get older. Decreased body awareness in addition to decreased bone flexibility results in brittle, stiff bones that break during a fall.
Proprioception is also responsible for reoccurring injuries. For example, if you sprain your ankle and properly heal the sprain (rest for 6-8 weeks) your body has lost awareness of the location of that leg. As a result, many people sprain the same ankle as soon as it starts to feel better. Strengthening supporting muscles is not enough, it is critical to work on your balance to prevent another sprain on the same ankle.
Slow the Decline!
It’s genetic, everyone is born with a different level of proprioception. Certain athletes such as dancers, figure skaters, and gymnasts have much higher levels because of their training. With the proper training you can increase your level of proprioception and slow the decline!
Regularly participating in pilates can greatly increase your proprioception!
- Bosu Ball: This is best described as a big ball cut in half. Adding the Bosu Ball to any exercise adds a balance component. Just standing on this ball is difficult!
- Reformer: This machine has straps and a carriage that move during each exercise. Even when completing intense workouts, the movement in the carriage forces you to be aware of body position while pushing through the burn!
- Chair: This machine consists of a platform and a moving pedal. Completing exercises on the moving pedal raised off of the ground is more difficult than on a steady surface. Once again, forcing you to focus on your body position while strengthening your muscles.
- Cadillac: On this machine, you can complete very complex exercises while hanging from the bars up top. These exercises require an immense amount of focus on isolating muscles and maintaining your body position in order not to fall.