Improve Balance and Agility With These Proprioception Drills

Improve Balance and Agility With These Proprioception Drills

When you perform a squat, a dumbbell press or a single-arm curl, you may think you’re training your muscles — but that’s only half the story. You’re also training your proprioceptors.

Say what?

Proprioception is trainer-speak for the body’s awareness of where it is within its environment, and it’s more complex — and crucial — than you might think. “It’s the ability to sync your body with your mind,” says Openfit Live trainer Sarah Brannon, NASM-CET. “It’s how your body adapts and responds to gravity.”

Catching a vase before it hits the floor? That doesn’t happen without proprioception. Keeping your balance while walking on an icy sidewalk? Proprioception. Smashing the game winning put-away, pulling down a rebound, scoring the winning touchdown? Proprioception, proprioception, and proprioception.

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Fortunately, there are ways to train proprioception. Just like you can train a muscle to get stronger, you can train your proprioceptors to be more accurate and responsive. Want to tune up your balance and coordination? Check out the five proprioception exercises below.

 

Beginner Proprioception Exercises

There are several tips beginners should keep in mind when performing proprioception exercises:

  • Try performing any exercise you can do safely with one or both eyes closed.
  • Go slowly, performing each movement with maximal control.
  • Experiment with performing standing exercises on one leg instead of two.
  • Yoga is an excellent ancillary activity to improve proprioception.

Single-leg balance

people balancing on one leg | proprioception exercises

  1. Stand on one foot, lifting your free knee up toward your chest.
  2. Hold for up to 10 seconds.
  3. Repeat on your opposite leg.
  4. Perform the drill three times on each leg.

 

Intermediate Proprioception Exercises

Once you’ve established a gainly proprioceptive base, you can progress to more challenging maneuvers.

Unstable bilateral squat

man squatting on bosu ball | proprioception exercises

  1. Assume a shoulder-width stance on a foam pad, half foam roller, balance board, or Bosu ball.
  2. Extend your arms directly in front of you.
  3. Keeping your back flat and your gaze forward, bend at your knees and drive your hips back, slowly lowering yourself until your thighs are parallel with the floor.
  4. Pause for a one-count, then return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for up to three sets of 10-15 reps.

Unstable split squat

woman doing unstable split squat | proprioception exercises

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart a couple of steps in front of a foam pad, a half-foam roller, or a Bosu ball, and step back with your left foot so the ball of your foot is on the unstable surface.
  2. Maintaining an upright posture and keeping your feet parallel, slowly bend both knees, lowering your left knee until it hovers a few inches from the floor. (Your knees should be bent about 90 degrees.)
  3. Hold the low position for a two-count, then return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for a total of 10-15 reps, then switch legs and perform the same number of reps.
  5. Perform 2-3 sets on each leg.

Progress it: Experiment with placing your front foot on the unstable surface. Master that? Destabilize both feet.

 

Advanced Proprioception Exercises

At this skill level, you can begin experimenting with agility drills or other movements that require split-second timing and control.

Skater jump

skater jumps demonstration | proprioception exercises

  1. From an athletic stance, shift your weight onto your left foot and bend your left knee to lower your hips several inches while lifting your right foot off the floor.
  2. Pushing off your left foot, jump to your right, and land softly on your right foot. Cross your left foot behind your right ankle slightly without letting it touch the floor, as your arms swing in the same direction as your legs.
  3. Pause, and immediately spring back to the starting position by propelling yourself off your right foot and landing softly on your left foot.
  4. Repeat the move, bounding from side to side continuously without stopping for a total of 10-20 jumps (5-10 per side).

Ladder drill

man doing ladder drill | proprioception exercises

  1. Place an agility ladder on the floor and stand at one end, straddling the first box.
  2. As quickly as possible — and without stepping on the ladder — perform the following sequence: step into the first box with your right foot; step into the box with your left foot; step out of the box with your right foot, placing your foot to the right of the second box; step out of the box with your left foot; placing your foot to the left of the second box.
  3. Repeat the previous step, moving forward along the ladder one box at a time, until you have stepped in and out of each step in the agility ladder.
  4. Repeat the entire sequence, starting the stepping pattern with your left foot.
  5. Once you have mastered this drill, perform it while playing catch with a partner, using a tennis ball, a lacrosse ball, or a light medicine ball.
Andrew Heffernan CSCS, GCFP

About

Andrew Heffernan, CSCS, GCFP is a fitness coach, Feldenkrais practitioner, and an award-winning health and fitness writer. His work appears regularly in Men's Health and Experience Life. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children. Learn more at andrewheffernan.com