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Proprioceptive Exercises: It’s 10 p.m., do you know where your legs are? [My new favorite workout!]

Posted Feb 07 2013 2:41am

owlet This owlet has it nailed! Check out that proprioception – he can even sleep one one foot! Also: Awwwww!!!!

Do this now. Yes, right now. It will just take a minute. Probably less. Whatever you are doing, drop it (okay not literally, especially if you’re doing dishes – but then how would you be reading this?) and take off your shoes. Do it! (I get bossy when I’m excited. You’re gonna love this!) Now stand up and lift up one leg at least 6 inches off the ground. Don’t rest your foot on your knee or anything else. Close your eyes. Use a timer or count in your head to see how many seconds (or one-mississippi’s) you can hold it for.


What you’ve just done is tested your proprioception . People often assume this type of test is checking your balance – and it is – but the closing of your eyes makes it about so much more. Proprioception is the ability to know where your body is in space without looking at it. ( Official definition :is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.) This skill is so important for athletes and even regular workout Joes and Janes because not only does it make you more coordinated and helps prevent injury during exercise but it’s equally powerful out of the gym. Honing your proprioception will make you more aware of your environment, help your posture, make you less clumsy and train you to be more in tune with your body. And you get all of this while getting a serious workout at the same time! Which is exactly why this has become my new favorite workout! Because good posture is very important to me. Okay and I’m a total klutz. (You remember all my many, many wardrobe malfunctions , right? Yeah.)

It sounds so simple. How could you not know where your body is? It’s attached to you! (If you’re me, you often have more than one body attached to you! I deserve extra credit!) And yet, it’s a lot harder to control than you think it is. Especially if you’ve never really paid attention to it before. All of us have some proprioceptive abilities – it’s why we don’t walk into walls or crush people Lenny-style when we hug them – but most of us have never specifically trained them before and this is definitely a learned skill.

I first heard about proprioceptive workouts from my (late, sniff) trainer and friend Steve Toms . While he was drilling me on all the corrective exercises that I hated (butt clenches? In the middle of the gym? Seriously?!) he also tested my spatial awareness. I went into it expecting straight A’s because I have stellar balance. (And because I arbitrarily grade myself on trivial things – you can take the girl out of school but you can’t take the school out of the Type A, anal, perfectionistic girl!) I’ve always been good at the balance poses in yoga and can do a decent impression of the Karate Kid atop a wood piling at the beach so I figured these would be a cake walk.

“Wow, you are really really bad at this.” Steve was never one to mince words. “Like insanely bad!” Even worse, I could tell he was enjoying watching my ego deflate like the water bra I may or may not have worn in high school. But he was right. I sucked bad. And when I suck bad at something that means I become obsessed with mastering it until I at least suck slightly less bad. So I would work on one or two movements at the end of each workout and thought I was getting better (you remember my elephant-on-a-ball circus tricks ?) – until I met pro skiier Paula Moltzan of the US National Ski Team and got to go through her workout based almost entirely around proprioception with her when I interviewed her for Shape. After watching her do a single leg jump onto a plyo box higher than her waist I knew I was in a whole different league. (Seriously she is one of the most amazing athletes I’ve ever got to see in action. She has legs like industrial springs but she makes it all look so graceful!)



This is me in action.

Removing one of your senses sounds counterintuitive, especially when we’re talking about squatting a heavy bar or skiing down a mountain at 80+ miles per hour. After all, walking around blinded (because I had my contacts out) is how I ended up in a friend’s pool – and I was not at a pool party. But taking out one sense, your sight in this case, forces all your other senses to work so much harder. You never realize how much you depend on your eye sight to tell you how to move your arms and legs until you try the same movements with your eyes closed. Turns out there’s a reason beyond vanity why gyms have mirrors on every available surface – being able to see yourself helps your brain orient. But it’s so important to train yourself to rely on more senses than just your sight because so often on ski mountains, and in life, things come up faster than we can see and react to them. A hidden hole in the grass, a tree root on a trail, a low-hanging bar – this is how so many injuries happen.

I have I sold you on it yet? (Yes, Ms. Hannigan!) Good. This is how you get started.



This is Paula in action. Clearly we have different skill sets…

1. How’d you do on the test up above? You should be able to hold it for at least 30 seconds without opening your eyes, falling over or tripping a coworker. For kicks and giggles, here’s the RealAge breakdown of the results :

What’s your balance-based
Balance Time Balance-Based
4 seconds 70 years
5 seconds 65 years
7 seconds 60 years
8 seconds 55 years
9 seconds 50 years
12 seconds 45 years
16 seconds 40 years
22 seconds 30-35 years
28 seconds 25-30 years

How old are you really? 

If you can do the whole 30 seconds then you’re ready to try Paula’s workout. If you’re 15-29 seconds then you should try Paula’s workout but do the moderate modifications on each exercise (for instance, when she stands on an exercise ball, you stand on a bosu or when she does single-leg lunges on the bottom of the bosu, you do it on the top). If you’re less than 15 seconds or just the nervous type, try Paula’s workout but do every move on the floor. In fact, it’s a good idea to try each move at least a few times on the floor so you can make sure you know what the proper motion feels like.

The Gym Buddies and I did this workout a couple of times a week throughout December and January for our Great Fitness Experiment and it was a butt-kicker. You sweat, yes, but you don’t necessarily feel like it’s hardcore… until the next day when you’re sore all over. You’ll be sore in muscles you didn’t even know you had. Plus, a lot of these moves are so novel that if you’re like me and get bored with push-ups and burpees then these will keep you super entertained.

To check out the full list of exercises for Paula’s proprioceptive workout along with pictures and descriptions of each move, go to my slideshow. (I know, I’m sorry to make you click through and then they put each move on a different slide so it’s not all on one page and that’s super annoying! I don’t have any control over that and I didn’t feel like retyping it all out here. Take mercy on my wrists!)

Seriously, you want to try this one! At least try one or two moves. Not only is it a great workout, and really fun, it’s also very functional – giving you skillz for in and out of the gym! And please let me know if you tried it and what you think!

So, who’s up for this? Anyone else arbitrarily grade themselves? How’d you do on the single-leg eyes-closed standing test?


 All pictures (c) 2012 Michael Novak/Inventive Media


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