What is proprioception?
In the simplest terms, proprioception is your body’s ability to understand where it is in space. In scientific terms, as cited in The Psychology of Learning and Motivation: Volume 58, proprioception is “the sense though which we perceive the position and movement of our body, including our sense of equilibrium and balance, senses that depend on the notion of force.” Proprioception allows us to complete physical tasks without thinking much about them.
It’s easy to feel proprioception at work. Close your eyes, lift your arm, and tap your nose with your pointer finger. Your ability to do this, without seeing anything, that's proprioception.
How does proprioception affect runners?
Even intense dedication, a rigorous training schedule and natural talent can’t take you far if you’re sidelined with an injury. Good proprioception is one of the best tools a runner has to remain injury-free, or recover from an existing injury. This is especially true for those who run on uneven surfaces, like dirt, gravel or sand.
With good proprioception comes enhanced responsiveness and greater awareness on these uneven surfaces. In fact, a study in The American Journal of Sports Medicine found that a balance-training program, aimed at increasing proprioception, reduces the risk of ankle sprains in athletes. Because sprains, pulls and strains are so common among runners, better proprioception means safer running.
How can I improve my proprioception?
Fortunately, there are exercises to add into your routine that can improve proprioception. Balance boards, bosu balls, and yoga stretches can help runners challenge and strengthen their balance system while increasing strength and stability. Improve your proprioception with no special equipment or classes by simply getting into balance-building positions (like standing on one leg) and closing your eyes – and do this until it’s easy.
Another effective way to enhance proprioception? Stimulating the sensory receptors that are responsible for it. New On Performance Running Socks are designed with this concept in mind. These socks have a ridged pattern at the arch that acts as a cue to the sensory receptors in the feet, improving your proprioception, thus improving your run. It’s like literally switching your feet to “On.” Try them and see for yourself, even with your eyes closed.