All athletes will face the danger of getting injured during their sport. This is why we train the muscles and practice the movements. By practicing, we help provide the body and mind with the confidence that we can perform the tasks required of us. One of the largest components to this sense of confidence is proprioception. Proprioception refers to the sense of a joint position in relation to the rest of the body. This allows our body to know where we are in space; more specifically, while we are moving in relation to the rest of the body as well as the environment. The more balanced our body becomes; the more efficient our movements will be, making ourselves stronger. Once the body can control the hips and spine, the primary muscles can take over to perform the power required. The true key to any sport is efficiency. Can I prepare my body for any type of movement that may occur during performance? Can I avoid getting hurt while still going all out and not holding anything back?
Balance training will do much more than make you less clumsy. Along with strengthening your hip and ankle stabilizers you will become more agile, developing the ability to control and change your center of gravity throughout movement. Again, this is why we train and practice just shy of maximum effort. The body loves to learn through trial and error. You have to start to lose your balance before the body can learn where it needs to step up and activate. Hiking provides a perfect example of this type of proprioception. While the start of the hiking season might require that your entire attention remain focused on the trail to avoid falling, after a few hikes, you start to notice that you are more confident in your ability to adjust to the terrain by foot feel alone, thus making you less focused on the trail below you and allowing you to look up and enjoy the scenery. This helps to establish your connection with your surroundings and will, in turn, help with your balance.
Proprioception can be incorporated into your regular workout routine easily. When standing performing front raise exercises, try standing on one foot. This causes the body to become more unstable and will recruit different muscles to help find the balance point. When that becomes too simple, try closing your eyes. Try keeping your eyes closed through an entire yoga class, or pilates mat session to see if you can feel where your body is in space, focusing solely on your movements. Try a yoga class that focuses on balance training or arm balances. This will teach you which muscles to engage and which muscles to relax to help become more successful. Once the neural pathways are developed, the body can use these movements as tools to help their efficiency on the court, out in the woods, or even in the pool!