Using mini-stability balls to improve proprioception

The Pilates mini-stability ball is probably my favourite prop. Small, easy to travel and welcomes a variety of entertaining challenges but also innuendoes for my own amusement when I teach. Here is why they make such great training and some workouts I have designed that enhance what you can achieve with such a little prop. What is so great about this prop? It is a simple tool to for proprioceptive training.


What is Proprioception?

Proprioception is knowing where your body is in space and to the inner space – the self within.

To sense your body movement in space e.g. touch nose with a finger in darkness.


A story about the importance of proprioception

In 1971, at the age of 19, Ian Waterman suffered a bout of severe viral gastroenteritis. The illness triggered an autoimmune response that stole his ability to gauge where his limbs were in relation to their environment. His brain and body no longer could connect and control his movements.

After 40 years Ian has trained simple movement such as sipping a cup of coffee through two important techniques:

  1. He must see the body part moving, and
  2. He must consciously consider all the individual movements to lift cup of coffee.

Without this sixth sense you cannot move around in space. You cannot command your inner space to control it in external space. To work it efficiently and to its best ability requires a conscious mind-body connection and visualisation skills. 


Why is it important to train?

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  • To move around in space safely without bumping into things and causing accidents.

  • It is the internal sensory experience of ease and effort, weight and tension.

  • Internal sensations inform the brain of inner space for physical alignment.

  • Can guide how to work with safe weights or impact when placing loads or effort on your body during movement.

  • Sensations inside the body guide ability to reconfigure alignment for good balance.

  • Provides a range of obvious and subtle messages from the body to the mind, including internal space.

  • Ability to control and change inner mind-body connection and how this can impact your external experience.

  • Improves deep stability for those with hypermobility issues. 


How does proprioception work?

Vibration studies are the major proprioception research on how it works. In 1972 Guy Goodwin at Oxford University studies showed that vibrations of muscles alone can trigger someone to perceive that their limb is moving in space, when it is not. Other studies have shown that the brain is not receiving the signals from the

joint or muscles themselves, but that it is comparing body positions relative to the other to maintain alignment to the body in space.

Proprioception is relational to body parts in space

EXAMPLE is fatigue when training movement

Proprioception of Effort = force + sense of position + sense of movement

The brain fires the motor-neurons for muscle contraction (effort). The tendon organs keep attempting to fire the muscles. If the muscles have worked already and are fatigued, the relationship of force to the senses of movement is increased from this position. The sensation is heavy due to excess effort of firing motor-neurons and tendon organs to repeat something again.

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The brain perceives effort and heaviness, even if not technically any heavier or more effort. Therefore, you can train your perception of your movement training sensations. This perception is a choice. You choose to interpret the signals. It can be trained & developed. Two examples could be:

A ballet dancer trains herself not to feel the physical pain of the pointe shoe but the lightness of being en pointe. Her perception is focused on the physical expression of the grace and elegance of the dance. Pain is endured regardless of its benefit to the health of the dancer.

A cross-fit trainer may encourage the sensation of heaviness and fatigued muscles as ‘good effort’ and maximised training, so that each training session these sensations of fatigue and muscle soreness are sought, regardless of even when there may be unnecessary fatigue in the physical body.


Exercises for Basic Proprioception Training

1.     Closed eyes as move – e.g. fingertip to your nose or move arms even in space to connect at navel height

2.     Repeat 1 after spinning until dizzy.

3.     Stability balls and mini-stability balls to balance 

4.     Squats with weights for strength building

 

There is also the foam roller for proprioception training, which was shared in this blog post

5.     Roller supine balance exercises for core control

 


You can always learn more by training with Nid. Her online training is convenient, worldwide and tailored to you completely. Her biomechanics, intuitive teaching and mixed-modality functional approach mean that you receive holistic training that will work on all levels of your body, mind and energy.

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