Why Athletes Need Balance and Proprioception Training

STACK Expert Vallice Ford explains the importance of balance and proprioception in athletic movements.

Training emphasizes strength and power development. But one area greatly overlooked is balance and proprioception. Although it isn't as quantifiable as adding more weight to a bar, proficient balance and proprioception is essential for athletic performance.

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Proprioception derives from Latin meaning "one's own," "individual" and perception. It's the sense of the relative position of body parts and the strength and effort being employed in movement. Basically, you inherently know where your body is and how it's moving.

Everyone has the skill. However, some are better at it, and this can have dramatic effects on sports performance, because it plays a critical role in controlling your joints and muscles during movement.

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All sports involve movements in different planes of motion. They may involve weight distribution as well as unilateral (one leg or arm) and/or bilateral movement (two arms or legs). Even in a forward sprint, you are moving in every plane.

With better balance and proprioception, you are able to keep control of your body by understanding where it is in space. This is important for virtually everything you do in sports or in the gym. Better proprioception allows for more efficient decelerations and changes in direction and for greater understanding of how your body is moving during an exercise, so you can perform it with perfect form. With better proprioception, you can perform the moves with more power and strength, because you won't waste energy on unnecessary movements caused by being out of position. You will also have a smaller chance of injury.

The most common form of balance and proprioception training is instability training. If you're an athlete, you've probably done this at some point during your career.

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Instability training involves an unstable surface, which can be provided, for example, by a BOSU Balance Trainer or a TRX Suspension Trainer. By reducing stability, you challenge your central nervous system to control your body in space—thereby improving proprioception.

However, many people go wrong with the implementation. First, if you can't perform a movement correctly on solid ground, you have no business performing it on an unstable surface. And second, you need always to keep in mind your goal on an exercise. For example, let's consider the Squat. If you want to improve balance and proprioception, doing a BOSU Squat is a great option. But if you want to get stronger, stick with a Squat on solid ground with weights. Don't combine the two.

Here are a few of my favorite balance and proprioception exercises, which I use with my clients:

BOSU Squat

BOSU Squat

BOSUForward Lunge

BOSU Lunge

BOSU Chest Pass

BOSU Chest Pass

BOSU RotationalThrow

BOSU Rotational Throw

Typically, these exercises should be performed after a dynamic warm-up and before traditional strength work. Do 1-2 sets of 10 reps of each variation.

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