Everybody loves a unicyclist. That, at least, is what I tell myself every time I’m diligently practicing my unicycle performance at the park near my house here in Toronto. In truth, it is fun to get a reaction from passers by, but that isn’t the only reason I practice. One great benefit from this exercise and any other exercise requiring balance and coordination is to develop proprioception.
Proprioception is the ability to sense the position and movement of our body. It’s the sense that lets us know if, for example, our knee is bent or straightened, if our trunk is facing forward or is rotated, if our grip is open or closed or transitioning between the two and so on. Proprioception, like many other physical attributes (strength, endurance power…) can be trained. And like those other attributes, it can also become deconditioned after injury or illness.
More commonly we see proprioception becoming an issue in those at risk for falls, think of the elderly person who doesn’t exercise very much and is unsteady on their feet. However, proprioception is also an important factor for athletes executing complicated movement patterns, you bet that Roger Federer uses every bit of his well developed proprioception when he serves a tennis ball at over 200km/h.
Unicycling is a great method for training proprioception, especially the trunk and lower extremities, the accuracy in positioning and placement needed to stay upright and correct for the various shifts in balance requires it to be tuned. It’s not the only method though to stimulate this system. Bosu, agility ladder, dancing and any exercise that challenges your sense of balance (and therefore your ability to sense and adjust body position) will also work just fine.
Whether you are a high performing athlete or an older person looking to improve stability around your house and community, what are you doing to train proprioception?