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Proprioception and Multisport Training
The off-season is the perfect time for endurance athletes to work on skill weaknesses. One skill that may be overlooked is improving proprioception. Proprioception is our ability to sense the position of our bodies or parts of our bodies in space. The classic example of proprioceptive skill is touching your nose with your eyes closed.
Swimming is perhaps the most challenging of proprioceptive skills. While prone (face down), in the water and with swim goggles on, it is difficult to sense where ones arms and legs are moving. Using the off-season to improve our swimming proprioceptive skills in the gym, also known as “Land Based Swim Training”, can improve overall performance in the water.
There are a few simple yet effective ways in which athletes can enhance proprioceptive awareness and therefore improve performance. For swimming, have a coach video tape your swim technique in a pool from the front, back, and side, both under water and above water. After viewing the video in normal speed and again in slow motion, it is possible to detect a lack of bent elbow during the catch and pull phases and a scissor kick while rotating for a breath. Being in the water affects the way one perceives these actions. Practicing land-based exercises and movements to improve flexibility, strength, and technique will help correct problems related to loss of proprioception in the water. Simulating the high elbow catch and pull phases can be practiced using resistance tubing while on a bench, for instance. The kicking motion can be improved by using a stability ball to mimic the kicking motion. Both should be done in front of a mirror for feedback purposes.
Similar observations and corrections can be made for running and cycling. A good drill that allows a runner to get a sense of the angle of the elbow is to touch the thumb against the waist during each arm swing. This confirms that the elbow is in a 90-degree angle, which helps minimize shoulder strain and increases efficiency. Running through flat, damp sand is another helpful drill. The foot is striking and pushing off in a proper strike if the prints are flat and without a divot. This confirms a low foot-to-ground contact time and proper foot strike.
Finally, while cycling, periodically tap the top tube with your knee to assure proper tracking of the leg through the pedal stroke. The single leg drill is also good for sensing an effective pedal stroke.
Mark Kotarski, MEd, CPT is a Certified level I USA Triathlon Coach, Certified USA Track and Field Coach and holds a Masters degree in Exercise Physiology. In addition, he is an adjunct faculty member at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pa and is owner of Kotarski Endurance Training, LLC. Mark can be contacted at Mark@ketfitness.com