How do I tell what my body is doing while it's doing it?
March 24, 2012 2:04 PM   Subscribe

Ways to increase my kinesthetic awareness and proprioception?

I've been CrossFitting for a year now, and it's pretty much the first time I've done anything that really demanded physical coordination and ability (didn't really play sports seriously as a kid, never took dance classes, etc.). Also grew up with very poor body image and a general disconnection from my body (and CrossFit has been great for helping me make progress with this particular aspect).

I'm now starting to train others, and can easily watch other people perform movements and identify what's going well or needs correction, but I'm really starting to hit a wall in my own training because I continue to have a difficult time telling what my own body is doing while it's doing it.

I am able to notice the big things, like if my back becomes disengaged, or the difference between engaging my posterior chain versus my quads, but there is some weird block I have sometimes that makes it really difficult to understand what I need to do differently to increase my power or where my form is going wrong. (Example: worked on kipping chest-to-bar pullups today, and continually just couldn't sense how to extend at the swing backwards to get that extra few inches of height in the kip. Coaches tried to help tell me what to do, but I just couldn't feel how to do it.)

So I'm looking for suggestions on how to become more aware and intuitive about my body, particularly in relation to this kind of movement. I have tried doing some movements in front of a mirror (we don't have them in the gym), and my coaches will often give me great verbal cues or mimic what I'm doing so that I can see and correct it that way. I also have been doing yoga once a week or so, to work on balance and flexibility. Those things seem to help a little.
posted by so_gracefully to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Take videos of yourself training.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:18 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

A friend and I purchased these for meditation and awareness practice: Mindfold. A blindfold would suffice, but the padding on these allow one to wear it for hours. Doing anything around the house becomes a challenge, let alone walking outside. Wearing one for an hour or more flips a switch in your mind/body awareness. We would also set up challenges for one another - things as simple as putting a 2x4" board on the ground and having the blindfolded person walk it. Not having my eyes to give me perspective on my movements really makes me have to feel with my balance/proprioception a great deal more.
posted by iurodivii at 2:25 PM on March 24, 2012

Yoga, with the right teacher, is tremendously effective at developing body awareness. Some one-on-one sessions, or very small classes with lots of individual attention, might be best.
posted by Corvid at 2:31 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

For kinesthetics, consider a martial art - preferably with someone interested in developing rock solid technique as opposed to being better equipped to get into bar fights.

Push hands is the sort of thing I'm thinking.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:31 PM on March 24, 2012

My trainer and I have a lot of specific conversations about this: "Use your pelvis not your arm" or, "Should this come more from my hips?" etc. I would recommend asking for specific feedback about this and taking it. I use the mirror a lot, and also slow down and practice fundamental movements that I feel like I already have, but slower, concentrating totally on where I am in my body and what parts I'm using, experimenting with slight weight shifts and different use of my core, pelvis, and knees.

Yoga would have to help with this too because there's a huge focus on being aware of what parts of your body you are using at all times. I've thought about taking a dance class for this reason as well. Finally, I think meditation is surprisingly helpful with body awareness.
posted by latkes at 2:34 PM on March 24, 2012

Best answer: It sounds like you're being pretty hard on yourself. If you have the coordination and proprioception to execute a kipping chest to bar pull up, I'd say you have at worst average proprioception (and probably better than that).

I'm sure you know from your experience as a coach (and as coached) that it's rare for someone to be able to immediately respond to a verbal cue. Breakthroughs are few and far between. It takes a very gifted athlete to be able to respond to cues and execute immediately, accurately, and precisely. Keep that in mind.

However, what you can do in order to increase the likelihood of "getting it" is work with your coach to find the right cues. In your example, it sounds like the cue "extend your swing further backwards" just wasn't working. I'm not surprised. That isn't a cue, it's a description of the desired result. A good coach should be able to dissect the mechanics of what your body is currently doing and identify specific movements that, if changed, would produce the desired effect. "Swing further backwards" is a bad cue; "fully extend your hips" is an example of a better one.

If your coach isn't willing or able to do the metaphorical heavy lifting of unpacking that for you, you can take it upon yourself to do so (take a couple minutes off the bar and/or watch some videos of others executing well; ask yourself, "what is preventing me from swinging backwards?"; turn that into a specific mechanical cue), or you can find a new coach.
posted by telegraph at 2:44 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Gawk. No really, watch others that are good at a particular movement. Not with an analytical focus but just to feel what's happening in their skin. There are so many muscles interconnected in non-intuitive ways that for many things breaking it down to specific elements is often just not effective or enough. To your example, it could be the angle of your head that stresses related muscles and prevents the full swing. Now a truly great coach/teacher can suggest something subtle like a change is a totally different area that gives the balance.
posted by sammyo at 3:53 PM on March 24, 2012

Dance! I mean fun, recreational dance. Nothing was better at teaching me an understanding of where my body was in space. Contra dancing and swing dancing were the best and most challenging in these areas.
posted by Miko at 9:16 PM on March 24, 2012

I also came in here to say dance. I have no experience with contra or swing dance, but speaking from my own experiences I feel that a very technical form of dance such as ballet would be excellent for developing an awareness of what your muscles are doing when and where, and how that affects the placement of your limbs, and subsequently how that affects your movement. Ballet might seem a little fluffy compared to Crossfit, but ballet dancers are about a billion times stronger than they look. And as an analogue to ballet versus Crossfit, there's a reason why hockey players often take figure skating classes to complement their training.

I started ballet when I was four and several years later got into gymnastics, where being an inch or two off from where that foot or hand needs to land can leave you in a world of pain. I credit ballet with teaching me a great deal of body awareness and saving me from having to learn it the hard way...well, fewer times anyway. When I took horseback riding lessons later, my instructor marveled at how easily I followed her instructions regarding form.
posted by keep it under cover at 10:42 AM on March 25, 2012

Response by poster: telegraph, the perspective about coordination and expecting a little too much from myself is really, really helpful. I know that part of it is that the people I compare myself to are the ones who have been doing this for a few solid years, and I just haven't had the same amount of experience. My coaches are generally very good with cues and generally know I need ULTRASPECIFIC prompts and a visual aid (also a note: "extend at the swing backwards" was my own convoluted description of what I was thinking/doing/trying to do at that moment), but I had trouble, for example, understanding how to more powerfully extend the hip at the right moment. (I kind of realize now that this could be a specific timing and coordination issue with the CTB pull-ups too, rather than purely self-awareness.)

sammyo, "watch others [...] just to feel what's happening in their skin."
This is kinda what I am looking for help on how to do. I can't really "feel" what's happening in someone else's skin either! I can see it, I can discuss it, but I have no tactile or kinesthetic "feeling" or sense of it. I want to figure out how to develop that specific ability. When I was studying to be certified to train, I tried studying muscle anatomy a little to help myself understand how the movements actually happen in people's bodies, and that has seemed to help, so I might try to do more of that to help me "feel" what's going on when I look at someone performing a movement.

I am terrified of dancing but the suggestion does strike me as a really good one! Yoga has helped a little so far, but the very slow yoga is difficult for the ADHD-y part of me. I do a fast-paced yoga class with super loud and energetic music that works well for me. I CAN'T BELIEVE I haven't thought to record myself and watch it. Thanks for such a deceptively simple idea that will probably help a lot.
posted by so_gracefully at 4:54 PM on March 25, 2012

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