As anyone who has sustained a foot injury can tell you, building up your nervous and muscular responses, the most important part of your recovery program, is what literally gets you back on your feet.
Proprioception refers to the connection between the brain and every structure in the body – a relay of information about “where the body is in space” – it is something like hand-eye co-ordination. When you run on uneven surfaces, your proprioceptive responses prevent your foot from turning too much to the outside, or inside, and when you twist your ankle, this response ‘catches’ your foot before the muscles, tendons and ligaments are stretched beyond recovery. Particularly in the case of an injury, these communication channels need to be re-established to prevent further injury to the weakened area.
SINGLE LEG STAND: Stand on one leg. Do not lock your knee but keep it slightly bent with the kneecap aligned over the middle toes of the foot. Alternate legs. Increase difficulty by slightly moving up and down. Work up to 2 minutes on each leg. To be done without shoes.
AEROPLANE: Stand on one leg as in the previous exercise, but now FLY like an aeroplane. Extend your arms out like wings and move your body forwards, backwards and sideways. Focus on maintaining your balance. Work up to 2 minutes on each leg. To be done without shoes.
UNSTABLE SURFACE: Perform the above two exercises but try standing on an unstable surface: a wobble board, sprint mattress, trampoline or a pile of pillows. Allow the body to correct itself naturally and don’t hold on to anything to steady yourself. Work up to 2 minutes on each leg. To be done without shoes.
CROSSING OVER FEET: Walk sideways like a crab by crossing one leg in front and then behind the other, keeping your feet facing forward. Find an open area where you can run sideways for at least 10 steps. As your co-ordination improves, try running. Work up to 5 minutes. With or without shoes.
HOP-ALONG: On one leg, practice these three exercises. A) Hop from left to right. B) Hop forward and back. C) ‘Draw’ an upsidedown triangle as you hop from your starting position (green dot).
It is not necessary to hop fast. Rather concentrate on hopping lightly while maintaining your balance and an upright posture. Look ahead and not down. As your ability improves, increase the distance between your landing points, really get those ankles and muscles working. To be done without shoes.
Balance is a much needed skill on foot – for when you’re scrambling over tricky terrain – and on a mountainbike. Especially when you’re bouldering, you need to feel confident in your ability to leap from one rock to the next, maintaining your balance as you land.
CURB RUNNING – Run as fast as you can along a roadside curb, on top of a wall, railings – anything you can find. Look ahead as far as you can. You will find that the further ahead you look, the faster you will be able to run.
TIGHTROPE WALKING / SLACKLINING – Use fences, chains between posts or even a rope/webbing strung up between trees in your garden for tightrope walking. Initially you may only last 10s but with practise you will be able to travserse from side-to-side and even jump up and down. Breathe deeply, concentrate on your center of gravity and fix your eyes in the distance. Once you stop spinning and shaking you’ll become aware – of every muscle and your balance. It is about physical skill, muscle control and inner mental discipline.
Sadly, we only refine our proprioceptive responses and balancing skills in the physiotherapy room following an injury. But, incorporating these exercises into your daily routine will prevent weaknesses and injury by teaching and enforcing correct body positioning and neuromuscular control.
Author: Lisa de Speville