Fitness is a Multi-Sensory Experience

Our hearing is intimately linked with our vestibular system, which regulates balance. Vision is important for watching your own movements, your surroundings, and for spatial awareness. Touch stimulates your proprioceptors which provide the brain with useful info about where your limbs are in space, and your nociceptors send pain signals when you're hurt.

Those who lose one or more of their senses (sight, hearing, etc.) benefit from their other senses adaptively heightening. For example, deaf people can learn to read lips impressively well, they can sense vibrations better than hearing individuals, and they may even have improved vision. In fact, a study done by Lomber and Meredith found higher scores of peripheral vision in cats that were born deaf than their hearing counterparts. Scott et. al. found similar phenomena in humans.

Tap Into Your Other Senses

Sight allows you to take advantage of visual feedback for strength and stability. Once you eliminate that, you must become much more in tune to your body and develop better kinesthetic awareness.

Try this test: stand on one leg. For healthy folks, that's pretty easy. Now try standing on one leg with your eyes closed. It's often difficult to maintain for more than just a few seconds.

Russian coaches have been using this concept of sensory deprivation for decades, especially to train beginner lifters on new movements. RA Roman found that lifters can better remember and ultimately reproduce joint angles and degrees of muscular tension in a movement when they're blindfolded. Eventually, the lifter will benefit from improved movement competency.

Russian Weightlifter

Another study tested methods to improve balance in older women. Both groups performed the same trunk stabilization exercises for 20 minutes a day, but the experimental group was blindfolded while doing them. While both groups saw improvements in balance, the blindfolded women demonstrated a significant increase in static balance over the control group.

Using This Concept in Your Training

RA Roman used this tool on the Olympic lifts like the snatch and clean & jerk with either an empty barbell or very light loads. (It would be dangerous to throw near maximal weight on the bar and attempt a jerk with a blindfold or with the eyes closed. Don't do that.)

This concept can be used in a warm-up or for learning a new weightlifting movement. You could also do this with bodyweight movements. For example, in teaching the air squat, a CrossFit staple, you could close your eyes for 5-10 reps and focus on how each part of the movement feels.

This could even be beneficial in learning the handstand. Grab a spotter, kick up into a handstand, and trust them to give you guidance and assistance.

Handstand

Once you feel centered, close your eyes and take note of the way your body is aligned, what muscles are contracting, and how you can improve your position. Develop the connection between mind and body and reap the benefits of better movement patterns.

Research with Schoenfeld et. al. has already demonstrated that simply focusing on contracting a muscle can increase its activation. By eliminating our sense of sight while we lift, we can pay more attention to muscular contraction.

With my clients, I always encourage them to be mindful when they move. I want them to be able to demonstrate control of their own bodyweight and master light loads before I allow them to put substantial weight on the bar. This is the perfect tool to refine movement quality and minimize dysfunctional patterns.

Related:  Close Your Eyes on This Lift

Related:  The Best Way to Lift Weights

Works Cited

  1. Hugel, F., M. Cadopi, F. Kohler, and Ph. Perrin. "Postural Control of Ballet Dancers: A Specific Use of Visual Input for Artistic Purposes." International Journal of Sports Medicine 20.02 (1999): 86-92. Web.
  2. Golomer, Eveline, Jacques CrŽmieux, Philippe Dupui, Brice Isableu, and ThŽophile Ohlmann. "Visual Contribution to Self-induced Body Sway Frequencies and Visual Perception of Male Professional Dancers." Neuroscience Letters 267.3 (1999): 189-92. Web.
  3. Kim, Myoung-Kwon. "The effects of trunk stabilization exercise using a Swiss ball in the absence of visual stimulus on balance in the elderly." Journal of physical therapy science 28.7 (2016): 2144-2147.
  4. Meredith, M. Alex, and Stephen G. Lomber. "Somatosensory and visual crossmodal plasticity in the anterior auditory field of early-deaf cats." Hearing research 280.1 (2011): 38-47.
  5. Roman, Robert Ansovich., and Andrew Charniga. The Training of the Weightlifter. Livonia, MI: Sportivny, 1988. Print.
  6. Scott, Gregory D., et. al. "Enhanced peripheral visual processing in congenitally deaf humans is supported by multiple brain regions, including primary auditory cortex." Frontiers in human neuroscience 8 (2014).
  7. Schoenfeld, Brad J., and Bret Contreras. "Attentional Focus for Maximizing Muscle Development: The Mind-Muscle Connection." Strength & Conditioning Journal 38.1 (2016): 27-29.
  8. Shibata, Dean K., and Edmund Kwok. "Temporal lobe perfusion in the deaf: MR measurement with pulsed arterial spin labeling (FAIR)." Academic radiology 13.6 (2006): 738-743.