Training Blind To Enhance Proprioceptive Efficiency

Earlier this week, I posted a short Instagram clip of me skipping rope while blindfolded. Since I was wearing a Superman shirt, I jokingly mentioned that I was testing my x-ray vision. Afterward, I received a few emails from athletes who were curious if the blindfolded work was performed as a joke or if there were actual performance benefits.

To answer the question, I did post the clip as a joke, but there are potential benefits to performing certain skills while blindfolded. I first read of blindfolded practice many years ago in Mel Siff’s classic Supertraining text. His writings brought back memories of movies such as Bloodsport. If you recall the 1988 film, you may remember seeing Jean-Claude Van Damme practicing with a blindfold.

Blindfold martial arts

Blindfolded practice goes far beyond any Hollywood movie however. For example, Mel Siff highlighted the potential of such work to enhance proprioceptive efficiency. In layman’s terms, proprioception is our sense of position and movement. It has been described as our sixth sense. In other words, we don’t just see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. We also possess a sense or awareness of the position of our bodies.

As for relevance to training, Siff wrote the following:

“The integration of information from all the other senses (sight, sound, hearing and touch, in particular), together with this proprioceptive information enables us to execute a given movement in the most appropriate way in terms of pattern, velocity, acceleration and timing. This involves coordination of eye-hand, eye-foot or body-apparatus, processes which receive a great deal of attention in technical training. Inadequate time, however, is generally devoted to specific training of proprioception…

And furthermore:

One way of improving proprioceptive efficiency is to diminish or block input from other sensory systems such as the eyes… Research has shown that blindfolding does not disrupt motor activities; on the contrary, it has been found that exercises are performed with greater precision and stability when the eyes are closed or in darkness. The athlete remembers joint angles, the degree of muscular tension, the amplitude of movement and movement patterns best with the eyes closed and reproduces them more easily. Subsequently, when the movements are done with the eyes open, the athlete’s enhanced motor sensitivity is preserved and his technical skill improves.”

With this in mind, it can be useful to briefly practice certain skills blindfolded. Jump rope training is one of many examples. Initially, you may find yourself drifting off in one direction. Shadow boxing for a fighter is another useful option. Many fighters will be surprised at how their balance fails when throwing combinations without vision. A few minutes of light practice can certainly prove useful. Siff even mentioned practicing Olympic lifts and powerlifting movements without vision.

In summary, I am not suggesting that you should always train in the dark. Blindfolded work does pose a unique challenge however that can enhance qualities that are otherwise ignored. Just a few minutes, a few days per week, is often all that is necessary.

8 comments:

  1. Blindfolded alternating Lunges are tricky but challenging. I used to perform deadlifts blindfolded which taught me to use my legs instead of my back when lifting. Skipping whilst blindfolded looks fun so can’t wait to try it out!

  2. As a baseball pitcher, I would sometimes practice throwing from the mound with my eyes closed to test how sound my balance and mechanics were. When I got to the point that I could literally throw strikes with my eyes closed, I was able to maintain a relaxed focus during competition and put the ball wherever I wanted.

  3. HI ROSS, THIS IS A VALUABLE TRAINING TOOL. IN CHINA MY MARTIAL ARTS TEACHER HAD ME PRACTICE FORMS WITH A BLINDFOLD. THE IDEA WAS TO FINISH AS NEAR TO THE STARTING POINT AS POSSIBLE. QUITE OFF AT FIRST BUT GRADUALLY ABLE TO DO IT. IN JAPAN MY ACUPUNCTURE TEACHER WAS BLIND AND AGAIN HAD ME WEAR A BLINDFOLD TO DEVELOP MY SENSE OF TOUCH. I RETURN TO SUCH TRAINING PERIODICALLY AND BELIEVE THE BENEFITS CAN TRANSFER INTO MANY AREAS OF ONES LIFE.
    REGARDS, PETER.

  4. Hey Ross,
    Interesting post. I am a massage therapist. When I was in massage school, twice a week the students in my class would work on each other. One day the instructor had us perform a massage blindfolded.
    Said this would enhance our sense of touch as well as work on our sheet draping techniques. Kinda humbling since a student from another class was blind, and she had the best draping.
    I still catch myself closing my eyes while working on clients. Brings up the other senses a notch.
    Have a Great Week.
    Doug in Dallas

  5. We often spar with our eyes closed in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It is a great way to learn to just “feel” without distraction. It is amazing to me how my mind’s eye can still “see” everything – my own body position as well as my opponent’s – despite the self-imposed darkness!

  6. Jim Caruso beat me to the punch on with his comment! When I trained in Martial Arts, our teacher had us train on blindfolded and/or with eyes closed on various occasions. He would remind us of the stories of the old masters enhancing their overall awareness, spatial and sensory, with the different types of meditation and visualizations.

    Interesting post!
    Thank you Ross

    Manny
    Miami, FL.

  7. I started practicing my balancing skills and then discovered that this can work proprioception and help with awareness while in darkness.

    So after realising i had this sense and awareness because of my balance training i then started target training with my home made punching bag (a small kinda target aswell) while blind folded.
    This has improved my reaction timing, i can now throw more; and better combo’s faster without much effort and it has improved my snap in my punches aswell.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *