Getting in Touch with Your Motions
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Outside magazine, September 1994
Getting in Touch with Your Motions
Ahtletes worth their joint receptors learn to move with a sense of kinesthetic grace
Quick: Where is your right index finger–exactly? At what angle is your left elbow bent? Now touch your toes. Jump up and click your heels. Lean your head back, arms outstretched, and touch the tip of your nose with each middle finger. Now do it all over again, but with your eyes closed.
What you’ve just completed is a basic bit of kinesthetic calisthenics. Kinesthetic awareness–the ability to know where your body parts are in space without seeing them–is a crucial component of almost any movement you’re likely to attempt. Stripped of such awareness, you couldn’t inch your way toward empty seats in a dark theater or grab a box from an overhead shelf. You’d
“Kinesthetic sense is the cat that you throw out of the barn that lands on its feet every time,” says Fritz Hagerman, an exercise physiologist at Ohio University in Athens. “Every athlete exhibits kinesthetic sense, but it’s more evident in those who perform highly ballistic stunts. Divers and gymnasts, for instance, are actually judged on that basis–on how they land.”
Style points aside, our ability to succeed at our own ballistic stunts–such as descending whitewater, single track, or a field of moguls–as well as less projectilelike but no less complex activities like rock climbing and rowing–has everything to do with how well we control our many body parts, not all of which we can simultaneously keep an eye on. This usually isn’t a
Keep Tabs on Your Golgi Organs
How this arrangement works to create kinesthetic awareness is illustrated by an exercise that nobody wants to perform: the fingertip-to-nose sobriety test. “When you think about it, that’s a pretty complex task,” says Gary Kamen, a motor-control expert at Boston University. “Your eyes are closed, but you need to know where your finger and nose are in space.” Kamen says that as
Even if you weren’t born with grace and fluidity in your every motion, however, you can teach an old cerebellum new tricks. There’s plenty of room to improve within the limits set by your genes. The mantra for kinesthetic improvement is practice, practice, practice. “The idea is to rehearse the coordination so much that it becomes second nature,” says Hagerman. “I heard a good
The idea that you should practice is hardly surprising. The idea that you should practice blindfolded, as Kamen suggests, shouldn’t be surprising either, considering what you’re trying to learn. He cites a study from the 1920s in which neophyte basketball players were each given a hundred shots from the free-throw line–but half were blindfolded and told where each shot landed.
Alison Sheets, director of the Winter Park Blind Rock Climbing Program in Colorado, occasionally climbs blindfolded to enhance her own kinesthetic sense. “It gives me a little more understanding of how extreme the forces of gravity are,” she says. “A three-inch step can feel like a yawning abyss. Blindfolded, you’re so focused on how you move and what you can feel that you’ll
For those who are still skeptical of the no-vision method–or who aren’t ready to rope up with their eyes closed–a good, safe testing ground may be your neighborhood bowling alley. Kamen conjured up what he calls phantom bowling while in grad school. “I was asked to teach bowling, and on the first day I said to the attendant, ‘We’d like to bowl without any of the pins.’ He
Mark Jannot, a frequent contributor to Outside’s Bodywork pages, wrote about open-water swimming in the August issue.