Proprioception in Weightlifting

Proprioception is a sense in just the same way as vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell. It relies on sensory organs called proprioceptors located within muscles, tendons and joints that enable the sensation of tension, force, pressure and movement (Sherrington, 1906). This sensory feedback enables us to detect the position of our limbs and entire body (Gollhofer, 2003; McMorris, 2014) and therefore is critically important to the athlete in learning sport skill. The ability to detect movement as a result of feedback from proprioceptors is also instrumental in enabling the calibration of force required to produce movement.

Table 1: Proprioceptors
ReceptorLocationRole
Muscle SpindlesDeep within muscle tissueDetect movement, detect changes in muscle length, detect the rate at which muscle length changes
Golgi Tendon OrgansWithin the tendon of the muscle at the junction of muscle and tendonMonitor degree of muscle tension
Ruffini CorpusclesIn the connective tissue that forms the joint capsule (Halata & Baumann, 2008)Detect stretch or excessive load  on joints cause by excessive range of motion
Pacinian CorpusclesIn the connective tissue that forms the joint capsuleRespond to vibration stimuli (Halata & Baumann, 2008).

Source: Levine, 1997

Knowledge of proprioception enhances the coach’s ability to teach sport skills and to understand the differences among athletes in functional capability (Levine, 1997). Proprioception is the key sense involved in learning new movement patterns and knowledge of this persuades the Weightlifting coach that issuing verbal instructions is much less important than physical manipulation of the athlete to “feel” the correct body positions required at various stages of the lifts. Furthermore, in the process of learning any new movement patterns, there is always considerable ‘trial and error’ on the part of the learner and it is proprioceptive feedback that plays a vital role in this process.

In just the same way that humans are not equal in sight, hearing, smell or touch, it may well be that differences in coordination and movement efficiency may be due to differences in proprioception. It is obvious to those involved in sport coaching that there is a significant difference among individuals in the ease with which new skills are learned. A reasonable hypothesis for this difference is that individuals who gain a frequent and wide variety of physical education and sport experience at a young age, develop an enhanced capacity of the brain to interpret proprioceptive feedback. This early adaptation of the brain and central nervous system allows the individual to more easily learn new physical skills at a later stage of life. This phenomenon is observable when individuals with years experience in gymnastics begin to learn Olympic Weightlifting movements.

In Weightlifting, the predominant interest is in what makes muscle tissue contract and whether we can find methods of training to enhance the athlete’s ability to contract muscle tissue more strongly. However, we give less thought in general to the systems of the body (afferent systems) that detect and control movement, and provide an awareness of the force that muscles produce (Gollhofer, 2003). In our constant search for improved training methodology, the question needs to be asked as to whether the early learning phases of the Weightlifter should include a greater variety of movement patterns that develop proprioception. For example, the training of the beginner Weightlifter might include a wide variety of non-weightlifting explosive movements, balance and stability exercises, and spatial awareness activities as can be found in other sports. Such a varied diet of movement patterns may enhance the proprioceptive capacity of the athlete.

Efferent systemRelays information from the central nervous system to stimulate and cause changes in body tissue, for example muscle contraction.
Afferent systemRelays information to the central nervous system about what is happening inside and outside the body (Wilmore, Costill and Kenney, 2008)

The importance of variety in the exercise schedule for Weightlifting was discussed in classical Russian literature on Weightlifting (Korneluk, 1977; Vorobiev, 1978). Bearing in mind that Womens Weightlifting did not exist in Vorobiev’s day, he stated “An essential part of young Weightlifters’ training is using every possible means that will nurture all-round physical development and fitness. All-round physical preparation allows a young weightlifter to successfully develop his physical abilities, improve his nervous system, his musculo-skeletal system, his cardiovascular system, his respiratory system, and other vitally important organs, and to enhance the motor skills needed in sports and work activities” (Vorobiev, 1989).

References

Costill, D. L., Wilmore, J. H., & Kenney, W. L. (2008). Physiology of sport and exercise. Human Kinetics.

Gollhofer A. Proprioceptive training – Considerations for strength and power production. In: Komi PV (ed). Strength and Power in Sport. Oxford: Blackwell Science, 2003: 331 – 342

Halata, Z., & Baumann, K. I. (2008). Anatomy of receptors. In Human Haptic Perception: Basics and Applications (pp. 85-92). Birkhäuser Basel.

McMorris, T. (2014). Acquisition and performance of sports skills. John Wiley & Sons.

Sherrington, C. S. (1906). Yale University Mrs. Hepsa Ely Silliman memorial lectures. The integrative action of the nervous system.

Vorobyev, A. N. (1978). A textbook on weightlifting. International Weightlifting Federation.