What is proprioception?
Proprioception is a ‘perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body’ (thanks to the oxford dictionary for that)!
Proprioception is pretty handy in climbing (the rest of life too really..!), we ask a lot of our bodies and one of those things is for an awareness of where we are in space (literally). If for example we need to put our foot over there on that tiny little thing that we now can’t see because some route setter has put something in the way - it’s tricky but still possible because in general we know roughly where our hands and feet are without looking at them.
Have you ever tried, with your eyes closed, to touch your nose? Did you poke yourself in the eye or were you spot on?
That’s because we know both where our nose is and what our finger is doing without looking at it (usually).
The issue in climbing is that we can’t always judge perfectly where the hold is that we’re trying to use - we can’t always quite remember either, but like most things it’s something we can get better at - with a little practise.
I’m not sure that my initial method for practising this at home will go down all too well - before we ripped out our kitchen I drew crosses on the doors of the cabinets and then tried to touch them with my toes, varying the speed and standing position in order to continue to improve once I’d gotten the hang of it…
Probably a ‘no’ to actually drawing on the furniture with a sharpie but you can still practise, you just have to be more honest with yourself, or pick something that’s clear if you miss it - an armchair for example?!. Often there are still door handles that you can try to touch accurately with toes or fingers, eyes open or shut, stood on one leg (or 2 if you’re not using your other foot for this exercise). An option for ramping up this exercise is to use moving options - like catching or kicking a ball, the larger the ball the easier it is to not miss it. The challenge here is that you are not only trying to judge a distance but also speed and direction of the object, this is much easier when you are looking at it but what if you see it thrown - can you then catch it without looking at the catching hand? Or kicking foot?
As a final thought on proprioception for the moment, it’s quite an abstract thing to practise and even harder to ‘master’ but in terms of improving climbing performance - if you can place that foot more accurately and faster you’ll get further before getting tired and your climbing shoes will last longer because you are less likely to be dragging them down the wall in order to find the crucial foothold hold. So give it a go - I have pretty coloured door knobs on my kitchen cupboards but furniture totally works too - can you touch the corner of the coffee table with your right foot and eyes closed? A handy way to improve balance, coordination and proprioception all rolled into 1 :)!