What Is Proprioception? 12 Proprioception Exercises For Runners

Dynamic stretches, warm-ups, cool-downs, and strength training are just a few routines we add to our weekly programs. Each with its purpose and specific objective, geared towards making us better athletes and allowing us to perform at our best. 

You may have heard the term proprioception before and have even done some drills to improve your skills. But what exactly is proprioception, and why is it important for runners?

Today, we will get into the details of proprioception and why we should add some specific drills to our training.

More specifically, we will discuss:   

  • What is Proprioception? 
  • Benefits of Proprioception For Runners
  • 12 Proprioception Exercises For Runners
A person doing a proprioception exercise, a single leg balance.

What is Proprioception? 

According to the Encyclopedia of Neuroscience, “proprioception, or kinesthesia, is the sense that lets us perceive the location, movement, and action of parts of the body. It encompasses a complex of sensations, including perception of joint position and movement, muscle force, and effort.”

It is also sometimes referred to as the “sixth sense.”

As runners, we must be able to control our movement, especially trail runners, as the terrain tends to be complicated. We must dominate each step so we can dodge rocks and roots and jump over logs and rivers with ease to ensure we don’t fall or get injured.

We want to be able to glide through the trails as efficiently and quickly as possible with excellent agility, coordination and balance. 

When I speak to my trail runners, I always tell them that they need to plan their steps 2-3 meters ahead of where they are at any given time. At first, it’s not as easy as it sounds, and we may stumble through the technical terrain, with perhaps a fall here and there. 

If we train our brain and body to work together, we can improve our movement through those tricky trails. Just as you walk throughout the day without looking down at your feet, you can improve this same skill in situations such as running. 

This is where proprioception work comes into play.

Let’s take a peek at the complete list of benefits working proprioception can produce. 

A person on a balance board.

Benefits of Proprioception For Runners

  • Develops better control over our limbs and the body in general, resulting in freer movement while running
  • Improves reaction speed, agility, and coordination 
  • Strengthens muscles and joints 
  • Boosts overall athletic performance by polishing running economy, improving speed and power

So if you want to smash those technical downhills confidently, add some proprioception work to your training program. You can either tack on proprioception work to your warm-up drills or strength training sessions. 

A person balancing on one foot.

12 Proprioception Exercises For Runners

Some of these proprioception exercises are bodyweight only and can be done absolutely anywhere. Others will need equipment such as a Bozu ball, balance board or another object to cause instability in your stance. 

#1: Single Leg Balance: Eyes Open and Eyes Closed

This is probably the most straightforward proprioception exercise for runners we will look at today.

  1. Stand on one leg, always keeping your knee slightly bent. 
  2. Hold this position for 30 seconds, staying as stable as possible. 
  3. Switch legs. 

As you improve, work your way up to three sets of 60 seconds.

When you can do this exercise without losing your balance for 60 seconds, jump back to the 30-second interval and do it with your eyes closed.

You won’t believe me until you try it, but it is much more difficult if you cannot see and sense the space around you.

#2: Single Leg Balance With Ball 

For this exercise, you need someone to throw a ball at you, or you could do it yourself by throwing it against a wall.

  1. Stand on one leg, always keeping your knee slightly bent. 
  2. Hold this position.
  3. When holding the position, have someone throw a ball at you that you need to catch without losing your balance.
  4. Switch legs and repeat on the other side. 

#3: Single Leg Balance on a Balance Bubble 

Repeat the instructions from the single-leg balance; only step on a balance bubble or another unstable surface. You can also try closing your eyes when this becomes easy or have someone throw a ball at you. 

#4: Balance Board Stability Stand

On a balance board, simply try to keep your balance by not allowing the sides of the board to touch the ground. You will need to constantly adjust your position, which will work your stability to the max. 

#5: Single Leg Hops 

  1. Stand tall on your right leg, with your knee slightly bent. 
  2. Hop up and down on your right leg, trying to always land in the same spot. Try not to look down! 
  3. Continue hopping on one leg for 30 seconds. 
  4. Switch legs.

You can also do three sets of this exercise on each leg.

As for other variations, try hopping from back to front, side to side, or in a cross or star pattern. The idea is to improve your control over where you place your foot with each hop. 

#6: Bosu Ball Squats 

  1. Place the Bosu Ball on the floor, flat side facing up.
  2. Step onto the ball with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. 
  3. Tighten your core, keep your chest up, and look ahead.
  4. Bend at the knees and hips as you sit back until your thighs are parallel to the floor. 
  5. Using your glutes, push yourself back up into your initial standing position.
  6. Start by repeating for 3 sets of 8 reps, and work your way up to 10-12 reps.

You’ll be wobbly for sure, but that’s the fun of it!

#7: Single Leg Deadlift 

  1. Stand tall, core engaged with your weight on your left leg. Leave a slight bend in the left knee.
  2. Hinge at the waist bringing your torso parallel to the floor, right arm reaching down to tap the floor. Simultaneously, drive your right leg back behind you, making a straight line with your body from head to toe.
  3. In one powerful movement, return to your starting position. 
  4. Start by repeating for 3 sets of 8 reps, and work your way up to 10-12 reps.
  5. Switch sides.

Note: You can add weight to each hand, such as dumbbells or kettlebells. However, this will increase the strength training aspect of the exercise, where it may be even more challenging to retain your balance without using weight. 

#8: Side Switch Jumps 

For this proprioception exercise for runners, you will need a box, step, or bench to jump onto. 

  1. Arrange the box to your right side.
  2. Stand with the box to your right, but look straight ahead. 
  3. Jump off with both feet, turn to your right, and land on the box with both feet.
  4. Extend your knees when firmly planted on the box.
  5. Step down one foot at a time and return to your starting position. 
  6. Start by repeating for 3 sets of 8 reps, and work your way up to 10-12 reps.
  7. Switch sides.

Note: To increase the difficulty, you can launch with two feet but land on only one. 

#9 Single Leg Box Jumps 

  1. Arrange the box in front of you and face it.
  2. Stand with your feet at hip-width apart.
  3. Jump off with both feet, but land on the box with only one foot.
  4. Extend your knee when firmly planted on the box, leaving the other leg in the air.
  5. Step down one foot at a time and return to your starting position. 
  6. Start by repeating for 3 sets of 8 reps, and work your way up to 10-12 reps.
  7. Switch sides.

Ladder Drills

The following proprioception drills for runners are excellent for improving body awareness and coordination. You will need an exercise ladder, or you could draw the boxes on the ground with some chalk! 

#10: 2-In Front Ladder Drill 

For this ladder drill, step your right foot into the first box and then your left, so both feet are in the same box. Continue to lead with the right foot until you reach the end of the ladder. Let your arms move naturally with you.

For your next round, lead with your left foot. 

Continue practicing until you can perform the drill flawlessly at high speed. 

 #11: 2-In Side Ladder Drill 

This is very similar to the last one, only that you step to the side instead of forward. Start the drill with the ladder to your right side. Step your right foot into the first box and then your left, so both feet are in the same box. 

Continue to lead with the right foot until you reach the end of the ladder. 

For your next round, face the other way and lead with your left foot. 

#12: Forward Ickey Shuffle Ladder Drill 

Start on the left side of the ladder, facing forward. Step with your right foot into the first box, then your left. Then, step outside the box with your right foot, lifting your left foot in the air. 

Then, step into the second box with your left foot, followed by your right, and your left foot again out to the side of the second box. Lift your right foot. 

Repeat until you reach the end of the ladder. 

There you have it! 12 proprioception exercises for runners to improve your balance and coordination and make you an all-around better athlete. 

Check out our strength training for runners guides if you haven’t already added strength training into your weekly program.

A bubble board.
Photo of author
Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community she is known for her ear to ear smile even under the toughest race conditions. She loves sharing her knowledge and experience with everyone and has a great desire to motivate others to hit the trails alongside her. Run for fun!

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