Kinesthetic awareness is an understanding of your body. In exercise physiology, kinesthesia means a conscious recognition of the position of body parts with respect with one another as well as recognition of limb-movement rates (1). Within the scope of everyday exercise, kinesthetic awareness is an important part of working out. It helps you control the form of an exercise, it helps keep you safe from injury, and it can help you gain more respect for your own movement.
Your body contains mechanisms that make this kinesthetic awareness possible. There are mechanisms around your joints and in your muscles that help you detect movement and body position. Why do you think it is possible that you can instinctively know your body position when your eyes are closed? The mechanisms send information to your brain regarding muscle length, joint activity, and muscle tension. Instead of describing the entire chain I’ll just describe the muscle spindle. The muscle spindle is a nerve that is spiraled around a group of muscle fibers. Muscle spindles are scattered throughout a muscle to detect muscle length. When the spiral of a muscle spindle is lengthened or shortened nerve impulses are sent to the brain showing the change in muscle length. In combination with other kinesthesia mechanisms the brain can get an accurate picture of what is happening to your body.
So, how does this relate to you? Kinesthetic awareness, or mind muscle connection, or body awareness is a tool. In a way this concept should seems obvious. Of course, you should know what your body is doing and how it is positioned during exercise, but it may not always be so simple. You may get distracted with discomfort or fatigue, or you may totally forget to keep good form at all. It is very easy to slip back into old ways. Just remember that at any experience level kinesthetic awareness can improve your workout so don’t get discouraged. Try to keep something in mind that reminds you to be aware.
When you perform an exercise your goal is to strengthen a muscle by targeting it through resistance. For example, when you do a bicep curl you may be holding a dumbbell that you pull in order to put a stress on the muscle. In order to do this you need to perform that bicep curl with proper form, and this is done through kinesthetic awareness, or with the help of a trainer. The trainer will be able to help guide you through proper body position and movement. It can be very easy to have bad form and begin using the wrong muscles to pull the weight up. Your back might start swinging or your shoulders might get too involved.
(Don’t be like Arnold here)
Your goal should be to concentrate on the muscles you are targeting. Do this by increasing the time the muscle is under resistance or tension. Every time the wrong muscle starts working the muscle you are trying to target loses tension. The biggest mistake you can make is to just do a movement. What I mean is that you just perform an exercise without actually trying to work a specific muscle. When you do this you run the risk of working the wrong muscles which can lead to injury and improper movement pathways.
Next time you are working out be sure to recognize in every exercise what muscle you should be working. You may need to do some research. When you are performing the exercise try to feel the muscle working and see how you can make it work harder. This will usually be achieved by keeping the rest of your body stable or putting yourself in a better position. You could also slow down an exercise or possibly increase the resistance. Try to keep the muscle working for the longest amount of time. Feel how your body responds and adjust accordingly. The point here is that you wouldn’t be able to do any of this if you weren’t staying aware of your body.
Whether you are a beginner or you have more experience the goal of an exercise is to get the most out of it. Developing your awareness will improve your form which will increase your performance. That is why it is so important to develop kinesthetic awareness. This awareness helps you to build a respect for how you are moving. This is a skill that will never be useless. So, next time you do an exercise; start to think about the muscles you are working and how you can target them better. Concentrate on your form and have an awareness of how your body reacts.
1. Powers, Scott and Edward Howley. Exercise Physiology Theory and Application to Fitness and Peformance. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009. Print. Page 129-130.