Can you train your way out of clumsiness?

We’ve blogged before about Elizabeth, our Movement & Balance therapist and what she can do. But what actually happens in a Movement & Balance session and how effective is it? This week, Victory’s Practice Manager (and self described clumsy person) Rachel tries out a session…

I have to be honest – I was a bit apprehensive about my session with Elizabeth. I’ve always been known for my ability to trip over my own feet and knock over drinks, so whilst I definitely need to improve my balance and co-ordination, the idea of working on it with a professional made me a bit self-conscious. And besides, can you train away clumsiness? But I’m about to go on a long trip with lots of driving, and when Elizabeth says she can help with my travel sickness and potentially make me less clumsy, what have I got to lose?

Luckily for me, Elizabeth is incredibly reassuring and relaxed through the session. She doesn’t bat an eyelid at my list of previous injuries and illnesses, and lets me know what we’ll be up to today.

For one thing, it’s quite difficult to test for travel sickness in a small space, so Elizabeth will need to find another way to measure the impact the exercises are having on my body. We settle on checking the range of movement in my left shoulder, which hasn’t quite been right since I injured my arm at a festival three years or so ago. At the start of the session, the range of movement is nowhere near what I can do with my right arm – and it really hurts to do it too.

After Elizabeth watches me walk around the gym to check my gait, we do some balance drills. She asks me to put my feet one behind the other, heel to toe, and stretch my arms out straight in front of me, and then to close my eyes and see how long I can hold it. Easy, I think – and promptly fall straight over to the left.

Some of the tests we do are slightly more successful, but I find I’m having to concentrate especially hard on doing tasks that I thought would be really simple. For example, Elizabeth tells me to stretch my arms out in front of me. She then asks me to turn my left palm up, and with my right hand to tap my left palm first with my fingertips and then the back of my fingers, as fast as I can (see the picture below). With my right hand, this is easy! Brilliant! And then with my left hand…. Not so much.

Now, it’s time for training. I’m vaguely expecting to be running around cones or standing with my books on my head, but thankfully it’s a lot less tiring. Instead, Elizabeth asks me to stand still and focus my eyes on a letter A on the wall. I need to keep my eyes completely focused, and turn my head in various different directions following her instructions. I’m not totally sure what I’m doing, but Elizabeth reassures me I’m doing great and sometimes re-directs me. Then we do more or less the opposite – this time, Elizabeth moves a pen around for me to focus on whilst I keep my head still (or try to).

She then asks me to check the range of movement in my left shoulder again – and amazingly, my left arm can now go even further back than my right, and it no longer hurts. We re-do the palm tapping test again, and this time my left hand is just as good as my right. Elizabeth tells me that she’s going to ‘stack’ my exercises to put together the best combinations for me. I’m given homework to do, and told my drills will get more difficult and more varied as I keep training, and I’m even looking forward to it!

I ask Elizabeth how it works – it feels a little bit like witchcraft. She tells me this is all to do with how my brain works, and the input I’m giving it. Click here to read our blog post: Brain training for better movement and balance.

The brain is made of different parts, which all control different things – language, emotions, memory, and so on. The part that controls movement is the cerebellum, right at the back of the brain. Elizabeth explains that as soon as we stop playing when we’re children, our cerebellum gets less input – think about all the spinning, jumping and climbing that small children do, and compare that to how much the average adult moves (I’m especially guilty of this, being a desk worker). Without all that input, our cerebellums can restrict our range of movement. Our brains want to keep us safe, and if they aren’t sure we can make a movement without getting hurt then they can restrict that movement and sometimes send a brief pain signal to discourage us from doing it again. For some people, like in my case, they can be structurally fine but find they’re still limited. What Elizabeth has done is given my brain more input and helped “re-wire” me a little. My drills will help me cement this, so then I can build on it during our next sessions.

As for my clumsiness… It’s early on in my sessions to say for sure, but in the three days since my session I’ve been more co-ordinated and have definitely dropped fewer things. I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m looking forward to it!

If you’d like to try a session with Elizabeth, call us on 0207 175 0150 or get in touch using the box below.