A client recently shared an article with me. This particular one got me thinking – Vision Training to Boost Sports Performance (click to read). In spite of the title, this really isn’t just for professional athletes — it’s for everyone!
So, why isn’t the general public catching on to such a simple, extremely effective and inexpensive training tool? Let’s start with WHY vision training is so important and then I’ll provide some practical suggestions on where to start.
Why Vision Training Matters
Professional athletes always want to move better. This sounds kind of funny since we already assume they are moving well. In order to optimize their movements on the court or field, coaches and athletes are utilizing research on the brain’s ability to adapt with training, called neural plasticity. Research shows that we can improve vision without changing the structure of the eye. The training targets the processing centers of the brain. In other words, better eyes means better brain function, which translates to a better body to do the job.
Typically what comes to mind when we think of our eyes is 20/20 vision. This probably conjures up a vision (sorry, no pun intended!) of sitting in a chair, reading letters on a chart off in the distance. Yes, it is important to see clearly, but the problem with this is that we’re not moving and neither is the chart.
Vision is more complex. When we only think of vision in terms of our eyesight, we are limiting the true nature of how the visual system and brain work together. The eye-brain connection has a huge influence on the function of our body, impacting on posture, strength, movement skills, pain levels, and in some cases how much anxiety we feel.
How we Actually See
Did you know that we don’t actually see with our eyes? It’s a coordinated effort of the eyes and brain. The eyes pick up 10,000,000 million bits of information per second from our environment and sends it to the brain. The brain interprets it, makes a decision and orchestrates the muscular precision (or lack of precision) of the body. It all happens at lightening speed! So when I see someone moving poorly, I wonder what’s going on in the brain? What information does the brain need to produce better movement?
A good way to think about the eyes-brain-body connection is the eyes lead the body. Have you ever tried to stand up tall when looking down? How about throwing a ball to someone while not looking at your target? Moving our eyes in the intended direction of the task helps to activate and coordinate the appropriate muscles. Things actually feel much easier this way!
Good vision begins with both eyes working together as a team from a muscular standpoint. When we sit for prolonged periods, we feel the stiffness our of muscles. Like the body, it’s use it or lose it with our eyes. When we limit eye movements within the frames of our glasses, stare at a computer screen, and constantly look down at our handheld devices, our eye muscles also get short and tight.
A Simple Place to Start
If you’re not moving your eyes in all ranges of motion on a regular basis, your body is paying the price in subtle ways you may not be aware of. So, a great place to start is with an eye drill that gets the muscles moving in all eight directions. Think of this as curls, presses, planks, and lunges for the eyes! To see the drill in action, click here. It looks simple, but it’s not as easy as you think.
A Coordinated Effort
This next step is about the brain. Once you get the eye muscles moving, you want to make sure they are working together as a team to produce good binocular vision. To learn how the brain turns what you see into vision, click here. Simply put, each eye acts like a separate camera seeing its own image. If the two images are similar in shape, size, color and clarity, the brain merges them to form one image. This allows us to accurately judge distances so that we don’t injure ourselves. Having depth perception enable us to pick up a cup of coffee, go up and down stairs, avoid car accidents, parallel park, catch or hit a ball, etc. It’s about getting the body to move more efficiently.
Most people assume their eyes and brain are doing their job correctly. It is important to know this does not show up on a routine eye exam. A simple test using a Brock String will help determine if the eyes are brain are coordinating their efforts. Click here to see how this can be used as an exercise device.
Signs You Could Use Vision Training
The following may be signs the eye-brain-body connection is not functioning well – you may feel clumsy or walk into things, can’t catch or kick a ball, prefer machine-based exercises, have balance problems, anxiety about driving, pain and muscular issues, fatigue or headaches while reading, or excessive muscular tension or lack of flexibility.
Better eyes, better brain, better body! Vision can be improved with practice. Athletes are doing it. Why not you, too?