The Eyes and Ears Have It

Overwhelmingly, people believe that if they work out or if they have a strong core, they will be fine; they are injury proof and they will age well. Absolutely no disrespect intended, but this a somewhat simplistic view of our health. Our body and brains are incredibly complex, and boiling the system down to any one thing or modality is problematic at best.

Science Daily published findings from The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) that found that those who exercised throughout their life versus those that were “couch potatoes” actually failed balanced tests equally, which means that both groups were just as likely to fall and get hurt. And because 30% of folks aged 65 and up take on average one fall a year, and 40% of injury related deaths in that age group come from falls, this is a very real problem.

Specificity Theory

This circles back to what I’ve written about extensively in the past, we get better at whatever we practice. This is called the “specificity theory.” What it means is that if you want to have better balance throughout your life, you have to practice better balance. Simply being strong and fit isn’t necessarily going to protect you against injury.

For those of us who aren’t particularly worried about falling at this point in our lives, the bonus is that practicing visual and vestibular skills gives athletes (or us normal folks) an extra edge. Practicing peripheral vision, for instance, helps us see a soccer ball out of the corner of our eye and the child that is following it into the street. Underestimating the power of visual and vestibular drills, and the impact they have on our performance and pain, is like underestimating the power of a hurricane. We are only sorry we didn’t prepare after we got hit with it.

The “OODA Loop”

John Boyd, a USAF fighter pilot, developed the concept of the OODA loop: Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. The idea, as it applies to this concept, is that we have only a split second to react to any given situation. If I start to slip on the ice, I have to first observe what is going on, orient myself, decide what I’m going to do to keep from landing in an unfortunate position, and then act to keep myself from getting hurt. If I have great visual and balance skills, I spend way less time observing and orienting myself, and have more time to decide and act. This approach favors agility over raw power. The point is, I want to be agile and athletic as well as strong.

Speaking from experience, being a year out from my accident with the ocean, I can’t even begin to describe how fortunate I feel that I had been practicing specificity in movement. I owe the speed of my recovery to the work I did ahead of time.

Our visual system controls up to 70% of our postural activities. So if you don’t think doing visual drills is worth your time, you are missing a huge piece of the health and injury puzzle. Your eyes help facilitate movement and good movement prevents injury.

I work with a lot of folks who come in for strengthening, but upon further examination, realize they have a visual or vestibular (balance) issue as a result of a car accident, concussion or whatever, and it is actually a pretty easy fix once they know what to do. Again, specificity in our practice is huge.

As always, a complete training program isn’t all about putting pedal to the metal, it should include training for your body and brain. That is where you will reap a huge pay off.

Originally published in the Stillwater Gazette