Blindfolding Athletes to Increase Performance
Pavel Tsatsouline is known for popularizing the kettlebell in America. He has also written many many books on kettlebell training, strength and conditioning and strength training history, particularly in the former Soviet Union. These history tidbits reveal many unique strength training techniques used in the USSR that weren’t shared at the time with the West. Pavel’s book Beyond Bodybuilding includes many such techniques, none more fascinating than the one you are about to read.
"PROPRIOCEPTIVE SENSITIVITY TRAINING
Robert Roman used this to conquer gold for the Soviet Empire on the weightlifting platform. Today he is a top coach who has trained many young lifters to greatness using his revolutionary methods. Roman is convinced that developing superior sport specific body awareness will make a difference between being good and great!
It is not enough to have muscle, you have got to know how to use it. Soviet experiments revealed that even elite lifters made huge errors in estimating the height of the lift, the magnitude of the force, etc.1 When special techniques for maximizing what Roman calls the ‘muscle-joint sense’2 were developed, the top guys outdid themselves and some unpromising also-rans became world class! Robert Roman’s sportsmen develop their muscle-joint sense by lifting … blindfolded! Their coach explains that because we so heavily rely on our eyesight, we do not pay enough attention to the various sensations in our muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints. When blindfolded, the lifter is forced to listen to his body. Contrary to what a mirror gazing bodybuilder wants to believe, this tremendously improves the technique and its stability!2 Kick off your muscle-joint sense training by getting a pair of blindfolds. Roman does not recommend lifting with your eyes closed because it distracts you from what you are supposed to be doing. Training with the lights turned off may be an effective alternative, but the gym owner might object, at least if he finds you before he stumbles on a dumbbell and cracks his head against the Smith machine. So blindfolds it is. Start squatting light with your eyes open, then cover your eyes. Keep alternating open and shut eye sets or reps, but do not add wheels until you own a given weight, blind. Do not just go through the motions but concentrate on the feedback your body has to offer: muscular tension, joint angles, etc. When something feels wrong, correct it and remember what you have corrected. Make a point of sinking every squat to parallel, that is the top of the knee higher than the crease on top of your thigh. Have your training partner watch your depth but ask him not to give you any feedback until you are done squatting. You must rely on your senses. The purpose of this drill is not to make your squats pretty, but to make them heavy. The squat is a very complex lift and by finessing your skill, you are guaranteed to lift a lot more iron."
Tsatsouline, P. Beyond Bodybuilding: Muscle and Strength Training Secrets for the Renaissance Man. 2005.
So what is the big takeaway from this excerpt? Outside of elite Russians trying out the visually-impaired life for it, this practice of theirs tells us that there is an actual advantage to the tactile cues you are more attuned to with a visual-impairment. There can be many sub-advantages of this little phenomenon. I train a lot of people who are sighted yet lack kinesthetic awareness. Inability to feel the ground, pick up sensations in different muscle groups or flex particular muscles can be quite a hindrance. Having the opportunity to hone those tactile intrinsic feelings of where you are in space or how to control particular movements efficiently and safely is a huge blessing. This could lead to you developing optimal technique faster than someone relying on glimpses in a mirror. It could also help you recognize weak points faster such as at what point in a bench press your triceps seem to not activate thoroughly. This can also benefit the development of your mind-muscle connection, allowing you to hone in on particular muscle groups you are trying to build and create better contractions in them. Use these benefits to your advantage. After all, if the Russians espoused it, it was quite the advantage.