Eyes-Closed Training for Strength, Performance, & Function — Advanced Human Performance Official Website

6. Produces greater grip and forearm activation as the lifter is required to grip the weights more forcefully to control the load.  This helps with joint packing and joint stability as well as concurrent activation potentiation (increased neural drive to the working extremities). Read more about building forearm and grip strength here.

7. Ensures the athlete doesn’t lift excessively heavy weights or select heavier loads than they can control as going too heavy under eyes closed conditions makes it nearly impossible to perform the movement correctly if at all.

8. Eliminates the ability to cheat, shift, or use excessive momentum to lift the weight thereby improving joint health and muscle growth.

9. Teaches the athlete to use an optimal range of motion (typically 90 degrees) rather than an excessive range of motion as collapsing and going too deep under eyes closed conditions feels very out of control. Read more about optimal range of motion (ROM) and 90 degree angles here.

10. Requires greater cognitive engagement and mental focus during lifting.  Research in motor learning has shown that the greater the level of mental engagement while performing a specific skill or task results in enhanced learning and the mastering of that skill.

Eyes Closed & Beyond with V.I.S.R.E. (Visual Imagery & Spatial referencing Elimination) Training

Although eyes-closed training is incredibly effective, I’ve noticed one primary issue over the years.  That is, individuals still rely on vision even when their eyes are closed.  Makes sense right?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.  Allow me to explain.

When an individual closes their eyes, whether they realize it or not, they end up taking a snapshot of their surroundings and storing it in their memory as a means of spatial referencing and visual imagery orientation. Throughout the set they continue to refer back to this mental spatial map as a means of controlling their body in space. So while they may not be directly using their sense of sight via the ocular system during the set they’re still relying on elements of visual feedback as a reference. Unfortunately this can be disadvantageous for several reasons each of which builds upon the next.

3 reasons why visual imagery & Spatial Referencing in Training can be disadvantageous

1. Most individuals have ocular dominance meaning they favor one eye over the other.  This tends to produce very subtle yet significant deviations and asymmetries in our movement as ocular dominance appears to be related to handedness.

2. Besides using vision to maintain balance during movement we also use it as a form of spatial geographic orientation. It is human nature to use straight lines as a spatial reference to determine what is aligned and what is not. In fact, when lifting it’s very common to rely excessively on our sense of sight and use the spatial orientation of the equipment, building, walls, and structures to create a visual reference map that lines up our body and limbs in relation to other objects in the room. However, due to issues related to ocular dominance, our reference point for what constitutes a perfectly straight line is rarely correct.  Therefore, attempting to use our surroundings as a means of aligning our body will be semi-accurate at best.

3. In addition to sensory input issues there is the matter of attention. The science on the topic of attention is quite complex, therefore, what I describe here is a very simplistic overview to help illustrate subsequent points. Science has shown that attention capacity is limited such that we can only attend to a handful of elements and, in many cases, only one element at a time before sacrificing how much attention we allocate to each element. Simply put, the more elements we try to attend to at once the more the total amount of attention directed towards each individual element suffers. This is particularly true for complex skills or tasks that require high levels of brain function and cognitive focus.

Most strength training movements can be categorized as complex skills that require high levels of cognitive engagement and mental focus in order to optimize the quality of the movement. Learning how to focus all of one’s attentional resources on a particular movement and its associated mechanics is, therefore, of the utmost importance if one is to master the movement.

Our ability to attend to body positioning, recruitment patterns, alignment, joint centration, symmetrical loading, and posture, can all be traced back to proprioceptive feedback and kinesthetic awareness. The better we can sense subtle proprioceptive feedback signals the more we can fine-tune our movement.  Visual feedback, being much less subtle, is frequently a distraction that vies for our attentional resources, oftentimes causing us to rely more on our sense of sight than our sense of feel. This is true whether we use a mirror to gauge our form or spatial referencing to gauge our alignment and overall body positioning. 

It also means that using sight to guide us through a set can be very misleading and distracting. Likewise, it suggests that even if our eyes are closed, relying on visual imagery and spatial orientation from a recent mental “snapshot” of our surroundings can produce perhaps more subtle yet similar issues as when training under eyes open conditions.  As previously discussed, adjusting our movement via our sense of sight is approximately 8-10x slower than making modifications based on our sense of feel and proprioception.  Eliminating vision, particularly the use of a mirror, to gauge our movement may reduce this latency, however, relying on visual imagery and spatial referencing of any sort is still likely orders of magnitude slower than relying exclusively on the sense of feel.

It follows, therefore, that eliminating all traces of vision and visual imagery by interfering with our ability to take an accurate snapshot of the surrounding environment would effectively deprive us of a spatial reference map thereby optimizing eyes-closed training conditions.  Under such conditions we would no longer use sight, visual imagery, or spatial referencing. Instead, we would be forced to rely 100% on our sense feel, kinesthetic awareness, and proprioceptive feedback to perform the movement.

Enter ‘Visual Imagery & Spatial Referencing Elimination Training’ or VISRE training (pronounced visor) – the epitome of eyes-closed or no-vision training.

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