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Episode 176: Improving Peripheral Vision

Video Highlights

- Valuable for all sports.
- Valuable for everyday activities.
- Six-step process to training and improving.

Today we’re going to talk about a six-step process to improve peripheral vision.

Peripheral vision is a topic of great interest around the world, everywhere I go, because we do a lot of stuff with the visual system. People ask me about, “Hey Doc, how can I improve my peripheral vision?”

Well the first question that we need to answer is, “Why do you want to do it?” There are a lot of reasons to work on your peripheral vision. From a purely kind of neurologic perspective, and performance perspective, one of the things we know is that in high stress environments people tend to lose their peripheral vision.

We like to work backwards from that and say, “Hey, if we can maintain it, will that keep our stress levels down?” I believe that is actually yes. Answer is yes, at least in part. The second thing though, in a performance perspective is a peripheral vision is incredibly valuable in all sports skills.

More importantly, for most people it’s also important in reading. When you think about reading speed, a lot of times when you look at the research around just basic reading speed, you’re ability to look at larger chunks of a word, or larger chunks of a sentence, maybe you’re trying to learn how to speed read, a lot of that actually comes down to the speed and accuracy of your peripheral vision.

If you then go further than that, and okay so let’s think about people outside the sport and reading box. You can also think about the elderly. People who are at risk of falling. When you look into that literature, a loss of peripheral vision is also a huge cause of falls which are a leading cause of death.

From our perspective, one of the big things we will always want people thinking about is, all right, peripheral vision, I need it, how do I improve it? We’re going to go through a six step process. I’m going to keep this fast and simple.

The first thing I want you to think about is relaxing your neck.

Now a lot of people don’t recognize the idea that head and neck motions in eye function are tied to together. It’s a lot of neurology in this. Basically what I want you to think about is loosening the upper section of your neck and your shoulders. I really don’t care how you do that. If you’ve been through our courses you know that we do a lot of just basic and cervical, or neck mobility when we do a rotations, basic lateral tilting, what we call chicken exercises, little lateral glides, things like that.

Now, if you don’t have that mobility, just start with what you do have. Just start with some really simple, basic ranges of motion. Make them pain free, and basically just warm up your neck.

The next thing that you want to do is also work on the upper part of your neck. The easiest way to do that is to tuck your chin and then pull your chin back gently. Again, tuck the chin, pull the chin back lightly. What you’ll feel in that, is kind of an increased stretch at the base of your skull. That will also help you to relax. You can also kind of rub the shoulders, or move the shoulders around in a bunch of different ways. Think about relaxing the neck and shoulders.

That’s number one. Number two; you want to relax your eyes.

Periodically through the day you want to do a couple different things. You can do a light eye massage. Eye massage is pretty simple. I’ve talked about it in other blogs, but basically you have six spots in the middle and the bottom, middle and the top, inside bottom, inside top, and outside bottom, outside top.

You just close your eyes. You give a little pressure, and then about 5 to 10 seconds of circular massage in each of those spots just to let your eyes relax, and what you may find if you’ve tested it, like okay how far out to the side and up and down can I see, you may even see some improvement just from relaxing the head and neck and the eyes.

That would be a great thing to do every hour to every two hours sitting in front of the computer, or when you’re watching TV, so that you don’t get overly focused on that little box that seems to rule our lives.

All right.

After we’ve done that, the next thing that we want to do is we want to start to learn how to train peripheral vision. To give you an example what I have here is what we call a peripheral awareness chart.

We have all these things up in our office at different times, but the example here is when you’re training your peripheral vision, you want to work on it in a different bunch of ways, but the most important key point is that you have to pick a focal spot.

If you see this chart, there’s a little dot right in the center, and what happens as the athlete looks at this chart, they focus on the dot, and usually they have it fairly close to their face like this, and the idea is to maintain steady focus on that one spot and then try to relax the rest of your vision and become more aware of the surroundings.

Now you don’t have to have one of these awesome charts in order to do that.

All right. You can do this in a bunch of different ways. What I recommend is get six post-it notes or eight post-it notes, put one in the middle with a dot on it. Put the others in a kind of a clock face. It’s good to put a star or a letter or something on it. Then you just get really close to the front post-it note, stare at it, and then try to broaden your awareness so that you can start to make things out.

That’s the simple version, is one letter or one shape per post-it. Now, if you want to get advanced with this, there’s a lot of research that shows that we then want to start making it more difficult.

That’s step four. Once you start to understand how to expand your peripheral awareness, you want to challenge it.

A lot of people, when they think about peripheral awareness, they think, “Okay, it’s for low light and for movement.” That’s true, but we also can increase or improve our acuity meaning how clearly we can see this stuff.

In the research labs, what they do is they start off with like one letter, and then as you improve, they go to two letters. Then three letters, and then they put them in different formations. The idea is that with a little bit of training, people can improve their peripheral acuity up to 45, 50%, which is really cool and really outstanding because that is reflected then in improvements in reading.

That’s where most of this research has been done.

One of the studies I looked at from 2010, some time ago, showed that a normal person that worked on peripheral awareness could actually increase their reading speed up to 85% just, again, by improving the acuity with which we can see to the outside.

Step 1, relax your neck.
Step 2, relax your eyes.
Step 3, pick a focal point and spread your awareness.
Step 4, make it more challenging by increasing the difficulties of the targets that you see.

The next thing then, step 5, is doing what I call multi-position work, all right.

When we do multi-position work basically what that means is most people when they do peripheral awareness work, they do it with something directly in front of them.

Over time, I want you to also start to place targets to your side, and above, and below, and to your left. In this case, I have a multi-sized font chart that we’ve used in other videos.

Click Here For The Chart

For instance, if I wanted to start with this large font size 36, I can go, okay, if I’m looking directly at the camera, that’s my focal point, can I be aware of it, can I read it? No, okay, okay, maybe here, maybe here, and then eventually I start again trying to increase or expand my ability to see clearly what’s out to the side, and I said, using it in different body positions so that it’s not always directly in front of you is the next step.

Finally, let’s talk about time. Step 6 is to do this enough.

When you look at vision training, a lot of people want to do one vision drill for 30 second and go, “Okay I’m good,” but that’s not how it works. Remember that you’re getting millions upon millions of reps, right, using your eyes throughout a week. Basically you have a lot of visual habits that need to be broken.

The only way to do that is through regular practice. If you look at the research in peripheral vision retraining, you need to be thinking somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes a day of doing this kind of work. Now that does not have to be in one big group.

It can be spread 1 minute 10 times a day, or 2 minutes 5 times a day, but you do have to start to accumulate time as you do this, and doing it with regularity will make the biggest difference.

There you have it guys. I hope you found that really interesting. At least gives you some ideas.

Remember, relax the neck, relax the eyes, pick a focal point as you expand your awareness, make it more challenging over time.

Once you’ve done that, change your body positions, and have the peripheral stimulus in different areas, and then finally, do it long enough to actually create an effect.

Give us a shout if you have any questions about it, please let me know.

Otherwise, good luck.

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