Eye Exercises at Home

Vision, just like speed and strength, is a critical component in helping an athlete maximize his/her potential to play at a higher level.  And, if your eye muscles aren’t working in tandem, your performance may suffer. It’s true in sports, as well as in everyday tasks, such as driving or working at a computer.

And just as you can keep your body fit through proper diet and exercise, you can also work on keeping your visual skills sharp to help your eyes work more efficiently and contribute to improved performance when you return to play. Athletes who use their visual system to its maximum potential will gain optimal performance and a competitive edge.

Different sports require different visual skill sets.  You can learn about many of the different dynamic skills associated with the sports you play here.

Proper training by an Optometrist or Ophthalmologist with expertise in sports/performance vision, working in partnership with other professionals such as athletic trainers and coaches, may help you improve and optimize your visual processing on and off the field. But, while at home, here are four simple exercises you can do to keep your eyes in shape.

Keep in mind, though, that while eye exercises can help improve your eye health and help your two eyes work better together, they will not correct eye conditions such as near-sightedness (myopia), far-sightedness (hyperopia) astigmatism, or presbyopia. They will also not improve conditions such as glaucoma or macular degeneration. Be sure to first talk with your Eye Doctor/Sports Vision & Performance Professional about what type of exercise regimen would work best for you.

Yes-Yes / No-No

This exercise trains your ability to accurately maintain fixation on an object while your head, and/or the object is in motion. This may also be referred to as stability of fixation and is a critical visual skill in many dynamic sports, such as baseball, soccer, hockey, tennis and football.

Exercise basics:

Hold an object, such as the ace of spades from a deck of cards, in one hand out in front of you with your arm straight. Now move your head up and down (like nodding your head to say “yes”) while keeping your eyes focused on the card. Repeat the exercise moving your head side to side (like moving your head to say “no”)

Ways to add challenge:

Move your head faster, move your arm in the opposite direction of your head while doing the exercise, tape the card to a wall and walk forward and backward (about 10-12 feet) while performing the exercise.

Benefits:

Improves stability of fixation — the ability to keep your eyes on target while moving. Especially good for dynamic sports that involve movement while tracking an object (ball, puck, etc.).

Dr. Fred Edmunds demonstrates eye movement exercise

Follow the Light

There are two types of eye movement: pursuit and saccadic. In pursuit movement, eyes follow a target as it moves through space.  In saccadic movement, eyes jump to where a target is expected to move.

Exercise basics:

Pursuit – Stand in a darkened room and run a flashlight over the wall, varying the speed and position of the light. Follow the light with just your eyes, keeping your head still.  Make sure to move the light in varied directions (up/down, left/right, diagonal, circles).

Saccadic – Keep moving the flashlight, then rapidly switch it off and on, making your eyes jump across the wall to catch the light.  Like the pursuits, keep your head still and use just your eyes to track the light and move the light in different directions.

Benefits:

Improves your ability to track a moving target. Especially good for racquet sports, soccer, hockey, baseball, football.

Dr. Charles Shidlofsky demonstrates eye movement exercises you can do at home

Pencil Push-ups and Near-Far

Depth perception and being able to see clearly at different distances involve both eyes working together to focus on the target.

Equipment Needed:

  1. Pencil with Number/Alphabet letter on it
  2. White index card

Pencil Push-up Exercise (step-by-step):

  1. Stand or sit comfortably 6 to 8 feet in front of a wall.  Attach the index card, oriented vertically (longest side pointing up and down), to the wall at eye level.
  2. Hold the pencil at arm’s length directly between you and the card on the wall while you look directly at the small number/letter on the pencil.  You should see one clear letter, one pencil, and 2 cards in the background.
  3. Move the pencil slowly towards your nose while concentrating on the small letter.
  4. Keep looking at the small letter on the pencil, but be aware of the 2 cards on the wall in the background with your peripheral (side) vision.
  5. As the pencil approaches you, the cards should move apart and may appear to become smaller.  If one of the cards disappears, stop moving the pencil and blink your eyes until both cards are present.
  6. Stand or sit comfortably 6 to 8 feet in front of a wall.  Attach the index card, oriented vertically (longest side pointing up and down), to the wall at eye level.
  7. Hold the pencil at arm’s length directly between you and the card on the wall while you look directly at the small number/letter on the pencil.  You should see one clear letter, one pencil, and 2 cards in the background.
  8. Move the pencil slowly towards your nose while concentrating on the small letter.
  9. Keep looking at the small letter on the pencil, but be aware of the 2 cards on the wall in the background with your peripheral (side) vision.
  10. As the pencil approaches you, the cards should move apart and may appear to become smaller.  If one of the cards disappears, stop moving the pencil and blink your eyes until both cards are present.
  11. Continue to look at the small number/letter while moving the pencil slowly towards your nose.  Try and keep it clear and single as long as possible.  When you can no longer keep the small letter clear, continue to try and keep it single as you move it closer.  When you can no longer keep it single (it has become two), stop moving the pencil and try to get the letter back to one.  If you cannot get the two letter back into one, slowly move the pencil away from you until you can bring the two letters together.
  12. Once you can make the letters one again, continue moving the pencil closer to your nose.  If you cannot get the letters back into one, start the procedure over at step 2.
  13. Practice this procedure at 5 minute increments a couple of times a day.  At the end of each session, you may want to measure the distance to your brow (just above the bridge of your nose) at which the pencil becomes two.

The goal of the procedure is to get the pencil tip to within 1 to 2 inches of your brow, just above the nose, and to do it comfortably and effortlessly while breathing normally.

Benefits:

This exercise improves the ability of your eyes working together and leads to improved focus and depth perception.  This is a great exercise for team sports where you have to shift your focus frequently to what is happening close to you and down the field or court.

Dr. Dave Biberdorf demonstrates Pencil Push Up Exercise

Peripheral Awareness

Exercise basics:

Pick a long hallway or area at home that has lots of targets (e.g.,  pictures on the walls, bookshelf). Concentrate on a fixed target at the end of the hall or across the room, while paying attention to the environment around you. Describe the “targets” on the sides or in the room (pictures, books, objects), then check your accuracy. You can start standing still and then progress to walking while trying to describe the targets.

To increase difficulty further, try the exercise in a busy place like a grocery store aisle or shopping area, describing objects on the shelves and tracking movements of the people around you. Can you recognize them? Can you see what they are holding?

Benefits:

Improves your awareness and the ability to see objects and movements around you.  Another exercise great for team sports.