5 minute read

Eyercize is a free, web-based reading pacer that turns any text into a speed reading exercise. But, you can do more than just read faster using Eyercize. You can actually improve how you move, if you follow these simple training guidelines.

Part of the reason I'm so excited about Eyercize is how easy it is to use. Check out this video demo where I show you how to turn any web page into a eye training exercise:

As the creators of Eyercize explain on their site, most people probably haven't trained their reading skills since they first learned to read.

Reading faster, using the method that Eyercize is built on, relies on three interdependent skills. Basically, you read in chunks of letters. As your eye moves across the line, it takes a snapshot of a group of letters, which your brain processes, and then you move on to a new chunk.

Reading speed is determined by:

  • The size of the chunk
  • How quickly you jump from chunk to chunk
  • How much you keep moving forward, without going back to re-read the same chunk again

Eyercize trains you to expand the size of the chunk, move faster to the next chunk, and not go back and re-read the same chunk over again by moving the highlighter along at a set speed. If you really want to understand the technical details, add Eyercize to your bookmarks, hop over to the Wikipedia page about Eye Movements in Reading, and read through it in the Eyercize reader.

The Role of the Eyes in Movement

Saccadic movement, the technical term for the eyes moving rapidly side to side, like you do in reading, is one of the main visual skills that your brain uses to get information about your surroundings.

Most of us are unaware of just how much spatial and positional information we take in, but your body adopts a postural response based on the quality of information your visual system feeds your brain.

Lack of visual stamina can lead to postural strain.

You can think about it as another case of "garbage in, garbage out", but I prefer the positive statement that if you give your nervous system the best possible information, you get the best performance out of it.

If you want to read more, I've written about the link between eyes and movement, how the eyes influence flexibility (at 4:00 in the video) , and how poor eye movement can lead to neck pain.

For now, though, the most important thing to know is that there is actually a bio-feedback test you can use to tell if new information is "good information" or "garbage". In this case, when we are using a tool like Eyercize, we will use a bio-feedback test to tell when we've hit the limit of productive eye work. More isn't always better. Especially with visual training, you can easily do too much in one sitting.

Here is one of many bio-feedback tests we use in Z Health to determine if we should keep training or take a break.

Test Range of Motion Before and After

Range of motion, using something as simple as a toe-touch, can tell you a lot about the state of your nervous system. You can also use shoulder flexion (like I demonstrate here) or neck rotation, which is especially instructive if you notice one side is a lot tighter than the other.

It's all about the little indicators that the fight-or-flight response is kicking in. If your nervous system perceives threat, it reigns in range of motion. Just think of the protective gesture of the "fetal position".

Our premise for this bio-feedback test is that if range of motion increase, and you feel looser and more flexible after performing the reading exercises, you have a green light to continue. As soon as you notice a decrease in your range of motion, stop, rest, and do something to restore the balance, like I recommend below.

To get your baseline for your reading practice session:

  • Stand up straight
  • Bend forward and try to touch your toes
  • Notice how far you go and which muscles feel tight first

You're going to perform exactly the same exercise after you do 1 minute of speed reading with the pacer. Then retest your range of motion.

Red Light, Green Light

Did you notice a change before and after 1 minute of speed reading? If not, double your time and try it again. Repeat this process until you notice:

  • Any change in range of motion
  • Postural changes while you read, like slumping in your chair or craning your neck

If you can comfortably do 2-3 minutes of speed reading with no noticeable change in posture or pre- and post-testing, then you are ready to increase the variables in the reader. Those are all the controls along the left side of the Eyercize interface.

Balance Foveal Work with Peripheral Work

Eyercize trains one of your foveal vision skills. "Foveal" means you are using the retina to focus on something. The opposite skill set is peripheral vision, and you can use peripheral vision work to give yourself a break from too much focusing.

Here's a really simple peripheral drill you can do right at your desk:

  • Bring your arms up in front of you and touch your hands together
  • Start wiggling your index finger on each hand
  • Slowly move your arms apart and out to the sides
  • As your hands move away from each other, keep wiggling your fingers, but look straight ahead -- here's where you activate your peripheral vision
  • Continue to track your wiggling fingers using only your peripheral vision
  • You can move your hands up and down independently in your peripheral field, but be sure to keep your eyes straight ahead

Just a couple of minutes of peripheral work should be a nice balance to intense focus work.

If you use Eyercize with posture in mind, you'll see some great results in reading speed and your overall quality of movement.