Take Your Proprioception to the Barre
This may be a somewhat disjointed article (more so than usual) because I’m trying to tackle three large topics that are very much intertwined for the purpose of this conversation and probably should have been previously addressed separately but instead I’m going to explain as much as needed along the way as to why this is a choice workout and take on the medical/kinesthetic detailed background in a later article or in the comments. I’ve never been one to do things in the “proper” order anyway. DESSERT FIRST!
We’ll start with balance and proprioception. Proprioception is defined by Stedman’s Medical Dictionary as a sense or perception, usually at a subconscious level, of the movements and position of the body and especially its limbs, independent of vision; this sense is gained primarily from input from sensory nerve terminals in muscles and tendons (muscle spindles) and the fibrous capsule of joints combined with input from the vestibular apparatus. What does that mean and why is it important? Well, the basic translation would be that your body takes in sensory input from its various receptors throughout your body to note where you are in time and space and maintain that location. It’s important enough to be one of the key factors tested in every one of our neurological evaluations and usually the most dreaded. Put your feet together, stretch your arms out in front of you and close your eyes. Now stand on your left foot. Stand on your right foot. Sound familiar? That’s proprioception. My favorite measure has always been on the swing set; get swinging nice and high, close your eyes and let go of the chains. How’s the balance? Do you feel wobbly? Are you nice and stable? Do you fall off? Do you feel like you’re going to fall of? That’s proprioception or lack there of.
Now, I spent two long years in physical therapy doing the same exercises over and over to increase my core strength and balance and ultimately, proprioception. I had to learn, without access to touch stimuli, where I was in time and space and how to keep myself there. Bridges. Planks. Clamshells. Stand on one foot and close your eyes. On your toes. On your heals. Bicycles. All of the core building and stabilizing movements that most people hate to do. But at the end of the day, proprioception is a major key to preserving function in the long run. It may not be entirely scientific but I like to believe that the more you have to lose, the stronger you are in the more highly affected areas, the longer it will take to break it down; my own uneducated idea of a self initiated protective factor.
That said medium cardio and high strength training workouts have been on my radar and top of my list to try and review as part of the “able” disabled series. And barre is currently at the top of my “run, don’t walk” list…okay maybe speed walk; it’s a bit toasty outside for a run for most of us.
Barre is basically a series of fitness classes derived from actual ballet workouts but made accessible to those of us who aren’t (and possibly shouldn’t be) ballerinas. My choice studio in NYC is Physique 57. It focuses on strength and balance and stability and a certain level of grace (that if you’re anything like me is completely unattainable but we can dream). It is everything I did in PT but amped up a bit. More reps. More positions. And a whole lot of squats and pushups. The bonus is that even it New York City, it costs less than PT and I get an hour instead of thirty minutes (but no stim, massage or heat…womp womp).
They say, “embrace the shake,” which very much falls in line with my own, “if you’re sweating it’s good, if you’re shaking it’s better.” But they also advocate not pushing yourself beyond your own capabilities. The barre is used for stability in exercises that you may or may not be confident in (or physically capable of) performing without assistance. While you’re pulsing out those ridiculously low squats on your toes and are shaking so bad you might fall over, you have the barre to help you push out those one or two extra reps. And never feel intimidated because if you look around the room, every single one of us stands up, shakes it out, and jumps right back into the set. And while it is one heck of a workout, it is limited in cardio to the point of maintaining an increased heart rate but not so much that you should have to worry about negative medical effects from the autoimmune side of things (I am not a doctor and speak only from my own experiences so always consult with your doctors first).
A random side story/recommendation as to just how accommodating the studio is:
I didn’t know it walking in one day, but I was about to get hit by a lay down or fall down day. I easily made it through our warmup and arms session but by the time I got to the barre, about 10-15 minutes in, it was simply not happening. I thought it was a quick wave, so I sat down for a minute and waited for it to pass. I got back up, took it to the barre and again nearly passed out. Although the instructor assumed I was lightheaded because I hadn’t eaten or was dehydrated, she and another instructor taking the class helped me out to the lobby sofa where it was much cooler, got me water, a banana and an apple and hovered until I swore it wasn’t a not eating thing but an MS thing. I was then helped to my Uber and received an email the next day just checking in. They care even if they really make you want to cry some days. Outside of (and possibly even within) classes where I personally know or have worked with the instructor, it was by far the best, most caring team I have ever encountered in the fitness