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

I LOATHE SPINNING but I do it anyway

Let me preface this whole article by saying I HATE CYCLING AND SPINNING. I just need to make that clear because I’m trying to be as objective as possible about something I continue to do because it’s good for me despite loathing everything about it

(breaks into song):

My pulse is rushing

My head is reeling

My face is flushing

What is this feeling?
Fervid as a flame
Does it have a name?
Unadulterated loathing
— What is this Feeling, Wicked the Musical

Back to fitness.

I don’t know about you but as an incredibly competitive person, I feel like I’m always up against others and myself. Living in New York City has only infinitely ballooned the issue. Therefore, fitness classes that in any way quantify your workout beyond personal gains tend to be utter failures for those like me simply because I will push myself, well beyond my own capabilities in order to beat myself and those alongside me. PR or ER (personal record or emergency room) is a very real thing and in today’s society, we have moved beyond simply activity tracking and into that competitive bubble where we all have apps and challenges and competitions so I’m sure there’s more than a few people who share this problem or else the industry would not exist.

That said, my workout of choice for this post is FlyWheel. I’m not a huge cardio fan at this point in my life but if I have to do it I want quality cardio. FlyWheel is quality cardio and unlike some of the other fad cycling classes, the focus is on that quality cardio, form, listening to your body, and not doing weird dance moves that should never be done while cycling for high risk of injury. In my experience, the instructors are trained in fitness and anatomy vs other brands where a dance background is preferred (very different from cycling), they are knowledgeable and helpful in the subject matter and know how to correct both to accommodate prior injury and prevent new injury.

As far as the studios in general, they are quite clean and modern; very typical of any boutique fitness studio. Their “stadiums” are much smaller than most other spin classes I’ve attended. If you preregister for your class, a bike number is assigned to you and your shoes will be waiting in a cubby for you when you come in; no waiting in line for a pair of shoes. They offer complimentary water, towels, fresh fruit (usually a bowl of apples and bananas on the tables), lockers and have full amenity showers and changing rooms (although you may want to skip the closing stretch to grab a shower if you’re on a time crunch as there is usually a short wait). They’re really great spaces.

So cycling just not being for me does not mean I’m not going to continue doing it because it pushes my limits and comfort zones. No one wants to plateau, especially when training for a physically vigorous challenge. Cross training is key.

So FlyWheel. It is amazing for me in many ways. I need more cardio and more experience controlling breathing and my core temperatures during more strenuous cardio. I need an instructor if I’m going to spin otherwise I will half ass it like a champ. It gives me current stats on how I’m performing at any given moment via a nifty personal digital display on each bike. Those stats, much like the displays on a treadmill or elliptical, help me pace myself and follow the lead of the instructor. I am absolutely terrible at pacing myself through intervals. I am always going too fast through the slower parts. It also keeps me from sprinting all out vs holding steady at an increased output during the harder intervals and only sprinting during actual sprints. It also allows me to see how I’m progressing via their online profiles.

For me, FlyWheel is also dangerous because it does quantify and rank your performance against other fellow classmates using what I can only assume is an algorithm taking into account your rpm, torque, etc., which means fight to the death…usually my death because I’m the one with issues. There are digital “leaderboards” in the front of the room although you do not have to displayed on them if you don’t want the whole room to know you’re dying over in the corner just spinning in first position or that you’re kicking everyone’s butt in third with full torque. Even if you choose not to be displayed on the public leaderboards, you can still compare yourself to the leaderboard numbers using your personal display. You can also sign into your profile online and see how you ranked against everyone in the class afterwards and see how you fared within your own previous performances. And if you’re like me, you can then berate yourself until your next session for missing a PR by TWO MEASLY POINTS!!!!

As you can see, many of the pros and cons overlap with the cons being more psychological than fitness related. In general, I recommend FlyWheel or any cycling focused spin class for someone with injuries or limited fitness experience. It is lower impact on the joints compared to walking or running but more so than say, an elliptical. Well-trained instructors are key and as always, listen to your body and go at your own pace. Basically do as I say and not as I do.

Enjoy the sweat!