By Steven Dinnen
“Fight Back.” This is the powerful statement that people with Parkinson’s disease get to hear every time they go to Rock Steady Boxing. Their brave leader Scott Newman, himself a boxer, started fighting back when he was diagnosed with the disease. His friend was a trainer, and when Scott was diagnosed they started a training program that consisted of high intensity boxing. One day Scott raised both of his arms and told his friend/ personal trainer that he was “rock steady.” After this Scott knew he had to share this idea with everyone who had Parkinson’s disease.
The original location is in Indianapolis, Indiana. Now it can be found across the U.S. and select areas in Europe. After hearing about the work they were doing, I decided I wanted to find out more. The location I visited to write this blog is located right where I live in Largo, Florida with a second location in Tampa, Florida. Here is what you should know about this awesome place and the classes they offer.
The studio I visited is run by Tiara, her daughter Jordan, and a team of dedicated individuals. Tiara has been a physical therapist for 25 years and heard about the program through an opportunity to receive continuing education units or CEU. She absolutely loved what Rock Steady stood for and decided to open her own location.
The company’s break out moment was when the husband of CBS’s Lesley Stahl was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and attended a class. The newscaster was so impressed with what Rock Steady did for her husband that she did a story on them. After the new segment, the business took off. Here is the 10 minute segment:
Previously, their main advertisement was through word of mouth, and referrals from movement disorder specialists (MDS). These specialists are neurologist who focus on Parkinson’s and other movement disorders. Most people who get diagnosed are recommended to see a MDS professional because they can tailor a more specific plan to their needs, and give a more holistic and complete approach to battling Parkinson’s.
The typical Rock Steady Boxing class is 90 minutes and is divided into three 30 minute sections. The first 30 minutes consist of a variety of static and dynamic stretches, practice falling, and a “get to know you” session. The “get to know you” portion is when each client gives themselves a boxing name and is asked the question of the day. When a question is asked they are encouraged to yell back their response. Parkinson’s diseases affect all muscles in the body including the vocal cords. This leaves the person with a soft voice that can make them hard to understand. According to research speaking up or yelling, for someone with Parkinson’s disease, helps improve the strength of their vocal cords and increases the volume of their voice. After that the next 30 minutes is always different and allows each class to be unique. On any given day, this portion can be strength and conditioning, circuit training, or working on balance. Finally, the last 30 minutes are where it gets exciting. This is where the clients get to box, and consists of using the speed bag, punching pads, and the heavy bags. This is all being performed in a non-contact manner.
There are 4 different levels of classes someone with Parkinson’s can take depending on the severity of their conditions. Level 1 and 2 are people that are in the early stages and don’t need many modifications. Next there are level 3 and 4 who are in a later stage and have cognitive deficits and gait/balance disturbances. In these classes, all exercises are modified to fit the needs of the class. There is a level 5 of Parkinson’s, but most of these people are too immobile to take part in the classes. The reason that they divide the participants by the level of the disease is to build a sense of camaraderie. Jordan says many of the participants discuss what medications they are on, what has worked, and what has not worked. Finding this common ground helps them feel like they aren’t doing this alone.
But, you may still be asking yourself: why does a boxing class work for so many people with Parkinson’s disease? Well, if you compare what a boxer is training to improve versus the symptoms of a Parkinson’s patient, there are many similarities. Boxers train to have quicker movements, great footwork, balance, and to not be stiff in the ring. Meanwhile, Parkinson’s symptoms are being stiff and rigid, slow movements, and tremors. When a boxer is training they are training to avoid the same things that Parkinson’s patients are trying to overcome, just to a less severe degree. Overall, studies show that people who have Parkinson’s and actively partake in boxing classes have a reduction in many symptoms such as the constant tremors (check out this article exploring the medical value’s legitimacy). Lastly, for the participants it allows them to leave behind all their worries and be a boxer for 90 minutes.
If you would like more information about this studio or how to become part of the Rock Steady Family use the links below. If you have any questions or experiences you would like to share, please leave a comment!
To learn more about the Largo Rock Steady Boxing location, visit: tampabay.rsbaffiliate.com
For Rock Steady Boxing’s main and to locate one near you, visit: www.rocksteadyboxing.org
And, take a look at the episode of the Week in Neurodiversity where we highlight Rock Steady Boxing here.