Hurdling with Force

Each exercise Bernard has me perform seems to contain another step. He has a way to make things more challenging. The progressions he provides become the key to gaining strength. There are times when he gives me an idea of our next step with an exercise. Most times the next progression doesn’t appear until we are getting ready to execute the step. The lateral step with the purple blocks was no different. It was simply the opening step of a progressive exercise. The following week we went into the same yoga room at the gym for a more complex movement. Bernard brought a single hurdle with us instead of the two purple blocks. During the movement pattern, he wanted me to move from one side of the hurdle to the other. The exercise would require pushing off one leg to propel myself over the hurdle. Once on the other side, the theory would be to catch myself on the opposite leg, regain balance, and propel myself back the other side of the hurdle. There would be a couple different challenges related to this single hurdle movement. The maintaining of balance would be different from the lateral steps of the purple blocks. Another good challenge would be pushing off each leg with an increased amount of force. The force used to push my body across the hurdle would also complicate balance.

One of the most important skills to work on during my life has been balance. Cerebral palsy has often made balance more challenging. Balance seems involved in most everything we participate in during the day. Balance doesn’t just provide the ability to stand and walk. The skill plays a part in lifting a glass of liquid or cutting chicken during a meal. Struggling with my balance can become irritating at times. Working on the ability to stabilize does help ease some negative emotions about the subject. The effort put forth in the gym has improved my abilities in the area across the board. A key to making the improvements seems to be working on balance with different exercise. As the ability continues getting better, we continue to challenge balance with more complexity. Placing me in situations to think about more factors while going through an exercise. The force being generated while working with the hurdle required concentration on a major challenge with balance. The challenge has been my ability to slow my momentum, maintaining my stability. That point of slowing to a stop and changing direction has seen me lose the center of gravity.

The lack of confidence in an ability to stop can lead to feelings of discomfort. Growing up with cerebral palsy found me losing my balance. It felt as though my stability was lost more than others. Those feelings of hovering on the edge of losing balance seemingly takes a toll. They lead me to becoming more cautious when engaging in an activity that could risk stability. Part of the insecurity around balance could stem from a lack of understanding. The missing ability to slow myself when actions lead to the development of speed. A positive concept in working with Bernard has been his ability to place me into challenging situations. He has us work exercises to improve things that have caused anxiety. Working the lateral steps with the purple blocks was the first of this recent two step progression. We moved through those blocks with a slower pace, working on balance and footwork. However, at each end of the steps, the requirements of slowing momentum was present. With the configuration of the multiple purple blocks, the momentum wouldn’t be too accelerated. Bernard was asking me to move laterally with pace instead of pushing with force. The movement had me working on balance without the force he would introduce the following week.

Like with many new movements involving balance, we begin slowly. A challenge found with cerebral palsy has been learning new movement patterns. Once those movement patterns are learned, the steps that follow are gaining comfort and fluidity of the movement. As we began slowly moving laterally over one hurdle, we did so without the forceful leg push intended. Similar to the purple blocks, the gentle pace provided a feel for body position and balance during the exercise. The exercise began with more of a hop over the orange hurdle siting on the floor. Within the first few passes there was a stumble on one side of the exercise. In an attempt to gain balance and transition back across the hurdle. My balance began drifting toward the outside of my body. The positioning of my body when landing on my planted foot wasn’t working. My weight would be more stable if kept toward the inside of my planted foot when landing. With my weight on the inside, my body felt more stable, and the transition of moving back across the hurdle could be executed more seamlessly. By gaining the ability to begin understanding my weight distribution during the exercise, we could take the next step.

Experiencing the instability of a movement can help with improvement. It seems once we recover from the moment, we can conceptualize how to get better. After my body weight drifted far enough to intercept the lateral movement across the hurdle, real improvement seemed to occur. I had found the feeling to stay away from, along with a better understanding of body position. When the understanding of body position related to the movement became clear, we could add speed. While moving toward the second and third sets of the exercise, Bernard started encouraging power. With the balance of the movement improving, he wanted me to push more fully off each side. The action would increase force as we progressed, along with applying pressure to the slowing of force, and transitioning to the next move. The increase in force while pushing myself off one leg was challenging. Any fear was controlled by progressing in the amount of force pushed with each time. Once it became clear balance could be maintained at one level of force, I attempted to spring off of each leg with more intensity. The result was gaining confidence in my ability to hold my body on one leg and transition to pushing back across the hurdle. It was a good challenge to learn how to position my body, remaining steady during another type of agility drill.

Another major component to working on agility has been movement of my arms. Cerebral palsy causes many of my muscles to experience rigidity. It often feels my arms can become the most rigid in my body. They tend to tighten at the elbows, which can fold them back toward the center line of my body. Many times, when doing an exercise without the arms being occupied, they stiffen and become immobile. Something that had never occurred to me was the negative effect the arm stiffness can have on balance. It has always felt habitual to keep my arms tucked close to my side during exercise without moving them. The absence of moving my arms never registered as hindering my balance. My thoughts had always been to keep the arms out of the way. But, there has been a better way to learn, as Bernard has spent time helping me look upon arm movement as beneficial to balance. The movement for the arms in an athletic situation like running would be in sync with the opposite leg movement. So, when the left leg was to raise, the right arm would move in an upward motion. The synchronization helps keep the body centered. It has been challenging for me to learn, after keeping my arms in a fixed position as a habit. The process also becomes something else to concentrate on during an exercise. Another light in the brain being activated. Moving my arms has been a big challenge, as the action has become one that tends to be forgotten. However, during the times swinging the arms has been remembered it has a noticeable impact. I can feel the arm movements helping with balance, so I continue to practice.

There seem to be many components to improving balance. The way we work on improving stability has been to challenge it differently. We begin each exercise by working the movement slowly. Gaining some understanding of how to perform the task. Once the fluidity of movement can better be understood, the work can be increased in intensity. The journey has been a great way to work on abilities cerebral palsy has hampered. Finding someone like Bernard to understand how to work these hampered abilities from different angles has been helpful. It remains something that wouldn’t seem possible by myself. The skill of understanding how to improve movement hasn’t been one I possess. Which leads to more forms of learning, as Bernard provides examples of things those of us with cerebral palsy can do to improve. Even at a young age many of our exercises can be adapted to any level. Movement has been the most important aspect of cerebral palsy improvement. Some of the work we do can cause uncertainty as we begin. It seems a natural emotion for me when beginning something physically new. But, the years have shown me that things are possible with some effort, even things you didn’t think you had the strength for.


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