The Sweet Science of Beating the Crap Out of Things

I’m sure the general consensus is that physical rehabilitation is good for boxers. Why you ask? Well, it may have something to do with repeated punches to the head.

Yes I know that’s obvious, so what I pose is this, instead of using rehab to help boxers, let’s use boxing to help with rehab.

Let me clarify. I’m not saying that those in need of physical rehabilitation should step in the ring. It’s not the actual combative aspect of boxing to which I’m referring (hey, I like my nose the way it is thank you very much), it’s the fundamental training behind boxing that I’m talking about.

Boxing is a lot more than most people give it credit for. Behind the adrenalin soaked rounds, swings and knockouts, is a masterful training regime aimed at developing precise timing, rhythm and endurance. Boxing develops physical strength, breath control, and teaches you to stay focused under stress. These all just happen to be the stimulants needed for neuro-plasticity to kick in.

These days, you hear the word neuro-plasticity used a lot. At Aim2Walk, neuro-plasticity isn’t just a word, it’s a natural process that we clinically take full advantage of. To spark the recuperative powers of neuro-placticity through boxing fundamentals, we apply 3 important principles. These are:

1) Repetitive movement patterns
2) Precision and awareness
3) Focus under stress

Now this all said, you can’t just put on the gloves, beat the crap out of a bag, and think that you’re going to do yourself any good. It’s a specific system of learning, and that system needs to be done right. To help us implement boxing fundamentals into our rehabilitation programs, we brought in Jason Van Veldhuysen, an former amateur boxer, to show us the ropes (Jason actually did a great vid on implementing boxing at the clinic that’s posted at the bottom of the page). Jason was a great help and thanks to him boxing fundamentals have fully integrated their way into our program. Again, the emphasis isn’t on fighting. We focus on timing, spacial awareness, rhythm, breath control, mental focus and physical endurance.

The main training activities we’ve incorporated are pad work, heavy bag conditioning and speed bag drills. Here’s a little more info on each:

Padwork: Amazing for developing co-ordination and spacial awareness. Think of these as focus pads. The patterns are varied, changeable, and you need to stay on point. Also, the pads hit back! That’s right, when we work clients with the pads, the drills often include counter strikes that clients will block, duck and slip. All great ways to train the core and reaction time.

Speedbag: The speed bag trains your rhythm and timing. It’s also very difficult to control, so clients need to take extra care regulating their speed and strength. It’s great for developing smooth, fluid movement. Once you get the hang of it, it’s almost like meditating.

Heavybag: Then there’s the heavy bag, or as we like to call it, the big stress bag. Good to unload on (hey, we all need it sometimes). Builds strength and endurance. Apparently it’s also good for hugging.

As you can see, boxing really is a sweet science. Hopefully more eyes will be open now to it’s benefits, well, now that we’re thinking bigger than the whole getting punched in the head thing. Drop us a line if you’ve experienced the rehabilitative power of boxing. We’d love to hear your story.

– Jesse

(Jason and I talking about integrating boxing into neuro-rehab)

Move Like a Baby, Swim like a Jellyfish?

Part 1: Sunshine, Beaches & Bracelets

ResortIt was October 12th, 2013, and my plane had just landed in Montego Bay.


I was booked at the fabulous Sunset Beach Resort, a rather luxurious getaway destination plunked quite snugly on a gorgeous little peninsula off Montego Bay. Equipped with my sparkly new resort issued POWER BRACELET (an accessory that looked like something Barbie would wear), I was now free to gorge myself on endless supplies of food, drink, beach and sun.

But wait… wasn’t I here to work?

Part 2: Sitting, Standing & Swimming

If you don’t know about David (aka: The Jamaican Burrito), you can read about him in THIS earlier post. David was injured in a jet skiing accident that left him unable to control his lower body. After a few years of random therapy hopping, he landed in our 3 month intensive program. David did very well during his stay with us, and eventually headed home feeling positive that he would no doubt be walking on his own again soon.

David must have really missed the punishment we put him through, because after being back home for a couple of months he asked if one of our therapists would be willing to visit him in Jamaica to continue his therapy. The burden of this obviously uncoveted task fell onto my weary shoulders… and so there I was, no lokomat, no muscle stim units, no fancy nothin’. Just me, my hands, this ridiculous sparkly bracelet, and the 30ºc sun on my back.

Years in healthcare have taught me a simple lesson. The only real problem people suffer from, is lack of movement. David’s body, internally and externally, had moved very little in the past 6 years. Freeing up his muscles, joints and even his organs, was mandatory. Mornings were spent lengthening, shortening, twisting and bending poor David into shapes that would make a pretzel jealous.

Then, pool therapy was on the agenda (yup, pool therapy – I know, the life of a traveling therapist is hard). Being in a pool allows a person to move freely while not being as challenged by gravity. We used these sessions to work on both isolated and whole-body movement patterns. These sessions also seconded as a great opportunity for me to tan and drink gallons of coconut water. It was in the pool that David first regained the ability to bend his left knee, something he hadn’t been able to do since his accident.

The next step in our therapy plan was one I find is often overlooked… reeducating someone HOW to move. People tend to emphasize what someone CAN and CAN’T do. There’s rarely attention payed to what they COULD do, if you just showed them how to do it properly again. David had it in his head that he couldn’t stand. He never considered the possibility that he could, and that he just forgot how to.

Over the course of 5 days, David worked on movement patterns aimed at reminding him and his body how to stand. Patterns that loosely mimicked the way a baby would learn to stand (we can learn a lot from babies). Here’s a video showing the progressive sequence we worked on to get him standing again. It was the first time he had stood without using his hands for assistance in 6 years!

In the end, I was very happy with David’s progress, and left him with a daily training routine that should keep him progressing until the next time we meet.

Part 3: Food, Rocks & Jellyfish

FoodOk fine. I’ll admit it wasn’t all work. While I was there, David’s mom fattened me up on the best Jamaican home cookin’ a stomach could ask for (thanks Kathy!). This included REAL jerk chicken. If you haven’t experienced the real deal, Jamaican jerk chicken isn’t just about spice, it’s all about slowly smoking the meat!

JellyfishEvery day I also had a good amount of time to myself. Time I usually used to sit on some rocks along the seashore and stare mindlessly into the ocean. Sitting there, I was regularly visited by interesting sea life, like starfish, eels, lobster, and of course my favourite, and master of fluid movement, the jellyfish. 

In a wrap, Jamaica is much more than just sun and beach. It’s full of life, adventure, food, and wonderful people. I can’t imagine a better place to give or receive therapy. In fact, I might have to make a habit of going down there. Hey, somebodies got to do it, and my inner tan is still screaming to be unleashed (I know it’s in there).

On that note, thanks again for having me Dave and Kathy… so long Jamaica, and thanks for all the fish.

– Jesse

Falling Down, Then Getting Back Up


People fall.

Sometimes people fall softly, and sometimes they fall hard. Falling down is a part of life, and when we fall, we’ve learned that you just have to get yourself back up, brush off the dirt, and keep movin’ forward.

You probably think I’m being metaphorical, but for once I’m not (mind you, if you’re like me, you probably metaphorically fall more often than literally – yuk yuk).

Yes, people fall down all the time, and if you’ve had a stroke, falling down is an even bigger issue. In fact average stroke survivors experience seven times as many falls as healthy adults do, and many of those falls can end them up in the hospital.

Generally, stroke rehabilitation focuses on improving balance, strength and range of motion. While this is certainly a sensible approach, research shows that standard workout and rehabilitation programs only reduce the average number of falls by half. Hmm, that’s still an awful lot of falling down.

So what else can stroke survivors do to keep their feet firmly planted on the ground? Well, there’s a ton of research out there indicating that practicing Taiji Quan regularly is doing a pretty good job of just that!

Whether you’ve read it as TaiJi Quan or TaiChi Chuan, everybody knows what it is by now, and most people have probably seen it in motion (if not, here’s a good clip). It emphasizes fluid, dynamic and circular movements, demands concentration and attention to detail, and it’s not nearly as easy as it looks. Most importantly though, it packs a big bag full of benefits if you keep it up.

Above and beyond increased strength, balance and range of motion, long term benefits of practicing TaiJi can include better posture, alleviation of depression and anxiety, improved cardiovascular health, better quality of life, increased immune function, reduction of high blood pressure, reduced spasticity, greater concentration, and better exercise tolerance. It’s also shown to be a beneficial therapeutic adjunct in brain injury, parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis rehabilitation programs.

The question most people have is, what makes TaiJi different? It’s a good question that often goes without a very satisfactory answer. In terms of rehabilitation, my experience is that TaiJi provides a self-directed, systematic way to master functional movement awareness. Translation: It teaches you how to understand and control your body really really well.

That’s something our clients, or anyone for that matter, could certainly benefit from. Especially if you fall a lot.

If you don’t already know, we’re in the process of expanding the clinic (more on that in later entries). One of the things we’re very excited about starting up in our new space are weekly movement classes! These classes won’t just be about TaiJi, they’ll also incorporate ideas from other traditional exercises like yoga, QiGong, meditation and boxing. It will be an opportunity for anyone experiencing movement challenges due to a neurological impairment to relearn how to use their body.

I’m working on a gimmicky name for this new class, but for now it’s just going to be called ‘Movement Therapy’ (cut me some slack, it was late when I wrote this and I’m not feeling very imaginative at the moment). Hopefully in a few months we’ll be able to post videos of these classes online.

So next time you fall, remember to just get back up, brush off, and keep on moving forward. As long as you’re persistent and keep learning, sooner or later those literal falls will be a thing of the past… and hopefully the metaphorical ones too.

– Jesse

Here are a couple links with research about TaiJi and Stroke rehabilitation.