Rock Steady Boxing NOVA gym opened in McLean, Virginia, outside Washington, D.C., last December. That was the good news for 75-year-old Neil Eisner, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s six years ago and finds boxing an effective way to fight back against the disease.
Rock Steady Boxing (RSB) was designed especially for people with Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative disorder that leads to tremors and balance problems. Each exercise in the program focuses on a specific skill — one is combining punches on a bag to work on strength, another is crawling across the floor. Eisner says the exercises help him perform everyday tasks like moving around and getting in and out of bed.
Some strengthening exercises target vocal cords. “One of the things that’s interesting enough is [Parkinson’s patients] tend to have a [softer] voice. When you have that lower voice, and people can’t hear you, you don’t realize. So, he asks us to bring our voice clearly and more loudly,” Eisner said.
Becoming an RSB trainer
For personal trainer Alec Langstein, working with an older population is familiar. He understands their health issues and the need for them to stay active.
“My aunt has a gym in Westchester, New York, and she does a Rock Steady Boxing program there,” he said. “She invited me up to her gym to check out the program. She thought it would be a perfect fit for what I do. I helped out with a few classes, and it was just, I thought, an amazing program.”
The Rock Steady Boxing nonprofit was founded in 2006 by attorney Scott C. Newman, who was looking for ways to stay active after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 40. Since then, more than 500 boxing programs have been introduced in the U.S. and around the world.
Langstein went to the organization’s headquarters to become an RSB-licensed trainer, and a few months later, he opened his Rock Steady Boxing NOVA gym.
“It’s a typical boxing program,” he explained. “They focus on balance, hand-eye coordination, reaction, footwork. There is some cognitive stuff because in boxing, certain numbers equal certain punches. So, when I yell certain numbers, you have to move and react at the same time. So, the brain and the body are working together. It’s also taking out the aggression some people may have out of having the disease.”