Mov Sport Sci/Sci Mot
Number 119, 2023
Page(s) 9 - 18
Published online 27 February 2023

© ACAPS, 2023

1 Introduction

The “modern subjectivist society” (Bajoit, 2013) is marked by an evolution of ethical sources culminating in the consecration of the “expressive reason of the individual obeying only his conscience.” The contemporary individual has the possibility of becoming the “subject of himself,” that is, a singular person who would be both “subject and actor of his personal existence” (Ibid.). He concedes a new space-time to his corporeality, breaking with the frantic pace of life in order to reinvent his own bodily experience (Barberousse, 1999; Huet & Gal-Petitfaux, 2011). The interest in one’s body, in this “intimate part of oneself” (Vigarello, 2014), in the capacity to “self-care” (Andrieu, 2012), in the “development of the person” (Rogers, 1968) represents a real challenge. Bajoit (2013) explains that a part of the population thus seeks to develop itself through multiple methods: curative and Western, notably through psychoanalysis, psychology, etc., or preventive and alternative, particularly through physical practices such as yoga, meditation, martial arts, etc. (Chenault, Hamard, Hilpron, & Grison, 2013).

At the same time, there is an “intensification of the pace of life (…), a scarcity of time resources (…) an increase in the sense of urgency, time pressure, stress-inducing forced acceleration, as well as the fear of “not being able to keep up.” (Rosa, 2013, p. 103). Therefore, a clear form of paradox appears between the challenge of a “good life” (Schulze, 1997) through personal fulfillment versus the progressive shortening of present time (Luhmann, 1990).

In this article, we will present the concepts of acceleration and deceleration (Rosa, 2013) as well as the practice of step in Physical Education (PE); and, on the other hand, the theoretical framework of emersiology based on a holistic approach to physical practice.

Thus, based on the research program of the course of action, we will be able to analyze the experience of schoolchildren engaged in a step sequence, an energetic, rhythmic, and even accelerated activity, and the possibility for these pupils to experience singular moments of deceleration. Finally, we will provide some elements for discussion on the question of the relationship with time to enable pupils to learn to listen to their bodies.

2 Literature synthesis, theoretical background and research question

2.1 Acceleration and present time

Hartmut Rosa, in his social critique of time, presents an operational definition of social acceleration in our modern society (2013, p. 86) based on a systemic analysis of three forms of acceleration in “a combination of growth and acceleration” (Ibid., p. 91). Firstly, technical and technological acceleration represents an intentional form of goal-oriented acceleration in different sectors such as increasing production or travel speed, improving sports performance, or disseminating information. It is therefore a “speeding up of society” (Ibid., p. 101). Secondly, the acceleration of the rhythms of social transformations, for its part, does not pursue a defined goal and designates the rhythm at which “the forms of practice and the orientations of action, on the one hand, and the forms of the social link and the relational models, on the other, are transformed” (Ibid., p. 98). Knowledge and experience are rapidly becoming obsolete and there is a shortening of the periods that define the present (in different spheres: actions, values, functions), marked by a form of instability, a revision of expectations in ever shorter intervals and a constant reconstruction of experiences. It is an “acceleration of society” (Ibid., p. 101). A third autonomous form of social acceleration manifests itself in an increase in the pace of life (objective dimension), i.e. an increase in the number of episodes of action and/or experience per unit of time, resulting in a lack of time and a reduction of temporal resources. Here, the challenge of saving time (subjective dimension) (Ibid., p. 87) manifests itself through different strategies: accelerated actions (walking or eating faster), a reduction in breaks (number and duration), the execution of several tasks at the same time (multitasking), or the replacement of slow activities by faster ones (taking the car instead of walking) (Ibid., p. 154). The perception of this condensation of experience, structured around a fragmentation of activities and experiences, leads to increasingly complex decision-making processes (Ibid., p. 157) and adaptation constraints (Ibid., p. 166). Thus, psychosociological phenomena of desynchronization appear in some people, when anxiety-provoking perspectives in the face of information overload (Rosa, 2013) emerge. In others, an involuntary opposition of the body to its inability to keep up with this frantic pace appears (Zawieja & Guarnieri, 2013). The increase in stimuli and the quest for time would lead the body, in its structural coupling (Rosa, 2013; Varela, 1989), to constitute subterfuges and mechanisms to gradually modulate awareness and perceptions of its environment (Schivelsbusch, 2000), to adapt to the “tyranny of the moment” (Eriksen, 2001) and the “urgency of the moment” (Rochedy, 2015).

The acceleration of the pace of life reveals a paradox of the subjective experience of time where “episodes of experience felt to be interesting leave stronger memory traces than “boring” episodes (…) and vice versa” (Rosa, 2013, p. 175). According to the author, a “desensitization” would explain the rapid disappearance of the memory traces of lived experience: the sensory solicitation during the experience would be too restricted, and there is an isolation of the lived moments by a lack of authentic experiences rooted and incorporated in the history and identity of the people (Ibid., p. 179). Consequently, this “dynamic of contemporary acceleration transforms not only doing, but also being,” “modes of acting and experiencing” (Ibid., 180). It “affects not only what individuals do and experience, but also what they are” (Ibid., p. 182). Within the sphere of sport and bodily practices, similar observations (accelerations, desensitization) appear. Isabelle Quéval identifies a quest for the perfectibility of the body as “an obsession, an addiction” (2012) where “the immediacy of practices that were supposed to require less laborious learning” is advocated (Ibid., p. 42). The intensification of practice (increased physical effort), as well as the need for perpetual optimization of records, refers to an “exacerbated optimization of all the parameters of performance” (Ibid.). Moreover, behind the apparent temporal freedom offered by gyms and fitness clubs, with a search for the “sensation of immediacy” (Ernst & Pigeassou, 2005) and with “flexible training to adapt to your routine” (, 2022), an invitation to a daily temporal compression takes place1. In the school context, the question of the well-being of pupils and their psychosocial health appears to be a major issue today (Becchetti-Bizot, 2020) in response to reports of pressure experienced by pupils (Ibid.) and of burn-out (Salmela-Aro, 2011), but the direct question of the relationship with time seems to have rarely been addressed.

Faced with these accelerations, which concern different areas of social life, is the individual able to suspend time by incorporating present time (Elias, 1976) for the benefit of a greater quality of lived experiences (Rosa, 2013)?

According to Harmut Rosa, there are several forms of inertia to avoid acceleration. On the one hand, there is inertia by nature, since the natural speed limits of the brain, for example, in perceptual processes and stimulus processing, determine an obstacle to acceleration. Berthoz & Andrieu (2011) explain how information from the living body will only be perceptible from a threshold of 450 ms. On the other hand, a tendency to slow down is expressed in several ways. “Islands of deceleration” represent a “suspended time” and refer to “a social form that resists acceleration processes” in an anachronistic way with respect to the surrounding social systems (Rosa, 2013, p. 108). These are places or forms of practice that are deliberately created or maintained. We also identify intentional, ideologically motivated deceleration that deliberately aestheticizes slowing down. This intentional deceleration may involve acceleration by externalizing agitation (roller coasters, use of increased speed on the motorway) (Ibid., p. 113). Deceleration as an acceleration strategy represents another form of deceleration. Intentional, partial, and temporary, it aims to control the rhythm of life in order to be more efficient and faster and is expressed through individual practices such as micro-naps, or the use of yoga and meditation techniques, for example. These are “oases of artificial slowing down” that are meant to facilitate restarting (Ibid., p. 114). Finally, these slowdowns can be expressed in dysfunctional aftereffects (depression, unemployment, technical failure, traffic jams) and in a kind of cultural and structural petrification (resource depletion and a paralyzed society).

Rochedy, in a study on ultra-trail (2015), raises the paradox of the substantial amount of time devoted to this physical practice (linked to the distances covered and the level of training required), within the context of a generalized acceleration of the pace of life. The study accounts for several forms of inertia that translate the participants’ commitments and motives for action: deceleration as an ideology (a “way of life,” a “lifespirit”), deceleration as a strategy for acceleration (ultra-trail as a way to gain stability at work and within the family), or again a slowing down as a dysfunctional backlash (taking back control, rebuilding one’s identity). The ultra-trail as a space of deceleration brings a pledge of rebalancing within a modern, dynamic, constantly accelerating society.

In short, the acceleration of technique, society, and rhythm of life (Rosa, 2013), which is exponential in many areas (work, politics, university, the family, etc.), has a subjective impact on the individual. This acceleration engages him to seek and establish different strategies in the form of inertia; the use of physical practices such as ultra-trail (Rochedy, 2015) or yoga techniques (Rosa, 2013) seems to be more and more frequently used to achieve this aim.

2.2 School step: an intense activity to decelerate?

Step fitness mobilizes the practitioner in an ascent and descent of a step. Two inseparable support elements configure the practice: the step platform and the tempo defined by the music. Thus, rhythm and tempo encourage the practitioner to optimize her/his choreographic performance, following the music and seeking to achieve a high-energy expenditure. “The aim is to produce a sequence of steps and arm movements, codified or not, with a chosen intensity and level of coordination. The main dilemma (…) is to follow a music whose rhythm is imposed by managing an optimal level of effort intensity, personal gestural rhythm, coordination” (Boulnois & Kogut, 2014) (Fig. 1).

The step platform can be raised to different heights, using adjustable supports, with the immediate consequence of modulating the practitioner’s speed of execution and increasing energy expenditure. The successive movements (legs or legs–arms) are choreographed in blocks of 32 beats and are performed to a relatively high-frequency musical tempo that can range from 120 beats per minute to 150–160 beats per minute (BPM). Basic steps, whether simple or alternating, are superimposed on the music, in blocks of 4 or 8 beats. The steps become more complex and diversified, incorporating a very wide range of variations, thus helping to develop practitioners’ motor coordination of the practitioner and improve their aerobic capacities (Paintendre, 2017).

Within the framework of the fifth “learning area” (“champ d’apprentissage,” CA5) laid out by the Ministry of Education in 2019, step fitness at school engages two modalities of practice listed in the proposed didactic treatments: an embodied reading of one’s body, oriented towards taking into account bodily sensations (Barberousse, 1999) to take effective action and to regulate one’s training project; and a technological reading of heart rate, by means of a connected measuring object, at the risk of “controlling one’s body rather than living it” (Verchère, 2016). Indeed, by equipping students with a heart rate monitor, a measurement of the intensity of exercise is carried out continuously with the aim of reaching a target heart rate2. The aim is for the pupils to learn to regulate their commitment by managing the triad: heart rate rhythm – speed/amplitude of execution – musical tempo. Therefore, as a physical practice based on acceleration (rhythm and intensity of effort), does step allow pupils to experience deceleration? Does the didactic framework proposed by the CA5, based on an analysis of one’s bodily feelings and a technological reading of one’s body, lead the students to live an authentic experience, that is to say a bodily, sensorial experience, while meeting the requirements of intensity of effort linked to the training? Does this practice of producing form, with a pronounced rhythm, allow pupils to suspend time in order to listen attentively to their bodies?

thumbnail Fig. 1

School step and use of the energy parameter height.

2.3 Emersiology: for a holistic approach to the body

The ability to pay attention to one’s body and sensations, to potentially express one’s feelings, has been analyzed by Bernard Andrieu in the framework of his epistemological macro-model of emersiology (Andrieu, 2017). He proposes a holistic approach to the body (Vanpoulle, 2013) in physical activity and questions the temporal discontinuity between three levels of body (living, experienced, and described) with divergent temporal thresholds (Andrieu, 2013a, 2013b; Andrieu & Burel, 2014; Berthoz & Andrieu, 2011). The body is at once living, experienced, and more or less described. The porosity between these three bodily dimensions is such that the subject does not always differentiate between these bodily levels. The living body is not immediately perceptible to the subject, since its sensory manifestations appear below the liminal threshold of the state of consciousness (Andrieu, 2013a, 2013b; Berthoz & Andrieu, 2011)3. By being “immersed in a given environment (immersion4)” (Andrieu, 2014), the living body activates its potentialities to adjust to events. Indeed, a set of sensations emanates from the organs of the living body to the “lived body” through perception within 450 ms, which constitutes the first level of awakening of consciousness or pre-reflective consciousness (Andrieu & Burel, 2014): “It sorts out the different somatic activations coming from the living body according to whether or not they call for particular attention” (Ibid.). This lived body represents the sensory experience perceived during the effort by the practitioner, allowing him/her to differentiate between different bodily “feelings.” The phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty (1945) considers the phenomenal body as a space of perceptions (Merleau-Ponty, 1945; Richard, 2012). It is in the world, integrated into a complex system, and perceives the world at the same time as it acts on it. The phenomenal body thus represents the perceptual body embodied in experience and emerging to consciousness (Richard, 2012). At a final temporal threshold, the state of consciousness (Andrieu, 2016) is whole, and the putting into words of the body (“described body”) (Ibid.) represents the subject’s capacity to express his or her lived experience (internal and sensory) during his or her bodily practice: through verbal, gestural, and facial expressions, through handwritten transcription (Schirrer & Paintendre, 2017), pictograms (Coquart, Lensel, & Garcin, 2009) on the training log, or through debriefing spaces (Terré, 2015).

When practicing step at school, pupils mobilize the plural facets of their body in movement: alive (by the objectivation of their heart rate with the heart rate monitor), lived (by the perception of the body sensations), described (by the translation of their sensory state: training log, exchanges with the teacher or with peers). Consequently, the temporal discontinuities invite us to question the way in which the pupil engages in a bodily practice punctuated by the musical tempo and its objectives of intensification of effort, while listening to her/his body and her/his bodily sensations.

In other words, can student step platforms have an authentic sensory experience and reach a state of openness to their sensations (and thus learn to decelerate) even though the speed of execution, the musical tempo, and the quest for an increase in heartbeats per minute (BPM) engage them in a hectic bodily activity (Rosa, 2013)?

3 Research methodology

3.1 Theoretical and methodological framework of the course of action

More specifically, our study methodology is part of the “course of action” research program (Theureau, 2006). The course of action and the course of experience are concerned with the reduction of phenomena relating to individual human activity (Ibid., Saury et al., 2013). This framework is based on “two substantive hypotheses” (Theureau, 2010): that of access to pre-reflective consciousness, through the “understanding of experience” (Sartre, 1943), and the enaction hypothesis (Varela, 1989)5. The course of experience expresses activity as it is experienced by the actor “in a very fine grain, and in particular (…) its sensory and emotional details” (Theureau, 2010, p. 299). Indeed, the actor’s activity is partly revealed by a description of his or her experience, at a level qualified as imitable, “showable, commentable and relatable” (Saury et al., 2013; Theureau, 2006, p. 59). Indeed, under favorable conditions, the actor can trace what is significant by miming, simulating, narrating, describing, to achieve a “surface effect” of this activity (Theureau, 2010). The expression of pre-reflective consciousness captured by subjects’ verbatim responses allows us to access something of the person’s activity, not as an external observer but “from the inside” (Ibid.) and to “reconstruct the flow of intentions, perceptions, emotions, interpretations” and sensations corresponding to “a fraction of the lived experience” (Saury et al., 2013) of the actor’s activity. The semiological framework identifies human activity as a succession of signs – “man thinks and acts by signs” (Peirce, 1978) – in a discontinuous flow. “Experience is discontinuous. A moment of consciousness arises, seems to remain for an instant, then dissipates to be replaced by the next (Varela, Thompson, & Rosch, 1993). The units of the course of experience capture this discontinuity. Each unit represents a so-called hexadic sign, that is, made up of six components (Theureau, 2006)” (Terré, Saury, & Sève, 2013). The course of experience is made up of the sequence of units of the course of experience. They make it possible to account for a fraction of the activity that is shown, narrated, or commented on by the actor (Elementary unit of the course of action [U]); the actor’s concerns (Engagement [E]); her/his expectations (Potential actuality [A]); the knowledge mobilized (Referential [S]) and constructed (Interpreting [I]); the elements taken into account to act (Representation [R]) during periods of activity.

The aim of our research is to identify, in the framework of CA5, to what extent school step, as a physical practice that seems to be representative of acceleration, could allow students to experience deceleration in relationship to their bodily sensations (Fourure, 2004). In other words, on the one hand, it is a question of identifying the nature of the students’ concerns (E) in order to analyze a possible capacity to resolve the paradox of listening to one’s body (a practice that requires deceleration), while seeking an acceleration of the living body (beats per minute and speed of execution). On the other hand, it is a question of documenting the sensory register of the pupil’s experience (Paintendre & Schirrer, 2022; Vors & Gal-Petitfaux, 2014) in order to identify whether the memory traces (Rosa, 2013) left by this bodily experience permit students to construct knowledge about their body.

3.2 Participants, situation observed and data collection

Our study took place over a sequence of ten step lessons in PE class with French high school students as part of the CA5. Twelve volunteer students who were new to step agreed to participate in the research protocol. Their activity was studied at two key moments in this teaching sequence: at the beginning (lesson 1) and at the end (lesson 8). During the sequence, the students set up a training project to reach a level of physical effort (at least 70% of the Training Heart Rate, THR), to develop their aerobic energy resources, and to increase their motor skills through an elaborate choreography in line with the musical tempo. To do this, different parameters of the step practice were used as a support: biomechanical (modifying the gestural rhythm) and energetic (modifying the effort by material, gestural constraints linked to the musical tempo). The teacher accompanied the pupils in the development of their training project in the use and choice of these different parameters. She proposed a didactic treatment of step in line with the internal logic of the CA5, where the aim is to build competences related to self-improvement by articulating times of practice and training (reps, series, recovery time) and times of analysis of one’s bodily sensations (notebook of sensations and collective gatherings).

We observed the progress of the lessons and the activity of the pupils during the whole sequence and kept an observation book. Two types of filmed sequences were used as materials for the interviews and data processing: a) in the third person, through a wide shot of the practitioner in activity (Mouchet, Vermersch, & Bouthier, 2011). These sequences are relative to the gaze of the observer outside the actor’s activity; b) in first person, with the use of a Go Pro © (Andrieu, Paintendre, & Burel, 2014; Paintendre, 2017) positioned on the chest, offering a view of the practitioner’s step platforms, chest, and upper limbs6 (Fig. 2). Two self-confrontation interviews at two levels of analysis were conducted (Cahour, 2003; Theureau, 2010) with each of the twelve students. In order to gain access to a very fine level of description of the activity experienced and to a diversity of sensory modalities, we chose to take time with the pupil and to deepen the description of the experience, by returning to certain units of experience during a second-level analytical self-confrontation interview (Theureau, 2010). These interviews were based on training sequences of between 3 and 8 minutes of effort, in accordance with the training program they wished to engage in. Open-ended questions and follow-ups7 allowed the student to describe their actions (U) (“What are you doing, feeling?”); their concerns (E) (“What are you trying to do? What is your intention?”); what “shocks” (R) (Terré et al., 2013) occur during the activity (“What are you paying attention to? What do you notice?”); what is expected by the practitioner (A) (“What do you expect?”); what she/he relies on during her/his activity (S) (“What do you rely on here?”); what she/he builds, validates, or invalidates in the course of her/his activity (I) since “the interpreter accounts for the fact that any activity is accompanied by learning” (Sève, Saury, Theureau, & Durand, 2002) (“What do you learn from all this? Does it lead you to new elements?”).

Could you describe this sensation “roughly” and tell me where it is located in your body? Finally, each participant was equipped with a heart rate monitor that records cardiac activity second by second during the entirety of their activity. All the elements of the body experience described by the pupil (interview and notebook) are compared with the data from the heart rate monitor by a three-part synchronization (unit of experience constituted by the researcher from the verbatim response of the practitioner, observations of the researcher, recorded heart rate).

thumbnail Fig. 2

First person view.

3.3 Data processing

In this article, we are particularly interested in the bodily activity of two pupils: Emmi and Maeva (representative of the panel of twelve pupils). All the data (interviews, audio-visual recordings, observations recorded in their notebooks, in situ observations) made it possible to reconstruct, for lessons 1 and 8, the pupils’ course of experience (Theureau, 2006).

Five steps were taken to process the data: 1) From the analysis of the self-confrontation interview data, identification of the reduced narratives mentioned in the first-level interview and selection of the moments analyzed in the second; 2) Synchronization of the reduced narratives with the researcher’s observations and the heart rate monitor data; 3) Reconstruction of the hexadic signs; 4) Labelling and categorization of the students’ concerns (Engagement); 5) Identification of the sensory register of the students’ experience (for this article, Emmi and Maeva) through an analysis of the articulation of the student’s constructed knowledge and their Training Heart Rate.

In short, the analysis of the different results is aimed at identifying the nature of the pupils’ concerns (E). Furthermore, by focusing primarily on the data of Emmi and Maeva during their step practice and by zooming in on two units of experience, it is a question of identifying how the sensory register of these two pupils’ experience can question the acceleration–deceleration relationship during school step workouts in CA5.

4 Results and case studies

4.1 Pupils’ engagement (E) in the realization of the step-training project

The analysis of the results aims to identify to what extent the concerns of the pupils in school step refer to the internal logic of CA5: between acceleration during the motor realization of the training project and deceleration through the sensory experience of this practice. The categorization of the students’ concerns during a teaching sequence devoted to step (including Emmi and Maeva) is composed of three types (Tab. 1).

These concerns highlight that the triad of intensity of effort (in relation to heart rate) – speed/amplitude of execution – musical tempo guides part of the students’ experiences. They have experiences that oscillate between: a) a quest for acceleration to adjust to the musical tempo (e.g., “it’s to manage to do the sequence (…) without delay”), optimizing their body choreography (e.g., “I’m with the music too, that I… that everyone is doing the same movement at the same time”), and intensifying their effort (e.g., “I’m really moving all the parts of my body, I’m trying to move as much as possible to increase my heart rate as much as possible”, “I’m trying to do my best to reach the minimum we have to exceed”); b) and inertia strategies to focus on their body sensations (e.g., “at a certain moment it’s a little bit difficult for me to move, ” “at one point it’s as if we, the brain disconnects completely (…) we don’t think about anything at all in fact (…) it’s just taking in information… at the level of… how the body is doing? (…) we try to take a little information on… as if we were doing a ‘check’ of our whole body”), to let themselves be guided by their body (“the movement happens by itself”, and to reduce the intensity of their effort (e.g., “I just want to stop here”).

Table 1

Series of concerns (Engagement)11 of students in step.

4.2 Sensory register of step experiences: Emmi and Maeva

In order to document the sensory register of the students’ experience in step, and in particular that of Emmi and Maeva, we are interested both in the knowledge they build up during the sequence and in the data from their heart rate monitors indicating the intensity of their effort.

First of all, from the three types of knowledge constructed by the pupils8, we retain all the knowledge constructed from internal body sensations perceived during the practice of step. This knowledge is structured on the basis of different types of sensations: respiratory, body heat, muscular and articular, cardiac (e.g., “it is at the level of the heart… You feel… That it is really starting to increase (…) it is as if it were much more present, well, as if it were much more active in fact,” “we feel that the heart rate is reaching a point (…) The muscle is relaxing”). They are updated regularly and allow the pupils to be informed about their internal state (general fatigue, bodily well-being). They are sometimes transversal to other physical practices, such as during running (e.g., respiratory discomfort with a sensation of forced expiration, joint pain, heat located in certain body zones, etc.).

By carrying out a cross-analysis of two significant units of Emmi and Maeva’s experience of and the use of their heart rate monitors (to measure the intensity of their effort), we observe that they position themselves differently within this paradox of acceleration and deceleration in school step class: an opposing strategy in the relationship to time emerges.

4.3 Emmi: accelerating and outsourcing agitation?

During an 8-minute exercise, using the adjustable heights of the step platform9, a unit of experience reveals that Emmi is concerned about “increasing her heart rate.” By “feeling like she’s putting in a lot of effort,” she reflects her desire to speed up her heart rate to achieve her training goal. Nevertheless, despite some perceived body sensations, Emmi is not able to identify whether she is at her maximum potential: “I don’t necessarily feel that it is the maximum, but I feel that I have done better than before actually.” When synchronizing her feelings with her HR, the latter is only 65% of her training HR10, confirming that she can still increase her physical effort. Emmi, with her labile strategy, is in the process of discovering her bodily possibilities and perceives certain sensations in a new way. As a result, she “pilots her body by a technological reading” of her heartbeat (Verchère, 2016) by seeking to accelerate the pace of execution, increase its amplitude, and increase the intensity of her exercise. The process of deceleration, in the sense of an intentional deceleration through attention to her body and senses, is undertaken through an externalization of “agitation” as she accelerates her bodily movements, under the effect of a high speed and amplitude of execution (Rosa, 2013), although her capacity to listen to herself remains fragile and unstable.

4.4 Maeva: listening and decelerating?

During an 8-minute physical exercise, a unit of experience reveals that Maeva is torn between concerns about “how much time is left to act” and “listening to her feelings.” She mobilizes knowledge that is based on very fine bodily sensations, particularly relating to her heartbeat. The interpretation of her feelings invites her to a voluntary deceleration. This deceleration represents a suspension of time, a sort of bubble constituted by Maeva as a condition for exploring her body, although she continues an automated bodily activity that is punctuated by the musical tempo. This strategy shows that Maeva defies technological reading since her strategy of listening to her body informs her that the intensity of her effort (her acceleration) was sufficient: [about the heart rate monitor] “it’s true that it’s quite secondary (…) yes, I don’t focus too much on it because anyway the sensations… well, the heart rate indicator is, it’s still less reliable than my impressions (…) moreover I was in it every time so it’s built (…)”. [Showing her heart] “Yes, yes, yes, that’s where it happens (…) you can feel the beating when it’s going really hard… when… when… you’re really at the end, I can feel it (…) because it comes from inside, (…) I don’t know how to explain it, I’m sorry (laughs).” Indeed, the heart rate monitor data shows that Maeva is already at 80% of her training heart rate. As a result, she is proposing a completely different relationship with her body and the technological object, since self-exploration and confidence in her bodily sensations are major concerns. During this effort, Maeva mobilizes knowledge about her body from her bodily sensations, which invite her to intentionally decelerate. We can think that she suspends her link to the heart rate monitor and enters into a process of distancing herself from the issues of accelerating her practice since the sensory information perceived informs her of her progress in achieving her training objective.

5 Discussion

5.1 “Take your time” to learn to decelerate in the sense of listening to your body

Allowing for time to learn to decelerate and enter into a voluntary posture of listening to one’s body sensations is essential but complex in the context of PE class step (Paintendre, Schirrer, & Andrieu, 2019). During the teaching sequence, the students’ relationship to time through the management of the triad: heart rate rhythm – speed/amplitude of execution – musical tempo undergoes an evolving dynamic in terms of commitment. They progressively transform their intentions in favor of listening to the body through bodily sensations. They go from: seeking efficiency in execution with synchrony as a reference (to the music, to the group of peers, to the teacher) requiring them to accelerate their speed of execution and to optimize their motor skills; to the intention of increasing the intensity of their effort by an optimal mobilization of their bodily capacities; to finally enter into a posture of bodily listening and intentionally extracting themselves from this aim of acceleration (motor and energetic), sometimes even committing them to reducing the intensity of their effort. These concerns mobilize pupils in strategies of intentional acceleration or deceleration (Rosa, 2013). They seem to corroborate with the construction of certain knowledge about one’s body (Barberousse, 1999) based on the perception of bodily sensations during effort and can probably also be explained by a greater memorization of the choreography over the course of the lessons. However, through the case study of Emmi and Maeva, we distinguish a noticeable heterogeneity in terms of perceptive attention revealing a singular relationship to deceleration. Indeed, the two girls do not experience and perceive the present in the same way (Luhmann, 1990), since Maeva seems to demonstrate a more advanced introspective and exploratory process, leaving finer memory traces (Rosa, 2013) and sensory traces (Shusterman, 2010) (cardiac sensations12). If the temporal discontinuities linked to the natural functioning of the brain (Rosa, 2013) remain between the living body and the experienced body (Andrieu & Burel, 2014), the ability of certain pupils to gradually listen to bodily signals reveals the emergence of a new bodily sensitivity but perhaps also a deceleration of the flow of experience. Maeva’s posture of awareness13 (Fourure, 2004) or her quality of bodily presence (as a body-subject) (Paintendre, 2022) promotes slowness by leading a process of voluntary listening to her body, particularly through sensory exploration (Schirrer & Paintendre, 2017). She acts with the objective of getting out of the realm of performance – the conquest of efficiency at all costs – and of simply appreciating, fully living her bodily experience. In another way, the “attentional windows”, i.e. the spaces and natures of sensory perceptions (Gaillard, 2002) that some students seek and manage to open up during their training project, may question the ability of students to disengage from an accelerated activity by acting within their space of perceptions more than within the parameter of time itself.

These changes in the relationship to time are undoubtedly encouraged by the teacher’s didactic treatment. The framework of the CA5 in PE, in particular through systematic work on bodily feelings during each training sequence, gives the pupils the opportunity, in each lesson, to experience key times of acceleration (technological and vital rhythm). This refers to the very basis of the practice of step (measurement of heart rate, speed of execution, motor optimization, increase in the intensity of effort), and deceleration, referring to an educational aim of self-knowledge (learning to act and regulate one’s training project by listening to one’s bodily feelings).

5.2 School step: an island of deceleration that extremizes to decelerate better?

Islands of deceleration represent places and forms of anachronistic practice for escaping from acceleration and seeking to suspend time (Rosa, 2013). In school step class, when the experience becomes meaningful (Huet & Gal-Petitfaux, 2011; Theureau, 2006) and authentic (Rosa, 2013), it marks the pupil bodily, is deposited in the folds of the body (Faure, 2011), and allows him or her to construct sensory knowledge (Barberousse, 1999). Extremizing the body through the rhythm of the exercise and the intensity of the effort (Schirrer & Paintendre, 2017) is a “powerful experiential device” (Shusterman, 2007) that, perhaps paradoxically, leads students to hear, listen to, and then be present to the self. To extremize is to physically experience the acceleration of physical practice while having the opportunity to “analyze one’s own sensations,” “through an experience connected to one’s feelings” (Fourure, 2004). The progression of the intensity of the exercise through the speed of execution, raising the level of the step platform, the use of complex steps, etc. allows for the provision and perception of increasingly strong sensations. “It is interesting to note that such experiences of deceleration can also occur under the effect of high speeds (…) thus externalizing agitation” (Rosa, 2013, p. 113). This externalization takes place through a gradation of effort intensity and gradually increases the acuity of perceptions, laying the groundwork for an aesthetic scale (Shusterman, 2010) in step (Paintendre, Schirrer, & Sève, 2020). In other words, a system of identification by levels is constituted up to a sensory extreme, punctuated by the biomechanical and energetic parameters of school step practice. Consequently, through the intensities of the exercises, the density of the training program, and the speed of execution, the pupils, as Emmi is experiencing, learn to focus on their interoceptive information and distance themselves from the external environment in order to explore the dimensions of their body in movement according to a process that is specific to them.

6 Conclusion

If Eriksen (2001) explains that “fast time kills slow time,” we can nevertheless question PE step, in the framework of CA5, as a practice of access to deceleration through acceleration. The practitioner would be exposing her/himself to a contradiction14; following a rhythm imposed by the musical support and the BPM of the targeted heart rate versus entering a state attentiveness to her/his body by opening up to her/his bodily sensations. Here, the practice of step in PE is definitely a new interpretation of the stakes of CA5: the slow access to oneself would occur, without opposition, by the tempo imposed by the music and an intensity imposed by a training plan. Other physical practices such as ultra-trail (Rochedy, 2015) oppose this “expression of unleashed time” (Rosa, 2013) and allow the practitioner to extract themselves from a condensation of experience (Ibid.). Despite the rhythm, speed and musical tempo, step in school questions the “temporal pressurization” of today’s society, instead allows practitioners to experience an “oasis of deceleration” (Rochedy, 2015; Rosa, 2013) that can “preserve a space of stability of the Self” (Rochedy, 2015), through a slow access to one’s bodily sensations (Schirrer & Paintendre, 2017). In fine, teachers, through their didactic treatment, can allow students to experience present time, and can invite them to question the paradox of subjective time (Benjamin, 1974) by encouraging them to reflect on certain salient, significant experiences, through the exercise of deciphering them, by activating the memory, a amnesic return: “such a short time, a few seconds, which is finally long, and where so much is happening inside.15” Through this process, the practitioner slowly inscribes her/himself in a methodology of attentive listening to her/his body (Bois & Austry, 2007; Fourure, 2004) despite the “impossibility of descending into his living body to what would be the zero degree of bodily truth” (Andrieu, 2017). Today, other practices are being developed in the school environment, such as yoga (MEN, 2019). They aim to provide islands of deceleration both for students by encouraging listening to their bodies through an introspective approach (Paintendre & Schirrer, 2022) but perhaps also for PE teachers, some of whom are looking for a renewal of their professional practices and for a new meaning to their profession (Brunaux, Doga, Forté, Jacolin-Nackaerts, & Salaméro, 2022). More generally, these islands of deceleration echo the question of the well-being and personal development (Martin-Krumm & Tarquinio, 2019) of pupils at school, where everyone could learn to cultivate deceleration as a “new remedy (…) in the face of accelerating modern life” (Ibid.).


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“You just don’t have time to make the trip, although you might need a quick workout before you start your day” (, 2022).


In PE, students choose from three training programmes. During the work sequences, two of the three training programmes are organized around an effort intensity greater than or equal to a percentage of the Training Heart Rate (THR) of around 70% or 80% (BO no25 of 21 June 2018). The Karvonen formula defines the TFR: Rest HR + [(Max HR − Rest HR) × % of work intensity defined according to the training theme].


It is through the almost immediate retranscription of the technological tool, connected object, or measuring device, that the latter can have access to it.


Bernard Andrieu enriches emersiology with the notions of “Immersion” and “Imsertion” in Donner le vertige. Les arts immersifs (2014b) and with Anaïs Bernard in Le Manifeste des Arts Immersifs (2014, PUN).


The concept of enaction specifies the autonomous character of human activity. Auto- (self) poiesis (creation), in the sense of self-production of living systems (Varela, 1989), thus refers to their capacity to self-adjust to their environment without being dependent on it.


The first-person camera seeks to “factually place the actor in sensory dispositions close to those which are his at the time of the act” (Rix & Biache, 2004, p. 377).


Particular attention is paid to the feelings that the pupil might describe and relate: “What are you feeling?”


The other two types of knowledge are general knowledge and knowledge in the realization of movement. For more details, see Paintendre et al. (2019).


The heights are adjusted to 25 cm.


According to Karvonen (1983)


According to the terminology of Theureau in the composition of the hexadic sign (2006).


“It is a hyperacuity, perhaps of the sensations themselves” (Pessoa, 1998, extract 137, p. 168).


“Attentive presence, presence in the field, presence in action, engaged, immediate” (Fourure, 2004).


“Action (...) absurd, situation opposite to what should be” (Larousse, 2018).


Subject Lina, research protocol in progress.

Cite this article as: Paintendre A, Andrieu B, & Schirrer M (2023) Sensory learning in physical education and deceleration experiences during accelerated physical activity: the example of step fitness in a school setting. Mot, 119, 9–18

All Tables

Table 1

Series of concerns (Engagement)11 of students in step.

All Figures

thumbnail Fig. 1

School step and use of the energy parameter height.

In the text
thumbnail Fig. 2

First person view.

In the text

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