“Can’t I just do push ups?” – or – What I learned this Saturday in Zumba

As a part of my quest to actually become a fitness trainer/coach and explore the different avenues available to me in my area, I am taking several of the YMCA courses on Fitness in their training certification track. On Saturday, this meant an all day exploration of Group Exercise (8am – 5pm).

The class covered some Y specific content, but mostly it looked at general training principals, the structuring of a group class, and some specific content around aerobic activity based classes (not _really_ my cup of tea – more on this later). We (13 women and I), as a class, also had the opportunity to “audit” a live group class through participation. It just so happened that there was a Y-instructor lead group exercise class taking place across the hall right in the middle of our morning class time.

The class that was going on across the hall was Zumba.

Yes…Zumba. And, before the jokes fly you should know that (if there even _was_ any question) I AM the whitest white guy you know. So, get it all out..go ahead..I’ve already heard a couple of good ones. Done? Ok, moving on.

Jokes aside. I’m an improviser, a CrossFitter and all-in-all, am pretty fearless – I’ll pretty much try anything (within reason) once. Too, I feel that this falls into the CrossFit motto of ‘try and learn new sports’ (well, maybe not a sport, but…). Finally, I don’t think I, as a trainer, I have the right to turn my nose up at one activity or another, just because I don’t personally enjoy it. There were some seriously fit women (and one OTHER dude) who were regular attendees of that class, so, if Zumba is keeping them active, motivated and moving… Zumba away.

What I learned

I didn’t just (re?)learn the dance steps to Michael Jackson’s Thriller (I kid you not…), there _were_ several important take-aways for me as an aspiring trainer.

Every Class you teach could be someone’s first

Although ALL group classes at the YMCA are considered “Drop In” classes, that is, appropriate for anyone/everyone, this was obviously NOT a Zumba 101 class – the people who were here specifically to do Zumba were here to do it with THIS trainer, it was obvious. Unfortunately, there was a SIGNIFICANT ammount of assumed knowledge that attendees were expected to have coming into the class, and very little communication from the trainer about what was going to happen and what to expect, even though I’m assuming she knew that there were a significant number (better than 50% of the class) new to the class.

It was like the Actor’s Nightmare when you show up to opening night of the musical and don’t know any of your music or dance steps. It was that bad – or, _I_ was that bad anyway.

And complex? Yeah. One of our class members actually walked out, she was so overwhelmed and lost.

Take the time at the top of your class to check in with your athletes. Know who is there, and what they’re capable of _that day_. Be out on the floor before class, as people are warming up and be ready to point out the appropriate scaling if necessary and any necessary notes on the workout.

Teach, Lead, Watch, Listen

The instructor in this class was VERY teacher centric. It was all “WATCH ME” with no (that I saw) coaching of individuals that were having issues.

As a coach, be prepared to move throughout the class and help those having issues. An individual word, a simple cue – ANYTHING to support the floundering masses. I was impressed by the instructor’s ability to communicate a LOT of information with very few words, using her body to demonstrate and move through the choreography.

Zumba is a VERY visual cue oriented activity with a “Let the Music Move You”, “If You’re moving and Smiling, You’re Doing it Right” attitude, but if you actually want to follow along with any kind of accuracy, some _slower_ instruction would make things go a little smoother, and probably give folks a better chance at a more intense workout.

I’m sure THOSE Zumba classes exist…this just wasnt one of them. Also, I was REALLY impressed with this coach’s ability to lead such a large class at all. The room was packed (>30 people) and she still kept things moving. She was OBVIOUSLY a popular instructor and good at what she was teaching, I just think the mixture of people (a large portion of whom had no idea what to expect) cramped the flow and pattern of her typical class. *shrug* I’d be interested to know her feedback on the class.


We’ve all heard it. “CrossFit is a cult.” And then people smile and act like they’re making a joke. Listening to the ladies that were there for the Zumba class (wth their Zumba pants – complete with tassles and bells – Zumba headbands, wristbands, shirts and specialized Zumba shoes) I thought “Jesus, CrossFit has NOTHING on Zumba as far as cult status.” But that’s not funny, and it’s true about neither. People who are passionate about something, dedicate themselves to it and it’s (sub) culture. I have my CrossFit shirts, shorts and shoes (granted, they lack tassles and bells – No, Kevin Oie, you CAN’T sew some on for me, thank you), but they are no less indicative of my dedication to my chosen activity.

I think it’s great that people have that kind of conviction about physical activity. Do I think they could be doing more? Sure, if they are ONLY doing Zumba, then there is a strength component that is definitely missing, and they need to spend some time lifting heavy things. Also, some intervals in the less than 20 minute time domain will help with Anaerobic conditioning, but if it’s Zumba or the couch…”Join the party.”

Final Impressions

Zumba definitely isn’t the workout for me – and not just because I dance like a drugged bear. It could actually be an intense workout, once you actually learn all the steps to the different songs and how to modify them (depth, complexity, pace, etc). I prefer simple movements like running, push ups and, complex of the complex – The Snatch and the Clean and Jerk. But, hey, if you do it, keep on doing it. Do it as intensely as you can and make every spin, step and hip shake matter.

But now that I’ve dipped my toe into YOUR pool, I want to encourage you to c’mon out for a CrossFit class or two. While there will definitely be music, you won’t ever have to do the steps to “Thriller.” You will, however, probably meet my friends “The Squat”, “The Pull Up” or “The Burpee” in your first class; run further after a set of situps than you thought possible and maybe even catch a glimmer of why Mark Rippetoe says “The Olympic Snatch is gymnastics with a bar[bell].”

But either way, we can all learn something from doing something outside of our comfort zone, even if we only do it once…poorly, and with little rhythm or grace…

About cacharbe

Software Engineer, ALM Specialist, Professional Improviser, Lv 1 Certified CrossFit trainer. I eat Paleo and coach others in being successful eating whole, unprocessed, nutritious foods.
This entry was posted in CrossFit, Theory and Discussion, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “Can’t I just do push ups?” – or – What I learned this Saturday in Zumba

  1. Katie says:

    Ha! I love that you did this! (I stumbled over here while looking for paleo hot cocoa recipes, by the way.) As a fellow crossfitter who sometimes struggles with an attitude of “You’re doing it wrong!” when my friends gush about their cardio-heavy routines, it was really neat to hear from a guy who tried out Zumba for a class. Maybe Zumba will lead to something else for some of those people. My mom joined Curves when I was in high school and I went for about six months, and then kept looking for new challenges after I noticed improvement.

    • cacharbe says:

      Yeah, as someone who wants to become a trainer, I think it’s important to understand, first hand, all the modes that people might be training in; if for no other reason than to be able to explain what is right, wrong and/or missing that you might be able to offer them.

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