FOR: Marine Drive Magazine
BY: Stephanie Lundberg
After the birth of her son in June 2009, LaShawna Jenkins struggled with her weight and high blood pressure. “I was 274 pounds after I had him, and I was so depressed and I didn’t feel like doing anything. I went back to work very quickly, and so I had no time to work out.”
Jenkins says a friend kept encouraging her to try a Zumba class, and she eventually agreed to try it. “I had never heard of it before. You know, I was really nervous that everyone would laugh at me, and my body didn’t feel like itself. But after that first class, I was addicted. I would go three times a week, and the weight just started coming off.”
Jenkins describes Zumba as an upbeat aerobic workout that incorporates Latin dance rhythms and international beats. She also incorporates other dance styles in her class’ routines, such as Toca, Bollywood, Hip-Hop and Pop moves.
Since starting Zumba in 2009, Jenkins has lost more than 120 pounds, first as a student and then as an instructor. “Not only is it a lot fun, it’s a great workout. A lot of the dance steps incorporate fitness moves like squatting and lunges, which target a lot of the major muscle groups, which in turn helps burn a lot of fat. And I am a walking testimony that you can lose a lot of weight doing it and really improve your physical health as well,” Jenkins says.
Her Zumba classes, which she offers at Synergy Studios and Andersen Air Force Base’s Coral Reef Fitness Center, are open to people of all ages and health goals. Students as young as 16 and all the way through 65 years and beyond participate in the dance fitness classes.
“It’s a good introductory fitness class,” Jenkins says. “Like I said, it’s open to all levels. A lot of the time you can modify steps to intensify [the workout] or make it easier. It depends on each individual’s exertion level. There are moves that can range from just the step-touch to a jump to more based on a person’s fitness level.”
What’s important, she says, is that the student understands his or her motivations for starting Zumba. Some students may simply want to join the class as a hobby, while others are seeking to lose weight.
“I have both crowds – I have some who come to class and participate just to get a little ‘me time’ away from the family and just have fun and dance. And then I have others who are trying to lose weight, who have goals they want to meet. It works good for goals – those who may have a difficult time sticking to a workout and staying intense, it keeps them coming. They visualize it as fun and they don’t really feel as if they’re getting a workout until they wake up the next day and they’re sore,” Jenkins says.
Whatever the motivation, Zumba, as with most fitness programs, is the most effective when it is used regularly and consistently, and when students work with their instructors to achieve their desired level of activity. “Really, you want to do something that you’re going to enjoy doing and you want to stick to it. You’re not going to see the results you want if you’re doing fad diets or working out once a month or not sticking with a consistent program,” says Jenkins. “From there I would be able to give them guidance and work with them to figure out where they want to go.”
Because Zumba is a fun, lively workout, getting down the routine make take some time. It may take several classes to learn the steps, so Jenkins advises patience. “Usually the first class, you’ll find that you won’t really be able to feel the music and enjoy it until you get used to the steps. And usually by maybe the fourth or fifth class you’ll have the basic steps down so it’s easier for you to actually move and catch on and have fun with it.”
Another common issue Jenkins has observed is that students may feel self-conscious when they first begin the workout. “I notice this especially with those who have weight concerns, not necessarily just with being rhythmic and being able to dance, sometimes it’s their body that they’re uncomfortable with,” she says.
“So I try to connect with them and let them know where I’ve been, and how I have the same struggles and how much weight that I’ve lost, and about how in the beginning you may feel that way. But I encourage them to keep going, and let them know that [time] is the only way you’ll experience weight loss, you’ll experience confidence with yourself and you’ll be able to catch on with the moves a little bit more naturally.”
So what should students look for in a good Zumba class? In a word: energy.
“What’s most important in a class is the energy,” Jenkin says. “A lot of students look to the instructor for the energy, and I hear a lot from them that they want someone who is going to be interactive with them and engage with the class. Because anyone can come in front a class and dance, but sometimes it takes someone who can get one-on-one and motivate and encourage them to push themselves harder, to open up more. I think that’s more important than the music, or the routine, or even if the person can dance.”