I found my way into the world of fitness during my freshman or sophomore year of college. My love-hate relationship with dance had reached a peak (you can read more about that here), so I started searching for another venue to satisfy my need to move. While the emotional side of dance proved too tough, I did not want to walk away from consistent physical activity. I tried a number of options: running, intramural sports, even considered joining the women's club rugby team. This is an okay time for a brief pause and a little laughter for anyone who's met me; I love sports, but I truly believe I was born to watch them, not play them, and to this day, I avoid running at all costs.
So where did this leave me? A little confused and a lot frustrated as my weight crept higher and my love for movement fought to find a new outlet. I don't remember what initially drew me into the magical world of group fitness; maybe a friend invited me to attend a class, or maybe I decided to try one on my own. Either way, I found my match. Our campus gym offered a variety of group fitness classes. I tried and enjoyed many of them, but what I loved most was Zumba.
When I think about it now, it makes perfect sense. Zumba, and group fitness classes in general, combine the positive aspects of dance with a healthy dose of self-love. Classes attract participants of all shapes and sizes, and (the good classes) encourage improvements in strength, agility, speed, and flexibility, rather than weight loss. In many ways, aimlessly wandering into my first group fitness class completely shaped who I am both personally and professionally today. As I spent more time trying new classes, my ideas about health, and fitness shifted.
By the end of sophomore year, I was showing up for Melanie's Zumba class each week. (As a side note, all Zumba classes are wonderful, but Melanie's were incredible, I owe her for keeping me coming back). She pushed me to consider getting certified in both Group Fitness and Zumba, and allowed me to practice teaching by leading routines in class. I don't toot my own horn often, but I was a natural. My years of dancing taught me the art of performing in front of strangers, and by college I completed my transition from shy little girl to the out-going, ready-to-talk-to-anyone-about-anything person you would meet today.
During the fall semester of junior year, I took a 2-credit class designed to prepare students to become fitness instructors and take a national certification exam. The six of us met twice a week with the group fitness director to learn anatomy, physiology, and practice developing and teaching classes. Our final exam involved auditioning to teach at the campus gym in the the format of our choosing, I created a 60 minute class combining Zumba and boot camp-style exercises. Over the summer, I completed the Zumba certification so I could begin teaching my senior year.
I have been teaching at least once a week ever since; Zumba, Barre, Boot Camp, basically whatever the gym most needed. I get paid a small amount for each class, but I would honestly teach once a week for free (shhh, don't tell the manager that). Exercise relaxes my mind, and leaves me feeling physically better and emotionally calmer. Beyond my own class, I try to carve out time to attend one other class each week. But here's the key point; I never make myself attend a class I hate (spinning), and I never make myself get out of bed if I know what I really need is more sleep. As I mentioned earlier, my ideas about health, fitness, and our relationship with exercise shifted in college, and continue to evolve each year, but a few things remain constant.
This brings me to my Fitness Philosophy; just some food for thought.
Every person and every body are different
Fact. Yes, getting some physical activity each day is a good idea, but the kind, intensity, and length will vary for each person. We do not all need to be marathon runners to be healthy.
Exercise is about improving your insides
Being thin will not make you live to be 100 years old, but having strong cardiovascular strength, muscles that can keep you independently moving, and low blood pressure just might.
Do what's enjoyable
Exercise may not ever be the best part of your day, but it also should not be the worst. There are unlimited ways in which to achieve activity goals, so please do me a favor, and stop trying to make yourself love yoga, if you would much rather play tennis.
Unlink physical activity from food and nutrition
We have all said or thought something along the lines of "I need to go to the gym because I ate dessert last night". Believe me, I understand, but I also believe we need to start embracing fitness as something separate from food. The second we start coupling exercise with burning calories is the same second we stop understanding the full scope of benefits; increased endurance, stronger muscles, better mental health, etc. Maybe you did eat dessert last night, but that should not mean you have to run an extra mile today.
Be kind to yourself
I work on this every day. I enjoy going to fitness classes, and (attempting) to play tennis with David, but I also enjoy sleep and feeling relaxed. If I wake up Saturday morning feeling like getting out of bed would take a miracle, I remind myself to be kind, the gym isn't going anywhere, and I can always do this routine if I feel up to it later (while great fun, this woman gets 100% respect for finding something she enjoys and keeps her moving!)...
Walking enthusiast, and kitchen experimenter currently living out my dream in Mexico City, Mexico.
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