Another comparison, this time looking at Zumba videos one year apart. On the left, one year ago, dropped a bit of body fat but had little/no muscle, looking tiny. Looking back at it now I don't like how I looked at all!!! I was way too skinny. Now, over a stone heavier but certainly much healthier looking having built some quads 🙊 #transformation #sortof #muscle #girlswholift #liftingmakesyoubulky #notreally
“Get off the track!” a woman shouted, waving at me furiously. Panicking I jumped onto the grass– at which point she noticed the number on my chest and mumbled “Oh, you were part of the race…!” A voice boomed over the stadium’s speakers to inform me I had disqualified myself from the 5000m race. I could see the confusion. Who walks 5000m when they should be running?
I was never into sport. I tried really hard to be part of the track team in middle school and was purely included for meets because the coach did not want to leave me out from joining in with my friends. But seriously; I could not run, jump, or throw. And after said disappointing disqualification from competition, I gave up on sport. Feedback from family re-affirmed that I was slow, overweight for my age (I wasn’t) and not made for anything physical.
Pressures mounted when I moved to a new international school in Munich, where I am from, which prides itself on sporting achievement. I tried out for the basketball team and I was told “No, but there will be open basketball sessions you can just go along to for fun!” I probably went two or three times and eventually got fed up of catching the ball “like a girl” or not at all. And that was that.
Turns out you CAN dance if you want to
Fast forward a good 7 years. I was introduced to a dance fitness exercise programme called Zumba. At the time it was a bit weird, all this wiggling of the mid-section to thumpy Latin music and trying not to trip over my own legs when doing the tango. But I loved it, a non-threatening way of injecting a bit of movement into my otherwise heavily sedentary lifestyle.
Dance has been a passion for a very long time. I was never encouraged to pursue it seriously, but it was something I always loved. In school I took any opportunity to get involved in extra curricular dance sessions, signing up for talent shows, heck when I was 12 I even made teachers let me “perform” songs from the radio I had choreographed, in front of my classmates. Cringe!
Anyway, Zumba helped me re-discover this passion and, without tooting my own horn too much, I was pretty good at it! After a year, I signed up for an instructor course and started teaching it. That was in early 2012, and later on I pursued a full Fitness Instructor qualification in Exercise to Music, passing my written and practical exams with flying colours.
I started to see fitness in a whole different light. It didn’t have to be hard. It didn’t have to be about being judged about how “good” or “bad” I am at something, I could keep fit AND have fun.
A familiar figure appears…
I even went as far as joining a gym, and that’s how I met Dave, who was working there at the time. He asked me if I lift, I told him I didn’t want to turn into a bulky man. He subsequently convinced me to come in the very next day and taught me how to squat, with a barbell. I enjoyed it, but I still had reservations, so I passed on lifting at first.
A year later I had, I guess you could say, “plateaued”. Zumba was no longer enough for my fitness needs. I had gained some weight and could no longer claim that it was muscle from all the dancing. So one sunny afternoon I texted Dave and asked for some help, and that was the start of what is now almost 3 years of fortnightly sessions with the man himself.
Initially we focussed on strength and conditioning, a LOT of squats, some pressing, benching, deadlifting, rowing and so on. And of course many creative conditioning workouts such as:
- Prowler pushes and sprints (the time I heaved over a bin)
- Thrusters (the time Dave counted reps for me in German…just so I could “understand”)
- Kettlebell snooker (the time Dave had to step in and finish a set for me)
- High mat Jenga (I’ll let you figure out that one)
By January 2014, I was hooked on training. But fortnightly sessions just weren’t enough to make decent regular gains. So I joined Second City CrossFit, and for almost the whole first year mainly engaged in several CrossFit classes a week, developing both my strength and fitness significantly.
Bear in mind I was still teaching up to four (!) Zumba classes weekly alongside all this as well! I learned the clean and jerk early but I struggled with upper back and shoulder mobility, so I turned to Dave to fix my overhead squat. I remember that conversation, because it’s what brought me here today.
I said “So will I have to learn to snatch too?” And Dave simply replied, “How else do you propose getting the bar into the right position for an overhead squat?”
And that was that: now I mainly focus on weightlifting with a little bit of CrossFit to keep those lungs in shape. I still teach three Zumba classes weekly, and believe it or not, Zumba and weightlifting compliment each other surprisingly well.
How does weightlifting help Zumba?
Well I have a LOT more energy. Energy projects into my class and makes them work much harder too! Being powerful enables me to create bigger movements with my limbs, which is beneficial to the classes’ motivation and ease of seeing how it’s done. My confidence in myself has increased, because I stopped caring about whether other people think I’m any good at anything physical, but care about whether I’m still having fun instead.
A common question/comment I get from my pervy students is “I want your ass”, “how do you get a bum/body like that”, “will I look like that if I do more Zumba”. Well the honest answer is; no. No, you won’t get into shape by just doing one thing. Variety is key and developing strength specifically can help you achieve so much more. However it is indeed a nice addition to an otherwise resistance based training programme.
How does Zumba help weightlifting?
The obvious answer is mobility. Mobility, mobility, mobility. Especially in the hips. I have my problem areas and tight spots (mainly muscular from not enough stretching though) but I’ve had little problem getting good depth on my squats.
Zumba primarily makes you move your hips and midsection frequently and often through broad ranges of motion. It also enhanced my aerobic capacity. It has its limits for higher intensity conditioning (that’s what I’ve got CrossFit for) but it’s a decent option for aerobic cardio.
I’m also pretty convinced that having to multitask, especially as an instructor (ever tried showing a move while thinking about the next move then spinning around mid move to face the mirror and knowing which foot to land on so you’re still going in the right direction as the rest of the class and then turning back around while using hand signals to indicate the next move? Yeah. That.) and coordinate what all your limbs are doing at any one time can transfer well into weightlifting. As does violent hip thrusting (no wait, I’m thinking of something else).
Having recently been to my very first weightlifting competition, I can say I’ve learned a great deal about myself and perception of myself in a high-pressured environment. Never in a million years did I think I could engage in sport in front of other people ever again. It’s well beyond my comfort zone and it took copious deep breaths (and some of Rose’s homemade flapjacks) to get over serious nerves and hundreds of doubts running through my brain to brave myself out onto the platform.
It's not every day that one of your #athletes qualifies for the #worldchampionships but today is one of those days! Today at the @britishwl #weightlifting open in #Nottingham @rose.judson totalled a #PB of 121kg to qualify for the masters world championships, what a #superstar! Not to be outdone though was another #weightlifter of mine @yasmin87 in her first #competition. We set a target of 90kg but Yas smashed 100kg in #style! A very #successful day for #team #gorillapt leading to a #happy #coach! @sccf_uk @minibiglifts #motivation #inspiration #dedication #girlsthatlift #strongnotskinny #hookgrip #barbell #fitfam #gym #strongishappy
Inevitably I didn’t make all my lifts, I made 4/6. But that didn’t matter. Nobody judges you for missing. You’re not a bad weightlifter or bad at sports because you miss. Everybody misses. And it was at that moment (not when I surpassed my competition target by 10kg!), when I realised that I finally found myself at home. Jiggle on! (But “stay tight” in that start position…as Dave always says).