July 15, 2024

The Health Consumer: Zumba Away, but Avoid Injury

Created in the late 1990s in Colombia by the fitness instructor Alberto Perez, Zumba is a high-energy aerobic workout based on dance steps borrowed from merengue, salsa and other dances. An estimated 12 million fitness buffs worldwide are taking Zumba classes at about 110,000 locations; these sessions are taught at big city health clubs and storefront yoga studios, in church basements and school auditoriums — even in nightclubs during the day.

Zumba’s allure derives in part from the perception that it’s more a dance party than an exercise routine. But its popularity has come at a price. Zumba classes can be enormous, filled with enthusiastic but inexperienced exercisers who may be led by instructors with limited experience.

“As with any fad exercise regime, we see an uptick in injuries,” said Luke Bongiorno, a physical therapist at New York Sports Med, a sports medicine clinic in Manhattan. Ankle sprains, hamstring injuries, muscle spasms and calf injuries are the most common Zumba-related injuries treated at the clinic. “The brief warm-ups and lateral movements in Zumba can create conditions of instability,” said Mr. Bongiorno.

Still, Zumba is reaching for new participants: recent incarnations include Aqua Zumba, Zumba Gold for older or beginning exercisers, a muscle-toning version and classes for kids. So to make sure you get the most for your money and avoid injury, here’s some advice from fitness experts about doing Zumba right.

FUN BUT FRENZIED Zumba’s marketing is all about fun first, with slogans like, “Ditch the workout, join the party,” and “Party yourself into shape.” The hope, of course, is to attract people, mainly women, who aren’t into traditional exercise. Exercise classes like Zumba tend to attract people “who have been sedentary for a while or are sedentary all day at work,” said Mr. Bongiorno.

But the classes are fast-paced and can be quite strenuous. Few participants leave without being drenched in sweat and at least a little bit out of breath.

You should always consult a doctor before starting a new exercise regime. If you are pregnant or have a major cardiovascular, pulmonary or metabolic condition, traditional Zumba is probably not appropriate for you. (Zumba Gold, the low-impact version, however, may be fine.)

People with knee, hip or ankle problems should also consult a doctor, as they may need to modify the routine — avoiding jumps, for instance, or fast hip movements.

THE RIGHT SHOES Luckily for the pocketbook, Zumba doesn’t require any fancy equipment (although Zumba enthusiasts are prone to donning some extremely colorful outfits). Any thinly soled sneakers or comfortable workout shoes will do.

But running shoes, which tend to have thick treads, are inappropriate, because they are designed only for forward movement. The treads get in the way when doing Zumba’s many side-to-side and pivot moves.

HEAD OF THE CLASS Instructors are certified to teach basic Zumba after a one-day training course that teaches the basic moves and rhythms. Certification for the specialized courses entails additional training, and instructors are also often certified in other fitness areas.

Zumba has become so popular so quickly that gyms and dance studios have had trouble hiring and keeping good instructors, noted Jessica Davis, the group fitness manager at Equinox gym on the Upper West Side.

Before joining a Zumba class, ask how long the instructor has been teaching and about his or her background, including fitness certifications. The best instructors have a dance background and an understanding of Latin steps, as well as a strong background in fitness, said Dr. Pamela Peeke, a spokeswoman for the American College of Sports Medicine.

Good instructors also will ask who is a beginner and whether anyone is pregnant or has special health concerns. To find a licensed Zumba instructor in your area, go to Zumba.com.

ROOM TO MOVE Because of the party ambience, many fitness facilities take a “more the merrier” attitude toward Zumba. “It’s more fun to have a lot of people,” said Ms. Davis of Equinox. “Who wants to go to a party that’s not popular?”

Equinox adjusts the choreography of each class to make sure there is enough space for all the participants to move safely, Ms. Davis said. Elsewhere, though, opinion is divided on the ideal class size.

“I’ve seen people rent halls and conduct classes for a hundred people,” said Wilhyn Larsen, owner of Namaste Yoga of Kensington in Brooklyn, which began offering Zumba classes two years ago. “That’s a real safety issue. If the instructor can’t see you and can’t see how each person is doing the moves, you’re going to have an injury.”

Ms. Larsen recommends an optimal class size of no more than 25 participants with two instructors, one teaching and one walking around the room offering individualized help. At her studio, because of the space and manpower available, she allows only 15 to 18 people per Zumba class.

Zumba classes are usually an hour long, and prices range from $15 to $25, usually included in most health club memberships.

THE RIGHT PACE Zumba classes often get off to a fast start without an adequate warm-up, said Mr. Bongiorno. In addition, Zumba includes a lot of pivoting, as well as side-to-side and fast rotating hip movements that can be painful if you are not used to them.

“The most common reason people drop out or get hurt is because they start too fast,” said Dr. Peeke.

If your class doesn’t offer warm-up stretches and other moves, be sure to do some calf, hamstring and abdominal stretches on your own before you begin, advised Mr. Bongiorno. (Though there has been some controversy over how useful stretches are for athletes, they do seem helpful for dancers.)

Move at your own pace, and don’t get too caught up in the whirlwind around you. The beauty of a dance class is that you can easily move in place or just do the basic moves while you become familiar with the more complicated dance steps. “It’s easy to get carried away with the music and the atmosphere during a Zumba class and then overdo it,” said Dr. Peeke.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=ec54ec437057c8dd606ca1c32e0f0238

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