Zumba® Your Way to Fitness

Latin dance craze is fun, yet easy on joints
Author: Matt McMillen

If working out often feels like a chore, it’s time that you try Zumba®. This Latin-music-inspired dance activity will get you moving, shaking and enjoying every minute of it. And because it can be tailored to any fitness level or physical ability, Zumba is an excellent choice for anyone with a bleeding disorder who needs to be extra careful about target joints.

“We call it exercise in disguise,” says Gee Smith, a certified Zumba instructor who teaches at the ­McCrorey Family YMCA in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Zumba combines rhythms from around the world to keep classes going. “There are always new rhythms, new songs to explore, so that it never gets boring,” says Smith.

Rodney Mills, 47, couldn’t agree more. He has participated in Zumba classes at Gulf States Hemophilia and Thrombophilia Center (HTC), which is affiliated with the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. “It’s a different workout than what I’m used to at the gym, and I really enjoy it,” he says. Mills lives in Houston and has mild hemophilia B. He was one of several men in the classes each day that were held at the Gulf States HTC.

Although men don’t frequent Zumba classes to the same degree as women, Smith does have some regulars in her class. “For some reason, men seem intimidated when it comes to circling their hips,” says Smith, laughing. But Zumba was started by a man, she points out. “When I let men know this, I get more of them participating,” she says. “Zumba is a great aerobic workout option for people with bleeding disorders. We had guys in wheelchairs moving to the beat.”

Dance History

Zumba hit the US in 2001, when its three founders met in Miami and crafted a business around a new type of fitness-oriented dance. Incorporating myriad dance styles, such as salsa, merengue, hip hop and belly dancing, Zumba Fitness began by producing DVDs and infomercials. Demand soon spread for classes, and Zumba is now a fitness club staple. An estimated 12 million people in 125 countries have tried Zumba.

Zumba classes generally last about an hour. Following the instructor’s lead, you twist and shake your hips, clap your hands, and throw your arms in the air (yes, like you just don’t care). You lunge from side to side, shimmy, and slide across the floor.

Zumba Prep

Before taking your first Zumba class, though, you will want to do some important prep work. Physical therapist Donna Oldfield, PT, of Gulf States HTC, suggests watching Zumba videos or observing a class before signing up.

“Talk to your physical therapist and to your instructor about how to modify any of the moves that you may not be able to do because of problem joints,” says Oldfield. Some of the movements can test your balance. Don’t risk a fall by trying to keep pace with the teacher, and don’t think that you have to do the steps perfectly. “Just move to the music and have fun,” she says.

Smith often works with her students to find ways to reduce impact but maintain enjoyment. “We jump up and down in my class, but if I have students whose knees won’t allow them to do that, I show them how to march in place,” says Smith. “That way, their knees are protected.” Smith’s son, Christopher, 10, does just that when he is in his mom’s class. He has severe hemophilia A with an inhibitor. “We don’t like him to jump a lot, because that will cause a bleed,” Smith says.

“You have to do it at your own pace, at a level you can handle in order to participate safely,” says ­Oldfield. “Start slowly, and do the less com­plicated steps. You can catch up as you learn.”

Mills says Zumba is perfect for him. It can be personalized so it remains intense without overworking his right elbow and right ankle, both of which are problem spots. “Instructors make it user-friendly and can tune Zumba to everyone’s needs,” Mills says. “For me, that meant sitting in a chair and moving my legs to the music for part of the time, while other times I could stand up and dance with the rest of the group.”