"Nature loves her little surprises....don't you know it's a waste of your day caught up in endless solutions that have no meaning, just a hunch based on jumping conclusions...living a life of illusion..." - (Joe Walsh, 1981)
On my non-running day this last week, Suzanne and I were invited to a Zumba class by a friend (a former member of my training group, and my dentist) and his girlfriend. When the invitation came I believe I had a good idea what to expect.
In case you spent the last decade in a place where there are no gyms playing a single beat of Latin-flavored dance music, Zumba is a mix of Latin-style dance and aerobic moves. If you squint just so and the lighting is right during a sixty-minute session, you might get visions of Billy Blanks and Shakira.
I've done aerobic classes of one kind or another over the past couple of decades, however almost 30 years had passed since I did my last "mae geri keage" in the dojo, so the kickboxing moves were going to be more difficult. I'd seen the info commercials on television, so I worried a little leading into the class session. First, bouncing around on a linoleum floor in a school cafeteria may not be good rehabilitation for achilles tendonosis. Second, my parents did not pass on the "dance" gene, at least not to any popular dance outside of "high school hug-disguised-as-a-slow-dance" dance.
But I did remember my first aerobic instructor's advice if a routine became too complicated:
Keep breathing. Breathing is definitely a good idea, considering the unsavory alternatives. I don't do "smurf" all that well.
Keep moving. Standing still in an exercise class when everyone else is moving eventually leads to unintended collisions. Kickboxing moves, not full-contact kumite, grasshopper.
Keep smiling. If smiling is not possible a grimace looks much like a smile from a distance.
In that order.
But most importantly, I was going to be (probably) the second guy in a class full of women. There are guys who feel comfortable in their presence. There are guys who, by circumstance, spend a great deal of their life in their close proximity. If you're one of those guys whose livelihood (two good examples being the medical and educational disciplines) requires you to be in close proximity, you learn a lot of things.
You learn women are EXACTLY like men. At least when they are in an environment where they are the overwhelming majority, if not the totality. Sure, their work spaces are a little more nicely decorated, scented, and accessorized, otherwise they're alike. While I've never spent time in a ladies' locker room, I can say that women who work in an all-female shop can be very un-ladylike. They are more likely to, to be polite, "let their hair down." I've heard things no man should probably ever know existed. After about six months, I pretty much became one of the girls...estrogen-challenged and testosterone-enhanced, but one of the girls, no less.
After Dr. Quigley's "breathe, move, smile" advice came that of Clint Eastwood, straight out of "Heartbreak Ridge." Sure, that old Marine Corps gunnery sergeant was trying to get in touch with his inner-feminine side (or his ex-wife's), but he valued the ability to 'adapt, overcome, improvise.' As Suzanne moved farther forward into the class and worked at learning the routines, I stayed in the back of the classroom where the traffic was lighter, got a good sweat, and - most importantly - didn't hurt myself or anyone else too much. And, while dance frustrates me, I have to admit I did have a little bit of fun.
Perhaps that's why all-woman health and fitness clubs and women's running groups are popular. The "fairer sex" can feel less hindered or intimidated by us grunting, sweating, metal plate-chucking, lead-by-a half-stride-pace-seeking knuckleheads. Some of them do get better workouts that way. Of course, there are women who completely waste their time socializing or working out at an intensity level just one notch above sitting on the couch.
There are benefits to co-ed training. If you want to get a good weight workout, do it with a chick. There's not going to be a lot of grunting and, if you'll pardon the expression, man-handling the weight. Women more often use proper form and reasonable resistance. They'll get a lot of repetitions in so the muscle is stronger, not necessarily bigger. And there are drawbacks, too. There have been track workouts where my ego had to kick in to keep from getting "chicked" on one or more repeats. I trained with a woman who was so tough, we joked she would only quit a workout when a bone was sticking out of her leg...and only after she realized the bone ws her own.
"Every once in a while," my wife says, "we need to confuse our body by doing something a little different." Here's to the occasional confusion workout. It can be something as simple as changing from the time of the run from evening to morning, the surface from road to treadmill, the situation from running solo to doing a run with a group.