Variety, they say, is the spice of life. That's certainly my experience in the Patch Takes It Off challenge. Give me a repetitive physical movement to do and five minutes later, I will be bored by it.
Many health and fitness experts say I am not all that uncommon.
Fitness author Mark Sisson, who wrote weight-loss tome The Primal Blueprint, said changing one's exercise routine is "pretty darn integral" to losing weight, "both in terms of keeping your mind engaged in the activity at hand and ensuring that your dedication to exercise continues to pay off, be it in gains of physical strength, endurance, or simply just feeling good about your body.
From the beginning of this adventure, I envisioned mixing a regular regimen–traditional exercise and the use of gym machines–with other activities, some structured, some not. This week, I started making that idea reality.
One idea I had was to start or return to physical activities I used to do just for fun. This week, the activity of choice was roller skating.
I headed to the Florham Park Roller Rink for a group session that featured lots of teenagers. This was for a reason: I did not want to look bad in front of the kids. That urge would force me to stay focused and avoid falling.
Of course, when the skates went onto my feet, my fear of falling multiplied exponentially. I hadn't skated in about 10 years (and that was for a newspaper story too). And rusty doesn't begin to describe my first half hour. It took about 30 minutes to get my brain out of the way so that natural inclination could take over and my inner Johnny Weir could emerge.
Sadly, I didn't turn into a world champion out there on the hardwood oval. But my feet eventually remembered how skating worked and I did arrive at a certain level of competence. Before too long, I was gliding to the Top 40 soundtrack fairly confidently, even shimmying around the curves as my favorite songs by Katy Perry and Pitbull played.
Talk about feeling the burn: By the time the skates came off, my legs, and specifically my calves, felt like they were on fire. The rest of me felt like it had a thorough workout as well; I certainly raised my heart rate and broke a serious sweat.
And I didn't fall. Not once.
This adventure I call a success.
And, yes, as promised, I danced.
Dance has been a favorite activity of mine as long as I can remember. So when I learned about an exercise routine that was created with Latin dancing in mind, I knew it had to go onto my to-do list.
The exercise is called Zumba.
According to the official website, Zumba Fitness is "the only Latin-inspired dance-fitness program that blends red-hot international music, created by Grammy Award-winning producers, and contagious steps to form a 'fitness-party' that is downright addictive."
You can't argue with numbers: Since being introduced in 2001, Zumba's become the world's largest and most successful dance-fitness program. More than 12 million people of all shapes, sizes and ages take weekly Zumba classes in more than 125 countries.
And some of those Zumba aficionados are in Parsippany.
I call Sonia Rodriguez Par-troy's Zumba goddess, but she demurs, noting that there are a number of certified Zumba instructors at gyms and standalone classes in Morris County. Doesn't matter. No doubt the other teachers are great. Rodriguez, in my opinion, is a goddess.
Rodriguez lives in Denville and works in finance by day, but she spends one night per week during the summer teaching Zumba at All Saints Academy.
She started working as a Zumba instructor three years ago. Since then, she said there has been a seemingly meteoric rise in the number of classes offered.
"People started going to their gyms and hearing about it and then asking why Zumba wasn't offered," she said. "So more and more gyms added it."
What makes the program so attractive to many is that Zumba doesn't feel like exercise.
"It feels like a party," Rodriguez said. "You've got lively music combined with fun and easy to follow low-impact dance steps. It makes you feel like you're dancing. People found out it's a really fun way to burn calories and relieve stress, and now its popularity is exploding."
Rodriguez said that for 12 years prior to joining Zumba, she taught Latin ballroom dancing.
"When I got laid off from there, a friend told me I should try Zumba." she recalled. "I had thought about it before, but I didn't think of myself as a fitness person. I never taught aerobics, and I was in finance, accounting."
Ultimately, she decided to attend a workshop to see what it was about.
"I figured it had a basis in dance," she said. "At the least, I could learn something."
At the workshop, Rodriguez found that the numerous dance steps involved in Zumba came easily to her, and in time, she signed with the Zumba Instructor Network and started getting requests to teach.
"I trained in February in 2008 and started teaching that September, and I've been doing it ever since," she said. "I don't teach dance anymore, so this allows me to enjoy being in front of a class again, and the exercise part helps me stay in shape. When you teach dance, you stop and start while you're teaching steps. Teaching Zumba... you're getting a workout."
There are many styles of Zumba to cater to different audiences. Rodriguez offers a low-impact version designed to be gentler on the knees and joints of those who take her class.
"My challenge is throwing the fitness stuff in there, adding knee lifts and squats without making them feel like knee lifts and squats and while keeping the dance aspect of it intact," she said.
Having experienced her class, I have to say: mission accomplished.
I turned up at her regular Wednesday 6:30 p.m. session at All Saints Academy last week and jumped right in with the women there. Following the steps usually was no problem once I figured out where Rodriguez was going.
And, wow, did we go: The music was a pastiche of genres, mostly Latin and Latin-flavored pop along with some Bollywood-inspired songs. As we plunged into the hour, Rodriguez kept movement going at a steady clip. While demonstrating steps, she offered low-impact alternatives and had more demanding steps available for those capable of handing them. (I tended to go for the more difficult steps just to prove I could.)
By the hour's end, I felt like a party had just taken place. But the workout received was real. A serious shower and nap were called for, in that order.
I made a mental note in that moment to contact Sharon Maroldi and Stacey Van Seggern. My fellow Patchers were going to join me for this class and had other priorities arise that led me to go solo. Well, now it was clear: They must try Zumba. And if you're looking for a way to get or stay fit, I would recommend it to you too. Zumba's even more fun than roller skating. And there's a lower chance of falling.
Next week, the focus is running. I have been walking and walk-jogging a lot, but if I am going to run a 5K next month, I need to pick up the pace. That will be the week six goal.
As for the weigh-in, I had another plateau week. Nothing lost or gained. Normally, that might depress me a tad. This week, however, I will have another chance to do the unforbidden dance. That news will turn almost any frown upside down and sends me off into week six with a light bounce in my step.