Fitness and Fun in the Sun: Exercise Classes in Bocas
Bocas del Toro can be summed up into two words: beautiful and fun. Likewise, there are a lot of beautiful bodies and many fun ways to keep them in shape here. One thing is for sure, in Bocas you don’t need a membership to any fancy corporate gyms to keep fit. That’s not island life!
People come here to get away from such things. They may have left those gyms behind, but they certainly didn’t give up fitness. Let me tell you about two exercise classes that are unique, fun, and take place amidst the natural beauty of the islands.
Island Water Aerobics with Shelley
“It’s too hot to work out!” was the most common complaint that Shelley would hear from her students, so she took her class to the cool calm waters of “Big Creek” on the main island of Colon. Shelley Trainor worked as a trainer in the Physical Therapy Department at Edward White Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida before relocating to Panama.
Before she used to give her classes inside in a gym, however the fitness fanatic has recently taken her innovative aerobics class to the water for many reasons: it’s less hot, your body stays cooler, there’s less impact on your joints because of the salt water buoyancy, you have the force of the swell pushing and pulling against your muscles (good for balance and stabilizing) and you are able to do some exercises that would be impossible to do on land. In an hour session she dedicates 45 minutes to cardio and 15 minutes to strength exercises with a mix of traditional calisthenics, yoga, Pilates and resistance training (for which “pool noodles” are involved).
Shelley has taken her experience in physical therapy to designing a program which can be very beneficial to people with arthritis and recovering from injuries since training in the water induces less impact on the body. The experience is so calm that her students claim “You don’t really feel like you’re working out...until you get out of the water, that is.”
So how can you go to an exercise class and not feel like you’re doing exercise? Your body stays cooler, you don’t notice yourself sweating and it’s just plain soothing to be in the water. However the main reason it doesn’t feel like hard work is because everyone is having a blast! The class is a big group of friends, chatting and laughing away as they do their sets and before they know it, the work out is done. It’s not all fun and games though as there is work to be done. Shelley will put her foot down and blow her whistle before people get too distracted from the task at hand.
While it might not feel so intense because of the relaxing nature of laughing along with friends in the sea, this class is not just for the casual trainer and the injured. This class can be enjoyed at by people at all levels of fitness with a variety of goals in mind, but there’s only one way to find out. See for yourself:
“It’s all about getting your feet wet!” proclaims the master of Island Water Aerobics herself.
You can get your feet wet Tuesday through Friday at 10 am. The classes take place in Big Creek, which is on the main island of Isla Colon past the “Cabañas” and on your right hand side, before reaching Paunch Beach.
Boot Camp with Bianca
If you are looking for the most intense work out on the island, look no further than Bianca Ferrari, Bocas’ resident, fitness drill sergeant and kick-boxing queen. She will kick your butt…with her class, not literally. (Thank God!)
In Florida, she trained under, 9th degree Black Belt and 5 time MMA Kickboxing Heavy Weight World Champion, Moti Horenstein. Her master, or “Hanshi” if you will, served in the highest rank in the Israeli Special Forces and was recruited by the US Army to train soldiers in “Krav-Maga” in 2009, also known as Isreali Close Combat. And yes, that is what Bianca studied as well. He gilded her into steel training her in Modern Day Mixed Martial Arts (Ju-jitsu and Muay Thai), making her mind strong. She then branched out and began cross-fit and weight training, as well as sprint distance triathlons.
She started teaching fitness at 17 with a Pilates class in Bocas Del Toro. Years later in Florida, she began dedicating her time to Martial Arts training in a North Miami Beach facility. This lead her to teaching the adult classes at her dojo when her master was out of town. As 3 and a half years passed she made it to a point in her fitness goals where she hit a roadblock and felt the need for change. In November of 2010 she was one belt away from her black belt (brown with a black stripe), and had just won her first K-1 amateur kickboxing bout when she decided it was time to leave the US, move back to Bocas and live the dream, sharing her knowledge and inspiration with others.
What has evolved since then is revered and sometimes affectionately dreaded as “Bootcamp”. The class is an hour of high-intensity, high-impact cardio and interval (also known as circuit) training, plyo-metrics and MMA with each day targeting a specific area. Monday is full-body, Tuesday upper-body, Wednesday lower-body, and the week is complete with another full-body work out on Friday.
True to the tropical island living of Bocas, the class takes place outdoors, with a cool breeze, facing the beach with an ocean view. She blasts a cool blend of up-tempo Electronic, Dancehall Reggae and Rock and Roll music to pump up her students.
The benefits of her training styles are numerous: weight loss, muscle mass/toning, increased endurance, a leaner body, more energized, with improved balance and coordination. She believes working out in a group fosters healthy habits, friendship and creates more inspiration. However, her students will tell you that Bianca alone is quite inspiring.
They always knew she was tough, especially when they wake up the next morning and feel the effects of the previous day’s work out. However in the past year they have come to find out how strong she really is. At the time of this interview Bianca is teaching her classes 7 months pregnant! And she hasn’t skipped a beat.
“It’s made a lot them say ‘Wow, if she can do this pregnant, then I have to be able to,” she claims.
Quite the proud boot camp sergeant, Bianca strives to inspire her loyal boot-campers to achieve their goals. “I’ve had people quit smoking, choose to drink less alcohol, dropping 20+lbs and kicking soda to the curb” she is glad to say.
Her classes are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday at 11am in the “cabañas” on a concrete stage next to the Chikita Beach restaurant, beach side. You can pay per class or per week, with quite the price break paying for the whole week, not necessarily as a marketing technique so much as to give an incentive for her boot-campers to come every day. She wants to see results and you can only achieve results from consistency. She recalls, “My master always said ‘If every day we train is a good day, why not train every day?”
Indeed and why not train every day when you have such talented and inspired experts to motivate you while you’re surrounded by the natural beauty of the tropical island paradise that is Bocas del Toro. It’s time to push it the limit, ladies and gentleman.