What Is Zumba?

Pros, Cons, and How It Works

In This Article

Zumba is one of the best-known fitness organizations in the world with more than 200,000 class locations available in 180 countries. And while the brand is best known for its signature "Zumba" Latin dance fitness class, the company offers a number of additional workout formats, from strength training to kid's fitness classes and even water aerobics classes. Each workout involves highly choreographed movements set to upbeat salsa and international music. Essentially, Zumba is a fun, high-energy workout experience that keeps you excited to exercise—and coming back for more.

zumba dance fitness
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The Zumba Class

Zumba's most well-known and popular program is its namesake class, Zumba. This dance class features high- and low-intensity intervals that help improve cardiovascular fitness while also enhancing balance, coordination, agility, and to some degree, strength, through the application of beginner-accessible choreography.

You don't need any special dance skills to succeed in Zumba classes but those that have natural rhythm may pick up on the moves faster. Still, no one is keeping score, so just dance, let go, and have fun.

Classes typically consist of a series of Latin-inspired songs, starting with a slower warm-up song, building intensity throughout the workout, and ending with a cool-down song. Even if you're not a strong dancer, the choreography is repetitive and designed to be built upon, so most people will catch on to the moves as they go.

In fact, a big draw of Zumba is that just about anyone can do it, and regardless of how quickly you pick up on the choreography, you're likely to be having fun—and sweating. No special equipment or outfits are needed either. All you need is a positive attitude and to keep moving along with each song.

Background

Zumba was officially founded in the United States in 2001 by Alberto "Beto" Perez, a Colombian dancer who started the fitness class in the '90s in his home country. Perez's "rags to riches" story could be considered serendipity—he was teaching an aerobics class at his local gym when he realized he'd forgotten his usual music. Without time to retrieve his tunes, Perez ended up using a few of his favorite Latin-dance cassettes, and just like that, the new class was born. It became so popular with people in Columbia, that popstar Shakira enlisted him to help choreograph some of her music.

In 2000, Perez decided to launch his fitness class in the United States. In 2001, he partnered with two investors and released a series of three Zumba DVDs available through an infomercial. While the class wasn't an overnight success, it gained significant steam, and by 2012 received further investment and expansion with more class formats, Zumba cruises, Zumba vacations, and an extensive instructor training program.

The dance fitness concept wasn't new when Zumba rose to fame, but the high energy fun of its classes was. Plus, Zumba's timing was ideal. In the early 2000s, large fitness centers, like 24 Hour Fitness and Lifetime Fitness were popping up everywhere, often including group fitness classes as a benefit of membership. These gyms were looking for unique classes to add to the draw of their clubs. At the same time, there was a growing focus on the concept of "fitness as fun" to keep members engaged and interested. Zumba effectively delivered on those needs and was overwhelmingly picked up as a regular class offering across the country. As Zumba grew in popularity, it often became a driving force of gym membership and membership retention, making it a win-win for all involved.

Types of Classes

Zumba tends to appeal to a largely female audience but all are welcome. And because the choreography is more-or-less accessible even to those with "two left feet," people of all ages and dance abilities have flocked to the classes, especially during the peak of its popularity between roughly 2005 and 2015. As a result, the brand added numerous programs in an effort to make the class and choreography even more accessible to people of all ages, genders, and fitness levels. Classes include:

  • Zumba Step: The same Latin-inspired dance choreography, but with the addition of an aerobic step to increase the intensity of the workout and add more leg-strengthening moves due to repeatedly stepping on and off the elevated surface
  • Aqua Zumba: Particularly good for those with lower-extremity injuries or a need for low-impact exercise, Aqua Zumba takes the Latin dance craze to the pool
  • Zumba Gold: This modified version of the standard Zumba class is geared to an older audience that wants the same fun music and flair of a traditional class, but performed at a lower intensity
  • Zumba Kids: Designed for kids between 7 to 11 years old, Zumba Kids modifies and breaks down traditional Zumba moves, then adds games and activities to the class to keep kids engaged and interested as they break a sweat
  • Zumba Kids Jr.: Very similar to Zumba Kids, Zumba Kids Jr. is simply modified for the 4- to 6-year-old audience and is positioned even more as a "dance party" to help keep this age group on "task"
  • Zumbini: This once-a-week, 45-minute class is designed for the littlest Zumba fans between 0 and 3 years old; the little ones and their caregivers meet to bond over music and engage in age-appropriate active play; think less "workout," and more "learning experience"

As strength training classes gained popularity over the past decade, pulling people into CrossFit gyms and choreographed strength classes, the Zumba brand worked to add more strength options to its repertoire as well, including:

  • Zumba Toning: Incorporates the use of Zumba Toning Sticks (or light weights) to add an element of strength training to familiar Zumba dance moves
  • Zumba Gold-Toning: Just like Zumba Toning, but at a lower intensity level designed for a somewhat older audience
  • Zumba In the Circuit: This class is designed as a circuit, alternating between Zumba dance moves and strength training exercises for a full-body workout intended to improve cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength
  • Zumba Sentao: This class uses a chair as a "dance partner" to focus on core strength without the use of weights
  • Strong by Zumba: A high-intensity bodyweight training workout with movements choreographed to the beat of the music; pushups, squats, burpees, and lunges are staples of this routine

How It Works

Almost all of the Zumba brand classes are designed as 45- to 60-minute group exercise classes led by a Zumba-certified instructor. These are typically offered at gyms and fitness centers, although Zumba instructors are welcome to market classes on their own, hosting workouts at parks, schools, or other venues.

Zumba Basics

Classes consist of a series of Latin dance songs, each one with highly choreographed dance movements that build on each other. The first song offers a slower beat to help you get warmed up, with each successive song building in intensity and challenge, with a few lower-intensity dance series built-in for recovery. The workout wraps up with a cool-down song.

Between songs, you can grab water and take a second to catch your breath before the next song starts.

Schedules for Zumba are typically based on the gym or fitness center where classes are hosted. For cardio-based fitness classes like Zumba, it's ideal to get on a regular schedule, aiming to participate in at least two to three classes a week. Use the Zumba website to find a class near you.

Pros and Cons

Overall, Zumba feels like a dance party disguised as a workout—which is exactly what people love about it. Zumba is a safe, fun, and effective workout for most people who want to enhance their cardiovascular fitness through dance. There are very few drawbacks to the program, just general precautions you should be aware of when starting any new workout routine.

Pros
  • General fitness

  • Sustainability

  • Accessibility

  • Fun and engaging

  • High energy

  • Low cost

Cons
  • Doesn't work the entire body

  • Safety concerns associated with overdoing it

Pros

General Fitness

Given the sustained popularity of Zumba, a large number of studies have been performed on the efficacy of the workout. One 2016 review of the literature found that Zumba was effective at improving aerobic capacity (cardiovascular fitness), while limited additional evidence pointed to possible enhancements to muscular fitness and flexibility.

Sustainability

One of the most important factors when it comes to exercise is adherence— actually continuing the exercise program after you've started. Generally speaking, the more enjoyable a program is, the more motivated you will be to continue it. And the more consistent you are with a program, the more likely you are to experience positive results. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that a Zumba intervention in sedentary adults with metabolic syndrome "showed good feasibility and adherence," which points to the positive sustainability of the program as a whole.

Safety

All fitness programs, regardless of type, carry an inherent risk. You could pull a muscle, twist an ankle, or fall. If you do too much too soon, you can risk excessive soreness or symptoms of overtraining. That said, the Zumba brand has gone out of its way to develop programs designed for all audiences and age levels, offering varying levels of intensity and challenge to reduce the risk of potential injury. If you're new to exercise, you may want to start with an Aqua Zumba or Zumba Gold class, rather than diving in with the traditional Zumba class or the more intense Zumba Step class.

One small study published in the Hawai'i Journal of Medicine & Public Health found that roughly one in four Zumba participants experienced relatively minor injuries as a result of the program, primarily to the ankle, knee, or shoulder. The factor most associated with injury was the number of classes taken per week, with those who took more classes (averaging 3.8 per week versus 2.7 per week) being more likely to experience an injury. The key thing to remember is to ease yourself into a program and to listen to your body, taking rest when you need it.

Accessibility

Due to the widespread availability of the program and the varied style of class, Zumba as a brand is quite flexible and suited to almost all fitness levels and interests. Even if your local gym doesn't offer Zumba classes, you may find that a nearby swimming pool offers Aqua Zumba or an independent instructor who provides classes with a pay-per-class structure at a nearby park. Likewise, you can purchase Zumba DVDs or the online Strong by Zumba class if you prefer to exercise at home.

Restrictions

Zumba carries with it very few restrictions in terms of age, ability level, or health status. This is due, in part, to the lower-impact style of dance moves incorporated into the program, and in part to the availability of modified class structures, like Zumba Gold, Zumba Kids, and Aqua Zumba. For people with known lower-extremity injuries, a traditional Zumba class may not be advised, but Aqua Zumba, which reduces the impact on the joints, might be an accessible option.

Energy and General Health

While almost any sustained workout program may help boost mood, self-esteem, and energy, Zumba has a few peer-reviewed studies pointing to the psychological benefits of the program. Namely, a 2016 study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that healthy women who participated in an 8-week Zumba program experienced positive changes in perceptions of physical strength, autonomy, and purpose in life, improving their overall feelings of health and well-being.

Cost

The cost of Zumba is variable, depending on where you take the class. If you're a member of a gym where Zumba is offered, the class may be included as part of your membership. If you're paying on a fee-per-class basis, you're likely to spend between $5 and $25 per class, depending on the setting and the instructor. That said, if you're on a budget, you can purchase a DVD to workout at home for as low as $10. The flexibility of price, depending on location and needs, makes the program financially accessible for most people.

Zumba doesn't make unrealistic claims about calorie burn or the potential for weight loss or strength gains. Instead, their marketing focuses on improving fitness in a fun way that helps enhance how you feel every day—and more than delivers on those fronts.

Cons

Lacks Strength and Flexibility Components

The literature is clear that Zumba can provide cardiovascular benefits, but the jury is out on whether there are significant benefits to flexibility and strength. Unless you're taking Zumba classes, such as Strong by Zumba, that specifically incorporate strength-training moves as a primary component of the workout, you shouldn't view Zumba as a well-rounded general fitness class. In addition to taking two to three Zumba classes a week, you may want to add a few strength training and flexibility activities to your schedule as well. Consider trying a 30-minute strength circuit followed by a 10-minute stretching session on days you're not doing Zumba.

Safety Concerns

Zumba is considered a generally safe fitness activity, but because all physical activity carries inherent risk, you should think about your own physical health before diving into a program. If you have a known lower-extremity injury, or if you have a history of ankle or knee problems, talk to your doctor before trying Zumba, or start with a lower-impact version of the program, such as Zumba Gold or Aqua Zumba. And if you're brand-new to dance choreography, don't overdo it and push yourself too hard. Give yourself time to master the movements at your own pace. Moving quickly or without coordination can lead to an increased risk of injury.

How It Compares

Zumba is a fun, effective dance workout that is a good option for people who enjoy upbeat music and an energetic group exercise environment. Here's how it compares to other similar classes.

Jazzercise

Jazzercise is the original dance fitness class that took the world by storm in the 1980s and 1990s. While it experienced a bit of a resurgence in the 2010s, Jazzercise has yet to return to the popularity of its heyday. That said, like Zumba, it offers choreographed dance moves to upbeat music in a fun, group environment. If you want the atmosphere of Zumba, but you don't feel comfortable with the booty-shaking vigor of Zumba's dance choreography, Jazzercise might be a mellower option for you.

BUTI Yoga

BUTI Yoga is a workout that combines high-intensity exercise with African dance-inspired choreography and yoga flows. The nice thing about BUTI is that it really does hit all the bases for general fitness—you'll develop strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular endurance. The program is also available online and through independent instructors at gyms and fitness centers, so you can access classes pretty much wherever you are.

That said, the movements are less appropriate for a general audience, making it more suitable for healthy adults with a solid baseline of fitness, rather than an older audience or those with known health issues or injuries.

Barre Classes

Barre fitness classes are highly popular programs most often available at boutique fitness studios. These workouts tend to be focused more on flexibility, muscular endurance, and core strength, and less on cardiovascular fitness. The movements are slower and more controlled, and while the classes are choreographed, you're not trying to keep up with a series of fast-paced steps.

However, Barre classes often come at a higher price, ranging from roughly $15 to $35 per class. Barre workouts may be a good supplement to Zumba, as strength and flexibility are a greater focus. They're also considered a low-impact workout which can be a good option for beginners or those with known lower-extremity injuries.

A Word From Verywell

Zumba provides a fun and positive workout experience with options appropriate for almost all ages and ability levels. There's a lot of independent research to support the efficacy of the program and not much to detract from its potential benefits.

However, if you don't like dancing, fast-paced choreography, or Latin-inspired music, Zumba might not be a good fit for you. But if you're looking for an addictively fun, high-energy group dance workout set to upbeat music, Zumba is a great one to try.

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Article Sources
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  2. Araneta MR, Tanori D. Benefits of Zumba Fitness® among sedentary adults with components of the metabolic syndrome: A pilot study. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 2014;55(10):1227-1233.

  3. Inouye J, Nichols A, Maskarinec G, Tseng CW. A survey of musculoskeletal injuries associated with Zumba. Hawaii J Med Public Health. 2013;72(12):433-6.

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