What Is Zumba?

Pros, Cons, and How It Works

In This Article

zumba dance fitness

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Zumba may be 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 different workout formats, from strength training to kid's fitness classes and even water aerobics classes. Regardless of the format, each workout involves highly choreographed movements set to Latin-inspired music. The result is intended to offer a fun, high-energy workout experience that keeps you excited to exercise.

Even though the Zumba brand does offer a number of different workout formats, the most well-known and popular 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.

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 cooldown song. Even if you're not a strong dancer, the choreography is repetitive and designed to be built upon, so most people can pick up the moves as they go.

One great thing about Zumba is that the workout doesn't make obscene claims about calorie burn or the potential for weight loss or strength gains. Marketing focuses on improving fitness in a fun way that helps enhance how you feel every day.

From the standpoint of fitness professionals, it's hard to argue with these claims. Any workout that gets people consistently active is bound to bring about positive change in overall health and well-being, regardless of how that plays out on the scale.

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. The story is a bit of a "rags to riches" saga featuring what could be considered divine serendipity—Perez was teaching an aerobics class at his local gym when he realized he'd forgotten his usual music. Without time to retrieve his tunes, he 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 take his fitness class to the United States to see if he could break into the industry in a global way. In 2001 he partnered with two investors and released a series of three Zumba DVDs available through an infomercial. As they say, the rest is history. 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 certainly wasn't new when Zumba rose to fame, but the timing of Zumba's release played a role in its growth. 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 new and novel classes to add to the draw of their clubs. At the same time, a greater focus was being placed on the concept of "fitness as fun" to keep members engaged and interested. Zumba effectively "ticked all the boxes" for being picked up as a regular class offering. And as it 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

Because Zumba is a dance fitness class, it appeals primarily to a female audience. And because the choreography is more-or-less accessible even to those with "two left feet," people of all ages and dance abilities flocked to the class, 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 and fitness levels. These 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 who wants the same fun music and flair of a traditional class, but performed at a lower intensity
  • Zumba Kids: Designed for kids between 7-11 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 4-6-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 0-3 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 and related classes gained popularity around the same time, pulling women 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 stables 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.

    Classes consist of a series of Latin dance songs, each one with highly choreographed dance movements. 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 ends 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, so you'll need to check local schedules. For cardio-based classes like Zumba, it's best to get on a regular schedule, aiming to participate in at least two to three classes a week. A Monday/Wednesday/Friday or Tuesday/Thursday schedule tend to be popular options. Use the Zumba website to find a class near you.

    Pros and Cons

    Overall, Zumba is a safe 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

    • Restrictions

    • Energy and General Health

    • Low Cost

    Cons

    • General Fitness

    • Safety Concerns

    • Flexibility

    Pros

    General Fitness

    Given the sustained popularity of Zumba, a surprising number of studies have been performed on the efficacy of the workout. One 2016 review of 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—will you actually continue 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 can pull a muscle or twist an ankle by moving too quickly or without coordination in a new way. 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 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 individuals 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 fitness-related health benefits, like improvements to cardiovascular fitness, are certainly an important reason to start and maintain an exercise program, it's also important to recognize the other health-related benefits of exercise. While almost any sustained workout program may be able to 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, overall improving their 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 $20 per class, depending on the setting and the instructor. That said, if you're on a budget, you can purchase an at-home solution for less than $50. The flexibility of price, depending on location and needs, makes the program financially accessible for most people.

    Cons

    General Fitness

    The literature is clear that Zumba can provide cardiovascular benefits, but the jury is out on whether there are significant benefits to other areas of general fitness, such as 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 two to three strength training and flexibility activities to your schedule as well. Try 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. Moving quickly or without coordination can lead to an increased risk of injury, so start slow and try to master the movements at your own pace, rather than doing too much, too soon.

    How It Compares

    Zumba is a fun, effective dance workout that is a good option for people who enjoy upbeat music and a fun group exercise environment.

    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 is still often seen as a dance fitness class that's gone by the wayside. 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 type of booty-shaking often associated with Latin dance choreography, Jazzercise might be a better 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. Because barre classes are often offered through boutique studios, they 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

    All-in-all, 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.

    The key thing to remember is that generally speaking, there's no such thing as a bad workout, just a bad workout for you. If you don't like dancing, if you find fast-paced choreography an annoyance, or if you don't like Latin-inspired music, then you probably won't like Zumba. Likewise, if your fitness goals include gaining a lot of strength and flexibility, Zumba is unlikely to offer you the benefits you're seeking. However, if you love to dance, you love Latin music, you like working out in a group environment, and you want to improve your energy and cardiovascular fitness, then there's no reason not to give Zumba a try. Just start slow and ease your way in—it's the best way to remain injury-free.

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