Zumba and The Challenge of Dance Fitness

Zumba and The Challenge of Dance Fitness

Zumba is a workout where you can dance like nobody's watching. Or, depending on what motivates you, dance like everyone is watching you -- on stage or in a club! Either way, you experience a vigorous aerobic workout in a fun, motivating environment. Don't just take our word for it, listen to the science!

Zumba and The Challenge of Dance Fitness

Dance fitness is not new. Over the years dance aerobics trends came and went. The spandex leotard-clad jazz inspired aerobics dancers of the early 1980's and today's Zumba dancer have a few things in common once you look past their attire and musical choices. Both are a fusion of the worlds of dance and fitness.

At an elite level, dance is an athletic artform that requires a high level of fitness. Many adults take dance technique classes for fitness. However, the stop and start nature of classic dance classes along with detailed technique explanations break the flow of the workout.

At a more casual level, social dancing is a fun way to enjoy light-to-moderate exercise. Well designed dance fitness workouts, like Zumba, fuse basic technique from performance dance, with the fun of social dance while structuring it as a fitness workout. Win - win - win!

What is Zumba and the Origins

Zumba is an aerobic dance workout to infectious Latin and world dance music. The workout follows an interval structure mixing high-intensity intervals with lower intensity recovery periods. Zumba is an international franchise you find classes in most cities and over 180 countries throughout the world.

Zumba founder Beto Perez apparently taught an aerobic dance class in his home country of Colombia in the mid 1990s. One day he forgot his standard dance exercise music, so he went to his car to get a Latin dance music cassette tape. As he taught, he drew from his professional and social dance experience to cue Merengue, Salsa and Rumba moves to fit the music. His class loved it and that inspired him to develop what became the Zumba format. Little did he know his forgetfulness would lead to an international craze!

Benefits of Zumba

  • Zumba is a full body aerobic workout (see the following section to learn about Zumba's effectiveness as a workout).
  • It is a fun activity for people who love to dance and who love Latin music.
  • Zumba promotes a culture of inclusiveness that helps newcomers feel comfortable.
  • Classes are available in most cities or towns throughout the USA and Canada (and beyond).
  • People of all fitness levels get a good workout through Zumba due to the interval training element and the room for individual interpretation.
  • Many find their Zumba classes are a great social outlet.
  • Choreographed dancing may improve coordination, balance, and even help improve memory.

Over the past decade, dance fitness craze Zumba swept the world. 15 million people from 180 countries flock to Zumba classes. The immense popularity inspired some to question whether Zumba is a good workout.

Is Zumba and Effective Workout?

The fitness professional association the American Council on Exercise (ACE) studied the effectiveness of Zumba in 2012.

ACE found that their test subjects achieved heart rates ranging from  127 to 177 beats per minute (BPM). The average was 155 BPM which is a vigorous aerobic workout for most people at 80% of the average predicted Maximum Heart Rate.

ACE also measured that participants burned between 6.1 and 12 metabolic equivalent (METS). METS are an estimate of oxygen consumed and energy used that researchers use as a basis of comparison.  A vigorous activity scores at least 6 METS, so Zumba solidly meets that criteria, according to the ACE-commissioned study. The average participant burns 359 calories per class (this varies by age, gender, size, and fitness level).  

We always promote using your own biometrics and perceived exertion to pace your workouts and to evaluate results. Individual heart rate response is highly variable depending on fitness, age, and genetics. However, researchers test a range of participants and use averages to look for trends beyond individual variation.  

ACE's numbers indicate that Zumba is an effective cardio workout. More importantly, Zumba fans report that they have fun. You are more likely to be consistent with a fitness program if you enjoy it and find it beneficial.

"It’s a total-body exercise—a good, high-energy aerobic workout,” explains researcher Dr. Porcari. “Zumba fitness is also good for core strengthening and flexibility gains because there are lots of hip and midsection movements.”

Another researcher commented: “The surprising thing is that it doesn’t matter what fitness level you’re at—our research shows that in Zumba classes everyone is working out at the zone that’s recommended for improving cardio health,” says Luettgen. “Both fit people and less-fit people are going to get an equally good workout.”

This is just one of several studies that prove that structured full-body dance workouts like Zumba are effective. In 2014, another research group conducted a study involving women who participated in either a 12 week soccer program or a 12 week Zumba program. Both groups saw similar results in terms of aerobic fitness and fat loss. The soccer group had slightly better results in some areas, but lung capacity as indicated by improved VO2 Max results improved the same for both groups of active women.

Given all these science-backed results, you may wonder whether there is a downside? A 2013 study explored whether there was an increase injuries among Zumba participants. While the population used just 49 people, they found that 29% experienced injuries.

One member of the research team noted: "Zumba is based on dance moves, and our findings are similar to injuries observed among dancers (lower extremities, hip, and back injuries) according to a systematic review in the Journal of Dance Medicine and Science"

The researchers noted the injuries were most common among participants who took four or more classes a week. They also advise Zumba enthusiasts to take preventive measures like:

  • Pay attention to form and technique as poor posture and technique commonly cause workout, dance, and sports injuries.
  • If possible attend smaller sized classes with an experienced instructor so you may receive technique correction.
  • Wear appropriate shoes that allow you to pivot.
  • Stay hydrated before, during, and after class.
  • Cross train with other activities to minimize the risk of overuse injuries.
  • Allow adequate recovery time between workouts, people sometimes forget that fun dance-based workouts are vigorous activity.

Workout recovery is essential in improving fitness through any program including Zumba. A good heart rate monitor along guides your pace during the workout. Tracking trends in your biometrics like Resting Pulse and Heart Rate Variability help you manage your workout and recovery schedule like an athlete (or a dancer!)

Fitness wearables, like Biostrap, help you enjoy all the benefits of a workout like Zumba while minimizing the risks.

Sources and Resources:

Zumba website

https://www.zumba.com/en-US/

Research Studies Mentioned:

American Council on Exercise (ACE) commissioned study "Zumba Fitness: Sure It’s Fun But Is it Effective?" By Mary Luettgen, M.S., John P. Porcari, Ph.D., Carl Foster, Ph.D., Richard Mikat, Ph.D., and Jose Rodriguez-Morroyo, Ph.D.

https://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/2813/zumba-fitness-sure-it-s-fun-but-is-it-effective

"A Survey of Musculoskeletal Injuries Associated with Zumba" published in Hawai'i Journal of Medicine & Public Health. By Jill Inouye, MD, Andrew Nichols, MD, Gregory Maskarinec, PhD, and  Chien-Wen Tseng, MD, PhD.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3872921/

"Do soccer and Zumba exercise improve fitness and indicators of health among female hospital employees? A 12-week RCT." published in Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. By Barene S1, Krustrup P, Jackman SR, Brekke OL, Holtermann A.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24151956

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