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What is Zumba? Enjoy Fitness Through Dance and Joy

Zumba is a fitness program that combines dance and aerobic movements, offering cardiovascular health benefits and full-body toning. It's suitable for all ages and fitness levels, requiring only comfortable clothing and a readiness to move to the music.

17 min readSeptember 12th, 2023
SLWritten By Sara Lindberg
AWWritten By Ashley Walton

This Latin dance-inspired fitness class combines high-energy routines with aerobic exercise to create a fun and engaging workout for all levels.

And the best part? You don’t need any rhythm, dance experience, or skills to get started.

So, if you’re ready to see how this music-driven aerobic dance workout can boost your physical health and overall well-being, then check out our comprehensive guide on Zumba.

History of Zumba

Zumba dates back to the 1990s when Colombian dancer and choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez improvised a dance workout to music tapes of Salsa and Merengue, the only music he had on him at the time, to teach an aerobics class.

Perez’s quick thinking led to repeat classes based on his Latin-inspired dance workouts, which are now taught in over 185 countries, according to the official Zumba website.

While Perez continued to teach at his local gym in Colombia, it wasn't until late 1999 or early 2000 that he brought Zumba to the United States and introduced it to the masses via a series of three Zumba DVDs.

In time, this sweat-producing, heart-pumping dance workout began making an appearance in popular gyms and fitness studios throughout the country, led by licensed Zumba instructors.

Today, Zumba goes beyond the traditional Latin dance styles to include other genres, such as hip-hop and Bollywood. It also has programs, such as Zumba Gold for older adults and Zumba Kids for children.

How Zumba Works

Zumba is a popular dance fitness program that combines Latin and international music with easy-to-follow dance moves, making it a great way to get in shape while having fun. This total-body workout targets cardiovascular fitness, strength, and flexibility. Because it is high-energy and fast-paced, it also burns a ton of calories.

Elements of a Zumba Class

Zumba is packed with various dance styles and choreography. While each class and instructor may feature different moves and routines, some of the more common dance styles you may come across include salsa movements like hip sways, shimmies, and turns.

Music styles you may experience

Reggaeton, which features a combination of hip-hop and Latin dance moves, is another dance style common in Zumba routines.

You’ll also move to the Merengue, which involves quick steps and a marching-like movement, and Cumbia, which is a dance style designed with a rhythmical step pattern and is often accompanied by a partner dance.

Typical class structure

Zumba classes start with a warm-up that includes simple dance moves and stretches to warm the body and get it ready for more intense activity.

The instructor will often break down the steps and teach them to the class before putting them all together into a full routine. Zumba routines are designed to be fun and easy to follow, so you don't need to be an experienced dancer to participate.

In addition to dance-inspired moves, Zumba features traditional exercises like squats, lunges, arm movements, and jumping jacks to increase the intensity of the workout and work different muscle groups.

At the end of class, you can expect to spend a few minutes moving at a slower pace to bring your heart rate back down. You’ll also perform some standing and seated stretches to boost flexibility, decrease muscle tension, and reduce the risk of injury.

Benefits of Zumba

Zumba is a fun and dynamic dance workout that has numerous benefits for your body and mind. Not only does it burn calories and boost cardiovascular health, but it also improves coordination and dance skills. Plus, Zumba is a great way to relieve stress, boost your mood, and improve your overall fitness level.

To deep-dive into Zumba benefits, check out our article, Top Zumba Benefits.

Boosts cardio fitness

Zumba is known for its heart-pumping cardiovascular benefits. In fact, many people choose dance-style workout classes specifically to increase heart rate, improve cardiorespiratory function, and boost endurance levels. So it comes as no surprise that results from a 2016 systematic review found that Zumba fitness can improve aerobic capacity.

Strengthens muscles

Zumba is primarily a cardiovascular activity. However, it’s not uncommon to notice changes in muscular strength, endurance, and definition with regular practice.

In fact, results from a 2016 study found that participants noted significant positive changes in self-perception of physical strength and muscular development after an 8-week exercise intervention based on Zumba.

Burns calories

Working up a sweat while increasing your heart rate is a sure sign that you’re going to burn massive calories. And what better way to get the job done than to also have fun.

According to a study from the American Council on Exercise (ACE), researchers found that participating in a single Zumba fitness class burned an average of 369 calories of 9.5 kcal per minute. The results were based on an average workout time of 38 minutes and a mean heart rate of 154 bpm.

Improves coordination and balance

The dance moves in a Zumba class require some level of coordination. And while you don’t have to be an expert to start, many participants find they improve their dance technique and coordination after learning proper form and repeating the choreography.

Improves overall quality of life

Regular physical activity is not only good for burning calories and staying fit, but it may also improve your overall quality of life. According to a 2020 study, dance fitness classes, and specifically a 16-week Zumba Fitness intervention improved the Health-Related Quality of Life (HRQoL) in sedentary middle-aged women. The HRQoL is based on a person’s subjective judgment of physical, functional, emotional, and social well-being.

Creates sense of community

Zumba classes are an excellent way to socialize and meet new people, which can be beneficial for mental health and well-being. It also gives you a way to build community, provide and receive support, and stay accountable.

Who Is Zumba Best For?

If you’re new to Zumba or still on the fence about trying this workout style, you might wonder who it’s best for. The good news is Zumba is a great choice for a wide range of fitness levels, ages, and abilities, especially since the brand has several Zumba programs designed for different needs and goals.

Fitness Beginners

Zumba is an excellent workout for beginners because it is a fun, high-energy dance routine with simple and repetitive moves. Plus, the instructor can modify the dance moves for different abilities, so even if you’re not an experienced dancer, you can still get a great workout.

Additionally, some Zumba classes like Zumba Gold and Aqua Zumba are low-impact, making it easier on your joints and perfect if you’re just starting to get into fitness. Another reason Zumba is great for beginners is the social atmosphere, which can be motivating and help you stay committed to your fitness goals.

People with Injuries

While some Zumba classes are more intense and high-impact than others, many are low-impact and easy to modify to suit your needs or accommodate any injuries.

It’s a good idea to start with a beginner class and inform the instructor of any injuries or conditions you may have. They can provide modifications or alternative moves to accommodate your needs. As always, it's best to consult with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.

People wanting varied workouts

Workouts can get boring, which may lead to more skipped days and less time being active. That’s why it’s important to vary your fitness routine and include new classes and activities on a regular basis.

Because Zumba is designed to be fun and upbeat, it’s a great option for anyone looking to change things up or add some variety. Plus, it’s easy to swap out for a different cardio workout like running, walking, or swimming.

Older Adults

The dance moves in Zumba can help improve coordination and balance, which can be beneficial for older adults wanting to reduce their risk of falls. In fact, results from a systematic literature review, found that dance, regardless of its style, can significantly improve balance, endurance, and other functional fitness in older adults.

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Types of Zumba

Due to its enormous popularity and far-reaching fan base, the Zumba brand expanded programs and added new classes to its lineup of fitness workouts. With so many types of Zumba classes, there is a good chance you’ll find a routine that fits your fitness level, abilities, preferences, and goals.

Zumba Fitness

Zumba Fitness is designed for everyone. This is the original and most popular type of Zumba, which incorporates a variety of dance styles and high-energy Latin and world rhythms mixed with low-intensity and high-intensity moves for an interval-style workout.

This style is considered the ultimate dance-fitness party with benefits including a high calorie burn, muscle conditioning, balance, cardio, flexibility, energy boost, and fun atmosphere.

Zumba Toning

Zumba Toning features body-sculpting exercises designed to tone and target the arms, abs, and lower body. You’ll use weighted Toning Sticks or hand weights to add resistance to the workout. This class is appropriate for Zumba Fitness fans who want to add strength training to their workout.

Aqua Zumba

Aqua Zumba is an invigorating, low-impact version of Zumba that takes place in a pool. Because water can reduce the impact on the joints while increasing resistance, this workout is a great choice for anyone recovering from an injury.

Zumba Kids and Kids Jr.

Zumba Kids and Kids Jr. are fun and interactive versions of Zumba designed for children, featuring kid-friendly music and dance routines.

Zumba Kids is appropriate for ages 7 to 11, while Zumba Jr. is designed for lil’ party animals ages 4 to 6. Both classes help increase focus and self-confidence, boost metabolism, and improve coordination, with the Jr. version using music and games to increase movement.

Zumba Gold and Zumba Gold + Toning

Zumba Gold is a modified version of Zumba designed for active older adults, fitness beginners, or people with limited mobility.

The class includes modified moves and simplified pacing, making the workout less intense and easier to follow. If you want to add strength training to your Zumba Gold workout, consider Zumba Gold + Toning. This routine blends the foundation of Zumba Gold and incorporates Toning Sticks or hand weights for resistance.

Other types of Zumba

The Zumba brand is always evolving and adding new classes. Some other types of Zumba workouts included in the class lineup include Zumba Step, Zumba Circuit, Zumbini (ages 0-3 and their caregiver), and Zumba Sentao (uses a chair as a dance partner).

What to Expect in a Zumba Class

A lively atmosphere, contagious energy, and supportive community are just a few reasons Zumba classes are packed with repeat participants.

In fact, many people find that the positive atmosphere in a Zumba class makes it easier to stay motivated and committed to their fitness goals.

Zumba classes typically last 45 to 60 minutes and include a thorough warm-up and cool down. Ideally, you’ll attend a class led by a certified or licensed Zumba instructor. You can use the “Find an Instructor” online tool to locate a Zumba teacher close to you.

All Zumba classes begin with a warm-up to get your body ready for the workout ahead. After that, the instructor will lead you through a series of dance routines set to upbeat music.

The music is carefully selected to match the tempo and style of the dance moves. It’s generally fast-paced and upbeat, consisting of Latin-inspired songs and other dance-driven beats.

As far as the choreography, it’s generally easy to follow and designed to work your whole body. Plus, the instructor demonstrates the dance moves and provides cues for participants to follow along throughout the class.

One of the great things about Zumba is that it's a full-body workout. Which means, you’ll get your heart rate up and burn calories while also putting your core, legs, and arms through a rigorous routine. And because it's so much fun, you'll hardly even notice that you're working out!

And when it comes to clothing, anything goes, within reason, of course. Some people go all out and dress in vibrant outfits full of color and style, while others opt for a pair of comfy workout pants, a sweat-wicking top, and supportive cross-training or dance-specific shoes.

The most important thing is that you’re comfortable and able to move without restriction. And finally, because Zumba is a high-intensity workout that can make you sweat a lot, it's important to stay hydrated by drinking water before, during, and after the class.

Tips for a Successful Zumba Experience

Zumba is a fun and effective way to get in shape and improve your overall health. However, to have a successful experience, it's important to find the right class and instructor, set realistic goals, stay motivated and consistent, and listen to your body.

Find the Right Class and Instructor

Zumba makes it easy to find the right class and instructor to meet your needs. You can search by location, class type, or even instructor on the company’s official Zumba website. Using their online tool ensures you’re getting a certified instructor and licensed Zumba class.

Once you’ve found classes in your area, the next step is to look for a class that fits your schedule. If possible, ask to observe the class before committing. This allows you to see if the instructor and class are the right fit. Zumba instructors are trained to lead the class and provide guidance on proper form and technique.

You should also consider the style of Zumba that the class focuses on, as different styles may be better suited to your fitness level and personal preferences.

Set Realistic Goals

Remember, significant changes don't happen overnight. That’s why it’s important to set goals that are small, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. If you’re not sure where to start, consider following the SMART goal setting process by the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

You’ll also want to make time to celebrate your progress as you work towards your goals. Another part of setting realistic goals is to avoid comparing yourself to others. Everyone has their own fitness level and ability, so make it a point to focus on your own progress and enjoy the journey.

Stay Motivated and Consistent

Staying motivated and consistent is key to seeing results with a Zumba program. How often you take a class depends on the other fitness activities in your weekly routine. For some people, this could mean one or two classes a week in addition to other workouts like strength training, cardio machines, and group classes.

But if Zumba is your primary activity, you should consider attending a minimum of three classes each week. You can also mix up your routine by trying different styles of Zumba classes. For example, you can structure your week by taking a Zumba Fitness class on Monday, Zumba Toning on Wednesday, and Aqua Zumba on Friday.

Listen to Your Body

Listening to your body is critical, no matter the exercise type. If you're new to Zumba, it's a good idea to start with a beginner's class and gradually build up your fitness level over time. Don't try to do too much too soon, as this can lead to injury or burnout.

Also, if you're feeling uncomfortable or in pain during a class, stop what you’re doing and let the instructor know. Take breaks when needed, stay hydrated, and fuel your body with healthy foods.

You may also want to get the green light from your doctor or a physical therapist before starting a Zumba program, especially if you have any chronic health conditions or injuries.

Best Gear for Zumba

Are you ready to spice up your Zumba routine with some new workout gear? From breathable leggings to supportive sneakers, what you wear to class is key to grooving and sweating in style.

Zumba Brand Workout Gear

Zumba may be best known for its rhythmic moves and fun dance combos, but it’s the vibrant and stylish activewear that really stands out when you enter a Zumba studio. In fact, the gear has become such a central theme in classes that Zumba designs and sells its own workout line, including clothing, shoes, and accessories.

Recently, Zumba teamed up with Crayola to launch a “Colors of Kindness” collection featuring stylish and fun clothing and accessories to promote a message of encouragement, positivity, and inclusivity. Signature pieces include sweatpants, leggings, bodysuits, sweatshirts, skorts, tank tops, biker shorts, sports bras, tee shirts, scrunchies, headbands, and more.

Moisture-Wicking Clothing and Socks

Zumba workouts produce a lot of sweat! That’s why you’ll want to look for clothing made from moisture-wicking materials that keep you dry and comfortable.

While it’s common to see a variety of styles in Zumba classes from baggy and roomy to tight-fitting and barely-there attire, the most important thing is to find what works for you. Some people like loose-fitting pants, skirts, and shirts, while others prefer bike shorts, bodysuits, leggings, and fitted tanks.

Another must-have clothing item for some Zumba fans is a good sports bra. Make sure to choose a supportive, comfortable bra that won't move around or chafe. And, if you wear socks, choose ones that are comfortable and moisture-wicking. Some Zumba enthusiasts prefer to dance barefoot or in dance socks.

Supportive Athletic Shoes

You'll want sneakers that are comfortable and supportive, as you'll be doing a lot of jumping and moving around in Zumba.

Look for sneakers with good arch support, cushioning, and flexibility. Consider cross-training or dance-specific shoes with smooth soles for easy pivoting and twisting movements. And, avoid running shoes with heavy treads, as they may not allow for smooth pivots and turns.


Clothing is essential, but beyond some comfy shoes and moisture-wicking socks, top, and bottom, you’ll also want to bring a water bottle to stay hydrated and possibly a towel to catch your sweat.

Some people really get into Zumba class and come decked out in colorful headbands, wristbands, jewelry, and hair accessories. The official Zumba website is packed full of fun and inspirational ideas!

While not required, some people like to bring their own fitness gear like a yoga mat, light dumbbells, or resistance bands. This is completely optional, and if you need these items in class, your instructor will most likely provide them for you.

A Word from Ashley

I'm Ashley Walton, Cofounder and Chief Content Officer at GymBird, and I wanted to add some of my thoughts about Zumba.

I'm a big believer in the positive impact that dance can have on a person. Without a doubt, I know that regularly dancing and engaging in novel movement helps me reduce stress. But as a busy adult, sometimes I struggle to find occasions to dance.

When I make time to dance in my day, I feel an instant boost of happiness and energy that's not quite the same as when I engage in other types of workouts. Sometimes I'll do a little dance in between sets when I'm strength training, but I've also done dance classes like Zumba (which have truly humbled me to my core).

I do not consider myself a good dancer or a very coordinated person in general, so doing Zumba puts me squarely out of my comfort zone. I feel a little silly, but I think that's part of the point and joy of Zumba. I'm moving my body in a way that's different from usual, and it feels good.

Studies have shown that dance can be used as movement therapy and have a positive impact on mental health and physical and psychological stress—and I have personally felt that. It's seriously hard to be in a bad mood when I'm dancing.

Something magical happens when I dance. Neuroscientists have called dance "pleasure double play" because when we dance, we engage numerous parts of the brain and think about timing and coordination as we enjoy the music. That's partly what I think is difficult about dance: concentrating on different types of coordination at once. It might test the limits of my brain function, but there's also something special that happens when I let loose, stop caring what I look like, and just dance to a beat.

Zumba is a great exercise for people of all fitness levels. Even if you consider yourself a hardcore athlete, Zumba can be a wonderful way to break up the monotony of your workouts and get outside your comfort zone. That has certainly been the case for me.

Bottom Line

With its infectious music, easy-to-follow dance moves, and focus on fun and fitness, it’s easy to see why Zumba is a favorite workout for people of all ages and fitness levels around the world.

Zumba classes focus on whole-body fitness, which can improve cardiorespiratory endurance, movement, strength, and control.

Plus, Zumba is suitable for all ages and fitness levels, and the instructor can easily adapt the choreography and intensity level. Not to mention, the Zumba brand includes a range of classes for different needs such as Zumba Gold, Aqua Zumba, and Zumba Kids.

Before getting started with Zumba, make sure to consult with your doctor or another healthcare professional, especially if you have a chronic condition or injury.

You can do Zumba at home or in the gym. The official Zumba website has two tools to help you locate virtual and live classes, plus a six-week online program to help you get started.

If you belong to a fitness facility, many offer Zumba programming as part of your membership. While not an exhaustive list, here are some large, multi-location gyms and fitness centers that offer Zumba classes:

FAQs About Zumba

How do Zumba instructors get certified, and what are the requirements?

To become a Zumba instructor, you need to be 18 years of age and complete the Zumba Basic 1, Jump Start Gold, or Jump Start Kids + Kids Jr. Instructor Training program either in person or online through an authorized Zumba instructor training course.

The training takes about 9 to 10 hours. After meeting all the course requirements, you are eligible for the Zumba license, which allows you to teach Zumba classes. The initial Zumba license is good for six months. You will need to join the Zumba Instructor Network to keep your license active.

Is Zumba suitable for people who are rhythmically challenged?

Absolutely! Regardless of your current dance move situation, Zumba is a fantastic way to incorporate a rhythmically-focused cardio routine into your overall fitness program.

Zumba classes offer simple choreography with instructors breaking down the dance moves into simple steps that are easy to follow. They also prioritize having fun and getting a good workout over perfecting the choreography. Plus, many studios and facilities offer a variety of Zumba classes, making it easy to find a style that fits your abilities and goals.

Does Zumba provide enough strength training, or should it be supplemented?

Zumba workouts feature aerobic moves that increase heart rate, boost cardiovascular fitness, and enhance balance and coordination. While some classes include muscle-boosting combos, it’s a good idea to supplement your Zumba routine with a minimum of two full-body resistance training workouts involving all major muscle groups each week.

If you want a Zumba workout that focuses more on toning and sculpting, consider taking the Zumba Toning class, which uses Zumba Toning Sticks or light weights to target specific muscle groups.

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