Desperately Trying To Fall In Love . . . With Zumba.

Flickr photo by Cimm

The Zumba Craze That Has Swept The Planet Has Captured Everyone But Me

Why am I having so much trouble falling in love with Zumba?  I’m a step-junkie, boot camp-aholic and like Turbo Kick but I don’t get the Zumba craze.  The popularity of the Latin dance fitness party that has swept the country is a mystery to me.

I went to a Zumba class yesterday.  This wasn’t my first.  I’ve taken several different classes with various instructors.  Overall, I’m not a fan of dance-style workouts or classes where you do the same ‘routine’ for several weeks in a row.  My biggest beef with Zumba however is the hype over it. That, along with the all of the Zumba gear that the instructors wear, and the claims that you burn 800 calories a workout leaves me unimpressed.

Not All Zumba Classes Are Created Equal

There are some things about Zumba that strike me as being a little off the beam and don’t really line up with the advertisements you see about the program.

The official Zumba web site says that the basic instructor course teaches four basic rhythms that you will learn how to put together into a song to create your first Zumba class.  After attending the training you are certified to teach Zumba for one year.  There are no prerequisites to become certified except taking the training.

There is a huge variation between levels of instruction not dissimilar to what you find with any other fitness class that you attend.  After completing the training, It is entirely up to the instructor to make it work and to motivate the class.

I have been to a Zumba class where hip-hop dance steps were done to top 40 music.  We moved to Justin Beiber’s “Baby” and Ciara’s “Hotline”. This class did not use Latin music and did not incorporate any moves that resembled a salsa or a mamba.  The class would not be recognizable as Zumba except that the instructor wore the popular Zumba gear.

The class I went to yesterday was taught by an instructor also outfitted in Zumba pants, tank and head wrap.  She went from song to song working through a series of  Latin-style dances without a breakdown of any of the movements or doing any cuing. We were in a large space.  She didn’t wear a mic and did not speak to the class throughout the session.  There wasn’t even a shout out of “great job you guys!”  The people that have been coming to her class followed along and were enjoying themselves.  The rest of us were lost.

I have been to other fitness classes where I didn’t get a great workout, the instructor didn’t connect with the class and the cuing was weak. That happens. For some reason I don’t expect it with Zumba.

Calorie Burn

The Zumba web site says that the number of calories burned per class varies per person but you can burn “hundreds of calories per class”.  These claims are also made by some of the instructors.  During one class I attended the instructor said that you burn around 800 calories per hour.  I believe this to be an absolutely false statement.

The number of calories an individual burns, whether they are in a fitness class or sitting in a chair, is so individual it’s impossible to claim that people will burn a certain number of calories doing the workout  Calorie burn is based on Basal Metabolic Index which is as individual as a fingerprint.  No two people are the same.

Still, studies have been shown to draw conclusions that we can come close to determining how many calories we burn based on age and weight. A 160 pound person burns approximately 533 calories during one hour of high impact aerobics.  That same person would burn 365 calories an hour in low impact aerobics, which is what I consider Zumba to be. How much the individual is putting into the workout, and what they get their heart rate up to are also determining factors. People that weigh more burn more calories; people that weigh less burn less.

So what’s the problem with instructors promoting that the class burns 800 calories an hour?  If the people attending the class are there because they want to lose weight it gives them the liberty to increase the amount of food they eat so that the calories-in, calories-out deficit isn’t sufficient to cause weight loss. To say 800 calories are burned is misleading. It’s also over promising and it waters down the credibility of the entire program in the same way an instructor teaching Zumba to Justin Beiber does.

What’s Right With Zumba

Zumba is reaching a segment of the population that hasn’t been reached before.  People that might be intimidated working out on their own in a gym, or joining higher intensity classes can go to Zumba and have fun moving around for an hour.  The classes are predominantly large so even if you’ve never done it before, you can sneak into the back row and follow along inconspicuously.

A workout movement that gets people exercising two or three hours a week that might not otherwise not get that amount of physical activity is a definite positive.  Two to three hours of moderate physical activity a week goes a long way towards improving overall health.

The Zumba Story

The creator of Zumba, Alberto Perez, created the class by accident when he forgot the music C.D. he needed to teach his evening aerobics class.  He hunted around in his car for music to use and ended up dropping in a C.D. filled with mostly Latin music from which he ad-libbed some dance moves to go with  His class loved it and the craze began.

That was in Columbia in 1996.  Since that time the workout party has swept the planet and is taught in 105 countries with an estimated 7.5 million attendees. A look at the web site leaves no doubt that Zumba is a huge money-making machine. sells instructor trainings, Zumba clothes, workout DVDs and music, toning sticks, and even a magazine.

Is It Just Me?

There has been so much excitement about what an awesome, calorie burning workout Zumba is. I know people that are fully engulfed in the Zumba craze and fitness instructors that live and breathe it.  It is the class with highest attendance at the Y where I teach and has been since it was  introduced there.

So why can’t I fall in love with it?  I think it’s the overpromise, under-deliver factor.  I always expect a great, energizing, intense workout, but what I usually get is a series of memorized dance steps that I find it impossible to get my heart rate up doing.  I’m certain there are some excellent Zumba instructors out there in those 105 countries, but I think it’s hit and miss. My experience with Zumba is that it under delivers and doesn’t live up to the hype.


  1. Meshea Crysup says:

    I have a friend who goes to a class here and she says it kicks her butt and she has done yoga for years. I went to a class a few times…different instructor than my friend…and it was a bit much for me in my current physical condition plus having FMS…but I’m fine with just doing what I can do and would have liked to keep going BUT, while the instructor was very nice I found what she was doing to be FAR FAR more than 4 basic steps and they were NOT easy. I’ve danced my whole life and still I found the steps to be difficult! I have always loved dance-based exercise…but not this one. So I don’t know if my complaints are the same as yours exactly but I too have found it very difficult to become a Zumba fan!!! I hope it’s not our age telling on us! ;-D Blessings!

  2. I love Zumba. It is my fun workout. I beat my body up with workouts 3 times harder and Zumba is a time for stress relief and having fun. I guess if you aren’t a good dancer and can’t pick up the routines quickly you wouldn’t like it. I’ve seen other uncoordinated people who didn’t like it. For me it takes me back to my cheerleading childhood days when we did dance routines. If the instructor isn’t changing up the routines quick enough week after week, find a new instructor. They aren’t doing part of their job.