Can you lose weight with Zumba Fitness?

by Hara Hagikalfa on April 29, 2012 · 4 comments

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Some people claim that you can burn up to 800 kcal in a single workout with Zumba. Is this true and most importantly can it work for you? Let’s Zumba out!

Zumba fitness is a relatively new fashion which has taken over the fitness world. As with every new craze it is offered as an exercise class in different settings, is sold in DVDs, videogames seen in television programs amongst others. It promises fitness and weight loss results and all done in a fun enjoyable way.

What is Zumba fitness?

According to reports Zumba fitness was created by accident in the mid 90’s by Alberto “Beto” Perez, a fitness instructor. In simple words it is a Latin based dancing fitness program. The creator of Zumba took it to USA in which after heavy investment and promotion it became a popular worldwide fitness fashion.

The ‘Zumba fitness’ trademark as it would be expected evolved in time and it now offers a number of different classes and fitness alternatives. Some of these include the Zumba sentao, Zumba gold toning, aqua Zumba and so on. Although Zumba as a trademark is controlled by the Zumba Company, you will find that variations will depend on the country and area you are living, the academy by which an instructor has been trained from, the setting etc.

Does it help in weight loss?

To the point, if you do take all the heavy marketing out of the Zumba are you actually left with any good results? It is a dancing based exercise class and as with any other dancing exercise class you will burn calories and get some fitness gains. You jump and move around for approximately 45min to 1hr (an average class time). Even if you go out dancing in a night club for 45 solid minutes you will burn calories.

Being a combination of Latin and aerobics class moves, it combines aerobic exercise with resistance of your own body weight. In a way a lot of what you get out of it will depend on what you will put in it and what kind of class you will follow. With different variation of the Zumba fitness on offer there are different fitness components which are targeted. For example the Zumba Toning style classed tend to use lightweight sticks to create a resistance element and the moves concentrate on target areas such as gluts, arms, and thighs.

If the workout is combined with a healthy balanced diet within reasonable calorie ranges then it can help in weight loss. One common mistake a lot of people tend to do is assume that they used an average of 800kcal with one workout and then believe that they have calorie room for that sweet treat or takeaway. The result usually is that they actually consume twice as many calories than they ones they burned.

How many calories?

As already mentioned the amount of calories burned will depend on the intensity, the duration and the style of the workout. In addition, the individual’s fitness levels, muscle, body size and composition will influence the results. Some Zumba enthusiasts claim that you can burn anything between 500-800 kcal. To my knowledge there has not been a scientific study which has looked in either the effectiveness or the amount of energy used during a Zumba class. Therefore, we can only assume that if matched with a similar cardio/body resistance exercise a Zumba workout would return similar results. On a high impact aerobics class someone who weighs 155lbs would burn approximately 493kcal.

Some studies do suggest that high intensity workouts (usually at around 75% V02max) can result in a post exercise calorie burn, or afterburn as it is usually known.

Fitness gains

It is mainly an aerobic style exercise so you will get the cardio workout and improve cardiovascular fitness. It tends to move most parts of the body so you will be using your legs to dance around, your arms and quite a lot of hip action. Again what you get depends on the kind of workout and which specific areas it targets. Some classes tend to be performed in a fast high intensity level involving a lot of jumping about and quick move changes. These could potentially offer some plyometric work and improve the nervous system, explosive power, and improve speed.

If you are unfit any workout will provide a challenge to your muscles and you will have muscle fitness gains. From there on it depends how variable a program will be and if in the process of time it will progress to keep providing a challenge. Usually classes tend to start at a beginners level and progress but in a lot of gyms mixed ability classes can be offered. Another important influential factor of what you get out of your workout is the instructor who delivers it. How well a class is structured and how good a challenge it provides will depend on the individual instructor.

Finally, both muscle and weight loss gains will depend on how often you exercise. One hour a week may not be sufficient for massive results. However, any exercise is better than no exercise at all so if that’s all you can do don’t give it up.

How easy is it to follow?

Zumba is based on Latin dance moves and for those who enjoy dancing like activities it can offer a fun and enjoyable way to exercise. It can be on a high energy music base which can be invigorating so it can make people feel on a high.

Again the instructor will play a role on how fun and easy the workouts are. From my personal experience the workout I participated was above beginner’s level (I wasn’t) and the instructor did not explain any of the move changes but expected that everybody would just follow her by watching her. The result was that I far from enjoyed it, most of the time didn’t know what I was doing and never went again.

If you for any chance have a similar experience, I would suggest that you try again at a different place. It could well be that your instructor is not a good one.

A few tips for the very beginners with Zumba

1. Ask other people who go to a class before you join that specific class.

2. Look for accredited trainers. Zumba fitness is a fairly new concept and an area which is not highly regulated. Ask the instructor what accreditation they have, are they qualified and experienced in any other exercise areas, how long do they teach?

3. Fun or not fun time it is still a form of exercise. You should make sure you warm up and cool down appropriately.

4. As it is a form of exercise consult a medical professional or exercise professional before joining especially if you have pre-existing health conditions/complaints or are obese. With obesity the body systems can be stretched and a high intensity aerobic workout could be a step into a heart attack. This brings us to the next point.

5. Work to your own level. A lot of the classes are mixed ability so you may find that the workout is above beginners’ level. Don’t try to match the person next to you. They could be doing it for years.

6. I am not a fun of home exercise DVDs or videogames unless you are experienced in that form of exercise. If you don’t know what you are doing you could end up with serious injuries. It may seem easy to swing your hips and turn around at the same time, but if not performed correctly you could get a very serious back injury.

7. For best weight loss and fitness results is better if you combine Zumba classes with a resistance program. Also don’t forget your diet. An exercise class will not result into miracles on its own.

What to look for in a Zumba Instructor?

A good instructor should:

1. First of all ask if there are any new people in the class. The one I went never even bothered to care. Bad practice.

2. Give you a verbal or paper health/fitness assessment. An instructor should be aware of any conditions or things which may affect your ability to follow a specific workout and advise you how to follow the specific workout. Also what fitness level you may be at.

3. Should tell you what the class will entail. It is in 2 parts, we do this and then that…the level or intensity may be high etc. Then tell you which parts may be hard for you and give you alternative lower level options. For example we jump and turn. If that is hard for you try to just turn around, or if you lost try marching on the spot to help you catch up with the moves.

4. Should tell you when the moves are changing and which one is the next move. For example: 2 more step back and then we take 3 to the side and so on.

So, do you Zumba?

Can you lose weight with Zumba Fitness? by
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Hara Hagikalfa
About the author

Hara is a certified personal trainer and Pilates instructor. She is currently in the process of becoming a certified Physiotherapist. You can connect with her on Facebook and Google+

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Robin June 6, 2012 at 9:17 am

You’ve made some good points, and it’s great to see such a fabulous program highlighted once more!

That is such a shame that you didn’t enjoy your experience though! I’d like to clear up a few things you’ve mentioned. In Zumba, all fitness levels and dance abilities are welcome to participate in the same class, and we are trained NOT to give verbal cues or separate people into beginners, advanced, etc. as you would expect in a traditional dance class. (I am an experienced dance teacher, as well as qualified Zumba instructor).

The Zumba catch phrase- and what sets it apart from other workouts- is “JOIN THE PARTY!” At a party, no one is going to count steps or give you verbal directions, are they? We want people to let loose and have FUN- even forget that they’re exercising! It is not important to get the steps perfectly; we don’t break steps down because we want people to keep moving & get their heart rates up.

To achieve weight loss, participants will see faster results if they Zumba several times a week. It takes roughly 6 sessions to familiarize yourself with the steps and feel more confident. Here’s a tip for burning more calories: raise your arms higher and your heart rate will also rise. Do those “booty shakes” faster! :-) If you are sweating bucket loads, then you’re giving it your all… and will see the results!!

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Hara Hagikalfa June 10, 2012 at 9:41 am

Robin, thank you for your comment and for adding more information about zumba. It is important to know these points before deciding or starting a class as people will know what to expect from it.

Unfortunately, I was not given this information prior to the zumba class and that can make a big difference. Maybe because zumba is so popular people assume that everybody knows everything about it. However, as you can see even someone like me, who likes to keep informed in the exercise and nutrition world, does not always know everything. That is why we try to make our articles as informative as possible and help people make choices.

As I have mentioned in the article if readers have had or have in the future a not very pleasant exercise experience is good to try a different setting and/or a different instructor. This is especially important if it is someone just starting to exercise and could end up giving up on exercise all together.

I am still to try another zumba class, which due to time restraints I haven’t, but this time I will be more informed and I will know what to expect. Still I do think that zumba can provide a good workout for those who enjoy that style of exercise and it definitely has my thumbs up.

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maria cooper February 4, 2014 at 5:34 am

I have been doing zumba for about 8 or months now, I go two times a week, or I try to anyway, and I have lost 26 pounds. I think it really works, and its so fun and the intstructor is very good, I really like her and she really works us out.

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L D March 21, 2014 at 8:41 am

I’ve been enjoying Zumba for awhile, but I try to mix it up with other forms of exercise (pilates, yoga, kickboxing). Still, Zumba is the most fun. If you check out some videos online (Linda Elder is good for example.. or Edler?) you can see that most of the instructions are non-verbal, they’ll point a finger or motion a bit. It makes it hard sometimes but it’s much more fluid and fun than having to stop and it gets you working more.

As for the level, I think as you get better it gets easier to give it your all like they do, so your skill level rises and thus how much you actually work out.

Basically, it’s like going clubbing for people who don’t want to go clubbing :P

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