As one of the biggest work-out trends of the 2010s, one has to question if Zumba workouts are worth the sweat. Are these dance-party workout sessions effective ways to stay fit, or just another empty health fad? A small number of studies indicate that indeed, these Zumba workouts can indeed lead participants to break a substantial sweat.
The invention of Zumba was accidental. In the mid-90s celebrity fitness trainer Albert “Beto” Perez forgot to bring his regular workout music to the class that he was scheduled to teach that day. To save the situation, he brought in some Latin music tapes that he happened to have in his car. He subsequently taught the class Salsa, Merengue, and Rumba with the zeal of someone dancing in a club. The students loved it, and Zumba was born.
Today Zumba is practiced in over 110,000 gyms in over 125 countries. Zumba was ranked in the top ten world fitness trends of 2012, and that same year was named “Company of the Year” by Inc.com.
There are only a few studies that have been done on the health benefits of Zumba workouts. One such study was published in 2012 in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. A group of 19 healthy college-age female volunteers were recruited and first assessed using a treadmill test to measure their heart rates and oxygen consumption. The subjects then participated in a single Zumba session that lasted about 40 minutes. The participants wore radiotelemetric heart rate monitors. This allowed the researchers to examine the subject’s heart rates during the workout and to estimate the oxygen consumption levels using a regression equation.
The results indicated that Zumba workouts are worth the sweat—at least by fitness industry standards. The average heart rate for the participants was 154 beats per minute, or an average 79 percent of the participant’s maximum recommended heart rate. This falls well within the guidelines of the American College of Sports Medicine, which recommend elevating the heart rate to 64 to 94 percent of the maximum heart rate. At these levels it is possible to increase cardiovascular fitness.
In addition, oxygen consumption levels in the participant were also high: about 65 percent of the maximum. Again, these percents fall within the recommended ACSM guidelines of 40 to 85 percent of maximum oxygen consumption levels. This rate of oxygen consumption has the potential to increase aerobic capacity.
Perhaps more importantly to Zumba enthusiasts, the results indicated that participating in Zumba burns 9.5 kilocalories (also referred to as “Calories”, not to be confused with “calories”) a minute. Given the 40 minute length of the workout session, this amounted to about 370 Calories a session, or 570 Calories an hour.
While these results indicate that Zumba can indeed provide an excellent workout, it is also worth noting that Zumba can be practiced with a broad spectrum of intensity levels. Another study conducted at Adelphi University reported that calorie consumption during a Zumba workout was only about 7 kilocalories per minute, or only 280 kilocalories consumed per 40 minute workout session (420 kilocalories an hour). This is in stark contrast to the claims made by Zumba promotional material which advertise being able to burn 1,000 kilocalories an hour. The discrepancies between these reported values may be attributable to the different workout intensities and/or movements used.
Though by ACSM standards Zumba does provide an adequate workout, people looking to burn calories as quickly and efficiently as possible will probably need to look elsewhere. Because a pound of fat is about 3,500 calories, losing a single pound just by practicing Zumba would take 6.1 to 8.3 hours of constant activity. Compared to other activities, this is a very slow way to burn off fat. By contrast, the Mayo Clinic lists the top three fat-burning activities as endurance running (8 mph, 861 kilocalories/hour), tae kwon do (752 kilocalories/hour), and stair treadmills (657 kilocalories/hour).
Of course a rebuttal to the argument of inefficiency with Zumba workouts is that they are more fun than puffing on a treadmill for hours at a time. Zumba enthusiasts enjoy the laid-back, fun atmosphere of a class in which the emphasis is on letting loose. The phrase “Ditch the workout—join the party!” has become popularized among Zumba enthusiasts. This positive, fun environment may lead participants to enjoy their workouts more, and motivate them to stick to their work-out schedules and fitness goals. Thus, though perhaps less efficient than other methods of exercise, the research evidence and soaring popularity are all testament to the claim that indeed, Zumba workouts are “worth the sweat”.
By Sarah Takushi