In a Zumba Fitness class, you and your classmates swoop and twirl to international dance rhythms. If you are new to Zumba Fitness, you are likely to notice that you are happily out of breath as you try to keep up, improving cardiovascular fitness in the process. As the instructor runs through an eclectic play list, she has a method to her madness, aiming not only to promote fitness but to work out your muscle groups evenly. As you shake your booty, your hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, abs and so many more muscles coordinate in a smooth, gliding whirl of motion.
With its body rolls and provocative hip shakes, as well as lunges and footwork, Zumba Fitness would obviously seem to work the core and lower body muscles primarily. Asked what muscles Zumba works out, though, licensed Zumba instructors Karen Birckhead and Tisha Guthrie answer in unison, “It works everything.” With their warm-up songs, Birckhead and Guthrie, who teach in Baltimore, Maryland, take care to include the upper body as well to prepare for the total-body exertions to come in an hour-long Zumba Fitness class.
Warm-up songs, often mash-ups of hip-hop songs or dynamic Latin songs, last four minutes or more to set a groove that gets the blood pumping. Warm-ups typically include lateral motion, box steps or grapevine moves to engage the lower body, hip rotations for the core and arm swings. The focus is on getting the whole body in motion, sometimes with isolation of the core, legs or arms, to rehearse moves to come later in the class.
Cumbia, a bouncy musical style from Colombia, features quick, small-step footwork and lateral travel to work the legs, hips and abs. Meringue, which resembles a march in place and hails from the Dominican Republic, emphasizes the triceps and biceps with its energetic arm swings. Musical selections from the East, such as bhangra and belly dancing, challenge the calves and core with the need to elevate on one foot and wave the other foot, toes pointed, in front of the body. Salsa, originating from Cuba and Puerto Rico, works the lower body and core, while Brazil’s samba, especially if performed double time, asks a lot of the ankle flexors.
The funky stomps of reggaeton numbers, hailing from Panama and Puerto Rico, work the hip flexors, muscles located at the front of the groin, in the upper crease where the thigh and abdomen meet. Guthrie and Birckhead tend to steer clear of reggaeton for Zumba Gold classes with their older dancers. Seniors who have had hip replacements may find reggaeton moves too demanding, they explain. Another variation of Zumba Fitness, Zumba Toning, employs 1-pound, handheld toning sticks. Although these would seem to work the biceps and triceps, the sticks work mainly to increase dance endurance, Birckhead explains.