Zumba Versus Gym Workout

Many exercisers enjoy Zumba's exuberant moves.
i Angela Weiss/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Gyms have been around for centuries, but the activities done inside them change every year. Zumba, a form of aerobic dance done to Latin music, claimed 12 million class participants worldwide in 2012. If you’re wondering whether to quit your gym and try Zumba, the answer may be no and yes. Although the experiences are different, both are valuable.


The happy accident that birthed Zumba is now legendary: Alberto “Beto” Perez arrived to teach his aerobics class one day and realized he’d forgotten his music. So he brought his own tapes -- this was the mid-90s -- in from his car and led the class in salsa, merengue and rumba steps. They loved it, and Zumba was born. Fast forward to 2013: Zumba is taught in 125 countries, and participants take the catch phrase “Ditch the workout, join the party” seriously. In class, you’ll see bright colors and hear spontaneous cries of excitement. You might not even notice that the teacher is sneaking in interval training. In a study done at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, researchers found Zumba efficient for burning calories and improving cardiovascular fitness. Their subjects averaged 9.5 calories burned per minute.

The Gym Experience

Gyms vary in size, atmosphere and offerings. A small neighborhood gym might have only free weights and a few machines. Larger gyms may offer everything from swimming pools to smoothie bars to onsite massage. Your location, taste, budget and exercise interests will dictate whether you join a gym and, if so, which one. If you do resistance training -- and you should, according to MayoClinic.com -- a gym provides dedicated space and variety of weights and machines.

Pros and Cons

If you like dancing and Latin music, you’re likely to enjoy Zumba. If you dislike one or both, you probably won’t. Exercisers also divide along lines of those who like group classes and those who prefer to work out alone. Zumba classes involve at least a little social interaction, with some groups developing a high level of camaraderie. One drawback of Zumba and other classes is that they begin at a set time. If your schedule makes it difficult to predict whether you’ll be able to make it, you might like the arrive-anytime atmosphere of the gym.

Tips and Considerations

Whether you enjoy a type of exercise is one of the best predictors of exercise adherence. So pick something you like to help you stick with it. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting at least 150 minutes weekly of moderate aerobic activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise, or a combination of the two. As aerobic dance, Zumba falls into the vigorous category. However, unless you go to a special Zumba toning class, you’re better off hitting the gym to get the recommended twice-weekly strength training. If you join one of the many gyms that offer Zumba classes, you’ll have the best of both worlds.

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