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Zumba Fitness - Low Impact vs. High Impact Routines

Updated on September 16, 2014

Low Intensity

One thing you should know when joining a Zumba class is that some routines are considered "low intensity" and some are considered "Medium to High intensity." Normally, you begin with the low intensity for the first 15 -20 minutes of the class. It's the "warm up," so to speak.

(Disclaimer: In order to avoid injury to your body you should always warm up your muscles for 5 or 10 minutes before enduring any exercise. Otherwise, you may reap the consequences later and let's face it having an injury is really no fun).

The "low intensity" Zumba workout can be incorporated throughout the duration of the workout. Only a handful of people have ever walked into a first time class and endured the hour of Zumba dance to its fullest extent. These were the dancers, instructors, and possibly insane workout fanatics.

"Low intensity" moves when you are first starting Zumba - is your friend. This means that when you are tired or out of breath then tone it down. You do not have to do all the jumps, grape-vines, and elbow to knee moves. When the instructor calls for jumping jacks you don't jump you point your toe to one side then the other while continuing the arm motion. When the instructor calls for an elbow to knee move you still do not jump and do not connect the elbow all the way to the knee. You will see people always jumping during this move, usually, they are on the first and second row. These are the people have been doing Zumba for years. Do not try to keep up with them just yet! If the move calls for a squat then maybe you don't squat as low. Tone it down - You get the idea. You cater your moves to what you can do, not what everyone else is doing. It is perfectly acceptable to do so. Any workout including Zumba is do what "you" can do, not what everyone else is doing. As well as, you will get out of the workout...what you put into it.

On another note let's talk "arm movements." In Zumba since it began from Latin dance it incorporates different types of Salsa moves (Latin Dance). "Merengue" is one such dance move in Latin Zumba. This is where you extend your arms pointed in the direction you are moving while having a distinct hip movement and step into the direction you are moving. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, Merengue Zumba can be stationary where you step (move your hips from side to side) in place while moving your arms right to left or it can incorporate the "V-step." This V-step is where you picture a square in front of you and while moving your arms right to left, step on the front right of the imaginary square, then on the front left, then on the back right and finally on the back left of the imaginary square. The arm movements can switch to left to right. The v-step is very common in Zumba. Actually, it has been a workout move for decades.

Another tip on the "arm movements" is the more you move your arms lateral to or slightly above your heart is when you will gain more exertion or burn more calories. Some instructors point this out during the routine. If it is your first time Zumba class and if you get tired then lower your arms to lower the intensity and when you are ready raise them again.

During low intensity Zumba you are still burning calories and getting a great cardio workout. I do recommend catering the low intensity workouts to first time students and people with injuries and cleared for low impact workouts by their doctor.

Remember having fun and enjoying the workout is what keep us coming back.

See the low intensity video of "Stereo Love" by House provided next. The video is a free workout and you can always learn the routine, download the song and continue to dance your calories away one day at a time.

Zumba - Low Intensity

High Impact, High Intensity Zumba

Considering more of a Zumba challenge? The "High Intensity," Zumba workout involves keeping up with every squat, Salsa, Merengue, V-step that the instructor sets before you.

In a class of about 60 students we polled the Fitbit wearers and they were tracking up to 800 calories burned during an hour of Zumba. That is a lot of calories folks! Now remember, I said earlier, that you will get out of a workout what you put into it. In a Zumba class the first 15 -20 minutes is "low intensity," the next 30 minutes or so is medium to high intensity depending on the instructor. So be prepared.

High Intensity means pushing yourself a little harder. If there are squats then you go a little lower, if there are elbow to knee moves then you touch elbow to knee. As always, pay attention to your body if something starts to hurt or just doesn't feel right then go to "low intensity."

If it is your first Zumba class then I will go ahead and let you know that normally the first and either all or part of the second row from the instructor are the fast movers. (No one told me this and I wished they had). As well as, the first row Zumba students can be a bit competitive, are passion about the dance, and their workout. So be aware! You do not want to get in their way. The 3rd row is the safest if you just want to try out a class. Come early, get a good spot so you can see the instructor and be close to your towel and water bottle. You will need it! Never and I mean "Never," worry about if you don't know all the steps to a routine. Even the regulars do not know all the steps, you just don't know, that they don't know. (I speak from experience). As you can see in our videos we miss steps but what we do is keep moving and have a great time. Can I reiterate it is all about the dance, all about the fun, and all about the calorie burn!

A Zumba tip to get the most out of your workout is never quit. All instructors are not alike so try out a few and the ones you like are the ones you stick with. Zumba Instructors are trained to either follow choreographed Zumba routines or create their own routines. Please note that instructors go through weeks of training, are professionals and have been certified to teach Zumba classes. This means that not just anyone off the street can teach Zumba at creditable workout facilities.

But what if I am not satisfied with my first, second, third... Zumba experience?

Well, when I first started Zumba dance I went through about 4 instructors that I did not connect with until I found the one I did. It makes all the difference.


Because when you learn the routines and love the music you get so much more out of the workout.

In the next video "Timber" by Pitbull -- this is High Intensity. This workout will definitely make you sweat but you won't mind because you are having a lot of fun dancing and that is where you want to be! Having fun and burning calories!

High Intensity Zumba

Zumba Poll

How I feel about Zumba workouts?

See results

Join the Party!

One of the Zumba tag lines is "Join the Party!" which is extremely relevant because you usually don't have a party without dancing.

Zumba either the "low intensity" or "high intensity" gives you a great start toward the goals you want to achieve. Be it cardio improvement, dropping a few pounds (like me), or just want to meet new friends and have fun dancing -- Zumba it has it all. Soon you will be off having such a great time you will need a new smaller size wardrobe.


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    • Noa Keshet profile image

      Noa Keshet 

      21 months ago from Israel

      I agree that it is very important to listen to your body, and progress at a pace that is right for you. I have had beginners come to me after class saying that they felt frustrated when they couldn't keep up. I always explain that it had taken me years to get to where I am today.

    • amwalsh profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Georgia

      Good points abrodech. Nice to hear from other Zumba enthusiast, the hip hop Zumba throws me off so I prefer the Latin music Zumba. See that you dance and Salsa too, Love it!

    • abrodech profile image

      Anya Brodech 

      4 years ago from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607

      I agree with you that not zumba classes or instructors are the same.

      Some are pretty to easy to follow along with, while others confuse the heck out of me and I cannot make sense of what they're doing!

      I should add that I have a strong ballroom dance background, almost nineyears, with a lot of salsa the last five years. I should make a note that "zumba" salsa, bachata, merengue amd cumbia are not the same kind that you'll find people dancing in a latin nightclub or dance studio. Personally, I have a very strong sense of rhythm and good following skills from all of my years of social partner dancing, but I still would get thrown off by some of the moves because of the muscle memory and habits I formed from partner dancing, so I feel that this is a useful point to make for people with previous dance experience.

      I also agree that you shouldn't worry about doing all.of the moves, especially if they're too comfisong or hard for you. Just make a point to alwaus stay moving during class and make an effort to at least do something. Over time you will find that there is a lot of overlap on choreography which you should use to your advantage to make things easier.

      If I'm confused or overwhelmed or don't like the steps, I just focus on the rhythm and staying on time and substitute in my own moves. If you look around your class, you will notice that everybody is doing something different, so don't feel shy or embarrassed if you make a mistake or don't do it exactly the same as the instructor. Remrmber you're here to move sround and have fun, this isn't a competition and no ones getting graded!!!


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