Zumba is a dance fitness program created in the 1990s by Colombian dancer and choreographer Alberto Perez. Introduced in the United States in 2001, its popularity has peaked, and currently there are more than 14 million people worldwide who take weekly classes.
I began participating in Zumba two years ago as I wanted something fun and different to complement my running, biking and swimming regimen. I suffer from tight hip flexors and hamstrings, a common issue for runners, so I was looking for something in addition to stretching and yoga that would help with this.
“The fact that your body is moving in all planes helps strengthen muscles that don’t necessarily work during exercises that are repetitive,” says local instructor Sara Illsley, explaining some of Zumba’s runner-specific benefits. “Physiological benefits include cardiovascular conditioning, muscle strength and toning.”
Instructor Karla Sluis concurs: “In Latin dances such as salsa and merengue, the hips rotate, move side to side and twist. This builds stronger muscles and looser ligaments in the hips and core.
“Zumba is wonderful cross-training for runners because the flexed-forward position of running can lead to tight hip flexors, stiff IT bands and inflexible hamstrings,” Sluis says. “This imbalance can lead to low-back pain.”
After running for 27 years, Rebecca Thompson experienced a setback when degenerative arthritis eventually led to hip resurfacing surgery in 2010. Six months after the operation, she was back running and doing the elliptical trainer. But after being introduced to Zumba in 2012, she was “smitten.”
“In Zumba, I love the hip shaking and lateral movements that involve so many muscle groups,” Thompson says. “My abs and waist toned up noticeably after about a year of Zumba, and my weight dropped.”
“Zumba helps with my core and stamina,” says Denise Pruett. “I find my running to be easier. It helps my balance, and therefore I hold better form when I am running.”
Patricia Haupt was a competitive runner for 17 years before back pain and a busy life forced her to give it up. She began going to Zumba in August 2011.
“I woke up one day and decided I was tired of looking like a shar-pei,” she says. “I was overweight, and I used to run 40 to 60 miles per week. I knew I could get back in shape.
“Zumba has given me back my self-confidence. It has motivated me to lose 48 pounds, eat more healthy, and I have met some very dear friends,” Haupt says. “I feel like I have my life back. Zumba gives me joy and peace of mind.”
Fun and noncompetitive were terms that came up frequently when talking with Zumba participants.
“Running can be competitive and focused on performance,” Sluis says. “Zumba is lighthearted with an emphasis on creative expression and letting go. It is very social. This can be a big benefit for runners who train alone.”
“The social aspect is wonderful, and I can’t see how anyone wouldn’t love it,” Thompson says. “I also found a renewed enjoyment of the calm and solitude of running. Both workouts have their own benefits, and I find them very compatible.”
“Running was my drug of choice for 17 years,” Haupt says. “Zumba is that new ‘runner’s high’ that I missed since 1996. I hope to be able to continue Zumba for many years.”
Reach Marjorie Brinton at firstname.lastname@example.org.