By Susi May
March 27, 2017
The death knell to my decades-long attempt to love running came from the numbers my heart rate monitor displayed at the end of a Zumba class. The amount of calories burned after dancing full out for 60 minutes was as high, if not higher, than what I was burning during my sad, lonely, 10-minute-mile-pace hour-long runs. When I realized I could burn serious calories while having serious fun, I retired my running sneakers for dancing shoes and never looked back.
To me, dance cardio feels like a party; I leave the studio euphoric. And because I am a numbers gal, my good mood is definitely boosted by seeing the high number of calories burned. But to get that number high, you can't phone it in — you gotta work. Here's how to boost the intensity of the workout and burn even more calories in your next Zumba class:
Use your arms: Make your arm movements as big as you can, and embrace the choreography. Moving both your legs and arms in large ranges of motion is one of the physical benefits of Zumba, when compared to the more limited and concentrated forward motion found in running or cycling. Wave those arms in the air like you do care.
Catch air: After you've properly warmed up, do all of the jumps in every routine — so yes, you need to try the high-impact versions of the moves. If your knees are opposed to jumping, keep both feet on the floor but move with intensity and commitment.
Drop it low: When the teacher says go low, go low. There are many squat- and lunge-like steps in Zumba choreography, so take advantage of these strength-training moves and work your full range of motion. When you move bigger, you burn more calories.
Move like you mean it: Rather than throwing your arms about, imagine you're moving your limbs through something thicker than air, like water, to activate the muscles in your back, chest, and arms. If the choreo is quick, then do what you have to do to hit the beat, but if you're dancing a powerful paso doble, whipping your imaginary cape around, or cooling down with some dramatic flamenco moves, add some muscularity to the moves.
Just dance: To me, this is the most important advice on this list: let yourself dance and really give yourself over to the music, the rhythm, and the choreography. The more self-conscious you are, the less fun you will be having; you will be moving smaller and therefore burning fewer calories. So in essence, if you let yourself enjoy dancing, no matter how you think you look, you will get more out of the class both physically and emotionally.
I know not everyone is comfortable dancing, but every Zumba class can be considered a case of "fake it until you make it." The more you dance, the more familiar you become with the steps, but if you're pushing your comfort zone and having trouble mastering the choreography, remember: just keep moving, and have fun.