Dance has always been fitness program Zumba's stock in trade, getting people all over the country to salsa, shimmy and sweat off the pounds. Now it's making a play for the dudes who don't dance and prefer bootcamp to boogie.
Enter Strong, a 60-minute, high intensity interval training (HIIT) class from Zumba that emphasizes music rather than choreography, using beats to get people to push harder through classic cardio and strength moves.
"Men are enjoying this program," says Abraham Hernandez, a Zumba master trainer who taught the class I attended. Without the dance, he says, "they are less afraid of making a fool of themselves. They see a push-up and say, 'Hey, I can do that too!' "
It's also a way for Zumba's existing fans – many of them women – to incorporate strength training into their fitness routine.
This ain't your mama's Zumba. The attitude here is fierce rather than sexy and sassy, so leave the bounce and hip shakes at home, Hernandez says. The movements – punches, strikes and jumps – are intended to be crisp, sharp and powerful.
The workout builds in intensity, starting with a dynamic warmup, before moving to traveling cardio drills mixed with combinations of punches, plyometrics and old-school body-weight strength moves, such as planks, burpees and lunges.
If this sounds intense, it is — and therefore probably not a good fit for those just starting a fitness routine. While there are modifications or lower-impact options available for some of the more challenging moves, the pace here is nonstop and the repetitions high, which could lead to frustration and improper form.
But for those who have already achieved some level of fitness, it's a welcome challenge that will leave you feeling, as the name suggests … strong.
Like Zumba, there is a big emphasis on twisting movements that work the core, as well as a floor-based section of abdominal exercises at the end.
I lost count of how many plank variations and burpees I did during class and on several occasions found myself breathless after a particularly grueling round of jumps, punches and squats. Still, I managed to power through.
Zumba's creators claim their system of "reverse engineering" the music to match the movements (for example, electronic drum beats at the top of each squat) helps people achieve greater levels of endurance, distracting them from the pain and fatigue.
The big electro-pop soundtrack developed by music producer and DJ Timbaland is motivating and does make it easier to stay on count and churn out more reps, rather than slipping into a slower pace as you tire.
Hardcore Zumba fans will almost certainly miss the dancing and some of the Latin flavor.
However, for those who avoid the dance floor and count the step-touch as the only move in their dance arsenal, this class could be a new favorite.
About $5 to $15 a class at dance fitness studios across SoCal. It's also available with membership at select Crunch Gym locations. Find a class here.