Is Zumba the best or worst thing to happen to fitness?

Zumba – hmm, well the one thing we will all agree on is that is its absolutely EVERYWHERE! On every infomercial or shopping channel, being supported by celebs, in every gym, fitness centre and even, for goodness sake, in every local village hall!

But whilst I cannot fault the marketing, spin, promotional material etc that has made it ubiquitous (well for now at least!) is there any real fitness based foundation behind the scene?  Does it deliver anything special for the millions of people who go to classes each week?

For those of you who have been abducted by aliens or have spent the last few years on another planet and haven’t yet come across Zumba, its a “Latin-inspired dance-fitness program” that is delivered through classes to over 12 million people in 125 countries and was devised by Alberto “Beto” Perez.

stock photo : Group of people at the gym exercising with free weights

Having done one (ok, it was only one) Zumba class the only thing it reminded me of is a good old-fashioned 80’s aerobic class and whilst that’s ok (if you like that kinda thing) I cant help but feeling the current craze for Zumba will peter out the same way aerobics or step did and all the thousands of classes available all over the country will just disappear overnight.

My gripe though, is the fact that to be a Zumba instructor there are no prerequisites, no exercise to music qualifications, no fitness instructor exams – all it takes is payment of a couple of hundred pounds, attend a very brief course and that’s it.  Off you go, advertise in the local paper and suddenly someone with no skills, experience or knowledge is potentially teaching hundreds of people a week a high intensity dance routine….and a dance routine is what it is, not a fitness programme, a dance class.

How does someone with no background in fitness or exercise monitor the intensity for the participants, how do they make sure there is any progression, how do they know that Mrs Smith at the back has a bit of a dodgy hip or that Gina at the side has chronic asthma?  And  how do they make sure that they are OK – is a first aid qualification even a part of Zumba certification?

I am sure there are some good fitness instructors or PTs that teach Zumba and I am sure that somewhere there is a half decent Zumba instructor who cares about his/her clients, who keeps an eye on them and has the appropriate levels of skills to manage a class.  But I suspect that they are really few and far between – in reality its more likely bored housewives who fancy something to do or people who have always wanted to get into fitness but couldn’t pass the exams or find the money and who hope that this is their way into being a PT or an instructor.

stock photo : certificate of excellence

The dumbing down of the fitness industry by allowing non-qualifications to pass themselves off as exercise to music instructors is bad for the industry and bad for the public – how is anyone supposed to recognise a good, qualified instructor when anyone can teach a Zumba class, and I do mean anyone! How can people differentiate between qualified and non-qualified and why bother going to all the time and effort when you can go teach Zumba or Zumba Gold or even Zumbatomic (great marketing strategy cradle to grave classes!).

As someone who cares about her clients and the industry in general I guess I should be pleased that something is getting large parts of the population off their backsides and into some kind of physical activity but really, is it going to last?  If you cannot manage progression people will plateau, if you can’t give people good nutrition advice they will finish a Zumba class and go to pub on the way home or off for a Big Mac.  How are people getting any kind of help to make long lasting changes or is this yet again another example of our stupid quick fix society – lets all go do Zumba, everyone does it so it must be good – and then they wonder why it doesnt work for them.

As you can tell I’m not a fan, I think it’s a fad, a craze that will pass along in the near future to be replaced by something else that everyone will jump on the bandwagon for.  Instead we should be encouraging people to embrace long lasting physical activities, a healthy diet and providing sensible healthy role models for our children.


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