Not a Watered-Down Workout

Aqua Zumba provides a pool dance party that goes easy on joints, but not on results.



For Aqua Zumba, class participants mimic the instructor’s moves in the water, burning as much as 700 calories in an hour.

Roberto Gonzalez

Back in the mid-1990s, Zumba added some Latin seasoning to fitness training by putting aerobic dance moves to salsa or merengue music. The craze’s latest iteration: Aqua Zumba, fitness training described by its creators as “an invigorating, low-impact pool party,” perfectly suited for people with injuries, joint problems or an aversion to dancing in public.

The one-hour classes, taught locally at various YMCA locations, take place in chest-deep water with maximum water resistance to equal the calorie burn of land-based Zumba and achieve full-body toning.

According to certified fitness instructor Michelle Brightman, Zumba class participants burn 600 to 700 calories in an hour, whether on land or in water. The difference: Aqua Zumba participants experience a 13 percent lower heart rate, she says, because of the combination of the 86-degree water and the water compression.

“You’re getting the same workout with much lower impact on your body, which is why it often appeals to people who are elderly or have some physical limitations or are very overweight,” Brightman says.

However, she insists Aqua Zumba is an excellent workout for all ages and fitness levels. “There seems to be a perception that water fitness is only for the elderly or the extremely obese, but no one thinks of swimming as a wuss workout,” says Brightman.

Unlike most other water calisthenics, Aqua Zumba doesn’t use weights, but relies strictly on water resistance. Land-based Zumba movements have been modified to maximize resistance and increase toning. “On land it’s more difficult to lift up your leg than put it down. But in the water, it’s the exact opposite. The farther out you stretch your arms, the more resistance you’re going to have. An open palm is going to offer more resistance than a blade that’s slicing through the water,” Brightman says.

Thirty-three-year-old Cara Berry, a new mom, started doing Aqua Zumba while pregnant for the low-impact benefits. She now combines water fitness with yoga. “I feel really good. I don’t have to deal with the sweat that you normally feel doing land Zumba, and you’re still burning just as many calories. It’s the perfect workout,” Berry says.

The class even proved challenging to 14-year-old Ana Killian, a member of the Orangewood Christian School volleyball team. “It raises your heart rate a lot more than you think it would,” she says.

Brightman adds that the class has helped older people regain mobility and balance and provides a good workout to people recovering from injuries or with physical limitations.

For those without physical limitations, Brightman recommends combining Aqua Zumba with other fitness regimens. “We need resistance training. We need cardio training. We need flexibility training. We need all of it in order to be healthy. If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ve got to seriously work at your nutrition as well,” she says. 

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