The Basics of Zumba & 20-Minute Exercise Workouts

Cheerful people learning zumba steps

If you like dancing and want to get in great shape, head to your first Zumba class ASAP. Set to the energetic beats of Latin, Afro and other world music, Zumba combines sizzling dance moves in a high-intensity routine that torches calories, even better than other popular fitness classes, according to a 2012 study by the American Council on Fitness.

Before you jump in to more advanced classes, learn the basic steps. Get your dancing feet wet with 20-minute Zumba workouts that can burn as more than 200 calories.

These moves are the foundation of any Zumba routine you'll find in a class or online video. Although there are many more moves than these, once you learn these steps you'll be able to comfortably progress to more challenging moves. You'll also be able to more easily pick up new moves on the spot, even in a fast-paced class.

Zumba moves are categorized according to the rhythms. There are many, but the main ones are salsa, cumbia, merengue, and reggaeton. Here are some of the basic moves from each category:

Salsa side step: Stand with feet together. Take a small step to the right, step back to center, step to the left and back to center. Keep it going and move your hips and shoulders to the beat as you step.

Salsa front-to-back: Stand with feet together. Step your right foot forward, then back to center, step your left foot forward, then back to center. As you step forward, send your right hip out to the right; as you step back send your left hip out. Bend your elbows slightly and move them with the beat. Then, switch sides so you're stepping forward with your left foot.

Merengue: Stand with your feet together. Begin to do a subtle march, barely lifting your feet off the ground, dipping one knee and then the other. As you dip your knee, the other hip lifts. With a slight bend in the elbows, move your arms in time with the beat.

Merengue v-step: From merengue in place, step one foot forward wider then your original stance, then step the other foot out in the same manner. Then step the first foot in followed by the second foot.

Reggaeton: Start with feet together. Jump your feet out, then shift your upper body weight side to side, dipping one shoulder then the other. Keep your elbows bent and your arms lifted away from your body. Do a shift to left and a shift to right, then jump your feet back in.

Reggaeton Knee Lift and Twist: Stand with feet together. Twist both feet to one side, then twist back four times, traveling sideways as you twist. Stop, then raise one knee and the other. As you raise your knee, lift your arms and push your hands down on either side of your leg. Twist four times back to where you started, lift one knee and the other again.

Cumbia: Turn slightly the right with your feet together. Step your left foot in front, then to the back. Bend both knees slightly and rock on the right foot so the heel comes up a little with each step. Add some small hip twists as you step forward and back. Then switch sides.

Cumbia Sleepy Leg: With your hands on your waist, take small steps to the right, pointing your feet and hips in the direction you're stepping. Tilt your back hip up as you step, and extend your leading arm parallel to the floor. Take four steps to one side, come back to center, then take four steps to the other side.

Zumba Dance

20-Minute Routine

You should be getting a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate cardio exercise daily, according to current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A daily 20-minute Zumba routine wouldn't fulfill that goal, although it's perfect to do on days you don't have time to fit in a full workout.

On the other hand, if you do it intensely enough, giving maximum effort and taking few breaks, Zumba can qualify as vigorous exercise. You need a minimum of 75 minutes of vigorous cardio each week. Once you learn all the steps and build some confidence, you'll be able to ramp up the intensity.

There are 20-minute Zumba classes and videos available, but you can also make up your own routine. Choose five steps to include and set a timer to buzz every minute. After a brief warm up, do one exercise for one minute each. At the end of five minutes, start the round again. Keep the intensity up as you repeat for three or four rounds total, then cool down.