High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has rich potential for delivering
results to our members. Indeed, the science-backed benefits of HIIT have
propelled it into increasing numbers of group-exercise schedules-notably
because it helps people get better results in less time. In 2016, the
creative minds at Zumba decided to bring HIIT to their legions of fans
The result was STRONG by Zumba®, a music-driven, sweat-inducing
version of HIIT group exercise that's appealing to at least four kinds of
- Zumba instructors looking to add STRONG classes
- Group instructors looking for an opportunity to add HIIT classes
- Group instructors looking for already curated music and choreography in the HIIT space
- Personal trainers looking to add a HIIT format to their repertoire
The Basics of HIIT
Before we dive into the specifics of STRONG by Zumba, let's review the
fundamentals of HIIT.
High-intensity interval training is versatile enough to meet the distinct
needs of a diverse population of exercisers, but not all HIIT formats are
created equal. The strenuous, compound nature of these exercise routines
requires that they be designed properly and taught correctly to prevent
injuries. High-quality HIIT workouts should do the following well:
PROMOTE SPECIFIC ADAPTATION
The principle of specific adaptation to imposed demands (SAID) is that the
body eventually adapts to the stress put on it. If you don't challenge
yourself, you won't change. In group exercise, it's easy to promote SAID by
altering variables such as resistance, intensity, training methods and
"An important component of programming is including options for increasing
physical demands to continually help participants make fitness gains," says
Stacey Penney, MS, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, FNS, content strategist for the
National Academy of Sports Medicine. "This allows participants to avoid
plateaus and maximize results."
Excess postexercise oxygen consumption is the amount of oxygen the body
must use to restore its normal state (homeostasis) after a workout. "Think
of it as the extra energy it takes to run the air conditioner to cool the
house down after the oven has been on," says Penney. "Metabolic and
interval training offer great EPOC boosts, and the perk of EPOC is that it
results in extra calories being burned for hours after the workout is
Intense exercise stimulates EPOC. As you exercise at higher intensity
levels that lead you farther from your pre-exercise state, your body has to
expend more energy to return to homeostasis. During recovery, the body
rapidly attempts to return to "normal," greatly elevating energy
Resistance training is critical to achieving muscular definition, strength
and endurance. As we become stronger, so do our workouts, making future
workouts more effective. Research suggests that high-intensity resistance
exercise disturbs homeostasis more than cardiovascular exercise does,
causing a larger energy requirement and higher EPOC (Reynolds & Kravitz
2001). Hence, HIIT workouts combining cardio and strength training further
encourage adaptation and the EPOC effect.
HIIT workouts are strenuous, but if done properly, they can be effective
for most apparently healthy individuals. "Intense exercise" can be
individually defined. For instance, some people may find a low-impact
jumping jack to be intense enough to elevate the heart rate to a
challenging level, while others may need a traditional jack. Participants
requiring even more can do plyometric jacks turning in a circle. A
well-programmed HIIT workout should allow modifications to be easily
applied to all movements and/or segments, meeting the diverse needs of
And don't neglect recovery. "Encouraging rest and recovery is an important
component of programming to avoid exhaustion," Penney says. "You can't
perform at your best if you are stressing your body all the time."
Motivation keeps people coming to our classes. As program directors and
instructors, we need to choose formats that attract participants and keep
them motivated during class. It's a mutually dependent relationship:
Movement choice, instructor demeanor and, of course, music are huge
motivators. A group exercise format should remain simultaneously fun and
effective to keep attracting participants and pushing them harder to reach
A STRONG Approach to HIIT
If you're looking for a new and exciting addition to your HIIT offerings,
STRONG by Zumba is worth a look. First, make sure you understand that
STRONG is not a dance class like traditional, cardio-driven Zumba: It's a
science-based HIIT format synced with music to create a unique full-body
"STRONG by Zumba is not just a new program, it's a HIIT experience," says
Darren Jacobson, senior vice president for instructor programming at Zumba.
In this HIIT format, cardio, plyometrics and resistance-style body-weight
exercises are all synced with music to motivate class participants to push
harder. As Jacobson puts it: Your clients get "a challenging yet safe and
effective way to increase their fitness level beyond plateaus to achieve
Synced music is integral to the STRONG philosophy. "The moves and routines
are first created, then this content with no music is sent to our
producers, who then create the music to fit the moves-every move, every
beat-to drive and enhance the class experience and boost motivation,"
Jacobson says. "We use this reverse-engineered process of creating music to
drive home the fact that music can make you work at an entirely different
"In most fitness classes, it is the opposite: Music is given to the
instructor and moves are then developed or choreographed to that music,"
Jacobson says. Zumba teamed up with top music producers like Timbaland and
Steve Aoki "to revolutionize high-intensity training."
Zumba spent 2 years crafting STRONG before launching it in 2016. The end
product encompasses all the necessities of proper HIIT design, creating the
potential for a safe, effective, results-driven workout that attracts
traditional Zumba fans as well as those who want a pure HIIT experience.
The Flexibility of STRONG
STRONG by Zumba classes consist of four distinct quadrants with specific
goals designed to build the workout's intensity progressively and
systematically: Quadrant 1: Ignite (a warmup), Quadrant 2: Fire Up (HIIT
exercises), Quadrant 3: Push Your Limits (combos or supersets of Fire Up
moves) and Quadrant 4: Floorplay (core and other floor exercises). The
intense nature of the workout and varying modes of exercise encourage SAID
and EPOC, ultimately improving results.
"We implemented STRONG by Zumba as soon as it was released, and now it's a
successful class on our schedule," says David Harper, a 25-year industry
veteran and regional director of group fitness for Crunch Fitness in
Central Virginia and Charleston, South Carolina. "It's important for me to
implement formats in our clubs that encourage cross-training to prevent
overuse injury and achieve maximum results. In that sense, STRONG by Zumba
is a great addition to our schedule."
The STRONG format's resistance component relies on body weight, helping the
classes attract participants who may be intimidated by strength training,
as well as those who enjoy resistance training but not necessarily
"I really like the body-weight training component of this workout," says
Karen Hodges, certified STRONG by Zumba instructor at B.R. Ryall YMCA in
Glen Ellyn, Illinois. "With body-weight training, people don't even realize
that they are weight training, yet still gain all the benefits." Moreover,
body-weight exercises such as pushups, burpees and plank jacks are tough
enough to interest the hard-core, athletic crowd, including the male market
that is a challenge for group exercise programs to attract.
Most importantly, the STRONG format stresses safety, focusing on recovery
and making it easy to modify programming. Active recovery is built into the
format, with rest periods after each of the four quadrants. It's also
designed so it can be changed to suit individual needs.
"As an instructor, you can easily adapt the workout to all fitness levels
by modifying the exercise selection with switch-outs and modifications so
that nearly everyone can take the class, be successful and progress," says
Jacobson. Hodges agrees: "I can easily adjust each quadrant by modeling the
modification before the more intense movements."
From January 2017 to date, STRONG by Zumba has seen a 180% growth in the
number of classes added to club schedules. In its first year, tens of
thousands of instructors have been trained in over 115 countries, says
Jacobson. And you don't have to buy additional equipment.
"Budget can be a major factor when considering new formats for our clubs,"
says Harper. "I am always looking for formats that don't require new
equipment purchases." Furthermore, like all Zumba programs, there are no
license fees that gyms need to pay. The cost to be a STRONG by Zumba
instructor is paid by the individual instructor who holds the license.
"I have a lot of fun teaching STRONG by Zumba," Hodges says. "The beat of
the music is motivating, and it drives my class and me to work harder. I
love seeing members reach their fitness goals."
If you're interested, Jacobson says, look for the STRONG by Zumba Master
Class tour coming to a city near you, check out a live class, visit
strong.zumba.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Reynolds, J.M. & Kravitz, L. 2001. Resistance training and EPOC. IDEA Personal Trainer, 12 (5), 17–19.