City of Longmont St. Vrain Memorial Center, 700 Longs Peak Ave., Longmont, longmontcolorado.gov
Instructor: Heather Pacaro, of Longmont. Pacaro worked in corporate HR for 18 years before she decided to quit to pursue a different lifestyle.
"I got to my 40th birthday and thought, 'OK, I'm numb, I'm tired, I'm nothing to my kids, myself and my family. I can either choose to live the rest of my life like this or do something different," she says.
She remembered a dream she'd had in her 20s to be a group fitness instructor and got certified. She began teaching one year ago this month and now teaches eight classes a week, including Zumba Strong.
"I am always looking for new formats that will challenge me and work my body in different ways," Pacaro says.
What is the workout? First and foremost, Zumba Strong is not Zumba. Not like you know of Zumba, at least. It's high-intensity interval training synced to music. Like, imagine the hardest H.I.I.T. class you've ever taken, for an hour, but to really good music that pushes you forward.
Zumba Strong includes agility, plyometrics, punching, kickboxing, full-body muscle conditioning and other athletic, body-weight exercises done in intervals. You will increase cardiovascular endurance and build your muscles. Pacaro says it also has many boot camp elements, like planks, burpees, squats and lunges. If you like Insanity classes, you'll like Zumba Strong.
Zumba Strong is one of the newer branches of Zumba. Pacaro was in the first group of instructors trained in Colorado and that was last fall.
"When they said it was more muscle conditioning to help people change their bodies, that's really what drew me to it," Pacaro says. "While Zumba is a great cardio workout and helps people release stress, Strong fills the gap to change bodies significantly."
The class follows four varying "quadrants" or sections that build in intensity with minimal (or no) break. The class ends on the floor with core-focused exercises on a mat.
What's different? Unlike a regular interval or boot camp class, Zumba Strong has that strong music component. That doesn't mean dancing, though. There's no dancing or choreography. It means the music is specifically created to complement the flow of exercises, like it speeds up when you need to, and the drumbeat often goes with what you need to do, which helps you stay on task.
Unlike a boot camp, Zumba Strong doesn't just repeat stations. It mixes exercises into a pattern, so it challenges the mind, too.
"This is not a class you can tune out," Pacaro says. "You have to be present the whole time."
Cost: A one-time drop-in is $5. You can decrease that per-class price slightly with a punch pass.
Level: Although you can decrease the impact by not jumping and you can modify exercises by three different levels, this is not an ideal class for beginners because you'll be moving nonstop and there isn't a lot of extra time for safety cues. Pacaro says it's an intermediate to advanced class, and I agree. You need some knowledge about proper form in order to maintain the integrity of your movements as you start to fatigue.
And for reals. I am in the best shape of my life right now, and when the class started, I thought it was pretty fun. I could tell I was going to get a good sweat, and it would be worth my time. But after the second quadrant, I could barely keep up with my breath. I was able to do everything in the class, but not without significant effort. There were many portions of the class that reached a high nine on a 10-point scale of intensity. I lost count, but I am pretty sure we did 89 million burpees. The catch was that because they were set to fun music and in short bursts and everyone in the class was so supportive (this was one of the friendliest crews I've ever met), I didn't realize how hard I'd worked until I stopped to get a drink.
Pacaro says one of the biggest challenges is for people who struggle to go up and down or have wrist issues. There are a lot of burpees, planks and levels.
"Anybody can work up to it if they're willing to take the time but that's a limitation that's hard," she says.
This class appeals to men and women because it is not dance-y. It appeals to athletes who don't usually like group fitness classes, as well as people who like boot camp and Insanity-type exercises. Pacaro says it's also a good complement to running, skiing and cycling because it builds muscle and cardio endurance.
Pacaro recommends Zumba Strong two to three times a week but not every day.
When: 6-7 p.m. on Mondays.
What to prepare: Water. There's no drinking fountain in the room. Pacaro recommends bringing a towel for sweat and to put under or on the yoga mat. Make sure your shoes allow for lateral movement, i.e. wear cross-trainers not running shoes so you don't trip up.
Muscles worked: Full body, cardio. Most say they feel it in their chest, shoulders and core. I felt it a lot in my chest (push-ups) and inner thighs (this wild scissor jump sequence).
The health benefits of H.I.I.T. are well established, and it's wise of the Zumba chain to hop on the bandwagon. Studies show that 15 minutes of H.I.I.T. burns more calories than running on a treadmill for an hour. So does that make 60 minutes of H.I.I.T., uh, four hours of running?
Regardless, other studies have shown H.I.I.T. burns more calories after the workout, too. It has also been shown to improve your endurance and is good for your heart and blood vessels.
What I loved: I am amazed I got such a good sweat for so cheap. How is that even possible? The class far exceeded my expectations. Zumba Strong was an efficient and effective use of the hour. Plus, it was super fun and the other participants were friendly. If you're looking to turbocharge your workout for cheap as we approach the holidays, you're not going to find a better bang for your buck.
What I didn't like: The room is tucked way back in the St. Vrain Memorial Center behind the basketball courts. The room itself is my biggest qualm. It was hard to find, had no easy access to water and had a sort of sterile feeling about it.
How I felt after the class: The other participants were so friendly they wanted to take group photos. We hung out and chatted for awhile. I was drenched in sweat and starving but felt like I'd made a new group of friends, people I would truly enjoy working out with every week. What a great find.
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