Why Zumba Fitness's first new workout class in 18 years is a huge hit

'We have never seen a response to anything we have ever launched that was this big,' says Zumba Fitness co-founder and CEO Alberto Perlman.

Strong by Zumba is not a dance class, it's a high-intensity exercise routine that is unlike anything Zumba Fitness has ever offered. The company's first entirely new workout program debuted just one year ago. Now, between 200,000 to 300,000 people attend classes each week.

That's a lot faster than the original program took off: Zumba first launched in 1999, and it took the company six years to reach 300,000 students per week, says Alberto Perlman, Zumba Fitness's co-founder and CEO. Perlman calls Strong by Zumba's growth unbelievable. "We have never seen a response to anything we have ever launched that was this big," Perlman says.

Strong by Zumba pairs certain exercise moves to music, but it's not choreography. The company worked with DJs like Timbaland to ensure that every squat or lunge matches a sound in a song. The idea came about after Perlman and co-founder Alberto Perez attended several high-intensity workout classes but left feeling frustrated.

Related: Workout for your zodiac sign

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Best workout for your zodiac sign
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Best workout for your zodiac sign

Aries: martial arts

Fiery Aries is independent, highly active, and she loves to win. Her ruling planet is Mars—the Roman god of war. Since she has a warrior spirit, this workout (think karate, aikido, tae kwon do, jujitsu, and kick-boxing) suits Aries perfectly—giving her strength, flexibility, speed, and the ability to defend herself.

Other workouts to try: competitive sports and interval training.

Taurus: weight lifting

Taurus is the original gym rat. Since her sign rules the physical body and the senses, she knows how important it is to keep her body fit and feeling good. She has inherent inertia, meaning once she’s motion, she stays in motion. Since she can be a little bit stubborn, Taurus has to make the choice to get going—but after she does, nothing can stop her. For these reasons, a good weight-training program is excellent for her. She can always adapt it to suit her ever-evolving progress.

Other workouts to try: anything endurance-related, like long-distance running or jogging, cycling, and triathlons.

Gemini: group exercise classes

Social butterfly Gemini is high-energy and she loves to be around people. She can get distracted quickly, so the structure and variety of a group exercise class helps to keep her focused. If she can find an instructor who teaches her about fitness during the class, all the better—after all, Gemini loves to learn. The activity boosts her mood while helping her clear her mind and tone her body. (Win-win-win!)

Other workouts to try: walking with friends and five-minute routines.

Cancer: yoga

The Cancer babe is ruled by the moon, AKA her emotions. She loves the mind-body connection that yoga offers her. It helps her to find her inner stability and balance her emotions, all while giving her a full-body workout. Plus, the meditative practice lets her feel perfectly in sync.

Other workouts to try: water aerobics and swimming.

Leo: play

Leo doesn’t always have the patience for the gym, but she knows that she needs to keep her heart and her body in tip-top shape. Her best solution? Play. Whether it’s with the dog, children, or on a sports team, Leo loves to have fun and act like a kid again. Any activity that feels like amusement instead of work will keep her motivated and healthy.

Other workouts to try: dancing, trampoline jumping, hula hooping, and ice skating.

Virgo: Pilates

The structure and exactitude of Pilates suits detail-oriented Virgo perfectly. Joseph Pilates (a Virgo rising!) designed this fitness method to strengthen and align the body, which suits Virgo just fine—efficiency is a must for her. The Virgo babe is highly intelligent, practical, and methodical. She loves this systematic workout because it gets results and helps her feel really good in her body.

Other workouts to try: yoga, weight lifting, and IntenSati.

Libra: dance

Graceful Libra is ruled by the planet Venus, the Roman goddess of love, beauty, and relationships. She’s intelligent and yearns to feel balanced and healthy in her body. As dancing is lively, varied, social, and fun, it’s the perfect workout for the Libran sensibility. She would often rather forget that she is working out, so she especially loves that she can get caught up in the rhythm of the music. Dancing makes her feel totally alive, vibrant, and connected—score!

Other workouts to try: group exercise classes, tennis, any activity done with a partner, Pilates, and yoga.

Scorpio: Spinning

Sultry Scorpio is intense and driven. She loves the feeling of working it, and Spinning lets her dig in to realize the full force of her power. (A fun and intense workout in a dark room? So Scorpio.) Plus, she can ride the waves of enthusiasm generated by a brilliant instructor. All-out exertion is good for her, as she wants to completely let go. As an added bonus, Scorpio rules the pelvis, and cycling is said to be well-suited to women seeking pelvic floor exercises.

Other workouts to try: pole dancing, belly dancing, yoga—especially Ashtanga or Kundalini—and (of course) sex.

Sagittarius: jogging outdoors

Sagittarius is outdoors-loving and intelligent. She loves to challenge herself and explore the world, and jogging outside in nature keeps her in forward motion. The activity helps her use up her boundless energy, strengthen her body, and see new things. Don’t turn to the treadmill, however—there’s nothing a Sagitarrius hates more than to feel stuck. Bonus points: The endorphin high she gets from extended cardio activity matches her naturally optimistic attitude.

Other workouts to try: archery, hiking, horseback riding, skiing, and walking.

Capricorn: rock climbing

Capricorn the goat represents the climb to the top of the mountain—and that can translate literally into the perfect workout for these ambitious souls. Capricorn wants to be able to see the task ahead of her, and completing it feels super-satisfying. She’s not afraid of hard work, and she is always looking for a new achievement. Even better, each climb helps her build her physical strength and her self confidence.

Other workouts to try: hiking, weight training programs.

Aquarius: circus workouts

Aquarius is not afraid of being a little bit weird—she’s an outlier and a creative innovator. Above all else, she hates to be bored at the gym. Circus workouts or adult gymnastics suit her magical and transcendent personality just fine. She has a lot of stamina and perseverance, so she’s not afraid of diving into something demanding. Circus workouts help her build her strength and define her individuality while potentially also allowing her to work as part of a team, which she loves.

Other workouts to try: aerial yoga or silk dancing classes, trampoline, diving, ropes course, and wind surfing.

Pisces: swimming

Mystical Pisces loves to be in the water—so swimming puts her right in her element. She has a meditative spirit, and enjoys the calming rhythm of doing laps. It helps her feel transcendent, which she loves, and the excellent full-body workout heightens her self awareness and keeps her centered. Also important? The Pisces babe is very sensual and can sometimes become overwhelmed by her senses, so being in the water helps her tune in to herself by blocking out distracting sights and sounds.

Other workouts to try: yoga, scuba diving or snorkeling, surfing, walking, and tai chi.

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"There was no connection between what the instructors were doing in the class and the music they are playing," Perlman says. "The most motivating part of fitness is the music."

Over the last several years, Zumba has released similar programs based on the original workout, like Aqua Zumba or Zumba Kids. But Strong has already taken off; it's being taught in 100 of the 186 countries where Zumba is offered (the company's programs aren't allowed in embargoed countries like Cuba, North Korea, and Iran, where six young people were arrested in early August for promoting the dancing exercises).

High-intensity workouts have become very popular recently, especially at boutique fitness centers. But Perlman argues that these programs are too expensive for most people. Strong by Zumba is much more affordable, he says, adding that prices can range depending on the instructor or location. In some cases, prices could go as low as $5.

Related: Healthiest workout snacks

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7 R.D.-approved pre-workout snacks you can buy at the supermarket
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7 R.D.-approved pre-workout snacks you can buy at the supermarket
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KIND Healthy Grains Bars

“At the end of the day, a good pre-workout snack is one that provides carbohydrates, goes down easy, and doesn't leave you running to the bathroom mid-workout. KIND Grain Bars are great carb-rich options that are easy to stash in your handbag. They’re my go-to pre-workout snack when I'm on the run and don't have time to sit down and eat something before I exercise.”

— Edwina Clark, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., and head of nutrition and wellness at Yummly

Courtesy of Kind
Fresh fruit and Justin’s Almond Butter packets

“You need to be sure that you’re adequately fueled during your workout. Your pre-workout snack should be comprised mainly of carbohydrates, and a bit of added of protein to keep you satisfied. I like to buy pre-sliced apples and a Justin’s Classic Almond Butter packet, which I’ll grab at the supermarket on my way to spin class.”

— Lisa Mikus, R.D., C.N.S.C, Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services

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Chocolate milk

“I like to drink chocolate milk before strength training, because it has an easily digestible combination of carbohydrates and protein—two nutrients that your muscles especially need during the healing and repairing process.”

— Caroline West Passerrello, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

kuarmungadd / Getty Images

Sargento Balanced Breaks Cheese Snacks

“I like these cheese and nut snacks because they're pre-portioned, which helps you avoid eating more than the recommended serving size (which is easy to do with both). The mix of carbs and protein will provide you with sustained energy throughout your workout. I like snacking on this before an afternoon fitness class or an easy run.”

Emily Holdorf, R.D.N.

Courtesy of Sargento

100-Calorie Pack Wonderful Pistachios

“A 100-calorie pack of Wonderful Pistachio nuts is a great pre-workout snack and it’s available in nearly every drugstore you pass on the way to the gym. With 6 grams of energizing protein and 3 grams of filling fiber (plus good-for-you fats), pistachios will help fill you up without weighing you down during your workout. Plus, their combination of electrolytes and antioxidants will help combat muscle and joint fatigue post-workout as well. They are always what I eat leading up to my 45-minute spin class.”

— Brigitte Zeitlin, R.D., M.P.H., C.D.N., founder of the New York-based BZ Nutrition

Courtesy of Wonderful

Cereal and milk

“I recommend a snack that is easy to digest and contains complex carbohydrates and protein. It’s also important to make sure you’re hydrated, because that’s just as important as the nutrients you’re eating. I like to eat 1 cup of cereal with low-fat milk prior to an intense SoulCycle or kickboxing class, a 30- to 60-minute run, or an intense CrossFit workout.”

Lori Zanini, R.D., C.D.E

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Siggi's Icelandic-Style Yogurt

Siggi's Icelandic-Style Yogurt is my favorite go-to pre-workout snack to grab from the supermarket before a long run. Their philosophy is ‘simple ingredients, not a lot of sugar' and that’s what makes this yogurt great fuel for workout. The 2 percent variety has a perfect balance of protein, carbohydrates, without the added sugar."

— Emily Cope-Kyle, M.S., R.D. owner and consulting dietitian at EmilyKyleNutrition.com

Courtesy of siggi's

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Zumba, which was Inc.'s company of the year in 2012, collects fees from instructors, which can range between $250 and $300. It also requires teachers to pay a monthly rate that gives them access to company benefits like educational videos. Zumba instructors find places to teach, whether that's at a gym or in a church basement, which can also dictate the price of a class.

Perlman says Zumba Fitness has 250 employees but wouldn't say how many instructors were currently working for the company. In 2012, when Inc. profiled Zumba Fitness, the company had a reported valuation of more than $500 million. Perlman says the company hasn't raised any additional money since then and are currently profitable, but wouldn't disclose revenue figures. Zumba Fitness also makes money from its retail arm: Inc. reported that the company expected to sell 3.5 million units in 2012.

"When doing innovation, don't look at what other people are doing, focus on the customer," Perlman says. "The ones that work are the ones that are completely customer-centric."

Related: Workout at home

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New year, new you: Best home workouts
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New year, new you: Best home workouts

This amazing tool is a lightweight, portable total body gym that gives you resistance on both sides of your muscle groups during each movement. Eliminating the need for bulky weights, you'll be using a technology originally developed for NASA as their resistance exercise for the International Space Station. 

DoubleFlex, $99 OYOFitness.com

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A personalized workout program for older adults who have limited mobility, are overweight, or are simply looking to workout while being kind to their joints, it includes 7 low-impact workouts.

Body Dynamix, $59.85 Livati.com

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This set of dummbells -- ranging from 2 to 5 pounds -- is really just an addition to your at-home workout. Many workout DVDs will ask you to grab some weights, and it never hurts to do a little arm work while you're cycling, either. 

20-Pound Dumbbell Set with Stand, $24.99 Amazon.com

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If you want a killer cardio workout at home, look no further. The elliptical is a favorite for many at the gym, and the ability to bring it home with this portable version from InMotion (complete with resistance bands!) is a win-win situation.

InMotion Elliptical with Resistance Bands, $149 Joyus.com

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Developed by mother-daughter team, the Simply Fit Board is a uniquely designed balance board that makes it easy to get in an efficient workout almost anywhere. It engages your core, legs, and back in one -- and can be used almost anywhere in your home. 

Simply Fit Board, $39.99 SimplyFitBoard.com

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Finding a really good yoga mat can transform almost any workout. Whether you're doing pilates, crunches, squats, or... you know, yoga, it's the essential piece to make your home workout space complete.

Fit Spirit Premium Printed Yoga Mat, $14.99 Amazon.com

BUY IT
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