Product Review: Zumba Fitness Exhilarate DVD Set

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I remember the first Zumba class I ever set foot in at my university's recreation center. The instructor was so full of energy that it made me a little uncomfortable, and the room was jam-packed with girls (and a few guys!) shaking their hips and laughing over pulsing Latin and hip-hop beats. When the first song started, I anxiously wondered what I had gotten myself into and thought about planning an exit strategy. But when the class ended, I was drenched in sweat and grinning like an idiot, in disbelief that an hour had just flown by. After years of being a slave to the elliptical machine, I walked out of that class feeling like I had just had a major fitness revelation: Working out could be both productive and fun! Some people feel this way about running, or lifting weights, or yoga. For me, at that time, Zumba was my thing. It was the spark that made me start to view exercise as a hobby rather than a chore, and I credit it for helping me to see the fun in other forms of fitness over time.

Since that class five years ago, I've taken Zumba more times than I can count, with about a dozen different instructors. I've taken some amazing classes, some sub-par classes, and some downright miserable classes (FYI: if you try Zumba for the first time and hate it, take it again with another instructor. It makes all the difference!). I thought I had experienced all of the possible facets of Zumba—until Zumba sent us a free Zumba Fitness Exhilarate DVD set to review and Coach Nicole let me do the honors.

The Zumba DVD experience is definitely a different animal. I was a little hesitant at first, unsure of how a live class would translate into a home DVD format. So did Zumba's at-home DVDs deliver the same fun and intensity as my classes? Did I really burn 1,000 calories per hour like their commercials claimed I could?
First of all, the sheer amount of options in this set is amazing. It comes with SEVEN different DVDs to try depending on your time allotment, mood, and experience level, and they're hosted by multiple different instructors. Here's a quick breakdown of the offerings along with a video preview:

In the box: Seven DVDs, a set of two 1-pound toning sticks, Program Guide with instructions on how to use the DVD, plus an optional meal plan.

Disc 1: Step-by-Step
This DVD serves as an introduction to the steps found throughout the rest of the set. I thought it did a great job of breaking down the moves in an easy-to-follow way, including a cool toggle feature that lets you view moves from both the front and back. This DVD is meant to be more of a reference than an actual workout; use it to get a feel for the steps and to go back to it if you need help with the moves in the other workouts.

Disc 2: Activate
''Activate" is a 45-minute beginner's Zumba class. There are basic moves mixed in with some challenging choreography. I thought it was a bit hard to follow for a beginner's class, but I'm sure it would get easier after a few tries.

Disc 3: Ripped
The "Ripped" DVD is a 60-minute workout broken up into a toning section, using the 1-pound toning sticks, and a Sentao section, which uses a chair and your own body weight. The toning section focuses on dancing accompanied by upper body moves using the toning sticks. The Sentao section incorporates body weight exercises such as lunges, triceps dips, and balancing moves.

Disc 4: Exhilarate
This disc features a full 60-minute Zumba class, led by two instructors. It was my favorite of the whole set! The variety of music was incredible: in a single hour, I danced along to Latin funk, Latin house, hip-hop, Indian, Reggaeton, and Flamenco music. The dance routines were fun, but, as in the ''Activate'' DVD, they were a little hard to follow along with.

Disc 5: Rush
This DVD features a 20-minute Zumba workout, led by two instructors. This is a great workout that gets your heart rate up quickly, and is perfect for when you're short on time.  

Disc 6: Mix
"Mix" was an unexpected surprise and probably one of the coolest features in the set. In this workout, you learn African, Latin, Indian, hip-hop, Asian fusion, and Flamenco dances from a variety of instructors. I also appreciated that it had two detailed sections dedicated to breaking down the moves.

Disc 7: Fitness-Concert
This DVD was my least favorite of the set. It features nine instructors teaching a Zumba class to a stadium full of people. Although the show on stage is great, it's very hard to follow the moves, as there is no verbal cueing from the instructors. The camera also often pans out over the audience, which can be distracting.

The Takeaway

  • Zumba Exhilarate includes a great variety of workouts, music, dance styles, and instructors. I liked the mix of shorter and longer workouts and was impressed by the amount of dances featured on the DVD. I felt like I learned a lot! I was also pleasantly surprised by the music, as I'm not usually a fan of canned workout DVD music.
  • Most of the workouts have a ''Learn It'' version, where you do the entire workout with verbal cueing from the instructors, as well as a ''Feel It'' version, where you can turn off the cueing once you get more comfortable. This is a plus, as I was not a fan of the cueing from the instructors.
  • All of the workouts have a high-energy ''party'' feel to them, which gives you that extra boost to get through the workout.
  • The production level on the DVDs is amazing—tons of lights, colors, and great sound quality.
  • The workouts are fun and motivate you to move!
  • The instructors' banter can be a little cheesy and annoying—but you can always turn it off once you're a pro at the moves and don't need cueing anymore!
  • The moves can be difficult to follow at first. The "Step-by-Step" DVD is easy to follow when the moves are being broken down slowly, but when they are integrated into a fast-paced routine, it gets complicated.  I consider myself a pretty seasoned Zumba-goer and had trouble with some of the steps. However, I probably would have caught on after doing the workouts a few more times.
  • Although the production is colorful, energetic, and reminiscent of a music video, this might not be for everyone. It's interesting to look at, but it can also be somewhat distracting and can negatively affect your ability to focus on the moves in the workout if you're not used to it.
  • There are a few strange parts where the instructors ''break it down'' and freestyle dance, which leaves you standing there and wondering what you're supposed to be doing. However, Zumba has always had a move-how-your-body-wants-to-move philosophy, so this part might be fun and freeing for some people. I personally like a little more structure in an exercise DVD.
  • The toning sticks used in the "Ripped" DVD are probably too light for most to get an effective strength workout. Some people still believe that high reps at low weight will help to tone and create long, lean muscles, but I'm not entirely convinced that 1-pound maracas are the ticket to building killer guns. The dance moves will get your heart rate up, but I would view the toning sticks as fun accessories (they rattle!) rather than as legitimate weights. Although, I'm sure if you substituted in heavier dumbbells, you'd definitely feel the burn! Zumba also offers 2.5-pound toning sticks on their website that you can purchase separately from the set.  
  • Take the calorie-burning claims with a grain of salt. The Zumba Exhilirate infomercial claims that you can burn "up to 1,000 calories per hour" according to a "university study." I wore a heart rate monitor, and the max I ever burned in one 60-minute session was around 500 calories. It's a great workout, but be realistic about how many calories you're actually burning, and watch out for any claims using the phrase "up to," which is typically not even close to average.
The bottom line? This set is for you if:
  • You like to exercise! Whether you're a beginner, intermediate, or advanced exerciser, you get out of the workouts what you put into them, and the intensity is entirely up to you. I've been working out regularly for years, and when I put my all into a Zumba class, I'm sweating buckets by the end! 
  • You dislike group fitness classes, but love to dance—far away from other people and in the privacy of your own home—and are willing to pay $90 for an exercise DVD set that allows you to do that.
  • You are a Zumba fanatic (but are willing to have an open mind: this set is much more glitzy and showy than Zumba has ever been).
  • You enjoy choreography-based workouts and like feeling challenged by a difficult dance routine.
  • You want your workout to feel more like a party than a workout.
This set is probably not for you if:
  • You dislike choreographed workouts and get easily frustrated and defeated by complicated dance moves.
  • You are injured or have mobility issues—this set features a lot of movements that might be tough on the joints (lunges, jumping, twisting, etc.) and there are no modifications included for the moves.
  • You like straightforward, no-nonsense, no-frills workouts. This DVD set is definitely a ''show'' and a workout mixed into one, so if you don't like strobe lights and impromptu dance-offs, this may not be your thing.
Do you Zumba? Have you tried the Zumba Exhilarate set? What did you think?