Jessica Matthews by Jessica Matthews

While the weather may be cold during this time of year, things are still hot in the pool (and no, I'm not talking about the temperature of the water). What I'm referring to are some of the fun new fitness classes that are making a splash, both figuratively and literally. As a former aqua fitness instructor and lover of all things group exercise, I had to see what the buzz was all about, so I set out on a brisk Saturday morning sporting my swimsuit (underneath my sweats of course) to check out this "fitness party" gone poolside.

What's the buzz all about?

Aqua Zumba® combines some of the traditional elements of aqua fitness classes (such as jumping jacks and cross-country skiing) with the upbeat, Latin-infused dance moves and music Zumba® fitness is famous for.

My experience

I headed to the pool at 24 Hour Fitness-Rancho Penasquitos, which is one of only a few facilities in the San Diego area currently offering Aqua Zumba classes. This particular class was led by Azi, a Zumba fitness instructor with many years of teaching experience, both in the pool and on land in the group fitness studio. We spent the first part of the Aqua Zumba class warming up by using a variety of movements such as walking, jogging and cross-country skiing to travel around the pool as a group (which we had all to ourselves for this class). Once a current was built up from our continuous movement, we then were instructed to change directions, working against the force of the water as we moved in the opposite direction. Following the warm-up, we congregated in the center of the pool where Azi, who was teaching from the pool deck, went over some important tips regarding the class, including how to properly cup the hands when performing underwater arm movements and the importance of keeping the core engaged throughout class, as well as options for decreasing or increasing the intensity of certain exercises to suit each participant's fitness level.

We then transitioned into some dance-inspired moves that had everyone moving their bodies in just about every direction imaginable. Merengue, salsa and Cumbia-infused movements and rhythms were mixed with familiar exercises such as front kicks, high knees and jumping jacks, all of which were purposefully modified for the pool environment.

A great highlight was the variety of upbeat music that was played throughout the class. With everything from current hits like "Gangnam Style" to classics like "YMCA" (which of course including singing and spelling out the letters overhead), the great music selection kept the energy high and allowed for a truly fun, party-like atmosphere!

What does it work?

Since this Aqua Zumba fitness class kept us moving non-stop for the full 55 minutes, it provided a great low-impact cardio workout, with Latin-inspired moves that really focused on the muscles of the core combined with muscle strengthening exercises that worked both the upper and lower body for a fun, total-body routine.

Who is Aqua Zumba best suited for?

Given the low-impact nature of the class, Aqua Zumba is suitable for both beginners and Zumba fitness enthusiasts alike! Because the moves are performed at a slower pace than on land (what is commonly referred to as "aqua tempo"), you don't have to be a dancer to be successful in this class since the fancy footwork is kept to a minimum. But don't let the slower pace of a water-based class fool you. You'll still get a great workout due to the viscosity of the water (the resistance that we feel while moving in water), which makes performing the movements more challenging even as the impact forces on your joints are significantly reduced.

Things to keep in mind

As with any group fitness class, it's important to seek out a qualified instructor, ideally someone who holds a current group fitness instructor certification or, at a minimum, a comprehensive specialty certification, in addition to completing specific aqua fitness-related continuing education, including the Aqua Zumba instructor training course.

Final thought

My personal experience with Aqua Zumba was both energizing and a ton of fun! There's nothing quite like the combination of feeling almost weightless in the water, while also working every muscle in your body—all while smiling from ear to ear. And with the proven effectiveness of Zumba fitness classes, Aqua Zumba is one more reason why, as Zumba fitness' famous slogan states, people may be "ditching the workout and joining the party."

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