Zumba vs. Aerobics: 10 Key Differences (From Music to Choreography)

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lifevif Team and JC Franco

Aerobics or Zumba; what kind of fitness workout works best for you? I have come across a few people who have struggled to choose between these two high-energy workout systems. If you are struggling with the very same decision, you have come to the right place for a little guidance. Before you can decide, understanding the differences between Zumba and Aerobics is actually quite important. Without much further ado, let’s jump right in.

There are 10 differences between Zumba and Aerobics. Zumba and Aerobics are different in terms of:

  1. Choreography (sequence of steps).
  2. Instructions during the class (how the instructor leads the class).
  3. The type of movements (and the complexity thereof).
  4. Coordination (music and movement).
  5. Entertainment and socializing.
  6. Muscle training/building.
  7. Music used.
  8. Year created (generation).
  9. Weight loss (fat burning).
  10. Atmosphere (class energy).

If you thought that Zumba and Aerobics were the same things, think again. The differences might be subtle, but they’re differences all the same. When I first came across these 10 differences, I wanted to know more. Perhaps you do, too. Deciding which workout regime is best for you is a very personal thing. You have to take into consideration your workout and fitness objectives as well as be realistic about your abilities and physical strengths and weaknesses.

Read below to dig a little deeper into how Zumba and Aerobics are different so that you can decide which exercise system is best for you. 

10 Ways in Which Zumba and Aerobics are Different

I always recommend being hands-on when comparing one thing to another. If you want to know if vegan cake tastes as good as regular cake, what do you do? You test it out – in fact, you test both of them out. The same approach applies to this. In order to truly understand the differences between these exercises, I strongly recommend attending a class of each. For a bit more insight into the differences between Zumba and Aerobics, consider the following:

1. Zumba & Aerobics differ in terms of choreography (sequence of steps).

One of the biggest differences between Aerobics and Zumba is the choreography that is involved in each class. You might watch both classes and wonder how everyone manages to keep up. At first, I was quite overwhelmed and felt quite inferior – but things have changed since then.

In an aerobics class, there is, usually, a few sequences of steps to follow on repeat, whereas in a Zumba class, there are many more sequences of steps to follow. While you have to learn the choreography of steps in Aerobics, you do not necessarily learn the steps in Zumba. You simply follow the instructor and follow the steps as they change, with each changing song.

2. Zumba & Aerobics differ in terms of the instructions during the class (how the instructor leads the class).

How does the instructor communicate with students in the class? When you attend an aerobics class, the instructor (depending on the size of the class) will make use of a microphone to give clear instructions to the students. In a typical aerobics class, you might hear the instructor count “1, 2, 3, and 4” and then name the next sequence of steps required. In a Zumba class, usually, you will not hear the instructor shouting too many instructions. Instead, the instructor will use non-verbal cues (hand signals and motions) to let students know when a sequence is changing or to keep them on track.

3. Zumba & Aerobics differ in terms of the type of movements (and the complexity thereof).

What types of movements are used in aerobics class and a Zumba class? Aerobics classes are focused on movements that are similar to those in physical training. You will notice movements like jumping jacks, skipping, or v step sequences. These movements are learned and used over and over.

In a Zumba class, it is completely different. There are no specific movements set out. Instead, there is choreography involved for each song that comes on. The moves are akin to Latin dance moves. Instead of steps, you are actually dancing. Because of this, students of Zumba might usually find that classes are more fun than aerobics classes.

4. Zumba & Aerobics differ in terms of coordination (music and movement).

There is no denying that Zumba classes require good body music coordination, whereas aerobics (because of the learned steps involved), demand, in my opinion, less coordination. Aerobics coordination can be easily learned. Zumba coordination can be learned too, but it will take a bit more time. If you would like to learn an exercise system that is a bit more challenging, Zumba is it.

Keep in mind that coordination is something that can be developed with consistent practice. Don’t let a lack of coordination stop you from joining either a Zumba or aerobics class. 

5. Zumba & Aerobics differ in terms of entertainment and socializing.

Which is more entertaining and social; Zumba or Aerobics? As far as Aerobics goes, classes can be fun and entertaining, but they are less interactive than Zumba classes. Zumba classes have a high energy and are extremely entertaining. While the main focus is on getting the best possible workout, there is still a great deal of importance placed on fun. Before and after classes, students are known to be quite social with each other.

If you are looking for a workout class that provides the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends, Zumba is a great option. If you are looking for a class that focuses on fitness and has a happy energy (without any pressure to socialize), Aerobics might be for you. 

6. Zumba & Aerobics differ in terms of muscle training/building.

Can you build muscle with both Aerobics and Zumba? Zumba provides a full-body workout, which can be quite exhausting. On the other hand, Aerobics involves more focused steps and movements, which means that each muscle group is worked individually. Aerobics also includes the use of weights, which can help with muscle building. Zumba, however, can’t do much for muscle building but can assist with toning and shaping.

7. Zumba & Aerobics differ in terms of the music used in classes.

You will not find aerobics classes using regular songs that you hear on the radio. Instead, songs are modified to become upbeat, high-energy versions. This is so that the soundtrack can work with the beat and rhythm of aerobics classes. Zumba classes are focused on dance, which means that the music used is just song after song in their original formats – no modifications necessary.

8. Zumba & Aerobics differ in terms of the year created (generation).

Are Zumba and aerobics old exercise formats, or modern workout formats? Zumba is said to be the exercise of choice for Millennials. That is because it was created by a 28-year old Columbian fitness instructor in 1998.

Aerobics, however, was the exercise of choice in the ’70s and ’80s. Aerobics was created in the 1960s by Dr. Kenneth Cooper (San Antonio Air Force Hospital), who designed a series of cardio exercises to beat coronary artery disease. Even though both of these exercises are many years old (with Aerobics being older, yes), they are still practiced by many millions of people today.

9. Zumba & Aerobics differ in terms of weight loss (fat burning).

Which exercise system will help you lose more weight; Zumba or Aerobics? When it comes to fat burning and weight loss, both Zumba and Aerobics are considered highly effective. Getting your heart rate up for a substantial time is essential for weight loss and fat burning. It is said that the average Zumba class that is 1-hour long can burn around 300 to 900 calories, whereas a 1-hour aerobics class can burn between 450 to 660 calories. While there is not a huge difference between the two, if you want to shed weight faster, choose Zumba. 

10. Zumba & Aerobics differ in terms of atmosphere (class energy).

What is the atmosphere like in an aerobics class and a Zumba class? Which has the best energy?

In an aerobics class, you can expect to find loud music and people diligently following the instructor’s voice. The energy will be happy and lighthearted, but quite concentrated/focused at the same time.

In a Zumba class, you can expect an atmosphere that is similar to happy chaos. All of the Zumba participants have a high energy (thanks to dopamine), are highly encouraging, and cheer each other on. If you are feeling down and need a bit of motivation, attend a Zumba class. It is considered a non-judgmental space and it is sure to work! 

Zumba or Aerobics; what’s it going to be?

When comparing the differences between Zumba and Aerobics, you are bound to develop an interest in both – that is what happened to me. It is undeniable that both Zumba and Aerobics are exercise systems that are well worth your time. Both are fun, high-energy, and fat burning workouts that are bound to leave you feeling better than ever before. What’s it going to be; Zumba or Aerobics? You decide! 

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who share their experiences and knowledge about the "Seven F's of Life".

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco is a New York-based editor for Lifevif. He covers topics like spirituality, philosophy, finance, sports, games, and food. JC earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business with a Marketing Concentration at Mercyhurst University. He is a certified USPTA professional who teaches tennis in the New York City Metropolitan area. He has passed the Level I exam of the CFA program.