A Brief History of Step Aerobics
Take a minute to ask any gym-goer what their favorite class on the schedule was 15 years ago, and there is a good chance the answer will be “step aerobics!” Most will chime in about how much they used to love step and then not give it another thought as they walk into their cycling studio or Zumba session. So, what happened to all of the step classes?
Many of us remember when every group fitness schedule had at least 3 step classes a week on the schedule and now its amazing to see even one. Let us take a closer look at the rise and fall of step aerobics…
Step aerobics came to life in the late 1980s when fitness instructor and athlete Gin Miller was told by her doctor to step up and down on a milk crate to rehabilitate a knee injury. In the beginning, step aerobics was done slowly and simply, with an emphasis on athletic movements. The industry standard was to teach choreography at a 120-128 bpm range, and many participants used two to three risers to keep the workout intense. This was a dramatic and welcome difference from Hi/Lo floor aerobics classes, where choreography was becoming increasingly intricate and fast-with music speeds ranging from 145-170 bpm.
As time went on, so did step! Choreography progressed, and many of the fun and familiar moves found in traditional floor aerobics (V-step, mambos, lunges) were easily adapted to the step. Instructors had to rely heavily on verbal cueing to keep participants successful and many created their own unique cues for choreography. Styles of step taught varied from athletic to dance-based to any combination of the two!
In order to meet the needs of larger gyms and help instructors synchronize terminology and movement patterns, fitness companies such as Les Mills developed pre-choreographed step programs. Both members and instructors love the workout that pre-choreographed programs provide and simultaneously, many instructors prefer the freedom to develop their own moves.
Whether freestyle or pre-choreographed; athletic or dance-based, class members loved the mental and physical challenge that step aerobics provided. One could argue that spending an hour intensely focused on choreography cues was truly the first mind-body workout!
Step continued to remain a popular class on group fitness schedules, and to meet the needs of experienced students and instructors, choreography increased in complexity and music speeds rose a to 130-135 bpm range. While many continued to enjoy the workout, the potential for newcomers to feel overwhelmed and bewildered by choreography cues and directional changes was an issue.
Additionally, new instructors felt intimidated by the demands of teaching step. Rehearsing choreography, practicing cues and cross-phasing are time consuming, and not necessarily a requirement to successfully teach other formats. Other classes popped up on group fitness schedules such as indoor cycling, group weight training, and boot camps and offered fresh variety to those participants and instructors who may have been frustrated with the challenges of step. The combination of less instructors trained in teaching step and fewer participants interested in making the mental commitment of learning step choreography slowly resulted in less step classes on group fitness schedules around the world.
Despite these challenges, step aerobics remains a relevant format for both instructors and participants. As an instructor, if you can teach step, you can teach anything! Solid cueing and musicality are essential to teaching step and are an important skill set that will take anyone far in the group fitness world. For participants, step offers an interesting and low impact cardio workout that challenges the mind as much as the body.
The work remains for instructors to find a healthy balance between keeping experienced students challenged while still welcoming those new to step. By taking that into consideration, fitness professionals can help keep step aerobics on the schedule and keep participants loving this wonderful workout.
Monroe, M. (2008, May 30). Gin Miller: Stepping Up to Success. Retrieved April 04, 2018, from https://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/gin-miller-stepping-success.
BODYSTEP – Step Aerobic Fitness Workouts – Les Mills. (n.d.). Retrieved April 04, 2018, from https://www.lesmills.com/us/workouts/fitness-classes/bodystep/#/facType=modal&filterType=0&classes=bs.