Focus On: Step Aerobics

Let’s take it back now.

image Source

For today’s Focus On post, I’m choosing another one near and dear to my heart, and an old staple in the fitness scene.

My fascination with step started when I was 7 years old. My mom would take me with her to her step class –in shorts with a leotard OVER the shorts- and I would be in the corner playing along. Since I took dance classes, I had no prob picking up the combos and always looked forward to taking classes with mom. She was kind of a step fanatic. We had a step at the house, and sometimes her friend would come over and they would do a step DVD and lay by the pool on the days they didn’t have to work. Of course, I liked being “one of the girls,” even though I chose swimming over tanning at the time 😉

After my mom stopped stepping, I didn’t really see it again until I moved with the Pilot to Fayetteville, NC and started taking classes at the base gym. The base gym was one of the coolest participation environments I’d seen- everyone was really into fitness and the classes were crazy packed. I arrived early for my favorite spin class one day and caught a glimpse of the step class going on beforehand – it was unlike any of the 80s or 90s-style sporty step I’d seen. There were at least 40-50 people in there, many of whom were using two steps, the moves were more dance-y than athletic, and everyone was hooting, hollering, and dripping in sweat. I couldn’t wait to take a class.

The next day, I decided to give it a whirl, and had a difficult time keeping up. I was used to picking up choreography since I had danced for so long, was a 7-year-old step machine, and couldn’t get the moves to save my life. Of course, I love a challenge, so I kept going back to class, learned the name of the steps and variations, and could rock it out within a month or so. Like any type of choreographed class, there’s a learning curve, so practice makes better. From then on, I fell in love with step and it was one of the first classes I started teaching when I got my group fitness cert a few years ago.


[At the SCW Fitness Conference, July 2010]

So, what is it?

An aerobics class using a step, which is an elevated platform. You can adjust the height –it’s best to start off low to the ground and add inches as you get more comfortable, but don’t go too crazy with the height, especially if you’re short- and the use of the step simulates how it feels to walk up and down a set of stairs while you’re moving through the class. In other words, it burns.

This is good stuff right here: [a double-step class]


What to expect:

-To be confused at first. Before checking out a class, take a look at some YouTube videos to see what some of the basic moves are (basic, turn step, L step, 3-knee repeater, V step, corner knee and over-the-top are a few good ones to know). Take class with an open mind, have fun with it, and just use it as a chance to familiarize yourself with the type of workout and see if it’s something you’d like to include in your routine.

-The choreography is usually in 4 sets of 8 counts (a 32-beat set) and will most likely repeat the same combos on the right and left leg lead. This makes it a little easier to follow and remember what’s coming next.

-To be sore the first time. Walking up and down a small platform may seem like NBD during class, but if it’s your first time, you will feel it in your legs and booty for the next few days. Remember to get in lots of good stretching!

0007434571377_500X500 Source

What to wear:

-Anything goes, but go with something comfy and breathable. Usually I love to wear shorts for step, but  since many instructors will add a small abs set at the end of class, wearing crops can prevent flashing the goods during abs exercises- it depends on the class. I’d wear crops and a tank or comfortable tee, with supportive shoes for the first time. Also, make sure to bring a water bottle and a small towel (because you will sweat!).

Something like this + supportive shoes:



-Awesome calorie burn. An intense class will burn 500+ calories an hour, and also provides cardio endurance while improving balance. It also challenges your brain! Learning different combinations and choreography has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

-You can do it at home. A step is easy to order online or at a local sporting goods store(Amazon has them), small, so you can store it away while not in use, and add some DVDs to start your own step routine at home. [Does anyone have some good step video recommendations?] Also, FitTV has step aerobics on fairly often and the ones I’ve watched are quite good. [Watching a good fitness show as just as exciting as a good movie. Nerd alert]


-Highly choreographed class. Usually instructors will break down the combos in an easy-to-follow manner, but once you learn something, you’re quickly moving onto the next. This class may be extra challenging for those who have a difficult time learning choreography.

-Tough to make it more difficult. You can add more height to a certain degree, add in variations –there are some crazy fun L-step and repeater variations- but after that point, it gets harder to challenge yourself as you get used to the class. This is why crosstraining and trying out different types of classes is so important.

*Like anything else, the instructor can make or break a class. I’ve taken AWESOME step classes (like the ones in Fayetteville) and absolutely horrible ones with lame music and an instructor who couldn’t remember her own combos. Like with any fitness class, try out a couple of instructors to see what your teaching and music preferences are. The good news about step is that the music isn’t as important as the choreography, but I’ve heard some reallllllllly bad techno step music. I also found out that I really like stepping to rap 😉

So are you a step fan? Have you ever worn a leotard over spandex shorts? Please say yes.

Have a great day!


More Focus On posts:




-Tracy Anderson

Bootcamp Workouts

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  1. Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat on October 12, 2011 at 10:30 am

    I love step! This is coming from an instructor who *thought* she couldn’t do it because she wasn’t coordinated enough… however, with a little practice, I proved myself wrong! I agree with you that the choreography can be tough to learn at first (in my first class, I was probably the sweatiest participant, and hadn’t done a single step right but I tried SO hard!) but over time it gets easier and feet just seem to land in the right spots. Great fitness flashback Gina!

  2. Michaela on October 12, 2011 at 10:32 am

    haha, that pic is hilarious!!
    I´ve never worn any of those things, but I didn´t grow up in the States 😉
    With step, it totally depends on the instructor!! At my gym we used to have a super cool teacher and I have enjoyed classes soooo much, but she left and I just don´t get along with the new instructor. But in general, I love it 🙂

  3. Krystina (Organically Me) on October 12, 2011 at 10:33 am

    That first picture is hilarious. Why did women wear those things in public?! Especially the ones with the thong bottom…

    • Fitnessista on October 12, 2011 at 10:39 am

      the thong bottom was the HOTTEST. haha

  4. Elizabeth @ reads recipes runs on October 12, 2011 at 10:33 am

    Love this post!! Did anyone ever do that Mickey Mouse aerobics class that was on the Disney Channel first thing in the morning (early 90s)? I used to rock the shorts and leotard and get up at the crack of dawn to do it… at about age 5 haha. Amazing!

    I love step classes or when lifting classes will incorporate it into the cardio section. Although I have this weird fear of falling (I am a dancer too and have taken my share of tumbles) and I am so scared that I am going to eat it on the step 🙂

  5. Laurel on October 12, 2011 at 10:37 am

    I used to watch my mom do step in our living room along with Jane Fonda, and I started copying her pretty early on… I MIGHT have worn a leotard over shorts, although I’m sure hoping no photographic evidence exists 🙂 Step is definitely more fun with an enthusiastic, high paced instructor.

  6. Cat @Breakfast to Bed on October 12, 2011 at 10:39 am

    um, I love step aerobics. It was the first class I took at a gym ever!! with my DAD!!! hysterical, right?

    • Fitnessista on October 12, 2011 at 10:40 am

      no- awesome!!

  7. Ashley O. @ The Vegetable Life on October 12, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Holy cow that double step class is crazy! I love step but those spins, etc look like I would be ubber confused!!!

  8. Anna @ On Anna's Plate on October 12, 2011 at 10:46 am

    Bahaha…I TOTALLY used to do a Jane Fonda step aerobics VHS tape when I was in middle school and high school…I loved it! Yay for old-school workouts 🙂

  9. RachelG on October 12, 2011 at 10:47 am

    When I was in high school I did the Kathy Ireland step tapes (I think the green step is still in the basement!). Everytime I see a step or hear the mention of step aerobics I immediately think “Corner to Corner!” lol. 🙂

  10. Coco on October 12, 2011 at 10:47 am

    I love step! What a great blast from the past. I used to follow along with my mom, too. I took dance from a very young age so I had no problem keeping up with choreography…although it’s been a looong time, so things very well could have changed. I am going to look into taking a class near me! How fun.

    My mom used to rock the whole shorts and leotard thing. I was too young haha but maybe I’ll show up to my first step class in a similar outfit…or for halloween I should borrow some of my mom’s old stuff! How hilarious!

  11. on October 12, 2011 at 10:48 am

    i feel like im pretty coordinated overall..but i SUCK at step. its just way too much for me apparently haha. its funny bc other classes like turbo kick are fine…i think its the turning around in step that frazzles me. haha ill give it another shot though!

  12. Athena @ Fitness & Feta on October 12, 2011 at 10:48 am

    Step was the first class I taught too after getting certified! I used to teach at Providence College as my part time on campus job. I don’t really see too many step classes still out there nowaways, although sometimes I try to incorporate different step routines into the cardio sections of my Circuit Training classes. I also like to combine step with (light) weight work at the same time.

    PS I have definitely worn the leo over the shorts – but more so in dance class than in fitness classes!

  13. Suzi @ Confessions of a Fitness Instructor on October 12, 2011 at 10:49 am

    I love step!

    And here comes the step instructor in me – that chick on the left hand side of that first photo doesn’t have her risers on the right side of the step locked in place properly. 😉

    • Fitnessista on October 12, 2011 at 11:01 am

      haha i didn’t even notice- was too busy checking out the fashion 🙂

  14. Angie E on October 12, 2011 at 10:52 am

    OMG I love that video you posted!!! SO COOL!! i envy anyone who can do this… i’m SO not coordinated enough, but I’d love to in time!!! bring aerobics back!! (without the leotard and thong though 😉 )

  15. Tracy @ Commit to Fit on October 12, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Step is also near and dear to my heart 🙂 I love choreography in fitness classes and am happy to see that is it still sticking around. That double step video was great!

  16. Diana (Soap & Chocolate) on October 12, 2011 at 11:00 am

    LOVE me some step! It was one of the first sort of traditional workouts I learned too (after the phase of going to dance class in leotards over shorts, that is 😉 ). The FIRM has step videos I have used for years, which also incorporate some arm work w/ dumbbells. Plus you know how they release all these different generations of their step (or fanny lifter, as they call it, HAHA), and I love mine which is the one you can make into an incline step as well.

    I also have what I think may be the original Reebok step workout (ON VHS!) and it is amazing–I would still use it today. If you can deal with the teased hair and outfits a la your pic above, it’s a totally legit challenging workout and the aesthetic/music reminds me of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation, so you can’t go wrong there, right?

    So I guess I’m a step fan too!

  17. AJ on October 12, 2011 at 11:02 am

    I remember being really young (5 or so) and doing the step classes with my mom. Of course, this was in conjunction with the Richard Simmons Dancing to the Oldies VHS tapes! Ha!

    And I was TOTALLY leotard obsessed. Had one in every color–and I’m still a little obsessed with leopard print. Instead of shorts though, I would wear a tu-tu, ’cause I was an awesome kid like that!

  18. Caitlin on October 12, 2011 at 11:04 am

    I LOVE step and do it at least once a week!!! I do Group Step (Body Training Systems) and also freestyle Step at my gym. I also usually wear crops or shorts, and if I do shorts I wear spandex underneath. Sometimes I’ll wear yoga pants but it gets hot. No matter what I try to wear a cute outfit though since it’s more of a dance-y class.

  19. Tina @ Faith Fitness Fun on October 12, 2011 at 11:05 am

    I love step workouts. I highly recommend Cathe Friedrich and do her stuff at home. It’s a great option to have. And definitely can be more athletic and intense than the old school style.

    • jen @ taste life on October 12, 2011 at 12:36 pm

      I was going to say Cathe, but since Tina has me covered, I’ll just second her opinion. Cathe is definitely more intense and hard-core than your traditional stuff. Love her.

      • Kelli on October 12, 2011 at 12:44 pm

        Third vote for Cathe! Her stuff is amazing. And as an added bonus you can get dvd’s of hers from the 80’s so you can watch the thong leotard in action as you work up a sweat!!!

  20. jenny on October 12, 2011 at 11:14 am

    This class helped me lose weight. We also used a body bar. Such good memories!

  21. Allie Q @ Fit Geek on October 12, 2011 at 11:19 am

    I’ve never worn a leotard over spandex shorts, but I do like step classes. I haven’t taken one in a looong time though. I’m terribly uncoordinated and I basically have two left feet, but picking up the step combos was actually pretty easy for me. I figure if I can do it then anyone can! (Seriously, I’m terrible at anything choreographed.)

  22. STUFT Mama on October 12, 2011 at 11:19 am

    I’m totally going to share this post on my blog. I still teach step aerobics. I’m old school and love it. I do NOT wear those leotards though. ha!

  23. Laura on October 12, 2011 at 11:20 am

    I haven’t taken step yet, but I really want to! I need to get my schedule calmed down first.

  24. Lauren @ Ultra Lauren on October 12, 2011 at 11:23 am

    I haven’t done step forever! But I loved going with my mom when I was 10 or 11. Makes me nostalgic for early 90’s Madonna.

  25. Beth (Well I'll Be) on October 12, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Step is so confusing for me! I had to leave a class once after 10 minutes bc I couldn’t get the choreography and wasn’t getting a workout at all because of it. I like the simpler moves though, I’m definitely not a dancer :). Loved the first picture of this post though! I always wonder if I’d been old enough back then if I would have worn the same kind of stuff. I’d like to hope not, haha!

  26. chelsea on October 12, 2011 at 11:24 am

    There’s a step class at my gym and we call it step on speed haha. The instructor talks so fast you don’t even know what’s coming or what to do. She’s a really good instructor and it’s an amazing workout! It’s just literally step on speed hahah.

  27. Nancy @ Beyoutiful Fitstyle on October 12, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Oh good ol’ step! I first tried step classes when I was home for winter break from college and I was training for softball. I wanted to try something different for the heck of it and I gained a whole new respect for it! I was in my peak shape and it was a tough workout. (My excuse was that I was more in shape for strength building, ha) No leotards though. However, I did use to wear spandex and leotards in my 6 years of gymnastics! Sometimes one piece bathing suits too! ha YEAH 80s WORKOUT GEAR!

  28. Gina B. on October 12, 2011 at 11:31 am

    L.O.V.E. step! I first learned step via a group program (Group Step by Body Training Systems), and loved it. Although I’d get sick of the routine, and be waiting for the next version to come out. I also take “free step” at my gym, and modify it with higher intensity moves (as she does a basic version for beginners/intermediate level).

    One funny story, I took it at my boyfriend’s gym (now husband) in New York. It was crazy packed, but I knew how to rock out based on what I’d learned at my gym….NOT SO! There were different moves, different names for moves, and faster music. I was completely overwhelmed, confused, and at times would just stand on my step like it was an island because I didn’t want to get in other peoples’ ways. So funny…I laughed it off, and still got an awesome workout from jumping around extra while trying to get on the right foot/side of the step, etc. My boyfriend had peeked in at one point, and after was like, “What the heck were you doing?!” haha 🙂

  29. Katie on October 12, 2011 at 11:32 am

    You should try a Bodystep class! I know Tuscon has a gym that offers all the Less Mills classes somewhere. Best music and definately feels like a party!

    • Fitnessista on October 12, 2011 at 3:21 pm

      i’ll check into it! the only gym i know that has the les mills classes doesn’t offer bodystep, but there has to be somewhere else

  30. Erin @ Girl Gone Veggie on October 12, 2011 at 11:36 am

    This is a class I’ve always wanted to do! It looks fun! And I love seeing pictures of 80’s workout wear. Makes me think of Saved by the Bell! ;p

  31. Michelle (your girlfriend for fitness) on October 12, 2011 at 11:40 am

    WOW! I absolutely love step…. Can’t believe I have never heard of double step. I am jealous my gym does not offer that class because that looks like SOOO much fun! Looks like it would be intimidating at first, but I would love the challenge… they were ROCKIN it! That totally just blew my mind, lol.

  32. Julie on October 12, 2011 at 11:41 am

    I love to take step aerobics, but to teach it? Not so much. I had a pretty traumatic experience teaching once – I was subbing for a popular instructor with a packed class, and fell off the side of my step hahaha! And trust me, it looked just as bad as it sounds…. It felt like fitness instructor initiation 😉 But overall it is a fun, energizing workout, but I’m just not cut out to instruct that kind of class. It’s tougher than it looks!!

    • Fitnessista on October 12, 2011 at 3:20 pm

      teaching step is extremely hard! you have to really know your combos so you can cue in advance- it was definitely one of the toughest classes i’ve taught

  33. Erin @ Running Tall on October 12, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    My dad used to teach step in the 70s! I want to take it but I haven’t seen it offered anywhere in my city 🙁

  34. Lisa @ Fresh Spinach on October 12, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    I fell in love with step in junior high school. We had to do it for PE and I loved it so much that my parents bought me my own step for home and I did it there too! I haven’t done it in a while, maybe I’ll find out when the next class at the gym is…

  35. kathleen @ the daily crumb on October 12, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    i love that step is making a comeback!! such an 80’s throwback, but nothing beats those outfits. i can’t say i’ve ever worn leopard spandex, but perhaps i should give them a go?!

  36. sophie on October 12, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    This is one that I like:
    30 Minutes to Fitness “Cardio Blast” by Kelly Coffey-Meyer. It has two totally different styles of cardio on one DVD.

    Workout One is a step workout that can also be done without the step. It is comprised of athletic and strength moves with an upbeat and energetic feel. This calorie-burner also strengthens and tones your entire body.

    Workout Two is all about plyometrics. This intense training technique will burn fat, increase strength, improve cardiovascular output, boost your metabolism, and re-shape your legs, glutes and hips. Because of its hi-impact nature, low-impact options are shown throughout for those who cannot perform hi-impact moves.

    Thanks for the Focus-On Post! and yes…yes, I have worn a leotard over shorts 🙂

  37. Anna @ The Guiltless Life on October 12, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Love that Jane Fonda-esque picture! So funny!

    I grew up wearing cycling shorts under my school dress, and yes, in my dance group we were all in leotards over shorts. No worries – you are not alone.

    As for step, I do it from time to time as something different but get too bored when doing it on a regular basis. I don’t find it challenging after a while – as you said – and also it could be partly the teacher, of course, not coming up with different routines. It’s always so hard for me to say I don’t like something because as soon as I have a different teacher I like it again so…who knows? Maybe if you taught my class I’d love it! 🙂

  38. Mollie @ justthefrostingplease on October 12, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Oh man that video makes me dizzy just watching it! How are people not falling over?!?

  39. Colleen on October 12, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    I totally wore leotards over shiny, neon pink leggings for my childhood tap classes. I also had legwarmers. And “Jazz tap” shoes, because the heels were too dorky.

  40. Len on October 12, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    What is the les mills body step class like? Is it the same as a standard step class? thanks

    • Fitnessista on October 12, 2011 at 3:18 pm

      i’ve never taken it- anyone else??

      • Gina B. on October 13, 2011 at 5:58 am

        I’d describe it as more sport than dance. The moves are pretty basic with an emphasis on “taking it higher” when you can. The class follows a pattern…it’s been a while, but basically a warm-up, then a basic track, then a cardio track, then a higher intensity track, etc.; there’s about 8-9 tracks total, including a cool down/abs or arms and a stretch track at the end. I found the Group Step classes easier to follow than free form (not sure if that’s the right term) class, as did my mom and sister who are challenged by the choreography, because the moves in one song repeat over and over. 🙂

  41. Brooke @ BittersweetBrooke on October 12, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    I started taking step classes in college and I fell in love. The choreography was tough at first but once I got it down it was so much fun. I had favorite teachers, favorite routines, and even favorite music! I really really miss step now that i don’t belong to a gym. I’m thinking of investing in a step so I can do it at home with a dvd but they are all so expensive. Anyone have ideas?

    • Fitnessista on October 12, 2011 at 3:17 pm

      does your town have a second hand athletic store? we have one here called play it again sports, and they have really inexpensive fitness equipment. ebay might be a good option too

      • Suzi @ Confessions of a Fitness Instructor on October 12, 2011 at 7:22 pm

        I have a cheap-o one I got at Walmart a few years ago (I believe it was part of the Bally Fitness line) Target might also be a place to check. It’s smaller (not as wide or long) as a regular step but works fine for me practising combos & $40 was much easier on the pocket book than the couple hundred a “real” gym step costs.

  42. Heather on October 12, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    As a matter of fact, I HAVE worn a leotard over spandex shorts, with leg warmers, and sweatbands–for a dance recital. We danced to “Call On Me.” It was epic.

  43. AstroCook on October 12, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    I think you should do an 80s/90s throwback class for Halloween, where participants are encouraged to wear spandex, thong leotards, off-the-shoulder sweaters, and sweatbands (head and wrist)!

    oh, and side ponytails.

    • Fitnessista on October 12, 2011 at 3:17 pm

      that would be amazing

      • Suzi @ Confessions of a Fitness Instructor on October 12, 2011 at 7:24 pm

        I feel like I’m hijacking comments here! Back in March I held a “Zumba Goes Retro” master class – there were 100 participants and let me tell you, while there were no thong leotards, there certainly were leotards over spandex, head bands, off the shoulder shirts. It was bad a$$ 😉

  44. Kierstan @ Life {and running} in Iowa on October 12, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    After watching the double step video – I WANT to do step aerobics! Not your mother’s step class!

  45. AR on October 12, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    ahhhh this takes me back to coloring in the corner of the YMCA aerobics room while my mom rocked it out. that double step class is crazy. i never thought i’d see something with weirder/harder to follow choreography than those cray cray tracy anderson dance cardio videos… but here it is!

  46. Iowamom on October 12, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    I taught step aerobics for 6 years! I loved it because it was like dancing and I love to dance. It was the most fun class to take/teach but no leotards for me. I was certified through AFAA and a personal trainer cert through ACE but those have since expired. Hmmmm, this gets me thinking…..maybe 2012 will be the year of re-certification for me!

  47. Moni'sMeals on October 12, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Step is so fun! I have never felt more of a fool/slow/uncoordinated person until I take step! But I seriousy love it and once you get the hang of it, it is so fun! I wish I did it more actually. 🙂

    I am all about neon colors right now too so I would be right at home!

  48. Hillary on October 12, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Totally rocked this look at my dance classes back in the day. Love it.

  49. Ali on October 12, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    That video is over the top! I think one of the pro’s to step class is that you are focusing so hard on getting the combos right, that you forget that you are working out! Cardio can be so so so much fun, sometimes I wonder why people torture themselves day in and day out on the revolving apparatus of death…

  50. Daniella on October 12, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    I totally took step in Jr High for my P.E. Class in the mid 90’s…and I loved it! I totally forgot about step, might have to get back into it 😉

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