Of all the group fitness classes that I teach, step aerobics class is my favourite. There’s something about the combination of movement, music and mental focus that always makes for a great workout and a super fast hour!
But not everyone agrees.
Every couple of weeks, a newcomer to my class leaves when they realize that ‘Cardio Crunch’ and ‘Total Body Conditioning’ are step aerobics classes.
The usual responses when asked ‘why not stay and give it a try?’
“I can’t do step aerobics”
“I’m too uncoordinated”
“I don’t get enough of a workout”
Like with all new spatial-motor tasks, there’s a learning curve to step aerobics. Nobody was born knowing how to ‘L-step’ or do a ‘3-knee repeater’. Just like when learning how to ride a bicycle, drive a stick shift, knit lace or street-stride, the first few attempts are almost always awkward. That’s because your mind and muscles need to figure out how to work together to accomplish the new task.
In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell states that it takes about 10 000 iterations of a task to become an expert. Thankfully, in step aerobics class, expert status is not the goal; you only need to become moderately competent to have fun. Give it 3 or 4 tries, with the same instructor (see below) and you’ll soon be proficient enough to both enjoy the hour and get a great, whole body workout (according to my heart rate monitor, I typically burn between 500 and 600 calories in an hour long, metabolic step class; bonus!)
8 tips for making your first step aerobics class great
- ditch the ‘I can’t do step’ attitude; being optimistic about your abilities will greatly improve your performance. And if it doesn’t, so what? Come back next week and try again. If you can drive a stick shift while simultaneously singing along with the radio, you CAN certainly learn some basic step aerobics patterns!
- let the instructor know that you’re new; most instructors will ask, prior to starting their class, if there are any newcomers in the room. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand! Your instructor wants you to have a positive experience and will likely share some tips for getting the most out of her class.
- start with a single set of risers under your step, regardless of what everyone else in the room is doing; mastering the side to side patterns in a step aerobics class is much easier if you’re not worried about tripping over the step! About half of my class participants never move beyond a single riser, and that’s okay! There are other ways to amp up your workout than adding extra height to your step (we do a lot of plyometric movements in my classes…).
- don’t hide in the corner; the best place for newbies is the middle of the room, slightly to the left or right of centre. Not only will you be able to see and hear the instructor, you’ll also be right behind one of the class’s two ‘wanna-be-instructors’; the participants that know all the moves and won’t screw you up by going left when the rest of the class is going right.
- wear proper footwear; runners or cross-trainers are best. There’s a lot of lateral movement in a step aerobics class. Not only do your shoes need to be good at absorbing impact, they also needs to provide support and stability at the ankle. Minimist shoes are to be avoided, as are bare feet and Uggs (yes, people have actually arrived in my class dressed this way!)
- when you get lost, keep moving; the first movement your instructor will teach you is ‘basic step’ (up, up, down, down; right, left, right, left). Return to it whenever you get lost. Not only will it keep you on the beat (and the correct foot) until the part of the pattern than you know comes around again, it will also keep you from feeling dizzy and lightheaded if you’re heart rate is significantly elevated. Lower body movement helps to keep the blood flowing from your extremities back to your heart.
- don’t expect to be perfect the first time out; it takes a few classes with the same instructor to understand the ‘lingo’ and a particular instructor’s way of cueing. For example, my regular step aerobics participants know exactly what I want them to do when I say ‘hamstrings around the world’. They also know not to start the movement until the next ‘down’ beat; that’s just how I cue. When you goof up and end up on the wrong foot, laugh; that’s what I do, at least 3 times each class (my participants would be hard pressed to recall the last class in which I didn’t make a single mistake…).
- watch before you try; when your instructor introduces a new move (particularly movements that require you to put your back to the front of the room), don’t be afraid to watch (while continuing to hold the basic step) a few rounds before joining in. Trying to perform a complicated movement while looking over your shoulder is a recipe for disaster and an injury in the making.
Step aerobics classes have been around for awhile and are often thought of as ‘old school’ in comparison to many of the newer options available in group fitness. However, most group step instructors happily incorporate more ‘modern’ fitness components in their classes, including high intensity intervals, weight training and even Tabata!
I’d love to see YOU in my Sunday and Monday morning step classes! But get there early, they’re almost always full!
Have you ever tried a step aerobics class?
If not, have I convinced you that you should?