New to step aerobics class? 8 tips for making your first class great

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!

step aerobics class

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?



  1. Jennifer Cryblskey says:

    Love the choice of song on your step video:) I love my step. I bought one just like the one in your video at a thrift store and I still use (last week) my favorite step video from Gin Miller that I have been using since the early 90s. I had used it soo much on VHS that I wore out the tape and when they re-released it on DVD I bought two so I never have to do without it. I use it when I want to burn lots of calories but want something I don’ t have to think too hard about. I do love my class-sized step better than the ones they sell at atletic stores. It is longer and wider and I don’t feel like I am going to fall off all the time. (I have size 11 girl’s feet)

    • Jennifer, I totally sympathize with you wearing out your VHS tape; we have done that with a few movies (do you still have a VCR? we do!). I can’t stand those small steps either; nothing worse than feeling like you’re about to fall off to hamper your workout!

  2. thank you for the LOOOOVE.
    for me—step or whatever— it was 100% getting beyond myself.
    realizing it was all about the fun and no one was judging my failings.
    Miz recently posted…I got bored.My Profile

    • Exactly! I think that the reason my peeps love me is because I goof up all the time (and I don’t try and cover it up!)

  3. I love step aerobics.
    Too bad I don’t live near you – I would love to take one of your classes. I guess I will just keep watching your videos instead!!
    Kim recently posted…There Should be an App for That!My Profile

  4. Step has always been under appreciated for its efficiency. I think leg warmers and headbands gave a bad name to one of the most useful forms of structured exercise I have known of.

    I see a resurgence of it in recent years and have often wondered if it would not fair better under a different name.

    Sincerely curious about your thoughts here. ..
    Contemplative Fitness recently posted…It’s all about Roy…My Profile

    • I agree with you Roy. My step classes have names like ‘cardio crunch’ and ‘total body conditioning’ to minimize the negative views some have about step. And I don’t teach those classes like traditional step classes either; lots of cardio and strength intervals mixed in between the patterns. More fun for more people and a better workout as well!

  5. In all my younger years of taking classes, I never took step – m=not sure why – might have been timing of the class & when I was working super long hours, I was leaving the gym too early for classes & too tired after work.. or when I had to do after work, the class was not step..

    I was exhausted watching your video! 😉

    GREAT POINTS Tamara – we are never great at something right away! 🙂
    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted…Gratitude Monday, Cookies, Bday & SabbaticalMy Profile

    • Ha! And that was just a short clip Jody. Usually we work on patterns for about 30 minutes (with breaks for intervals and strength too).

  6. I used to take step classes all the time! The gym I currently belong to doesn’t have classes, so I haven’t been to one in years. I loved it though. Even for someone with no dancing abilities, I was able to have a blast!
    Michelle @ Eat Move Balance recently posted…Friday’s FiveMy Profile

    • Exactly! I have more difficulty with kick box and Zumba than with step, but then again, I haven’t spent nearly as much time trying the first two out…

  7. Step workouts are still my fave. I hope newbies read your tips and try this mode as it is still effective, fun, and motivating! Does your club offer varying levels? I sometimes get brand new participants in my advanced step class, which can spell frustration for all.
    KymberlyFunFit recently posted…Hiking with the Leeches and Wildlife in ThailandMy Profile

    • I knew that you would agree with me Kymberly! My gym doesn’t specifically offer different level classes, but it’s been tacitly agreed that I teach the intro to moderately difficult choreography classes while my (crazy) colleague teaches advanced.

      We tried offering an ‘intro to step’ class for awhile, but never got more than 3 or 4 participants, so it was cancelled 🙁

  8. I love these tips! Especially letting the instructor know you’re new! Shoot, when I learn to teach I’ll be telling the class I’m new – creates a level of understanding!
    Kat recently posted…My #BestRun!My Profile

    • Absolutely! I love having the opportunity to make newcomers feel really welcome. It often means the difference between them returning to my class or not!

  9. Step is also my favorite to teach. I’ll add a tip for step teachers who get newbies consistently – wear 2 different colored shoelaces. I teach an intro class and have found that it’s easier for new steppers to follow me if I do this shoelace trick. It’s easier for them to follow a certain color than to remember right and left when their brains are occupied with new skills.
    AlexandraFunFit recently posted…Hiking with the Leeches and Wildlife in ThailandMy Profile

  10. Step aerobics remains one of my favorite workouts. You can often burn more calories than with floor aerobics alone. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many new step DVD workouts as there used to be. Good ones are harder to come by.
    Carrie Rubin recently posted…Pantsers, Outliners, And Chapter One ParalysisMy Profile

    • So true; just moving up and down those 6-8 inches requires a lot more big muscle work than keeping your feet on the floor. Maybe my next big project should be to make a step video…

  11. I definitely need to ditch the “I CAN’T” mentality – LOL! I always just say, “wow, I am so uncoordinated… I am so ungraceful” – LOL! Yeah, I gotta stop this and just go. And I do sometimes, but it’s a slight embarrassment – more to the teacher than to me though, Ah ha ha!
    GiGi Eats Celebrities recently posted…Chelsea Handler’s First Stand-Up Comedy ShowMy Profile

    • I can’t believe that you’re uncoordinated! You seem so poised and graceful on your videos!

  12. I haven’t done a step class since college. It’s funny. This reminds me of when Chad and I started dating he would go with me to step class. This big Marine officer in a class full of women was awesome and he loved the attention 🙂
    jill @ Fitness, Health and Happiness recently posted…What Makes A #BestRun Best?My Profile

    • I love it when men come to my class! I have a couple of semi-regulars and it makes the hour a bit more fun! One couple who comes to my class together take steps on the opposite side of the room from each other. For some reason that seems really funny to me!

  13. Carroll Pizzulo says:

    hey, thanks for those tips, I love to try what you suggest 🙂
    Carroll Pizzulo recently posted…Jak usunąć negatywne komentarzeMy Profile

  14. I LOVE step aerobics and took classes while I was pregnant with DD #2! I have a step of my own, and I bought a DVD but it is FAR more complicated then the classes at my gym 🙁 Can you recommend any DVD’s that are for say, an intermediate stepper?
    Janice – Fitness Cheerleader recently posted…My First #WIAW Post Because I Need the AccountabilityMy Profile

    • You know Janice, I don’t know of any step aerobics videos. Partly because I don’t workout to videos but also because I don’t think there are many. Another commenter above mentioned the same thing. Thinking there might be a market there…. my next big project???

  15. I have a question for you .
    In a step class could you please explain to me just the RIGHT L .
    Do you have to go to your right side with your right foot OR to your left side with your right foot

    • Sue, it really depends on your instructor and how they cue.
      If I’m cueing an “L-step Left”, my class will be leading with their right foot on the step, lifting their left foot up and placing it on the floor to the left of the step, lifting their right foot up and placing it back on the step them lifting their left foot up and stepping back up and down to home. Wow. Is that every hard to explain in words!

      • WOW Tamara…yes!! it’s easy the practice that explain it in words!!!. 🙂
        You right it’s depends the instructor.
        But usually the Right L goes to the left side leading with the right foot, I used to do like this, but yesterday in a new job position my boss told me that I was wrong, so I try to ask more people to know
        I will like to hear more from you….. thanks a lot

  16. Tamara, this is very nice. I have been teaching step, strength training, and cardio sculpt classes at our local YMCA for a few years and my step classes are becoming more popular because people are rediscovering step and also (I think) because my classes are choreographed but not too “dancy” as many step classes have become. Three of our regular songs involve simple 3 step repeating combos which I designed such that most people pick them up during the first class. The other 5-7 songs are 5 & 6 step combos but I carefully designed them to be easy to understand also. My goal is to provide a great workout but stay simple enough that a person can drop out for a drink of water and then come back during a song and easily rejoin on beat. So far so good :).

    Thanks for a great explanation of step aerobics for newcomers and others.

    • Hi Darrell,
      Thanks so much for stopping by, reading and commenting! I’m like you; not really a ‘dance-y’ instructor. I prefer basic movements with full range of motion and lots of ways that more advanced peeps can take it up a notch. I also through in non-choreographed cardio intervals to help those people who have a hard time following the moves still get a great workout.

      Long live step aerobics!


  1. […] favourite group fitness class to teach is step aerobics. I love the music, the choreography, the sweat and the fun of teaching new patterns to my class […]

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