As you can imagine, I’ve seen a lot of exercise trends over the past 30 years. Some fizzled out while and others have stuck around. One of the most popular and long-lasting trends has been Stepping. Starting in the late 1980s throughout the ’90s and well into the 2000s, you could sign up for a whole variety of Step Aerobics or Step Dance classes at any gym.
While newer trends may have taken over the popularity top spot, Stepping never lost its value. It’s still a great, super-effective workout.
The First Step
My good friend Gin Miller created Step Aerobics as a result of injuring her knee. Sound confusing? What happened is her physical therapist suggested she step up and down on a plastic milk crate as a way to strengthen the muscles supporting the knee. After experiencing the amount of effort it took to step up and down for an extended time, Gin thought it would be a great exercise for anyone, not just those rehabbing from injury, and she was right.
The thing that makes Stepping so amazing is that you’re doing double duty: an aerobic calorie burn, muscle sculpting and toning. Simply by adding the height of a platform, the movement of stepping up and down is turned into a weight-bearing activity, even without using dumbbells. By supporting your own body weight, you are creating resistance, which forces your muscles to engage deeper and the result is firm, toned legs and butt. Stepping has created a lot of attractive “assets” over the years. I still love doing a Step program precisely because NOTHING sculpts and tones the glutes and thighs quite like it.
When you move up and down on a step you are using all the lower-body muscles—hamstrings and quads, both the front and back of your thighs—glutes and hips. Change from a standard front step to a lateral or side step and you switch the focus to the inner and outer thighs. Start pumping your arms back and forth and you have a full-body workout.
I really like the freedom to mix things up. Turn on the music and dance through a Step routine with kicks and jumps. Grab some hand weights to increase the resistance. Raise the platform a little to challenge yourself if you feel like things are getting too easy. For beginners, I recommend to keep the step at four inches, but as your fitness level improves, raise it to six inches. You can even use the platform as a bench for triceps dips, or lower one side so it’s at an angle to lean against for an upper-body workout with weights, like a chest press.
Any Step workout is going to get your heart rate up, like running does, but here’s the big difference: it’s easy on the joints! Unlike the constant pounding of running or jogging, a Step routine has built-in shock absorbers that lessen the impact. Not only do most platforms have a cushioned surface, but by switching the support leg—step up with the left for a few reps, then start with the right—you’re alleviating stress. That’s great news if you have knees that can’t take a lot of strain. After all, remember Gin started stepping as a way to recover from a serious knee injury.
Also, because Stepping is a weight-bearing activity (even without dumbbells), you’re doing your bones good. According to the University of Arizona Bone Builders program, Stepping helps build both bone strength and density, which prevents osteoporosis.
And, as long as you can climb stairs, then Step exercising is appropriate for every age group, and great for any ability level. It’s okay to start slow because you’ll still get results. One study showed that people who stepped only during commercials while watching one hour of television—we’re talking three to five minutes at a time—burned an average 148 calories. Now, think about how much you could burn if you swap the scenario and stepped while watching TV and rested during commercials. A 130-pound woman can burn more than 260 calories in 30 minutes at a moderate pace.
And remember, the more into Stepping you go, the more you can bump up the intensity. Pick up the weights or pick up the pace. The faster you become, the more steps you’ll get in, the more calories you’ll use, the better you’ll look and feel.
Make it happen!