Step Aerobics


Step aerobics is an aerobic exercise that is performed by stepping onto and off of an elevated platform while doing upper body movements. Also known as step training, the choreographed moves are done as a moderate- to high-intensity cardiovascular workout.

Step aerobics incorporate easy-to-learn routines that are usually set to upbeat music with the goal of exercising within a person's target heart rate.

Step aerobics incorporate easy-to-learn routines that are usually set to upbeat music with the goal of exercising within a person's target heart rate.


The word aerobic means “with air,” and aerobic exercises consist of movements of a specific intensity that are done for a specific amount of time. The intensity and time exercising force the heart and lungs to work harder. The aerobic workout requires more oxygen than is present in the body. As the lungs take in more oxygen from the air, the heart rate increases and breathing becomes more rapid. Aerobic exercises also burn fat.

Aerobic activities involve the repetitive movements of large muscles including those in the legs. The activity level varies from the moderate- to highintensity pace. During a moderate-intensity exercise such as walking briskly, the person sweats, breathing increases, and the heart rate increases. The person is able to converse while exercising. Higher-intensity exercises include jogging and running.

Step aerobics is described as low impact in terms of stress on the body because one foot is always on the ground. Other aerobic exercise workouts may have been low intensity, but the activities placed stress on the knees. The step workout involves repeatedly stepping onto and off of a platform for a cardiovascular workout. Methods of changing the intensity level of the workout level include increasing the height of the platform. Adjustable equipment allows people to work at the beginner level at 4 in. (10.16 cm) height, an advanced level at 8 in. (20.32 cm) height, and more advanced heights of 10 (25.4) to 12 in. (30.48 cm).


During the 1990s, step aerobics was one of the most popular forms of exercise in the United states, according to publications including the Boston Globe. A February 8, 1993, headline in the Massachusetts newspaper declared, “In just 7 years, step aerobics has conquered the fitness industry.”


Born February 13, 1957, Denise Austin is one of the most visible fitness gurus in the United States. As the former resident fitness advisor on the “Today” show, the host of several top-rated daily workout television programs, and the creator of countless exercise videos, Austin has appeared on the television screens of millions. Athletics run in Austin's family. Her father was a pitcher for the St. Louis Browns major league baseball team in the 1940s, and her mother was once the New York State champion in jump roping. So it was no surprise when Austin showed an aptitude for gymnastics as a child. She competed internationally in her teens and was ranked in the top 10 in the United States by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in 1976. After graduating from college (which she attended on a gymnastics scholarship), she founded her own fitness company that designed exercise programs for workplaces and health clubs. The company was so successful that Austin had to hire some of her friends to help her out; after Austin was discovered by television fitness show host Jack LaLanne and hired by him as a cohost, launching her media career, Austin gave the company to her friends completely.

In her books and videos, Austin “gives the basic commonsense advice we all need to hear: fad diets don't work, and successful weight loss means cutting calories and increasing exercise,” Los Angeles Times reviewer Jane E. Allen wrote, referring specifically to Lose Those Last 10 Pounds: The 28–Day Foolproof Plan to a Healthy Body.

Step Aerobics

(AP Images/Chris Pizzello)

By the 2000's, there were step aerobic classes and workout materials like DVDs for adults and children. Aerobics is in the category of vigorous intensity exercises recommended for adolescents by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Step aerobics resulted from some twentieth-century fitness concepts and an injured knee. American Gin Miller, who is credited with developing step training, pointed out on her website that coaches trained athletes by having them run up and down stadium stairs.

During World War II, Harvard University developed a fitness test that involved the test subject stepping on and off of a 20 in. (50.8 cm) tall bench. The Harvard Step Test required the person to step 30 times for a minute, with the subject tested for from one to three minutes. The person's resting pulse rate was taken before the test and measured again after the test.

In 1968, American Kenneth Cooper, MD, MPH, introduced the world to a new exercise concept with his bestselling book, Aerobics. Cooper coined the word aerobics and advocated for the relationship between cardiovascular fitness and health and longevity.

Step therapy

An injured knee in 1986 led aerobics instructor Gin Miller to develop step training. A physical therapist advised her to step up and down on a milk crate to strengthen her knee muscles. She didn't have a crate, so Miller used the porch step at her Georgia home. When the repetitions became boring, she put some aerobic music on the stereo. While stepping to the music, Miller was inspired to create an exercise form that repeatedly lifted the body's weight.

She wanted to share the workout with others and had a bench built around the perimeter of the aerobics room at Gold's Gym in Marietta. The step exercises were so popular that the bench was cut into smaller pieces so more people could do the step workout.

Early workouts sometimes involved holding hand weights while stepping. That practice was discontinued because of the possible risk of injuring the shoulder and elbow joints, Miller wrote on her website. Instead, weightlifting was incorporated in another way. In 1991, the Step Reebok Circuit Workout was unveiled. Workouts alternated between step training and weight training.


Step aerobic routines are easy to learn for most people, and workouts are designed for a range of fitness levels. Step aerobics are usually done to music that ranges from 120 to 127 beats per minute, and the goal of the workout is to exercise within the target heart range for a certain amount of time. The target heart rate is the rate that the heart should pump during exercise to achieve the maximum cardiovascular benefit. The rate is based on a percentage of the maximum heart rate, a figure based on factors including age and fitness level.

Since platform height contributes to the exercise intensity, beginners should start with a 4 in. (10.16 cm) platform. The 8 in. (20.32 cm) platform is recommended for the intermediate level and is used by someone who is fit and has done step training for eight weeks. The 10 in. (25.4) platform is for the advanced stepper, and the 12 in. (30.48 cm) platform is used by an athlete who is tall, very fit, and proficient at stepping. The workout starts with a warm-up and ends with a cool-down.

Before beginning the exercises, the body should be aligned so that the shoulders are relaxed, the pelvis is slightly tilted, and the knees are slightly bent. Steps are done with the feet pointing forward. When stepping, the entire foot lands on the surface; landing on the heel could result in pain or injury. The person steps on to the center of the platform, and all of the foot is on the platform.

Step patterns

Step patterns include the:

A sequence of steps and movements.
Hyperextended knee—
When a knee is pushed past its normal range of motion from a straightened position.


Before beginning a step aerobics program, people should consult with their doctors to make sure that they are healthy enough for this type of exercise. This is especially important for women who are pregnant. Aerobic shoes should be worn, and step aerobics should not be done when a person is barefooted. For those who want to work out at home, the next step is usually the purchase of a platform and acquiring a workout DVD or book with instructions. Before buying a book or DVD, it could be worthwhile to check these materials out at the library or rent the DVD.

Aerobic shoes

The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine (APSMA) recommends aerobic shoes that provide enough cushioning and shock absorption to compensate for the pressure on the foot that is much greater than that done when walking. That impact affects the 26 bones in each foot, according to the APSMA.

Step platforms

Step platforms are usually rectangular and made of hard plastic. Some platforms have a slip-resistant surface made of a material like rubber. The equipment may have risers that are used to adjust the platform height.

Step training DVDs

Step aerobic DVDs include numerous Gin Miller titles and DVDs featuring other instructors.


Step aerobics is not suitable for all people. Once the doctor clears a person for step training, it is important to do the steps properly and avoid hyperextending the knee. In addition, people should pace themselves when they are doing step aerobics in a class or at home. The instructor and others in the class or on the DVD may be more physically fit or younger, so it is not necessary or safe to try to keep up with them.

Moreover, pregnant women should use caution when doing step aerobics. They should not exercise until they feel exhausted.


Step aerobics provides the health benefits of an aerobic workout without the adverse affects of highimpact acitivity. Stepping benefits the heart and lungs while burning calories. In addition, step training shapes and tones upper and lower body muscles, especially those in the buttocks, thighs, and legs.

See also Aerobic training ; Dance .



Monroe, Mary. “Gin Miller: Stepping Up to Success.” IDEA Health & Fitness Association. May 30, 2008. (accessed January 19, 2017).

Webb, Tamilee. Tamilee Webb's Step Up Fitness Workout. New York: Workman Publishing, 1995.


“Shoes.” American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society. August 2012. (accessed January 15, 2017).

  • Do I have any condition that would prevent me from doing step aerobics?
  • What is the maximum platform heightthat is safe for me to use?
  • Is it safe for me to do step training while pregnant?
  • What height platform should I use when pregnant?
  • At what point in my pregnancy should I stop step training?

American Council on Exercise, 4851 Paramount Dr., San Diego, CA, 92123, (858) 576-6500, (888) 825-3636, Fax: (858) 576-6564,, .

Liz Swain

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.