In the late 1980s, an orthopedic doctor told Gin Miller to step up and down on a milk crate as rehabilitation for a knee injury. Miller was inspired to turn the idea into step training, which quickly became one of the biggest phenomena in the fitness industry and is still a mainstay for group exercise around the world.
“I remember thinking that step would probably go for a couple of years,” laughs Miller. “But 20 years later, I look back and see how many people have been helped by step training, and I’m proud of that.”
An industry dynamo with a knack for developing and communicating new fitness concepts, Miller herself is something of a phenomenon. Named IDEA Instructor of the Year in 1991, she has been a familiar face for years on television programs and in health and fitness publications. She has her own video production company and has created or starred in numerous videos and DVDs, including the popular Step ReebokSM series and a wide range of others on step, strength, stability ball, interval, circuit and endurance training. Her newest DVD is Gin Miller’s Salsa Walk, which also features her “Straight Up Stick” postural workout.
“Our biggest selling video right now is Everybody Steps, and I think it’s doing so well because it’s very basic. We’re also doing a lot of in-box DVD workouts—15-minute workouts, three in a package, that come with equipment you get in the big mass-merchandise stores. We focus on simple, user-friendly products because they reach out to a bigger market.”
Miller was a competitive gymnast in college, taught children’s gymnastics, used to be a competitive bodybuilder and has always enjoyed competitive sports. But she is keenly aware that most of today’s general population does not come close to sharing her level of athleticism. “A lot of people have a hard enough time just lying down and doing a crunch without their girth getting in the way,” she says. “People have a lot of fear issues—fear of putting on a swimsuit in public, fear of being made fun of, fear of not knowing how to use the equipment. Most people are looking for a place to start, and complicated choreography is not the answer. We want to reach the people who need something because they don’t feel confident enough to go to a gym.”
Miller would like to see the fitness industry move in one very particular direction: into doctor’s offices. “That’s where the people who need us are. The well people are doing fine, but we’re not getting to the sick ones, and the doctors don’t have time to teach them about how to be healthier.”
Miller’s down-to-earth attitude and genuine empathy have made her a favorite with consumers. “The fan mail says the number-one reason people like me is my voice, which I guess they find comforting,” she says with amusement. “They also like my sense of humor, and I do try not to take anything too seriously.”
Miller is a pragmatist who advises fitness professionals to pay attention to their business practices: never work without a contract, always get 50% down, keep their fitness insurance up to date, and save their money.
She warns fitness pros who want to work with corporate sponsors to be prepared to work hard. “You need to do your job, and theirs, too. You have to network, research, learn as much as you teach, then come back to the company with new ideas, because their main goal is to sell products. You can’t wait for them—you’re hired to be creative, so you need to create.”
Success in fitness is rarely an overnight thing, says Miller. “People say they want to be me, but it took 30 years of my life to get here. I’ve probably made about $4.25 an hour for the time I’ve put in. It really comes down to being humble, wanting to help people, and being in the business for the right reasons.”
Mary Monroe is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.