Two decades after its introduction, step training remains a viable cardiovascular activity. Fitness centers worldwide continue to offer step on their schedules, it’s still a big draw at industry conventions, and thousands of videos posted on YouTube testify that it is thriving.

However, there is no denying that stepping has taken a back seat to other activities in recent years. The consensus is that lack of accessibility has played a significant role in the decline. The more popular activities are challenging yet easy to follow, allowing everyone to feel successful, while step has evolved into more of an elitist activity with complex choreography and fast music speeds that many feel cater to the advanced participant. The very people who need to take part (sedentary, overweight, beginners, etc.) are often left out because they are either afraid to participate or frustrated at not being able to keep up.

Welcome to Fat-Free Step, a class based on what step training was intended to be—low impact, moderate to high intensity, accessible to all populations, fun and with a low risk of injury (when established industry guidelines for safe practice are followed). I’ve cut the fat and reintroduced the essential ingredients for a multilevel step workout built on basic step patterns that allow participants to
increase intensity if desired. While the cardiovascular aspect remains the main focus, the fat-free approach provides a base to work from and allows instructors to add their own bells and whistles to accommodate more advanced, choreography-seeking students.

Fat-Free Step Details

Format: choreography-based cardio step class

Total Time: 60 minutes, including warm-up and cool-down

Equipment needed: one adjustable step platform per person

MUSIC: high-energy selections at 128–130 beats per minute, to ensure proper form and stepping technique and reduce the risk of injury

Use the following parameters to
manipulate intensity and accommodate all levels:

  • Raise step height. Research shows that this is the simplest way to increase intensity. Unfortunately, many instructors don’t give their students this option.
    As music speed increased, more instructors took the low road (or should I say the low step platform). For efficiency, slow down the music speed and increase step height by a few inches.
  • Offer choreography variations. Step combinations that use traveling movements, repeaters, lunges and power moves increase overall energy expenditure. Traveling and floor/step mixes also create fun, interesting choreography.
  • Keep arm movements simple and controlled while encouraging full range of motion to maintain or increase intensity.
  • Use propulsion movements, which can increase energy expenditure by more than 50%. These movement patterns allow participants to vary intensity according to their individual needs and can be optional for those who prefer less impact. The four basic power moves commonly used—leaps, runs, hops and jumps—allow for a multitude of variations.

Beginning and Ending

The warm-up and cool-down are essential components of any workout and are influenced by the participants’ abilities, the class length, the season (you may need more time for the warm-up in a cold climate) and the activity. A step warm-up should last between 5 and 10 minutes and include movements that explore the height, length and width of the step, as well as the space around it. In addition, it should set the tone for what is to follow. The cool-down should allow adequate time for active recovery and stretching, approximately 5–10 minutes.

Step Patterns

Use the step patterns listed in the sidebar to get started. The first versions take a more straightforward approach, while the second versions add a bit more challenge. The lead approach is from the front for all combos. But don’t stop there—build off these ideas by adding your own variations to keep steppers stimulated and coming back for more.