I’ve heard from fitness directors all over the world that numbers for step and high-low are dropping, while classes like BodyPump® and indoor cycling are doing very well. These newer, more popular classes have common characteristics: They are intense, easy to follow and results-driven, and participants leave feeling successful. People get a great workout, have a lot of fun and don’t trip over their own feet.

Perhaps in order to start seeing renewed growth in step classes, we need to restructure our formats. You can definitely offer a step program that is simple to follow, athletic, high-energy and focused on results. In fact, my most popular step classes—Power Step and Sport Step—are not choreographed. Their basic, no-nonsense, sweat-and-hard-work approach appeals to participants. People also find that their bodies respond very well to these classes, which mix things up and challenge their systems. Probably the response is so positive because participants have become accustomed to traditional classes that involve a sustained, continuous cardio output.

Include athletic movements and sports drills in your step class. By creating a high-intensity workout that’s a cinch to follow, you may attract a whole new breed of steppers!

Sport Step Details

Format: step class for large group (depending on room size)

Total Time: 60 minutes

Equipment: one step per person

Music: high energy, 125–30 beats per minute

Warm-Up (6–12 Minutes)

Guide the class through general step and floor movements, incorporating straightforward, athletic movements (e.g., step-taps with forward shoulder presses, forward lunges with bench presses, step-heels to glutes with rows, etc.). Incorporate dynamic-range-of-motion movements for the legs and arms (e.g., step-ups with hip extension and reach-and-pull) and a few balance moves (e.g., slow step-ups) to prepare the proprioceptive system. Use this time to address proper step technique as well as movement and intensity options.

Sport, Cardio and Strength Section (35–40 Minutes)

Each pattern incorporates very basic movements (forward lunges onto the step, repeaters, step-taps, jumps, etc.) using a sports theme. Spend about 10 minutes on each sport, and then move on to the next set of drills. As the “coach,” provide clear verbal instructions and spend time perfecting mechanics and technique.

Use your creativity and imagination to create the right atmosphere. You don’t have to be a sports buff to come up with ideas. Here are some to get you started:

  • During a step-up, add a reach toward the ceiling to signify rebounding the basketball. Protect the imaginary ball by pulling it to your chest.
  • As you shuffle across the step, call this motion a man-to-man defense move.
  • During forward lunges, cue participants to pretend they are a soccer goalie and have to bend toward the ground to stop a low kick.

It’s amazing how a few simple moves and creative cues create a powerful, athletic set. (See the sidebar “Sport Step Patterns” for examples.)

Cool-Down and Stretch (8–20 Minutes)

Experiment with a combination of active stretches (that require you to work the opposing muscle groups while lengthening the targeted areas; for example, standing leg lifts) and yoga strength poses, such as the warrior series. Include stretches for the calves, hip flexors, quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings.