How to Choreograph an Aerobics Step Workout: The Basics

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Instructor vs. Home Use

Planning an aerobics step workout for home use is relatively simple: Put on some music you like, adjust the step height and start cranking out your favorite steps. But if you’re going to teach that same step workout, you must create choreography that’s simple enough for your students to master, yet challenging enough to keep them interested. Not only do you need to memorize the moves, you also have to practice them until you know them well enough to do the moves, cue your students, observe the class and make form corrections when necessary–all at the same time.

Choosing Music

The most recent Step Reebok guidelines cap the maximum beats per minute (bpm) for aerobics step workout music at 128 bpm. Yet some step classes regularly use music as fast as 140 bpm. Keep these quick tips in mind as you’re choosing music for your aerobics step workout:

  • Slow the music down a notch if you expect your class to include beginners; slow it down another notch if you might be dealing with deconditioned beginners.
  • You can always add extra workout intensity, without using faster music, by modifying the choreography.
  • The 128-bpm cap slows the music down enough to give exercisers the option of doing lower-intensity moves without falling behind.

In general any music of 115 bpm or faster is suitable for step workouts, and you can use even slower music for warm-up and cool-down periods.

A Word About Licensing

Playing music during a public fitness class counts as a “public performance,” for which you need a license. Most gyms and fitness centers handle the licensing for you. If you’re teaching step aerobics in a facility that doesn’t have the appropriate licensing, you can avoid paying extra licensing fees–or risking a lawsuit by using unlicensed music–by purchasing licensed aerobic music mixes.

Basic Moves

Some basic aerobics step workout moves you should have in your arsenal include:

  • Marching in place behind the step
  • Stepping onto, then back off the step–can be done facing to the front, side or corner
  • Stepping up and over, or across, to the other side of the step
  • The turn step: Stand facing sideways at one end of the bench. Turn to face forward as you step onto the near end of the bench. Step across to the far end of the bench, then turn to face your starting position as you step down from the bench
  • Hop turns: Step onto the bench, then pivot on the ball of that foot to step down on the other side.
  • Rock steps: Step onto the bench, do a leg curl with your free foot, then step down and do a knee-up with the lead foot.

You can also perform regular aerobics moves on the floor behind the step. Examples include grapevines, cha-cha or mambo steps and even calisthenics such as jumping jacks.

Putting it All Together

Most basic step aerobics moves are fairly universal; It’s not so much the moves themselves as how you put them together that matter. The constant, repetitive 8-count rhythm and 32-beat phrasing of aerobics step workout music allows you to put moves together into 8-, 16- or 32- beat units. You can then mix and match those movement phrases with confidence that they’ll still fit the music. Your students will be grateful if you follow a few basic rules to prevent overuse injuries, based on Step Reebok guidelines: Limit high-intensity moves like propulsion steps to one minute or less; limit repeaters to five or fewer per leg; and give your students time to master the footwork before you introduce optional arm movements.

Finally, if you see students struggling to make it to class you might want to draw them aside and introduce them to these solutions for common reasons people don’t exercise.

Resources and Reading

Turnstep: Dictionary of Aerobics Moves

American Council on Exercise: Older Reebok Step Guidelines

Gin Miller: Revised Reebok Step Guidelines