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What Is Step Aerobics?

Inside Step: The 80s Workout Class That Is Going Viral on TikTok

Happy young woman exercising on step aerobics equipment at gym

When you think of a step aerobics class, I'm sure your mind instantly turns to Jane Fonda wearing a neon lycra leotard, right? I'm not surprised, she was the queen of step aerobics classes in the 1980s. Fitness enthusiasts would pop on their VHS cassette in the comfort of their home and follow along as she was decked out in brightly-coloured leg warmers, leading an energetic routine. In unison, the class would move up and down on to the step board in time to an up-beat techno song.

But how has this '80s classic captured the minds of Gen Z? In 2024, step classes (yes, the dated 'aerobics' term has been ditched), have evolved into a whole new era. Modernised step classes have gone viral on TikTok, with the hashtag #stepperton reaching 30 million views, and #stepfitness at five million, at the time of writing. Gone are the days of brutal bootcamps, and instead TikTok has seen a rise in dance-focussed workouts. In a post-pandemic world, fitness enthusiasts are now craving more joyful ways to move. When the news agenda is heavy, perhaps we all need workouts that don't feel like work. So if you're thinking about taking on step as a new hobby, but you're not sure what it entails, let me enlighten you.

My first step class was in October 2023. I joined at a time when I was going through a difficult period mentally and really didn't engage in much fitness. Growing up, I was a dancer and was super fit, but during my adult years I haven't been as dedicated. However, I always hoped to find another activity that would excite me and give me the same buzz as performing on stage.

Before finding step class, I tried many different fitness trends (trust me - I've gone round the block and back). I've also never been a gym person and often suffered with gym anxiety. I always worried about what other people were thinking of me as I attempted to work out the complicated machinery. So, one day after scrolling TikTok and coming across a female-led group class filled with people smiling, laughing, and doing routines on a step board, I was genuinely intrigued and looked into a class to join. That's when I was introduced to a step class led by Ify Obanye at The Body People UK, and it completely changed by outlook on the fitness world.

It's become so much more than an exercise class for me. As a regular, I now feel like I'm part of a community of people who are all craving the same thing. We all laugh, joke, and vibe through the step classes and the atmosphere keeps me coming back each week. It's an instant mood-lifter and I always leave feeling rejuvenated. If you're someone who enjoys the movement of dance, but perhaps you're too intimidated by the complications of Zumba, step might just be the thing for you.

Obanye even has her own step company called Hot Stppers UK and its growing in poplarity. She tells POPSUGAR "I started Hot Steppers UK simply to create space for people who looked like me to feel free, comfortable and confident with working out while having fun doing so. I have a strong love and passion for dance and fitness and Step Aerobics was able to allow me to combine the two in a fun and vibey way and I really just want to share this joy with as many people as possible."

What is Step Class?


Full out routine to Tyla’s Truth or Dare 💃🏾🍃✨

♬ original sound - steperrrr

Step aerobics, or step class as it's now known, is a classic high-intensity cardio workout. In basic terms: step literally involves stepping up and down on a portable block. The classic workout has lasted for decades because it gives physical results while having fun. Yes, there are still elements of the old school Fonda-esque step classes (because the step up movements are mostly the same), but theres a modern twist to them now as we go at a much faster pace. Now, we step to the latest songs across multiple genres such as R&B, soca, afro-beats, and pop.

What Areas of the Body Does Step Class Target?

If you think a step class is limited to just your legs, think again. "Step aerobics is a highly effective workout that targets multiple areas of the body," Amanda Place, personal trainer and founder of Sculptrition, tells POPSUGAR. Yes, the lower body is a primary target with the repetitive stepping helping to strengthen and tonr the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

"Step aerobics is a cardiovascular exercise that raises the heart rate, improves circulation, and enhances cardiovascular health. It helps increase endurance and stamina by challenging the heart and lungs," Place adds. Step also helps to improve core muscles, improving balance, coordination, and agility. And, some routines add arm movements or light weight to engage the arms, shoulders, and upper back, too. So it really can be a full body workout.

While step also helps with physical fitness, participants benefit mentally through its mood-boosting structure. The group setting really brings a sense of community to each workout which helps forge new connections, while the song choices are crowd-pleasers. After attending the class for a few months now, I definitely see a change in my endurance. Before, I used to struggle with long runs but due to the intensity of step, I now find them much easier.

Obanye adds, "Hot Steppers' step class is for ALL fitness levels allowing you to burn, tone and shape your booty and legs, while improving coordination and agility. Meet other fellow Hot Steppers and vibe with a supportive and friendly community. It is a class that will leave you wanting more each week. Once you step through those class doors, you are a part of the Hot Stepper Family. We step together and we vibe together."

If anyone is reading this and might feel nervous about the routine aspect the instructor assures us step is for evreyone. She says, "You don't have to be a dancer or a gym fanatic to have fun in my class. It is a safe space for everyone and anyone who is up for trying something new, improving on their skills and for meeting other like minded individuals that just want to leave all their stress and worries on the step board."

What Does a Step Class Include?

Every step class is run differently, but I'll give you a flavour of how my sessions with Hot Steppers UK and The Body People go.

  • Usually the class is an hour long. We start with a low intensity warm up trying out the key moves in step; from a step up to a heel toe, and an L-step twist.
  • @stepwithaaliyah

    Warmup 🍃💪🏾✨

    ♬ original sound - steperrrr
  • After going over the key steps, the warm up intensity heightens as we get faster with the movements.
  • After the second round of warm ups, the rest of the session turns to learning the step routine slowly and building each section to the music and without.
  • @stepwithaaliyah

    Stepping to Doja 🧘🏾‍♀️🤪🫶🏾

    ♬ original sound - steperrrr
  • Finally, the routine is performed as a group, full out, repeated a few times. But remember, like everything in life you might not execute the routine flawlessly during your first or even fifth lesson. I've been going for months and I still mess up here and there. Step really is about being free and letting the movement guide you.
  • @stepwithaaliyah

    Queen B step class 🐝✨✨

    ♬ original sound - steperrrr

    It is true what they say – fitness really does transform the mind and body. I didn't believe just how much it would change my everyday life. Now, I've been stepping for a few months and pouring into myself, I feel lighter mentally and emotionally. It's so easy to get stuck in the rat race of life and prioritising everything but you. Once you reconnect with yourself and remember to put yourself first, even if it's for an hour a day, change will come. That change stemmed from a step class for me and it just do the same for you, too.

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