// Step up to the challenge: get back to basics and reignite the passion

by Ryan Hogan


2009 marked the 20th anniversary for what is still one of the world’s most popular forms of group exercise: step. If you’ve been in the industry for a while, you might remember the early 1990s when Gin Miller and the crew from Reebok University came over from America and trained the first troupe of Aussie step master trainers. They visited most major cities and towns around the country and happily trained the masses, who at that stage were craving new programming. The group exercise world (or ‘aerobics’ as it was called then) was an entirely different industry to today, with programs being few and far between, and step certainly brought a much needed injection of energy.

Petra Kolber, an international fitness presenter who recently presented at the FILEX convention, was one of the original master trainers for Step Reebok, and says about the early days of step; ‘Step is what got me into the fitness industry! I was a professional dancer in Florida at the time when I received a flyer in the mail for this workout called Step Reebok. It actually turned out to be the very first step workshop that was offered by the Reebok team. At the time no-one knew what step was, but I sensed it was going to be huge. After the workshop I went around to several facilities offering to bring step into their club and no one was interested; but, finally, in Atlanta I found a gym where they agreed to put it on the timetable – and the rest is step history!’

Step was hugely successful in pretty much all of the markets where it debuted and a big part of that success was the sense of immediate achievement that every participant could enjoy, even after their first class. Petra says, ‘Step choreography was easy to follow and as we were using higher step heights there was an immediate feeling that this workout was awesome for everyone involved’. Step was a ‘grunty’ workout with muscle, and it delivered what it promised!’ Lesley Gray, FILEX presenter and educator, says, ‘Step was strong, simple, athletic and physically demanding. Intensity came from the height of the step instead of the choreography.’ As time went by, however, participants – and instructors – began demanding more complex movement patterns and choreography.

While choreography was becoming more complex, some instructors, and even educators, began ignoring some of the original guidelines. The use of very fast music, lower step heights and difficult-to-execute movements became part of the norm in step classes and – lo and behold – participant numbers began to drop off . Combined with a lack of entry-level classes and introduction of new group exercise programs like indoor cycling and prechoreographed workouts, it seemed like the end of step was imminent.

However, around the world a handful of presenters and educators continued to spread the word about this phenomenal program – and to stay true to its roots. Marcus Irwin, Petra Kolber, Gabriela Retamar, Rob Glick and Rebecca Small, to name a few, preached the value of a solid base of teaching skills and respect for industry guidelines and continued to present step education to sold-out crowds around the world. Slowly, but surely, instructors have reignited their passion, and while choreography today continues to be complex, it is mostly taught using logical and progressive learning curves, which has revived the participants’ ability to slowly grasp little movement changes, instead of standing in their spot, eight counts behind!

For step to grow as a program, and regain even a degree of the popularity it had in the early 90s, the following will need to take place;

1. Entry level step classes need to be reintroduced, where participants can obtain instant success. In a world where most people want instant gratifi cation, learning complex movement patterns and choreography can frustrate – and even disappoint – step newcomers. Petra says; ‘Even if there is one entry level class a week, it allows the instructors to give the members a place to go and master this amazing workout’. Min Lomo, a FILEX presenter and fi tness facility manager says; ‘Health club owners and managers need to take the risk and reintroduce a graded system of classes, where participants can go from simple, to intermediate and beyond’.

2. An athletic, gutsy and strong step class format needs to be created and off ered, where the focus is on intensity rather than choreography. It is scientifically proven that the action of lifting your bodyweight off the ground in a vertical manner will substantially contribute to improved cardiovascular fitness, so this class format has the potential to bring back people who regularly attend more athletic group exercise classes, but are not interested in learning complex movement patterns. This athletic format can also form a nice stepping stone from which people can move on from the entry-level classes to something more challenging, but not necessarily filled with complex choreography.

3. Instructor education needs to be relaunched. To get people excited about this program, it’s time to reeducate current and upcoming instructors about what made it so popular in the fi rst place: a simple, athletic workout that delivers the results your members come for! Fitness training organisations must take this responsibility onboard and begin to preach the virtues of the program by including basic teaching skills as part of their curriculum. Min says; ‘Step education needs to be rebuilt from the grassroots level. The instructor pool is drying up and the only way to build it back up is by having education available all year round.’

4. ‘Dance’ or ‘Moves’ classes need to be rebranded, so that every participant knows what level of class they are attending. This is because despite preaching the effectiveness of simple, athletic-based workouts, there are still members who want complex choreography. An awareness campaign inside your club where there is a clear understanding of class complexity will greatly help your members choose which level of class they wish to attend.

In short, step is still a very valuable and strong program that continues to excite members and instructors alike, and will continue to be part of many fitness facilities group exercise timetables.

As an industry, if we can help by taking on these four points, we will be able to look back in 2019 and congratulate step on its well deserved 30th anniversary!

20 years and Stepping strong!
On an interesting note, at the recent FILEX 2010 convention there was an amazing session called ‘20 years and Stepping strong!’ Featuring industry legends, Marcus Irwin and Belgian superstar Steve Boedt, along with local talents Min Lomo and Stephen Parker – it made the heart pound to see 150+ people stepping up a storm. With the focus firmly on fun rather than overly complex choreography, the session was proof that step is still alive and kicking in clubs around the world. What a rush!


Ryan Hogan
An accomplished fitness manager and instructor, Ryan is passionate about sharing the lessons he has learnt with others. As the membership and sales manager for Australian Fitness Network he has been integral to the organisation’s shift towards online marketing and sales. Ryan is also a master trainer for the I.C.E indoor cycling program, and teaches group exercise in some of Sydney’s leading fitness facilities.

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