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Step It Up!
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By Nawaz Modi Singhania  

In the fitness arena, Step classes have been going strong for more than a decade now. They have gone well past being a passing fad, & have proved their worth over time. This article views the same carefully.

The Step Height Factor

Healthy people should begin with a four-to five inch step platform. If you find that you're leaning too far forward, you are probably using a level which is too high for your skill level and/or body proportions. This can lead to a lot of pressure on the lower back. If you are stretching yourself up, or hopping your way down, it is obviously too high for you. It is recommended that the knee flexes no more than 90 degrees when stepping up.

While greater stepping heights (8 inches & more) are certainly available, recent studies do not recommend their use.

Both music speed & bench height do have an impact on energy expenditure. Research has shown that there is an additional energy cost for each 2" increase in step height.

The risk of injury (particularly of the lower limbs) far outweighs the benefits as step height increases. The same benefits may be gained through many other means.

Stepping Up Intensity

The use of arms, for example, has about the same effect as about the same effect on caloric output as a 2" increase in step height.

Another way to increase energy cost is to include travelling moves. Focus on choreography rather than risking those greater bench heights.

The Right Shoes

Ideal step trainers need good forefoot flexibility in the forefoot area, along with adequate heel cushioning to counter the stresses on the Achilles tendon area & the other calf muscles. Step shoes, aerobic shoes & cross trainers usually provide superior forefoot cushioning, and adequate foot stability largely because of the wider heel.

If you're reading this, you've already taken a "step" in the right direction. Here are a few odds & ends to watch out for.

Some Pointers

  • Stay well hydrated. Drink water before, during & after your workout. During your workout make sure you don't gulp water; sip it instead. Gulping may lead to a stitch or a cramp.
  • Remember to workout at your own pace, & not someone else's.
  • Make sure you always warm up & cool down. This plays a vital role in injury prevention.
  • If you have a knee problem, get medical clearance from your practitioner before you start. Speak to your trainer about your problem so that they may modify your routine to accommodate your condition. Most often, with correct programming & adequate Instructor supervision, the problem can be reversed & even totally eliminated. Besides working at strengthening the surrounding muscles, your workout will both reinforce & thicken the ligaments & tendons of the knee joint itself.

One Step At A Time

If you're a novice at stepping, remember to start gradually with just the leg work, & stick to low impact moves only. Leave the arms loose by your side. This will help you learn the moves, & you'll notice that the choreography patterns start getting easier. Having pieced this much together, add the arms at a later stage. You'll find that you learn quickly, & the moves start getting easier. Learn to enjoy yourself without worrying about who's looking at you in the mirror. No one is; they're looking at themselves!

Some Basic Moves

Before venturing into an organized step class, it'll be handy for you to pick up on some of the most basic moves of step, which really are the building blocks of the routine. When your Instructor cues you in class, you should know what she's talking about. Here are some cues you'll always hear in class.

The good thing is that the name of each move usually describes the move itself. Let's see how:

Basic Step- Well, think about it. What's the most basic thing you can possibly do with a step? You got it- just step up, & then down.

Wide Step- Is just the same as basic step, except that you do it with your legs apart.

V- Step- This is similar to a Wide Step, except that when coming off the step, your feet come together, just like a "V" narrows down.

Step Tap- Step up onto the bench, & tap the bench with the other foot, & then step off the bench.

Step Knee- Step up onto the bench, the other leg moves into a knee lift, & then step off the step.

Step Kick- This is similar to a Step Knee, except that instead of a knee lift, it's a straight leg kicking up in front.

Step Side Kick- This is similar to a Step Kick, except that instead of kicking in front, you kick to the side.

Lunge- Get onto your step. Let one foot lunge back off your step. When doing this, let the weight of your body remain on the step, & don't let it shift back. When lunging, make sure that the heel of the lunging foot remains off the floor at all times. This is an important safety precaution for the lower limbs. Lean slightly forward as well, to ensure that the back doesn't arch while lunging. This will protect & support the mid & lower back.

Across The Top- Starting by standing near one of the narrow ends of the step, get on top of the step, & go over it to the other side, having covered the entire length.

Over The Top- This is similar to the above move, but you start by standing near one of the broader ends of the step, & you travel over to the other side having covered the breath of your step.

Step Curl- Step up onto the bench with one foot, & curl the other leg back before stepping back off.

Any form of exercise performed incorrectly, without adequate attention to alignment, technique & form, or without adequate supervision, can lead to injury. It's crucial, in injury prevention, to incorporate the following safety guidelines.

  • Step with a neutral foot.
    This is important in order to maintain balance, & in order to reduce the amount of stress on the ankle, foot & legs. If you step too frequently on the ball (or the front) of your foot without allowing the heel to be placed down, you risk lower limb injuries. If you're stepping with a bounce, be careful not to remain on the ball of your foot. Make sure your foot strike goes as toe-ball-heel, & not just toe-ball.

  • Don't overhang.
    Place the entire surface of the foot right in the centre of your step. Don't let the heel hang off over the edge. This way, you greatly reduce the likelihood of tripping, falling, or twisting an ankle.

  • Step straight down
    Many people have a tendency of stepping too far back from the step. This places the calf muscles & the foot under additional stress. This is compounded with the fact that one is moving rapidly, & specially if one is stepping down from a taller height. When coming off your bench, step down, not back.

  • If you are using weights on or around your bench area, make sure that they are safely tucked away from where you will be stepping.

  • Keep your stepping area dry, so that you don't slip.

  • Make sure you are exercising on a suspended wood floor. They absorb upto 2.5 times your body weight. This is very important in reducing the shock to your joints, particularly of the lower limbs.

  • Never lock any joints back. Be particularly careful of this when it comes to the knees & the elbows. While often you want to straighten the same out, it is important not to hyperextend the joints, in the interest of injury prevention.

Did you know that some companies like Speedo have actually developed an aquatic exercise step? Aquatic stepping is a challenging low-impact workout, suitable for participants of all age groups & varying abilities. It utilizes the natural resistance & buoyancy of water in a multidirectional exercise pattern.

The benefits of step training are well known, & include fat loss, increased muscle tone, increased cardiovascular fitness, increased stamina & flexibility, denser & stronger bone, & much more.

So, don't just sit there! Step on it!!!