Step Workouts Are Suddenly Cool Again—And the Benefits Go Way Beyond Cardio

What’s more, stepping is traditionally a pretty low-impact workout, which can be appealing to folks with certain knee or ankle issues. Even in high-energy contemporary step classes, you can pretty easily keep things relatively gentle as long as you skip any jumps the choreography might include. “You’re able to get a very intense cardio workout where your heart is racing, you’re sweating a lot, but you never feel that intense impact on your joints,” Peterson says.

2. Stepping strengthens your lower body and core.

With all that hoofing it up and down, you’re probably going to feel your lower legs the next day. “Even if I miss one week of step, when I come back, my calves are sore,” Capers says. By stepping with proper form, instructors say you can also engage the rest of your legs, including your hamstrings, quads, and inner thighs, plus those glutes. Bonus: All those knee drives where you’re bringing your knee toward your chest target your abs too. But even when you’re not thinking about it, your core will be firing throughout class to keep you steady each time you shift your weight up onto one foot.

3. Your balance and agility get a boost.

Staying upright and steady can become more of a challenge as we age, but stepping can help. “Balance doesn’t just stay with us like [when] we were 20,” says Capers. “Being a stepper and moving in that fluid motion helps us with our coordination. It helps us with our balance.” As you shift your center of gravity from one foot to the other, and from down on the floor to up on the step while trying not to trip—and keep up with the rhythm!—both your balance and your agility get a healthy challenge.

Just be sure to always put your entire foot from heel to toe on the platform. Otherwise, “there’s a good chance your heel can slip back and you can fall,” says Robbins, who also points out that letting your heel hang off the edge could strain your Achilles.

4. Your bones will thank you.

As a weight-bearing exercise, stepping can be great for bone health. One small 2017 study published in Osteoporosis International found that when postmenopausal women did 10 weeks of regular step aerobics, they experienced better bone metabolism (where old bone is replaced by fresh stuff). That’s important, since estrogen, which regulates our bone metabolism, decreases as we enter menopause, so our risk of osteoporosis goes up if we aren’t proactive about it.

Another 2021 study published in the same journal found that six months of high-impact step aerobics increased bone mineral density among premenopausal women far more than resistance training did. That’s not to say you should skip the weight room—that brings plenty of its own benefits—but it does suggest step workouts can be a particularly smart move for your skeleton if lifting isn’t your favorite way to move your body.

5. It’s like Sudoku for your feet.

Step class isn’t the time to let your mind wander. “The moment you check out, you’re missing what’s coming next,” says Peterson. Because instructors cue your next phase in advance, you have to think ahead while your feet are working on the coordination for a different move. This gives your brain its own workout. Research shows that performing choreography can improve our executive functioning (mental skills that allow us to focus and multitask) and processing speed (how long it takes to respond to info). So while your mouth might be muttering a few choice four-letter words after that tricky new eight-count, your brain will be benefiting from the challenge.

6. You might pick up a few pals.

If you attend group classes in person, don’t be surprised if you get invited to a post-gym happy hour. Since these workouts have everyone moving as a group rather than, say, doing burpees on your own time, you might feel satisfyingly in tune with your fellow steppers. “We’re all moving together, like an ocean wave. And it kind of creates some fun creativity amongst the members,” Capers says. There’s a slew of interesting research that shows moving in sync can strengthen social bonds, make us like each other more, and even foster more compassionate behavior. That might explain why step friends can make for some of the best friends.

7. It’s seriously fun.

A good step class can be one of those workouts that’s such a blast you forget it’s even exercise. “We’re like three or four songs in, and all of a sudden you’re dripping sweat, not really realizing how hard you’re working,” says Peterson. “It’s super fun.” The major mood boost of moving together to that beat can stay with you even after class ends. Remember: The best exercise is the kind you actually like enough to keep doing consistently, so while it might not sound super significant, having fun could actually be the most important perk of them all.

So how can you get started?

If you want to take a step workout at a studio near you, Peterson suggests heading to their social media pages for a vibe check: Take a peek at their clips so you can see if it’s the kind of class and choreography you’re after.

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