Steps to a Step workout with Lisa Gery

Step instructor at the YMCA Lisa Gery demonstrates one of the many moderations that can be done during a step workout. Photo by Ryan Vermette

In 1986, aerobics instructor Gin Miller developed what is known as step training after injuring her knee. After seeing a physical therapist, she was advised to step up and down on a milk crate in order to strengthen her knee muscles. 

Miller continued to evolve the exercise, and that form of training became extremely popular in the ’90s before fading out as the century turned. Lisa Gery, however, is keeping step alive in Marblehead with her classes that at the YMCA. For this edition of Fit Minute, Gery demonstrated how the hit ‘90s training method can still help you build cardio and lower body strength. 

“It takes time because you don’t just step up and down, up and down,” she said. “You have to think about ‘how do I move? How do I make it interesting?’”

Step involves stepping on and off of a long, hard-surfaced platform, in which the height can be adjusted with “risers” to increase or decrease the difficulty. 

Gery says that step classes are unlike other high-intensity classes and workouts.

“Step is at a steady pace the whole class,” she said. “You don’t take a lot of breaks.”

She also said that the workout is meant to be done at a specific tempo, usually to the rhythm of music, in order to keep the heart rate above resting, but below your maximum. 

“We have to buy music that’s built for step. Mine is 130 beats per minute and you just keep moving. Your heart rate stays steady, not at your peak but not at your resting heart rate,”  Gery said.

As far as the specific exercises, there are a number of moderations that you can do. 

“If you’re a beginner, you can put it right at the floor so you don’t have as much,” Gery said. “If you’re more advanced, you can add these risers and make it as tall as you want.”

At its basic level, the exercise entails stepping up and down off of the platform, though Gery says you can jump on and off. If you want to add a “balance challenge,” she also recommends holding one knee up at the top of the platform, stepping off, then holding the other knee up.

In addition, you can try extending your arms out front or to the side, and extending one leg back or to the side as well. 

Gery says if you have more cardio endurance you can do the exercise for longer, but recommends just a few reps on each leg for beginners.

“If you’ve gone out walking a lot and you have that kind of stamina, you can probably try 10 or 15 minutes,” Gery said. “But if you’re kind of new to exercise at all, just try stepping up, maybe 10 times on each foot.” 

Step works the hamstrings, quads, the core, and can also workout the outer and inner thigh. If you are looking to modify the workout further to make it more advanced, Gery said, you can hold weights while stepping to work the arm muscles.