Staying in Step With Bench Aerobics

Staying in Step With Bench Aerobics

Bench aerobics, or step training, is a form of exercise that involves stepping on and off of a bench or platform. This type of exercise strengthens and conditions every major muscle group and improves cardiovascular strength.

America’s interest in fitness shows no signs of letting up, and with good reason. More and more people are discovering that regular exercise can help them look better, feel better, and probably live longer.

Many people these days are stepping their way to trimness and health with a new evolution in exercise– step aerobics. Step aerobics combines the group activity and rhythmic music of aerobic dance with the exercise benefits of stair-climbing. Fitness instructors say step aerobics is as safe as walking.

Step Right Up

Also called step training or bench aerobics, this new kind of exercise routine involves stepping on and off a platform using varying foot positions and performing upper-body movements with hand-held weights. Besides being different, the routine can provide a high-intensity workout with less impact on the body than other aerobic exercises, such as running.

Aerobic exercise as a way to fitness and health was promoted by Dr. Kenneth Cooper more than 20 years ago. He demonstrated that strenuous, sustained exercise would not only strengthen muscles, but also build cardiovascular endurance–strong heart and lungs.

However, we learned that some aerobic movements–such as running, jumping, and hopping–can create high-impact stress on the body’s joints and bones. Through their jarring activity, these moves may cause injuries such as shinsplints and stress fractures.

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Many people turned from jogging and aerobic dance to low-impact aerobics, in which one foot is always touching the floor or ground. Of course, the challenge in low-impact exercise is to keep the energy level high enough to burn calories and push the heart and lungs to work harder. Step aerobics seems to achieve this, while at the same time eliminating most of the damaging impact on the body.

In one study, researchers found that the energy output of step training was almost exactly the same as that of running at seven miles per hour. They also found that while step training was more demanding than walking, it exerted forces on the feet that were similar to the low-level stress of walking.

Whole-Body Workout

The new technique was developed in 1986 by Gin Miller, an aerobics instructor and bodybuilder. While recovering from a serious knee injury, she took the advice of her physical therapist and began performing a series of step-up exercises to help her rehabilitation. She soon realized that step-up exercises gave her whole body a workout, not just her knees.

Later, Miller introduced the movements to her aerobics classes, adding hand-held weights for upper-body development. She designed 15 basic ways to get up and down steps that can vary in height from four to 12 inches.

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Forward and Up

Why is step aerobics good exercise?

Through the stepping-up action, you are moving your body both forward and up. This works every major muscle group in the lower body, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteals.

In addition to strengthening and conditioning muscles, the up-up/down-down patterns of step aerobics provide a vigorous cardiovascular workout. This workout is what improves the fitness and endurance of your heart and lungs.

If you’re like to give step aerobics a try, you can join a class at a fitness center or develop your own routines at home. A number of portable benches for step aerobics are on the market. Or you can use any sturdy, anchored platform that’s the right height. You can also use the bottom step of a staircase.

Star with Stretches and

When doing any type of exercise, be sure to warm up first with stretches to get the muscles ready to work. Gently stretch your leg and buttocks muscles.

Put on some music. Start the workout by stepping up and down slowly on a bench four inches above the floor for five minutes. Step up and down rhythmically: up-two-three, down-two-three.

You can gradually pick up your pace and work at your target heart rate for 20 to 30 minutes.

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Maintain a good posture. Step on the surface solidly with the whole foot, allowing your heels to toch the floor when stepping down. Lean from the ankles, not the waist.

After you’ve established a rhythm, you can add some arm work, such as curling up the arms from the elbows as you step up, or pressing the hands toward the ceiling.

Don’t stop stepping suddenly, which could cause fainting. Slow down gradually to cool off, and then walk for a few minutes. If you feel sore after exercising, reduce the intensity next time you work out. And be sure to stretch before and afterward.

Beginners should work at their own pace and not try to do too much too soon. And keep in mind that step aerobics isn’t for everyone. Sports-medicine physicians have warned that the routines can produce added stress on the knees. People with knee or hip problems may increase their risk of injury.

For many Americans of all ages who are looking for both fun and fitness, step aerobics is proving to be just what its name implies: a step in the right direction.