This classic 90s workout is trending right now - here's why fitness instructors love it in 2024

Beginner step aerobics workouts are an easy way to get fit and burn calories. Here's how to get involved from home or at the gym in 2024

Woman laughing with others in a new beginner step aerobics class
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Beginner step aerobics is back on workout class timetables and online exercise platforms in 2024 - and I'm not surprised. Not only are we going through a period of intense 90s nostalgia (hello, double denim) but as a certified fitness instructor, the underrated benefits of this low-impact cardio workout are hard to ignore. 

Leg warmers and spandex come to mind when most people think of step aerobics. And while this isn't entirely wrong - it's not the face of step aerobics in 2024. Since lockdown, the workout has come back big time - complete with innovative new instructors, bouncy playlists, and exercises that look more at home in a HIIT workout than an aerobics class. Now those who do it are more likely to wear a pair of the best workout leggings from Sweaty Betty than spandex. 

So, what's new in step aerobics and how can you incorporate this exercise-snacking-friendly, low-impact cardio activity into your routine? 

What is step aerobics? 

Traditional step aerobics is steady-state cardio - i.e. "aerobic" exercise. The workout would follow songs set to a particular pace and stick with that throughout the class. Today's classes have more high-intensity interval training (HIIT) elements, combining short periods of work with periods of rest, and changes in pace. 

It's not just marching and box steps either - you'll be moving on and off the platform in all directions with fun and modern choreography reflecting dance styles like cha-cha, samba, and mambo. 

However, modern beginner step aerobics is also all low impact. This makes it a great choice for those who want to get their heart pumping but find exercises like HIIT and running too hard on the joints. 

The face of aerobics has changed over the years in the UK and beyond as instructors like Julius Burphy - a social media sensation and creator of Stepper-Ton, a Manchester-based workout class for all ages and abilities - have brought the workout into the 21st century. Speaking on Good Morning Britain last year, he said: "Everyone sees [step aerobics] on Tiktok and Instagram and thinks 'fun routines' but we still do a lot of fitness exercises. I incorporate a lot of stuff that I grew up on - Afrobeats, Dancehall, Hip-Hop, R&B, so I do choreography too. We go through [the routine] bit by bit." 

Want to give it a go? Here are the benefits to be had - and how to get started.

Benefits of step aerobics 

1. It's low impact

Beginner step aerobics is a great low-impact workout as it doesn't involve any running or jumping, and you tend to keep at least one foot on the ground at all times. When you do move on and off the platform, gentle movement using light steps is encouraged. 

You can make the classes easier by removing the platform altogether and just doing the footwork on the floor to get used to the movement patterns and limit any downwards, foot-to-floor movement. For even more comfort, put your choice of the best thick yoga mats on the floor beneath you.

2. Step aerobics burns calories

"Step aerobics are relatively short sessions - but very intense. That means it's easy to fit a session into a busy daily schedule, giving you a quick blast of cardio, which can help over time to improve your stamina and help with weight loss," says Lindher. 

"You'll burn a lot of calories and doubly so if you use wrist or ankle weights to add intensity to your exercise," she adds. 

For example, a woman weighing about 59kg can burn around 500 calories an hour doing step aerobics, per research by the University of Kentucky. That's about the same as lifting weights in the gym if you're choosing between cardio vs strength training

However, this depends on various factors - and having one of the best fitness trackers on your wrist during your workout may offer a (slightly) more accurate reading.  

Classic 90s workout step aerobics class, women wearing spandex and leotards jumping across step platforms in class

Traditional step aerobics first became popular in the 90s but has since fallen out of fashion. 

(Image credit: Getty Images)

3. Step aerobics can help improve hand-eye coordination and balance

Beginner step aerobics can "help improve your motor skills, coordination, and balance," says Jenni Tardiff, a certified personal trainer and the master trainer at The Gym Group.

You may struggle during the first few sessions - and that's completely normal, especially if you're new to workouts that require certain movement patterns and dance-like routines. "Practising the routine regularly will help to develop your muscle memory," she adds. "The routine will become more fluid and easier over time, contributing to better coordination."

4. It's genuinely fun

"It offers something really different from other types of cardio workouts," agrees Lidher, who is also the education manager at The Fitness Group. "So if you find yourself easily bored by running or more traditional forms of exercise, step aerobics may be a fun alternative to break the monotony."

But it's not just for those who haven't found a love for more traditional forms of exercise. Even if you love running and other forms of cardio exercise, step aerobics can offer some light relief and a new way to boost your mood now and then.

5. Step aerobics works your entire body

It's a common misconception that step aerobics is exclusively a lower-body workout. "There are steps that put more strain on your upper body and your core," says Lindher, especially in modern forms of step aerobics. These classes may include upper body-focused movements like mountain climbers, weighted shoulder raises, and bicep curls. 

I'd also suggest adding handheld or wrist weights to your routine to work your arms, shoulder, chest, and back muscles as you move. While some step aerobics sessions on the best workout apps will encourage you to do core exercises at home as part of the routine, I don't find these essential unless you're specifically want to strengthen your core. As you step on and off the platform, reaching from side to side and up and down, you'll engage your core naturally. No planks required here. 

How to do beginner step aerobics

Step aerobics is a versatile workout you can book in at your local gym - with branches of PureGym and Village Gym offering the class - or you can do it at home. 

To do it at home, you will need:

  • A platform: Specific step aerobics platforms are adjustable to your level and comfort. 
  • Weights: A pick of the best dumbbells or resistance bands can help you progress in the workout by adding resistance against the lower and upper body.
  • A workout to follow: You can make up your beginner step aerobic routine following YouTube videos or download an app with follow-along step aerobics routines.

What to expect from a beginner step aerobics class

Signing up for your first in-person step aerobics class and not sure what to expect? Tardiff says: "You will start with a gentle warm up with the step on the lowest setting and perform basic step ups to increase your heart rate."

Main workout will build up a series of moves into a choreographed routine where the intensity will rise along with your heartrate and feel good endorphins, she says. "You might add extra risers to your step to make it more challenging and you will finish with a cool down and some gentle stretching."

If it's your first class, just let the instructor know you're new to beginner step aerobics "so they can advise on adaptions if needed", Tardiff says. 

Whether you used to be a fan of step aerobics or you're new to the workout, step aerobics can be hard to get to grips with at the beginning. "Try it a few times before you decide if it's for you," Tardiff advises. "The first class can be a lot to process but you will be amazed at how quickly your body adapts and gets into the rhythm."

Grace Walsh
Health Channel Editor

Grace Walsh is woman&home's Health Channel Editor, working across the areas of fitness, nutrition, sleep, mental health, relationships, and sex. She is also a qualified fitness instructor. In 2024, she will be taking on her second marathon in Rome, cycling from Manchester to London (350km) for charity, and qualifying as a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach. 

A digital journalist with over six years experience as a writer and editor for UK publications, Grace has covered (almost) everything in the world of health and wellbeing with bylines in Cosmopolitan, Red, The i Paper, GoodtoKnow, and more.