If you leave out the patterned arm movements in step aerobics classes, will you still get a good workout?

I’ve taken many step aerobics classes and also instructed some at the health club where I was a personal trainer years ago.

If you like to do the arm choreography, that’s fine; keep doing it. The additional calories it will burn over the course of one class will be negligible.

In fact, over the course of dozens of classes it will be negligible. I can’t even say how many classes you’d have to take before those extra calories would total 3,500—but the timeline passage that this would require would make this total number ineffective towards weight loss.

When I instructed step classes, I focused on the lower body. I had the participants doing some really cool, funky moves.

They got their butts kicked, even though I was not demonstrating any arm movements beyond what you’d naturally do if you were stepping all over a stepper platform.

Quads, Hams, Glutes = Most Calories Burned

The muscles in the lower body are the largest and hence, burn the most calories during exercise and demand the most fuel during the recovery phase following exercise.

Furthermore, the legs support your body weight as you take a step aerobics class, whereas the arms do not support any weight during the choreography other than their own weight – but they certainly aren’t supporting the weight of an entire body that’s vigorously moving around.

The choreographed arm movements in step aerobics classes count very little to the overall training effect of these classes.

To increase the calorie burn, do any of the following:

• Add risers to the platform.

• For any hopping or jumping segments, hop/jump as high as you can.

• For any knee-lift segments, lift the knee as high as possible—really flex the hip.

• Replace two-footed jumps for the basic step whenever possible.

• Replace wide two-footed jumps for the knee step whenever possible.

• Jog-step or hop-step instead of just stepping for any stepping sequence.

• Hold hand weights throughout the entire class. You need not do patterned arm movements if you’re holding small dumbbells or weight plates. The resistance alone will burn more calories.

Can the arm movements in a step aerobics class contribute to upper body strength?

No. There is no resistance. And if you hold hand weights, this will train for endurance, not strength.

I’m talking about weights that are light enough to hold for the duration of the entire class or most of it, such as 2 pound dumbbells. Fitter individuals can handle a little more weight.

Of course, if for a very brief period you hold a 20 pound dumbbell in each hand and curl them as you’re stepping, your biceps will get stronger.

Or if every time you step back down to the floor, you push the 20-pounders over your head, your shoulders will get stronger.

Some people are fit enough to hold 20 pounds in each hand, keeping their arms straight, while conducting stepping movements for extended periods of time.

There is no arm choreography here, as the arms are straight and held virtually still during the leg movements.

But there’s 40 additional pounds that the body must support; so there will be a strength training effect in addition to the aerobic effect.

But when it comes to the typical arm choreography that the instructor demonstrates, this will NOT go towards an increase in upper body strength.

It will have a minor effect on arm/shoulder stamina if you take step classes on a regular basis.

If you have a solid strength training regimen for your upper body (and this has a built-in endurance component to it), you don’t need to do the arm choreography – but again, if you enjoy it, continue doing it.

If arm movement during aerobics is important to you, make sure that if you use a treadmill, you’re not holding on! Same with the revolving staircase; do not hold onto the rails!

Holding onto these machines is a sabotaging habit, and people have told me they do it “because everyone else does it.”

Final Thoughts

I never liked doing the patterned arm movements and instead, let my arms move in a natural way in synch with how my lower body moved.

How do your arms move when you trot up a flight of stairs?

That’s similar to the natural movement of arms during a step aerobics class if you were to eliminate the choreography.

Feel free to focus on using your legs and glutes only — the fat-burning powerhouse of the body — during a step class if you’re not gung-ho on patterned arm movements.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 



Top image: localfitness.com.au