“ An energizing step workout that makes you feel liberated and alive. „
If you've read my previous reviews on the Les Mills fitness classes, you'll know I like going to my local gym and that I especially like the group fitness classes it offers. When I was in the UK I was never a big fan of step, mainly because of the instructors who either spent half the class doing basic steps (I'd get bored after the first 50) or forgot we were using steps and would teach a whole dance class going over and round the things (I could never keep up). However, on a Friday night the only classes at my gym are Arabian Dance and Body Step, so I started going as it was the lesser of two evils, even if the Body Step instructor doesn't wear a skirt like the (male) Arabian Dance one does.
Body Step is the Step class part of the Les Mills set which also includes Body Pump, Body Attack, Body Balance etc. It is most similar to Body Attack and Body Jam, though neither of these aerobics classes uses a Step. However, as I soon learnt, even Body Step doesn't use the things for the whole class.
For people unfamiliar with step aerobics, you use a step that you adjust the height of. In a normal class you choose a height for the session, based on your experience, fitness level and so on. In Body Step it's a bit different as different routines call for different step heights, so you start off as high as you want to go, and gradually work down to a flat step. We use old-school steps with blocks that you use to increase the height, so these changes are quick and easy. At my old gym in Manchester we had Reebok steps where you clicked the feet in at different angles to change the height - I imagine doing Body Step with this type of step would be harder because you can't just lift out the extra levels to remove them, you would have to un-click and then click back in at a different height.
All the Les Mills classes are set up so a dummy could run them. The choreography is set and learnt during training. The music is assigned, and should be used only in the order it comes on the CD. Basically you can press start and the music guides you through the class, speeding up or slowing down to suit the routine, with no thinking required (just a bit of remembering). Body Step is no exception, and also follows the usual format or mixing up different types of routines throughout the class - in Body Combat you alternate between combat and power tracks, for example, but Body Step is slightly different.
The first two tracks are both warm-up - the first on the floor includes things like knee lifts and side steps, the second on the step mainly focuses on the basic step (left/right, left/right, up and down). If you go to the official website (link below) you'll see the Les Mills people give the next few tracks silly names like "Step Orientation" and "Step Athletic" but these are basically just short routines including the normal moves from any traditional step class such as kicks, knee repeaters and whatever you call the thing where you go up and over the step to the other side and then back again.
A normal step class warrants a "Cardiosculpt" description as you do some resistance work with lots of cardio, but Body Step takes this to a whole new level. The tracks about half way through start building in things like uneven squats (one foot on the step, other on the floor) and quick and slow lunges. These are repeated an insane number of times on each leg, and you really start to feel the burn in your legs and bum. You might quite like the break from the energetic routines at the start of these, but by the end you're dying to get back into general jumping around.
You get back to basics after this, with some good old fashioned stepping to stretch out the muscles and get the heart rate up again, though in my experience it never really drops much during the toning tracks. There are two final "interesting" tracks to get through before you can cool down. The first is "party step" where you get to dance both on and on the step (which you'll have lowered by this point) and I suppose is meant to cheer up people who are spending their Friday nights in a gym rather than out in a club... The second is "speed step" which is just as scary as it sounds - the steps are flat on the floor by this point, and you jog, jump and kick on and off the base, as if you were on the floor but with that extra bit of height to help burn more calories. This is also supposed to help with your agility, but if anything I feel less agile than normal when trying to straddle a step which is wider than my hips, and therefore makes me look like I'm walking like a cowboy.
Another "normal" step track follows and then you go into the final resistance track which includes press-ups and crunches using the step, before you get to flop on the floor for a cool down and stretch.
The instructors for Body Step are very quick to stress the various impact-light and choreography-light alternatives during the class. For example, you can do the steps without the jumping, or you can do just the leg work and forget your arms, whatever you're most comfortable with. You don't tone your arms by using them in this class, but they help keep your heart rate up (something I learnt from Rosemary Connolly a long time ago). However, if the choreography is taking some getting used to, you don't have a choice but to keep going with your legs, so arms are the one thing you can drop, literally.
Even though I never took to normal step classes, I like Body Step because the instructors have to stick to the tried and tested choreography and don't get to throw in their own weird routines. I also love the music which includes things like the Rolling Stones, Beyonce and Christina Aguilera. The Less Mills set-up use clean versions of songs with naughty lyrics, but this never seems to occur to our instructor who occasionally sings along to Pink's "Leave me alone (I'm lonely)", using the original version complete with f-words. Perhaps this is because we're not in an English-speaking country, perhaps this is because he just hasn't noticed they've cleaned it up, perhaps he just likes being a rebel. Who knows?
I find Body Step a very intense class, and the only thing I want to do afterwards is crawl home and into the shower, in contrast to most of the other Body Systems classes, which I normally do 2 at a time (like Pump then Combat, or Combat then Jam). For this reason I feel like this gives me the best workout, although it might just be that my body is least used to the moves, and so tires more easily. Again in contrast with Body Combat, which revs me up and makes me want to go out of the gym and beat up people on the street, the last thing I want after Step is to see, well, steps. Which considering I live on the 5th floor of a walk-up, is not that helpful.
Something I especially like is that the instructors look like crap half way through the class, just like the participants. Our Body Combat instructor has limitless energy and an annoyingly high level of perkiness (and, for the record, not even a hint of a bum, though in a Latin country that's probably not a good thing). Our Body Step instructor, on the other hand, is just your slightly-fitter-than-average bloke, and when even he is dripping sweat as we go into the toning tracks, it makes me feel a little better about the puddle beside me. Calories burned in this class depend on your weight, your fitness level and how hard you're working among other things, but the official line is between "400 and 800" per hour long class which is on a par with using a treadmill or elliptical. For me, it offers a break from reading on the latter (and saves me money on those pesky expensive imported magazines) while providing the same kind of cardio challenge.
I would recommend this class for step virgins and veterans alike, and also those like me who don't really like aerobics-teacher step classes. Body Step offers fun but simple routines, lots of variation and great music, plus the reassurance that you won't be cartwheeling over the step any time soon. They may have franchised the classic in producing Body Step, but it's worked.
For more information: http://www.lesmills.com/bodystep
For track listings: http://www.btstalk.com/music/body_step.php