What are the guidelines for choosing beats per minute for step music? Is there a suggested range? - Lisa
Yes, there is definitely a safe music tempo range for step classes as well as for other music-driven classes. Selecting the tempo of step music is directly linked to the height of the step platform. A tempo of 118-122 beats per minute is traditionally accepted as safe and effective for step. This can be compared to freestyle aerobics music, which can range 130-160 bpm, floor work/strength work, which averages 110-130 bpm, and warm-up/cool-down music, which is usually performed at 120-140 bpm.
It is an instructor's responsibility to pace the class by selecting music tempo appropriate to the movement presented. When this is done well, a class will provide a challenging workout without unnecessary increase of injury risk.
Most step classes have participants with different levels of fitness so this is where safety becomes an important issue. Some people who are shorter and/or inexperienced should be encouraged to begin on a step that is 4 inches high. More experienced steppers can step safely on a 6-inch step, while others will insist on raising their platform to 8 inches. When there is a variety of step heights, Step Reebok recommends that instructors encourage students to adjust platform heights up for increased exercise intensity rather than speeding music tempo up. This practice ensures a safe and effective workout for less-experienced steppers and those with limitations.
Because music is such a motivating factor in classes, there will be times when there is a temptation to pitch (speed) up the music - occasionally to further invigorate the participants or to rev up the instructor's own personal workout. These are never suitable reasons to increase the speed of the music. When music tempo is too fast, it prohibits the exerciser from completing the full range of motion of each step and, therefore, sabotages form and increases the risk of injury.
This is reason enough to stay within the safe range for music tempo. Furthermore, while research shows that step speeds between 118 and 128 bpm can be suitable across different fitness levels, the traditional 118-122 bpm provides a very viable level of intensity even for very fit step exercisers.
From a scientific viewpoint, I support and follow the guidelines set forth by Reebok University as they are the experts in step safety. After a study by the Human Performance Laboratory at Auburn University Montgomery, they put out this position stand.
Step exercise intensity increases approximately 7 to 10 percent with each 2-inch platform height increase. Likewise, the intensity also raises 7 to 10 percent when traditional step music speed (118-122 bpm) is increased to the fastest permissible speed (128 bpm). Therefore, changing to a higher platform and the fastest step tempo simultaneously is theoretically equivalent to increasing the platform height by two levels (4 inches), or the intensity by 20 percent. Even changing to a higher platform and the next fastest speed simultaneously results in a 12 percent increase in intensity, which is unnecessarily pronounced.
Keep in mind the step was created as a tool to allow people to exercise with little or low impact. When music tempo is increased beyond a stepper's ability, it promotes rapid steps with greater impact on the downward step. You may not feel it at first, but eventually it will take its toll on you. If impact is what you want in a workout, look for other types of aerobic exercise.
Lisa, if you are taking a class that you feel is using an inappropriate music tempo, I suggest you share your concerns with your instructor. On the other hand, if you feel the music is too slow and not challenging your fitness level, consider adding a riser - typically 2 inches - to your step to increase your intensity.
Excellent instructors are not simply satisfied with challenging the fittest participant - they are equally intent on supplying modifications in order to provide a safe environment for those who are least fit.
Cindy Boggs, fitness consultant, author and Activate America director, has been an ACE-certified coordinator/instructor since 1989. Send your fitness, training or nutritional questions to YMCA of Kanawha Valley, 100 YMCA Drive, Charleston, WV 25311, or e-mail cindys...@aol.com">cindys...@aol.com. Look for her fitness advice book, "You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World" on her Web site www.cindysays.com or contact the YMCA at 340-3527.