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Fitness Friday: The Evolution of Step Training and Its Parallels in Pilates

Pilates professional embracing the origins of step training with precision and balance.
Contemporary step workout - a blend of dynamic movement and traditional fitness.

In the ever-dynamic world of fitness, evolution is inevitable, yet it always circles back to the roots of why we started. This morning, I stumbled upon a video that transformed a nostalgic fitness regimen into a modern dance frenzy—step training, but not as we originally knew it. This took me back to my early days teaching fitness, as one of the first Pilates teachers to embrace step, an innovative exercise that originated in Atlanta with large 12-foot benches used by three people, bustling to the high tempos of aerobic music.

Originally, step was a fast-paced, communal activity, more aligned with the quick beats of aerobics music. However, transformative research from the Kenneth Cooper Center in Dallas introduced a pivotal shift. I was privileged to participate in the inaugural course that redefined step training, emphasizing correct stepping techniques at a markedly reduced tempo of 22-24 beats per minute—practically a snail’s pace compared to the frenetic rhythms we originally enjoyed. The essence of step’s effectiveness, we learned, was in the simple act of the body ascending and descending.

Fast forward to today, the step class in the video was a vivid display of agility and flair, focusing on rapid, dance-like movements around and over the step bench. While exhilarating and undoubtedly fun, it strays from the foundational principles that underscored the original core benefits of step training. This deviation sparks a broader reflection within the fitness community, particularly among us Pilates teachers, about the evolution of traditional practices.

Much like step, Pilates has witnessed its own array of transformations. From the integration of kettlebells to the adventurous reinterpretations of the Pilates reformer, the discipline has expanded in multiple directions. These innovations bring freshness and accessibility to Pilates, catering to a diverse audience with varied needs and interests. However, the fundamental question remains: Are these new versions improving on the original, or are they merely different?

This isn't to discredit the adaptations; after all, evolution in practice keeps the fields of fitness and Pilates vibrant and inclusive. Yet, it is crucial to preserve the core benefits that these practices were built upon. The original step training was not only about physical fitness but also about the rhythmic discipline that enhanced cardiovascular health in a measured, almost meditative manner. Similarly, Pilates is rooted in principles of control, precision, and fluidity, aspects that should not be overshadowed by the allure of novelty.

The trend of dance step, as exhilarating as it is, prompts us to question its efficacy compared to traditional step aerobics. While it may serve as a fantastic aerobic workout, does it provide the same targeted benefits, or is it merely a cardiovascular spectacle?

As we continue to embrace and teach these evolved forms, we must also delve into research to discern their benefits. It is essential for us, especially those of us who have witnessed the genesis of these practices, to maintain a balanced perspective on what truly constitutes progress.

In conclusion, whether it be step or Pilates, let us strive to maintain the essence of these practices while also enjoying the creativity and inclusivity brought forth by innovation. Let's not forget what made them so beneficial as we forge ahead into their promising, diverse futures. This balance between tradition and evolution might just be the key to sustaining their relevance and efficacy in a rapidly changing world.


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