Appropriate Step Aerobics Height for Exercising

by Annie on June 28, 2010 · 12 comments

in Exercise & Injuries

One of my biggest problems with exercising at home is that I do not have access to the variety of cardio machines that are available at the gym. I have my elliptical machine, but it gets old after a while. Since discovering The Firm exercise dvds four years ago, I occasionally include step aerobics for my cardio workout. I just absolutely love step aerobics.

This post is a discussion of how to select an aerobic step for your strength and aerobics for home exercising.

Do you have The Firm Knees?

Have you ever heard of the term “firm knees?” No I am not talking about the muscle tone around your knees, but the ache you get when you do tall box climbs on a 14-inches step when doing one of the older The Firm exercise dvds.

The tall box climb is one of the best exercises you can do for your leg muscles. In this exercise, the tall step is not used for cardio. Instead it is used to strengthen your leg muscles (glutes, thighs, and butt) while you raise and lower yourself on the step.

You stand behind a tall box (typically a 12 or 14 inches aerobic step) while holding dumbbells. You place one foot on top of the box and slowly lift yourself up until you are standing on top of the box. Then you slowly lower yourself down with the same starting foot. This is one rep for the first set. You do about 2-3 sets for each leg.

My problem is that after using The Firm Box or The Firm Transfirmer (the aerobic steps that came with the older Firm exercise dvds), my knees would ache. My butt looks great, but my knees just wags its finger and tells me to stop being stupid. Others on the video fitness forums have similar complaints about aching knees for this exercise.

Height of the aerobic step for strength

It is not the exercise, but the height of the aerobic step that is causing all these aching knees. The angle behind your knees should be at 90 degrees or greater when you are doing the tall box climb. It is normal to shift your weight forward while you use your working leg to push yourself up on the tall aerobic step. However, if you find that you need to lean forward and tilt your upper body, then the height of the aerobic step is too high for you. If you keep using a step that is too high for your height, eventually you will end up with aching knees (or worst).

For someone my height (5’3” – on a good day), my tall aerobic step should not be more than 12 inches. Obviously the default 14 inches of the Firm Fanny Lifter, Box, and Transfirmer are too high for me. As a matter of fact, I find 8 to 10 inches the ideal height for me when doing the tall box climbs.

Height of the aerobic step for cardio

Aerobic stepping allows you to get an intense cardio workout using a relatively small amount of space. For cardio, any increase in the height of your aerobic step directly increases the intensity of your workout. The height of a typically aerobic step is 4 inches (not one of The Firm’s versions of an aerobic step). Each riser adds an additional 2 inches to the height of the step.

Much of the research for aerobic step comes from Reebok. Their suggested step heights are as follows:

4 inches a beginner
up to 6 inches a regular exerciser who has never performed step training
up to 8 inches a regular step trainer
up to 10 inches a skilled and regular step trainer

Notice how the Reebok guideline do not include any information regarding your height.  The guideline is useless if you are 5’3” or shorter.  I never use more than 6 inches for step aerobics.  But sometimes when I am in couch potato mode, I cheat and use only 4 inches (no risers).  You should use the lowest aerobic step height that provide the intensity you need to meet your exercise goals if you do not want to risk injuries.

Until next time and thanks for stopping by Small Steps to Health.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane Fit to the Finish July 1, 2010 at 6:23 pm

When I do step aerobics (which isn’t often) I use the 8″ height. It’s probably a little low for my height of 5”10″ but my knees don’t hurt. Thanks for the info!


asithi July 2, 2010 at 11:24 pm

@Diane – Anything to protect your knees! Thanks for your comment.


Sagan July 3, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Wow, that’s interesting, I didn”t think of that. I wonder if that’s why my knees sometimes hurt when I”m biking… if they are coming up too high? Hmm.


asithi July 3, 2010 at 7:40 pm

@Sagan – I think you might want to check your bike seat height if your knees is hurting. I know that when I had the seat too low, my knees would hurt too. I used to have the seat low enough that when I stand, both feet would touch the ground while my butt is on my bike seat (the seat was about 3 inches below my hip). I now have my bike seat slightly above my hip. Because my bike seat is higher, I also have full extension of my leg when biking so it is much easier to bike for longer periods of time.


julie July 13, 2010 at 8:07 pm

My shoulders would hurt from bike, knees were fine. I love step, too, and I use one riser, which is maybe 6-8 inches. Some of the more gung-ho hard-core people use three risers, and the in-shape people often use two, beginners none. Some classes are harder than others, and since it”s such a pain to get to gym, I’ll do two in a row. I will hardly know my name if I use two, though occasionally I’ll do that. I use 2-3 when I use the step for sculpting.

If you don’t have almost full extension of your leg when it is at the bottom of the bike, your seat is too low, though I’d think it might hurt your back, as well.


asithi July 14, 2010 at 6:42 am

Julie – I wonder if your shoulders are hurting because you put to much pressure on your arms when you are biking.

I have a “touring bike” that has a gel padded seat and curved handlebars (similar to a cruiser”s handlebars). When my husband was doing research on bikes, he made sure to get me one that was more ergomonic due to my history of back problems.

Gosh, I used to do two classes in a row too when I belong to a gym when I was in my early twenties. I don’t think I can handle it now unless the second class is yoga. :)

Thanks for the comment Julie!


nick August 25, 2010 at 10:07 am

If this is correct it is saying the Step is 2″ and each riser added is 2″. So they’re recommending us advanced people who do it all the time have 4 risers on each end? For real?


asithi August 25, 2010 at 10:58 am

@Nick – Yep. Not that I ever seen anyone do that. The most I have seen from group classes is 3 riser (2″ platform + (3 risers x 2″/riser)) = 8″. Rebok’s definition of advance is not the same definition I would use either. :D


Elena September 1, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Good information. One of my gripes about the old Firm DVDs for the transfirmer and the fanny liftr are that they don’t show enough options. THere is the one poor girl in the back who is doing the beginner stuff, but there are other options too! Maybe just the purple section or just the blue section with heavier weights – they should have at least mentioned those things in passing!


asithi September 11, 2010 at 12:23 pm

@Elena – that seems to be the case in a lot of exercise videos — they do not show enough beginner options. That is why it is important to stop and re-evaluate the situation when something does not feel right. I think it is important to be exposed to different types of exercise videos when you exercise at home. Then, you will have a higher chance of being exposed to different workout options and can figure out the right one for our body. There are a few The Firm exercises that I need to modify in order to make it work for me because of my shorter height. Thanks for the comment!


Hilary September 27, 2010 at 12:00 am

Hi all,

I believe the basic step platform is 4″. Each riser is 2″, not the step itself.

Best, Hilary


asithi September 27, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Hilary – You are right. Thanks for catching my typos.


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