Aerobics: An In-Depth Look!

Aerobic exercise, particularly aerobic dancing, is one of the most popular type of fitness activities. Aerobics classes, which give students the opportunity for continuous dancing and movement, are offered throughout the world...

Aerobic exercise, particularly aerobic dancing, is one of the most popular type of fitness activities. Aerobics classes, which give students the opportunity for continuous dancing and movement, are offered throughout the world. The rise in popularity of televised and videotaped aerobic exercise programs reflects the enthusiasm for this form of exercise.

The word aerobics is often used synonymously with exercise, but the concept is often misunderstood. Aerobic literally means "with oxygen" or "in the presence of oxygen." Today, aerobics also means a form of endurance exercise where people move to music.

At first, aerobics referred to dance movements put to music, but the scope has expanded to include low-impact aerobics, high-impact aerobics, water aerobics, step aerobics, funk aerobics, slide aerobics, and country-western line aerobics. The current interest in aerobic exercise is the result of the wide-spread interest in improving appearance, health, and longevity.

Designing The Aerobic Workout

An aerobics class begins with a warm-up. The warm-up activities at the beginning of the class should be low intensity and prepare the person for more vigorous activities during the formal work-out period. As the exercise moves from the warm-up to the actual exercise routine, it is important to control exercise intensity. An exercise program easily tolerated by one person may cause fatigue and injury in another.

The goal of the aerobics section is not to work at the highest intensity possible, but rather to exercise at a comfortable intensity that can be maintained yet still provide a conditioning effect. Target heart rates are often used to help people control exercise intensity.

If the heart rate during exercise is in the appropriate target zone, then the exercise intensity is adequate for training the oxygen transport system. Some researchers have suggested that exercise heart rate during aerobic dance exercise may not be a valid means of predicting exercise intensity in the activity.

While the exercise intensity may vary during the class, it is important to prevent excessive efforts. This can be achieved by restricting the movements, using less arm movement and slowing the pace if the participants are exceeding their target heart rate zone.

Using these techniques, the exercise intensity can also increase if the heart rate falls below the target zone. A minimum intensity is important if the class members are to train their oxygen transport systems.

The class should contain a cool down period to aid in the transition between exercise and rest. The cool-down may be concluded with some relaxation activities. (See table below for more information on designing the aerobic workout.)

Component Time Content
Warm-Up 5-10 minutes Isolation exercises
Full body movements
Stretching exercises
Aerobics 20-45 minutes Aerobic warm-up
Peak aerobics
Aerobic cool-down
Cool-Down I 5-10 minutes Controlled large muscle movements
Stretching exercises
Resistance Training 15-20 minutes Abdominal exercises
Upper body exercises
Lower body exercises
Cool-Down II 5-10 minutes Flexibility exercises
Relaxation exercises

Essential Components Of An Aerobics Exercise Program

The essential considerations for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory fitness and body composition are the same for any type of aerobic class. These components are as follows:

  • Mode of activity: Any continuous physical activity that uses large muscle groups and can be rhythmic and aerobic in nature.

  • Frequency of training: Refers to the number of times per week a person should exercise. Exercising three to five days per week is sufficient in improving cardiovascular fitness.

  • Intensity of training: Healthy adults should participate in a fitness activity at an intensity level between 60-90% of their maximum heart rate.

  • Duration of training: The duration should be between 20 to 60 minutes of continuous aerobic activity. The duration can be on the shorter end of this range for athletic people whose activities use a high intensity of training (80% to 90% of maximum heart rate).

    Those who utilize activities with a lower range of intensity (60%-70% of maximum) should maintain that activity for a longer time. Because of the potential hazards associated with high-intensity activity, low-to-moderate intensity activity of longer duration is recommended for the general population.

  • Progressive Resistance Training: Recognizing that overall body fitness includes muscular fitness, participating in resistance training is currently being recommended.

    Participation in resistance training of moderate intensity at least two times a week should help develop and maintain a healthy body composition. The goal of resistance training is not to improve cardiorespiratory endurance, but to improve overall muscle strength and tone.

Music and Aerobics

Music not only provides the timing for exercise movements, it also makes exercise more fun and helps to motivate participants. Music is the basis of dance-exercise programs. General guidelines have been adopted for selecting the appropriate music tempo for the various components of a dance-exercise program.

Slow tempos under 100 beats per minute (BPM) are generally used for stretching, while tempos of 100-120 beats per minute are frequently used for warm-ups and cool-downs. Floor exercises are often performed to tempos of 110-130 beats per minute. However, the tempo for floor exercises should be slow enough to allow for control and the full range of movement.

Aerobic dance activities are generally performed at a tempo of 130-160 beats per minute. The lower impact aerobics (low-impact dance-exercise and step aerobics) should be kept at a lower tempo of 118-125 beats per minute.


A suitable shoe for aerobic-dance exercises needs good forefoot flexibility and an adequate heel lift to accommodate the stresses on the Achilles tendon and calf. Step shoes, cross-training shoes, and aerobic shoes offer superior forefoot cushion along with desirable foot stability, largely because of the wider heel.

The tread on some running shoes does not provide suitable freedom of movement on some surfaces used for aerobics.

High-Impact Aerobic Activities

High-impact aerobic dance is a good way to improve fitness. This type of aerobic activity combines music with kicking, bending, and jumping, and provides the same benefits as running, bicycling or swimming. Intensity levels during high-impact aerobics usually reach the upper end of the target heart rate zone (80%-90%).

Higher intensity is created by including a lot of bouncing and jumping movements using larger muscle groups. Movements involving arm patterns which are positioned above the heart are also used to increase the intensity. High-impact aerobic dance is generally performed at a tempo of 130-160 beats per minute (BPM).

Low Impact Aerobic Activities

Because long-term participation in some aerobic activities (for example, jogging, running, high-impact aerobic dance, and rope skipping) may cause damage to the hip, knee, and ankle joints, many fitness experts are promoting low-impact aerobic activities. Low-impact aerobic dance, step aerobics, water aerobics, and brisk walking are examples of this kind of fitness activity.

Low-impact aerobics replaces jogging and jumping with steps that place less stress on the joints. Low-impact aerobics is less intense than high-impact aerobics (Music cadence of 118-125 BPM). As long as exercisers work out at their target heart rate, they get all the benefits of high-impact aerobics while decreasing the risk of injury.

The main difference between low- and high-impact aerobic activities is in the use of the legs. Low-impact aerobics do not require having both feet off the ground at the same time. Thus weight transfer does not occur with the forcefulness seen in traditional, high-impact aerobic activities.

In addition, low-impact activities may include exaggerated arm movements and the use of hand or wrist weights. All of these variations are designed to increase the heart rate to the target heart rate without damaging the joints of the lower extremities. Low-impact aerobics are excellent for people of all ages.

Aerobic Types

Step Exercise

Recent studies have supported the theory that step exercise, when executed for the appropriate duration at the appropriate intensity, meets the criteria for developing cardiorespiratory fitness.

But less information is available on reliable caloric expenditures during step exercise, specifically at different popular step heights. Oxygen uptake increases in direct proportion to the bench height.

Step classes provide an excellent workout, but they also raise unique safety concerns. The proper technique, the right bench height, and the proper shoes will provide an effective and safe step-training experience.

The proper technique consists of stepping directly down on the step with the leading leg. Many people have the tendency to reach too far back with their leading leg. This causes the body to lean slightly forward, placing extra stress on the foot, Achilles, and calf. Participants should also step with a flat foot.

This is necessary to maintain balance, and will also reduce the amount of stress on the leg, ankle and foot. Stepping too frequently on the ball of the foot, increases the risk of arch related injuries due to the concentrated impact forces in the forefoot area.

Stepping with a bounce causes the participants to remain on the ball of the foot. It is best to place the entire foot on the step.

Most (apparently healthy) people should begin with a four- to six-inch step platform. If participants find themselves leaning forward too much, they may be using a platform that is too high for their skill level and body proportions. This can lead to pressure on the lower back.

Also, if the participant is stretching or hopping onto the step, it is obviously too high. As a conservative guideline, the knee should not be flexed at an angle greater than 90 degrees during stepping movements. Bench stepping may not be the best activity for people with patellofemoral problems.

Aerobic stepping should be performed at a rate between 118 and 122 BPM. In some facilities step music has climbed as high as 126 to 128 beats per minute (BPM). With faster music, there is an increased risk of compromising stepping technique. Participants may not have enough time to go through full extension when stepping up, and knees tend to stay bent continuously, stepping up and down.

Continuous stepping with constantly flexed knees may lead to an increased risk of joint injury. At speeds exceeding 125 BPM, even intermediate and advanced students have difficulty maintaining proper form, and there is a rise in complaints of aching knees and backs.

Working at 118 to 122 BPM is the optimal range for burning calories, conditioning muscles and minimizing the risk injury. Step training has become extremely popular and appears to be a relatively safe and effective workout as long as caution and discretion should be used.

Power Stepping

"Power-stepping," or "high-impact stepping," on the bench platform has been successfully introduced over the last year or two; however, it should be limited to highly skilled and aerobically fit participants.

Power refers to the amount of work that can be accomplished per unit of time. When applied to specific aerobic step moves, the term power means that intensity levels and ranges of motion are increased to challenge participants' skill and fitness capacities more than usual.

Power stepping maneuvers can include explosive actions such as leaps, runs, hops and lunges as well as nonexplosive actions such as lunges, squats, step-ball-changes and marches.

Double Step Aerobics

The quest for challenging workouts is ever-present. With the development of step aerobics over 5 years old, the step workout is evolving to offer a greater challenge to fitness enthusiasts.

In the regimen's latest incarnation, a second bench is used, adding a new dimension to the linear (forward and back or side to side) movement afforded by a single step. Two steps allow you to move in circles, shaping and toning front, back, inner and outer leg muscles as well as working hips and buttocks more thoroughly.

Water Exercise

Water exercises pose an extremely low risk of injury, while providing an opportunity to improve cardiovascular endurance, increase muscular strength, decrease body weight, and improve overall fitness levels. Since water supports and cushions the joints, participants can run, jump, and stretch without the forceful impact that causes strains and injuries on dry land.

Water also provides a natural resistance that is 12 to 14 times greater than that of air, so during normal movements, muscles work harder than they would on land. Circuit training, interval training, water-walking/jogging, deep-water aerobic exercise, aqua bench training, aqua play, athletic team training, aquatic rehabilitation assistance, and personal aqua training are some examples of the various aerobic programs that are available in the water.

Interval Exercise

Interval exercise consists of alternating higher-intensity exercises and lower-intensity exercises. Interval exercise provides an advantage for people interested in weight loss and weight management.

Clients can work for short periods of time at a calorie expenditure much greater than the person could support for the workout's entire duration. At the end of the interval session, the person can burn substantially more calories than if he or she had tried to maintain steady-state exercise.

Funk Aerobics

Since the early 1990's, street dancing is fast becoming one of the most popular aerobic exercises. Popularized by rap music, classic funk, and the growth of vigorous "Street Jam" dancing in music videos, street dancing is viewed as an excellent method of having fun and developing cardiorespiratory fitness. People who exercise using stationary bicycles, rowing machines, or automatic stair steps can easily become bored.

However, street jamming to the sounds of popular artists, such as Bobby Brown, M.C. Hammer, or Janet Jackson, provides an exciting way to increase fitness and socialize with others at the same time.

Country Aerobics

The latest introduction to the aerobics room is country line dancing. These country line dances are ready-made for adapting into aerobic routines. Many participants find them not only fun, but they are also easy to do.

Country music and dance steps can be incorporated into just a few routines within ongoing classes or developed into a complete specialty fitness class with country tunes accompanying everything from warm-up to cool-down.

According to recent figures for the music industry, country western is the fastest-growing segment of the music market among all age groups, especially middle age people. Music should be kept within the 124-128 BPM range.

Slide Aerobics

Adjustable slides are available to adapt the sliding area to an individual's size and strength; and there are various sliding surfaces. Since the slide is a recent development little research has been done on the benefits and risks. It is also unclear on which design is most effective or safe. But there are many options for product selection.

Dance aerobic programs have become an a primary form of exercise for millions of people around the world. In addition to the desire to achieve the multiple benefits of aerobics, there will always be a desire to include in one's life fitness "for the fun of it."


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