Back in the late 80s’, Gin Miller created a fitness craze that has stood the test of time. Step aerobics was the mainstay of women and men’s workouts in the 90s, and is still taught worldwide today. We grabbed a quick five minutes with Gin to see what she’s up to now.
Spry: You are best known as the brainchild behind the step aerobics revolution. What initially inspired you to develop this fitness program?
Gin Miller: I wanted to do something extraordinary. I’m a super creative person—I always have ideas firing through my mind. With step aerobics, it was sort of like a light bulb went off in my head. Basically, my idea was to take the Harvard Step Test and set it to music. If you’re not familiar with the Harvard Step Test, it’s a test that was devised by Harvard University as a scientific indicator of heart health. You step up and down a bench for 3 minutes and they measure how long it takes your heart rate to return to a resting rate. I wanted to take the basic concept of the Harvard Step Test and design an exercise routine around it and set it to motivating, upbeat music. It was one of those ideas that really took hold.
In those days—this was in the late 80s—dance aerobics was the only major fitness program out there. But instructors were starting to make it really fast and complicated. There was a demand for something different; people wanted a challenging new exercise program that didn’t involve dance aerobics. The step opened up a lot of possibilities—you could sit on it; you could stand on it; you could do strength training on it. People responded to the program really well. There was a sort of cult following behind step aerobics. In those days, it was everywhere—it was almost something you couldn’t not do.
Spry: Is it true that a milk crate was one of the inspirations behind the iconic Reebok Step?
Gin: Yes, that was another big inspiration behind step aerobics! I twisted my knee and injured my MCL, or medial collateral ligament. A trainer at Georgia Tech, where I was working at the time, advised me to step up and down a milk crate to strengthen the muscles around my knee—he called it “poor man’s physical therapy.” Well, I started going up and down a milk crate, but it was too high, so I just used the porch steps of my house. I went up and down, up and down…it was summertime in Georgia, and within no time I was sweating profusely. I thought, “Man, this is hard.” And I was only doing it for seven or eight minutes…what if I did it for an hour? Surely I would get tremendous benefits! Eventually, I built myself a 12 inch-high step made out of wood and started stepping on that. After doing it for awhile, I got in fantastic shape. Eventually, I submitted a proposal and was granted a copyright for the concept. So yes, a lot of the inspiration behind step aerobics came from my knee injury; if I hadn’t hurt my knee, there would be no step aerobics!
Spry: With 35 years of experience in the industry, you have secured a name for yourself as one of the fitness industry’s top professionals. Has fitness always been an important component of your life?
Gin: Growing up, I was an athlete. I was hyper—always playing outside, running back and forth, jumping up and down. I started out playing almost every sport, but eventually I concentrated primarily on gymnastics. I went to Georgia Southern on a partial scholarship and was a part of the first women’s gymnastics team there. That was during the first year of Title IX, and it was difficult for female sports teams to get money or funding. It was a tough journey, for sure. We weren’t taken as seriously as the male athletes—in those days, women were still considered token athletes. We were the ones who broke down the barrier. It was a very challenging and rewarding experience to be a part of.
Spry: From Jazzercise to Zumba to Crossfit, there are always trends in the fitness industry that come and go. Step training, although it was developed in the late 80s, continues to be a mainstay in many fitness clubs and gyms. What would you say makes step aerobics a timeless and effective workout?
Gin: Step training has so many benefits. For one thing, you have your own piece of equipment in your own space. In Zumba or kickboxing classes, it’s easy to run into people. If you’re not coordinated or don’t have rhythm, it can be hard for you to feel comfortable in those kind of classes. People are comfortable with step training because they have their own space, their own station. Secondly, step training is incredibly simple—there are no complicated sequences. It’s rhythmic in nature, so it’s easy to follow. Third, it’s a low-impact movement pattern that has the calorie burn of a jog—that’s hard to accomplish. You expend a lot of energy moving your body up and down the step. So the combination of good music, simple patterns, being in your own space, low-impact movements—these are the reasons why people are so drawn to step training.
Spry: What advice would you have for women who are looking to begin an exercise program but are afraid they’re “too old” to try something new?
Gin: I think the secret is to make exercise apart of who you are. Choose your weapon—whether it’s tennis or badminton or running—and make it apart of your life. Take a couple of friends and work out together. Exercise is the single most important thing you can do for yourself, and it’s free! There are so many reasons for people to exercise: you live longer; you beat most diseases; you ward off diabetes; you’re happier; you’re more alert; you don’t have clogged arteries or problems with blood fat. People exercise because they want to look good, but when you exercise, you end up feeling good, too. So if we could reverse the reasons for exercise into a “feel-good” thing rather than a “look good thing,” I think people would stick with it more. Consistency is key! The best thing you’ll ever do in your whole life is getting your weight under control. It leads to everything else being good. It’s the answer. You just have to make exercise apart of your life, and everything will fall into place after that. When you’re fit, everything’s better. There’s not one thing that doesn’t get better when you’re healthy.
Spry: You’re 57 years old and you don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon! What’s your secret?
Gin: I couldn’t imagine stopping. When I work out, I work out as hard as I can. I don’t just go through the motions…I give it my all. My advice to people is this: When you work out, don’t waste your own time. Do something extraordinary. Work as hard as you can. When you give something your all, it builds self-confidence and self-esteem, and it changes your physiology. When you exercise, you are turning back the clock and defying the aging process. And who doesn’t want that? I am 57 years old, but there are 27-year-olds in my classes who can’t keep up with me. It doesn’t matter what your age is—if you exercise, you will keep your body young. If you look at the women who have been in the fitness industry for 30 years, they have retarded the aging process. They are 60-year-old women and look like they’re 20.