Step Tools

Marcus Irwin
Year Released: 2006

Categories: Step Aerobics

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Iím reviewing this workout after doing it twice.

General workout breakdown: This step workout is for choreography lovers!
There is no formal warm-up. The first block you learn becomes the first part of the first combo for the full routine. That said, this starts out with pretty basic steps, so by the time Marcus really gets going Iím sufficiently warm. Marcus does include a cool-down, which is more of a stretch that focuses on the lower body but with some for the lower back and torso, too, although Iíd rather have less breathing in and out and more stretches for the hip flexors and quads. This stretch runs about 5 min., bringing the total workout time to just over 56 min.
Marcus leads you through 4 total combos filled with some classic step aerobics moves (stomp, straddle, repeater knee, kick) plus some slightly dancier ones (mambo, cha cha, pivot, Elvis). His style is in that area between athletic and dancey, although with all of the pivots this one is less athletic than usual. As you might expect with an Evolution, there are some filler moves. Marcus prefers to build up a couple of steps a layer at a time, so heíll add in marches or basics to fill out the counts until heís ready to build up the next bit in the block. In addition, there are some step tap corner to corner and similar moves in between run-throughs. However, I felt like Marcus spends a lot less time in the holding patterns and filler moves here than he does in some of his other videos. If youíre a real intensity junkie, you may find even this reduced amount frustrating, but if youíve been looking for a Marcus to try that doesnít have as much down time, this may be your best bet.
When Marcus starts combining things, first heíll do the blocks or combos back to back, then heíll cut in half (or weave or slice & dice). This video actually spends quite a bit of time TIFTing (taking it from the top). In fact, at the end youíll put blocks 1 & 2 together, then blocks 3 & 4, then blocks 1-4, and then weave them all together.
The blocks and combos are all symmetrical (meaning youíll learn them on both the right and left lead), but Marcus may not spend an equal amount of time building each one up on each side.
Although Marcus introduces this as a tool for group fitness instructors to learn new choreography to teach in class, he does acknowledge that some will use it as a workout. As a home exerciser who has no ambitions to teach step classes, I find this works perfectly well as a workout, although itís more for days when I feel like having fun than when I feel like having an intensity fest.

Level: Iíd recommend this to at least intermediate exercisers who are experienced steppers comfortable with decently complex choreography.
I consider myself an int./adv. exerciser, although I feel more like an intermediate plus when it comes to step, not because I find choreography tricky Ė in fact, I consider myself a big choreo hound, able to pick up choreography thatís taught at least halfway decently with relative ease Ė but because I just donít have the cardio endurance on the step that others do. Marcus makes learning choreography easy, but he doesnít include as much downtime as usual here, so I work up a sweat with this one. For me Step Tools is a fun, doable workout thatís moderately challenging in terms of intensity and on the high side of moderately challenging in terms of choreography. Have I mentioned itís fun?

Class: 4 women join Marcus, who instructs live. There are some whoos, giggles, and nervous OKs from Lindsey and Caroline.

Music: This is pretty non-memorable upbeat mostly instrumental but with some vocal tunes stuff (more dance club than radio cuts). If you have more than a handful of recent Evolutions youíve heard it before. Oh, there is that one song that kind of sounds like the singerís belching the words.

Set: This is the more recent industrial warehouse set, with bare concrete floor, red lights on the back wall, and white screens on which revolving es are projected.

Production: clear picture and sound. Unlike the earlier Evolutions, you wonít have to crank the volume way up for this one; the sound is at a more normal level. The camera angles get a little funky at times, with some oblique close-ups, sometimes just when you donít want them, and a bizarre overhead shot thatís off to the side with slightly different color contrast and focus levels. Still, I can follow along easily enough. And the black screen with the rotation e pops up from time to time, usually before TIFTs but sometimes between blocks or other run-throughs.

Equipment: Marcus and crew appear to be just using the platform of a regular club-sized step. I tucked a pair of risers under mine. Unless you have tiny feet, Iíd advise using a full-sized step because there are some moves where both feet come together on top of the step while youíre facing the side.

Space Requirements: Youíll need to be able to move comfortably all around your step. I had little trouble in my workout space (8í wide by 6í deep), but I wouldnít want to try to squeeze it in a significantly smaller space.

DVD Notes: This is chaptered by block, with separate chapters for the final TIFTs and cool down. Youíll also get previews for Evolution and Free2Be videos at the end.

4x4 Step vs. Step Fusion vs. Step Pro vs. Step Tools
Step Tools is without a doubt the most complex of the 4 Marcus Irwin step titles currently available on DVD (well, 5 if you include Topless Blocks, which is half step, half hi/lo). Marcus goes through lots of choreography at a fairly fast pace, and there are quite a few rhythm and directional changes plus some tricky footwork. This is also the second shortest, although itís just a hair longer than its companion, Pro. Like Pro and 4x4 itís presented as a complete workout rather than choreography only.
If I had to choose between Pro and Tools, which came out at the same time and are basically the same length, Tools is the easy winner for me. Tools is definitely more complex, with a lot more choreography (you get 4 blocks instead of 3), and more intense, which is why I like it. Pro has a less crowded set with fewer (and less whoo-inclined) background exercisers and a slightly different soundtrack, which give it the edge there, but thatís nowhere near enough to put it ahead of Tools in my book.
If I had to recommend only one Marcus Irwin, Iíd narrow it down to either Fusion or Tools, based on the askerís preferences. If you want more straightforward, classic Marcus, choose Fusion. If you like complex choreography and the more interesting the better, choose Tools. If you want low key steady state add-ons, choose Fusion. If you want a little more of an oomph and/or something you can pop in for a (mostly) complete workout in about an hour, choose Tools. If you want the maximum amount of material for your buck, choose Fusion. If you donít like dark sets, choose Tools. You canít go wrong with either, though, which is why Iím happy I have both (and the other three Marcus step workouts, too).

Instructor Comments:
Marcus is one of the better cuers out there. He breaks down everything and cues descriptively enough that I can dust this video off after too long of a break from it and have little trouble following it. Marcus mirror cues, but he tends to provide directional cues somewhat sparingly, waiting until just when you need them, and he also provides some additional directional guidance like telling you to turn to the outside or to use the leg thatís closest to the television. Sometimes he relies on gestures (pointing, grabbing his pants on the leg youíre starting on) rather than verbal cues, not just for direction but also for the name of combos, but since he frequently uses the ďwatch meĒ method to show the next layer youíll want to watch him closely anyway.
I love Marcusí personality, with his giggle, his concern for and joking with his back-up crew, and his self-deprecating humor. Heís so natural on camera you feel like youíre right there with him, and yet he never loses sight of the fact that heís an instructor filming a video.