Step-Up Exercise: Technique, Benefits, Variations

The step-up exercise is considered one of the best bodyweight exercises for strengthening the lower body.

A fit and strong lower body is paramount as the lower body keeps you moving throughout the day. A strong lower body is also non-negotiable for various sports and athletic activities like cycling and swimming.

Regular leg exercises for strength and lower body strength can help you stay in shape and work the important muscles of the lower body like legs, hips, glutes and calves.

There are countless exercises that can help develop lower body strength. However, the best exercises involve multiple muscle groups and joints in compound movements.

The step-up exercise is one such amazing lower body bodyweight exercise that works multiple muscle groups at once. In this article, we will discuss the technique, benefits, and variations of this exercise.

Step-up exercise technique

Step-ups are one of the best ways to develop leg strength. (Image via Flickr)

For the first sets of step-ups, it’s best to start with a weight you can lift and control for 6-10 reps on each leg, for a total of 2-3 sets. If you want to keep your form intact throughout the step-up exercise, the weight you choose should be spot on.

1) Grab a pair of dumbbells and position yourself next to a plyometric box or bench, with one foot on the box and the other on the floor. If the box is high enough, you can stand up straight with your pelvis straight. The knee should be bent at right angles to the shin. Spread your weight on one foot on the box and plant your other foot firmly on the floor to create a stable base.

2) Keep your head and neck in a neutral position while standing upright. You should keep your chin tucked in at all times, as if you are holding an egg under your chin.

The arms should be long with a slight bend at the elbows, and the shoulders should be in front of the hips. Build a tension barrier by tightening your hips and shoulders before you even move. This is the starting point for each repetition.

There are many variations of step ups you can do (Image via Flickr)

3) Begin jumping up by pushing your foot into the plyometric box. Keep your glutes tight as you straighten your knee and drive your hips forward to stand upright.

4) Squeeze your glutes and quads as you finish the movement and keep your back straight. Place the foot you just jumped with on the plyometric box, making sure your shoulders are over your hips at the end of the movement.

5) With your back and pelvis straight, step off the box and begin your descent. Lower your foot to the floor by slowly bending at the hip, knee, and ankle. Lower the height of your foot until it touches the ground. Remain in the bottom position briefly before beginning the next set.

Benefits of step-up exercises

Check out the following benefits of step-up exercise:

  • The step-up exercise is a great way to build muscle in your legs. Step-ups work the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and adductors, all of which contribute to a stronger lower body.
  • Differences in strength can be compensated for by step-ups. The step-up exercise works both sides of the body equally as a unilateral leg exercise that focuses on one leg at a time and draws attention to any muscle imbalances.
  • To improve balance, step-ups are a great exercise. The step-up is a great core and lower back strengthening exercise as they act as stabilizers, keeping you stable throughout the movement.
  • In a variety of contexts, the step-up exercise can be useful. It can be modified by increasing or decreasing the weight used and/or by using a step stool or other elevated platform of different heights.

Variations of the step-up exercise

Step-ups are one of the best balance-improving exercises. (Image via Flickr)

If you’re ready to deviate from the standard step-up exercise, consider one of these five options.

1. Barbell step up: Perform a standard step-up while holding a barbell across your upper back. Unlike performing step-ups with dumbbells, barbell step-ups allow you to use a heavier load.

2. Chalice step up: Get on a step or bench and perform the exercise while holding a kettlebell in front of your chest for this variation.

3. High box step up: Compared to a standard step-up, this variation puts more strain on the hamstrings and glutes due to the increased step height.

Performing a lower step-up activates the quads, while a higher one activates the hamstrings. (Image via Flickr)

4. Low box step up: The quadriceps are better trained with this modification compared to a regular step-up. Step-ups are a great bodyweight exercise, but you can add more cardio by using just your bodyweight and speeding up the movement.

5. Lateral rise: Approach the elevated platform from the side and climb onto it. Rather than just working your quads, this variation also targets the glutes.

Presumably, a step, box or bench, and weights are all that is required to complete one set of the step-up exercise. You can do it almost anywhere. Compared to other lower body workouts like plyometric jumping, this is much more manageable and easy on the joints.


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