Split squats, lunges, squats, leg presses, and deadlift variations get the most love in your leg routine because they’re responsible for most of your leg gains. But an overlooked exercise is often overlooked in the routines of many lifters when exercising for intensification. It looks so simple because all you do is place your foot on a bench and stand up.
It’s not like a barbell squat or a deadlift where you have to go through a mental checklist to rip the weight off the floor or squat from the hole. You put your foot on an elevated surface and go up.
The stepup is quickly regressed or progressed for all fitness levels, and it fits into almost any exercise program to build unilateral muscle and strength in your quadriceps and glutes. Here we’ll dive into the step, how to do it, how muscles are trained, the benefits, things to look out for, and variations to spice up your step game.
Ready to get on the plate? So let’s go.
WHAT IS STEPUP?
The stepup combines the lunge and the upward step, like climbing stairs. Do you take the stairs instead of the elevator? You push off through your front foot to rise to a standing position on a bench. Then you slowly step back with the non-leading leg back to the starting position. Make sure your front foot is glued to the step.
HOW TO DO THE STEP UP EXERCISE
- Depending on your hip mobility and strength, place your foot on a box so that your knee is bent at a 90 degree angle or the hip crease is slightly below your knee. Make sure it’s on a flat surface.
- Run with body weight, hold dumbbells at your side, and stand about a foot from the box.
- Place your entire front foot on the box with your toes pointing forward.
- Push off on your front foot to stand up. Remember to push the glutes forward into hip extension when you stand up.
- Once your knee is extended, place the other foot on the box, balance on one leg, or drive your non-working leg into a high knee.
- Lower slowly with the unleaded leg, reset and repeat.
TIPS FOR THE STEP UP EXERCISE FORM
It doesn’t feel like much because you put your foot on a box and go up. Yes, that’s true, but there are some things to watch out for to get the most out of the stage.
- Choose the height of your box: A general rule of box height is that your knee forms a 90 degree angle when your foot is on the box. If you are new to this exercise or have knee pain, it is advisable to use a smaller box. When you’re feeling adventurous, raising your box height so your knee is slightly higher than your hips is also fine. More range of motion means more muscle building potential. But it would be better if you watch a few things. First, if your torso leans forward too much, you put your anterior and posterior core at a disadvantage. You don’t want to stress your lower back, just your quads and glutes. Second, your knee may collapse or your hips may become uneven in the effort to climb higher. Better to stick to a range of motion that you can control and that doesn’t cause potential problems.
- Check the eccentric: A tendency, especially when tired, is to drop your back foot to the ground and neglect to control the eccentric contraction. Not only is it bad for your joints, but you’re missing out on strength and muscle gains. ALWAYS try to control the descending part of the stepup.
- Let the front leg do the work: The goal of stepping up is for the front leg to do the work to fuel your quadriceps and glute gains. But as the weight becomes heavier and the athlete tires, there may be a tendency to push the back leg. This makes it easier for the front leg, but you will use momentum and lose muscle tension in the front leg.
The stepup primarily works the legs and core with little upper body involvement unless you are using a load. Here are the main muscles trained by the stepup.
- Quadriceps: All four quadriceps muscles work together to extend the knee.
- Glutes: Because the hip is flexed, the glutes extend to help you stand up.
- Hip adductors: Helps with hip flexion and provides knee stability to prevent collapsing inwards.
- Hamstrings: Helps the glutes with hip extension, and eccentric hamstring strength helps your bottom with control.
- Calves:A slight plantar flexion is involved during the climb, but the calf muscles work overtime to keep you balanced on one leg.
5 BENEFITS OF STEP UP EXERCISE
Once you’ve mastered increasing bodyweight, adding weight to this exercise is the bomb. Adding weight will build unilateral strength and contribute to better muscle development between the sides, and make it easier to climb stairs. Here are some other significant benefits of the stepup.
- Improved balance on one leg: The steps will improve your balance and proprioception (sense of awareness in space) because you control yourself when going up and down on one leg. Plus, you’ll concentrate more because you don’t want to lose your balance and embarrass yourself in front of the gym masses.
- Better muscle development and unilateral strength: Bilateral exercises are great and are where most of your gains occur, but sometimes this hides muscle and strength imbalances between the legs. Performing single-leg exercises like stepups helps strengthen these imbalances and leads to better muscle development in each quadriceps and glute.
- Accessible and easy to progress: All you need for stepups is a box, a bench, and some weights, making it easily accessible for beginners and advanced lifters alike. It is not a technical exercise like barbell squats and deadlifts and requires minimal instruction. Plus, it’s easy to progress by increasing the height of the box and using heavier dumbbells.
- Easier on the lower back: Like most single-leg exercises, there is less compressive load on the spine, so your spine experiences less pressure. Also, you don’t need as much load to get a training effect due to the one-sided nature, like with back squats and Romanian deadlifts.
- Can improve your barbell squat: A common weakness with the barbell squat is coming up slowly or getting stuck in the hole, and one way to stop this is to improve leg drive. Split squats and pause squats are great options, but don’t sleep on the rise. With a focus on quads and glutes and your ability to load, stepups are another option to improve your leg workout.
STEPUP PROGRAMMING SUGGESTIONS
The step up is an exercise to strengthen the imbalances between the sides and improve muscle development but do not confuse it with an absolute strength exercise because it is an incidental exercise. No one is bragging about their one-rep max raise.
Here, use good form as a guide for charge, not ego. Use these recommendations as a guide, which can be modified according to your fitness goals.
For hypertrophy: Performing three to four sets of 8 to 15 reps per side and pairing them with another glute or quadriceps exercise works well for adding muscle. For instance
1A. Weighted stepup: 8 to 15 reps per side
1B. Bodyweight Hip Thrust: 15-20 reps
For stamina: Two to three sets of 15 to 20 reps per side using body weight or a light load to feel the burn. Your heart will pump afterwards, so pairing this with floor exercise works well. For instance:
1A. Step Ups 15 to 20 reps per side
1B. Passive leg lowering: 10 reps per side
3 VARIATIONS OF STEPUP EXERCISE
The step up and down are great for the glutes and quadriceps, but can get boring in a hurry – spice up your usual step up exercise with these three variations.