Two step picture of young woman wearing pink and graystepping up on bench with weights


Written By Elsie Velazquez Cert. Personal Trainer Prescription Fitness

The step up is a great all-round exercise that is perfect for all since it can be modified to create a challenging workout for anyone, whether you have just started exercising or have been training for years. It has a low risk of injury and, with a few adjustments, offers a good cardio and strength workout.

Aside from the reasons above to do a step, it is also great because it can be done just about anywhere since the only equipment needed is a step, sturdy chair, or bench, and some optional weights.

The step up is a versatile exercise which makes it a great replacement for plyometric exercises when you need a break from the impact and the full squat because it is easier to do correctly and poses a lower risk of injury.  In case I have not convinced you yet, another bonus to the step up exercise is that it strengthens each leg individually, rather than as a unit. This helps ensure that you are building strength equally on each side, and not favoring one leg over the other. Because you are stepping up with one leg at a time, this exercise also improves balance and stabilization.

Other benefits of this great exercise include:

  • Improve Symmetry & Balance: As I stated above, the step up is a unilateral leg exercise, which means that you train each leg independently. This allows you to improve the symmetry of your leg musculature.
  • Increase Your Squat & Deadlift Strength: Because step ups increase your overall leg strength, you will see an increase in your squat and deadlift strength as well.
  • Save Your Lower Back:  Usually, you will use a lot less weight with step ups than you would with squats.  This difference takes pressure off your back.
  • Develop Explosive Leg Power:  Step ups train explosiveness of the leg muscles which will make you faster and you’ll have a higher vertical jump.
  •  Creates minimal stress on the knee.
  • Cardio:  Because stepping up and onto something gets your heart rate up, step-ups will help you burn more calories during strength training sessions.  Simply by adding step-ups between sets when weight training to keep your heart rate high will increase your calorie burn.

There are a few factors to consider before starting your step workout:

  • Step Height:  The lower the step, the more the quadriceps are worked. The higher the step, the more the hamstrings and glutes are worked.  If you are a beginner, I suggest starting with a very low step (6-8 inches) and work from there.  Gradually work up to a height that allows your thigh to be parallel to the ground when your foot is on the step.  Once you are comfortable with that, you can challenge yourself by choosing a step higher than that to really target the hamstrings and glutes.
  • Weight Amount:  Start with no weight and gradually add dumbbells or a barbell if you like. Using a barbell allows you to lift more, but holding dumbbells is an awesome option. Weight is also determined by your goal…if your goal is to gain strength, lift more weight, go slower and perform fewer reps…about 8-12 per set. To build explosive power, or increase the cardiovascular fitness, carry less weight, go faster, and perform more repetitions…about 20-25 per set.
  • Speed:  The speed of the movement should be determined by your goal and the type of training you are doing.  The faster you step (with no or light weight) the more cardio benefit you will get.

Now that you are aware of the many benefits of the step up exercise and how great it is, I hope you will utilize it more!!!  Get to stepping!

About the author : jhaase

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