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Step Ups: The Ultimate Guide

Step ups are a great workout exercise that is easy to perform, requires little equipment, targets multiple muscles, and can be tailored for cardio, strength, endurance or power.

Let’s explore everything you need to know for a great step ups exercise routine…

Different Types of Step Ups

There are many different types of step exercises to target different muscle groups and different types of fitness.

For example:

1. Aerobic step ups

This involves a simple step and step down motion, from the ground to your step repeatedly. You can consistently lead with one foot followed by the other, or alternate steps by stepping up and down with the same foot followed by the other.

Great for cardio and endurance work.

2. Weighted step ups

You can perform any other type of step up and add some weight, typically by holding dumbbells or a barbell. You could add weight to a back or shoulder pack so that it is attached to your body.

Step ups with weight are great for building strength, power and endurance.

3. Goblet step ups

Similar to the weighted step, a Goblet step involves holding a kettlebell in front of your chest whilst performing your step ups.

Great for building strength, power and endurance.

4. Lateral step ups

These involve standing at the side of your box or platform, instead of in front of it, and stepping on sideways. You can step up from one side and step down to the other, or step up from and down to the same side.

Great for cardio, balance, strength, power and endurance.

5. Explosive step ups

This involves you stepping up on to your platform with one leg, and then – with the same leg – exploding into a single-legged jump off the step. You should land on the same foot as you jump with. You can alternate legs or repeat with the same leg multiple times before switching.

Great for power, strength and cardio.

6. High box step ups

By using a higher step (such as a box), you target different muscle groups, namely the glutes and the hamstrings. You can use a high box with any of the above step up types.

Great for power and muscle strength.

Benefits of Step Ups

Step ups are an easy and versatile exercise that has many benefits:

  1. Can be used for a cardio or endurance workout, or as a power and strength workout.
  2. Requires little equipment. Many household objectives, or real steps (indoors or out) can be used, making this an easy exercise to perform.
  3. When performed correctly, step ups create little stress on joints meaning there is relatively small chance of injury.
  4. Allows legs to be worked individually, removing any compensation by one leg for the other weaker leg. Individual leg isolation also means you can train one leg more than the other if needed (e.g. during rehabilitation).
  5. Improves balance and stabilization for day to day activity, which also helps in certain activities such as running.

Muscles Worked

  • Glutes
  • Quads (quadriceps)
  • Hamstrings

Step Up Workouts

This video runs through 16 different variations of step ups that you can easily incorporate into your routine:

Common Mistakes

1. Pushing off your back leg

The effort in stepping up is supposed to come from your front leg, i.e. the leg stepping onto the platform. Pushing upwards from the back leg is a sign that the step is too high or, if you’re using weights, the weight is too heavy.

Reduce the step height and / or the weight to correct.

2. Touching trailing leg on the step too early

When stepping up, the aim is for your front leg to do the work, and the step is finished once your front leg is extended. It;s only at this point should the trailing foot touch the platform.

Having your trailing leg touch the platform too early means that it will contribute to the last part of the step up, reducing the effectiveness of the exercise at targeting legs individually.

3. Step too high

For a solid workout, the step should be high enough so that your knee is slightly higher than your hip joint when your foot is on the step. Going higher than this will likely lead to one of the other common mistakes.

Of course, you can go lower than this level, particularly if you are a beginner just starting out.

4. Knees buckling inwards

Especially for beginners, the muscles used in the step up will be of varying degrees of readiness for the activity. A comparative weakness in the glutes can lead to the knee bucking inwards during the stepping up motion. To prevent this, reduce the weight (if using any), reduce the height of the step, and train regularly to strengthen those glutes.

5. Dropping to the floor too hard

Your step down from the platform to the floor should be controlled and smooth, for good form and to avoid injuries. Dropping to the floor to hard or too quickly reduces the effectiveness of the exercise, and increases your chances of doing some damage.

Best Step Up Boxes and Platforms

There are a range of options for step up platforms and boxes. We have identified some of the best, depending upon your need and budget.

1. KHTO Wooden Plyometric Box

Non-slip material covers a hard foam to provide a sturdy and durable step up box.

3-in-1 format with each side being a different length to allow for 3 different step heights.

2. Pithage Aerobic Stepper

Non-slip material covers a hard foam to provide a sturdy and durable step up box.

3-in-1 format with each side being a different length to allow for 3 different step heights.

3. BrokenFrom Plyometric Box

BalanceFrom plyometric box for step up exercises

Non-slip material covers a hard foam to provide a sturdy and durable step up box.

3-in-1 format with each side being a different length to allow for 3 different step heights.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a box step up?

A box step up is when you use a box, rather than a step platform, to perform the exercise.

How does one perform a step up?

A basic step up is simply stepping, from the floor, onto a platform, box, or other item and back down again. There are a number of variations of a step up to target different muscles and achieve different training objectives.

How many step ups should I do?

The answer really depends on your level of fitness and your training goals. If you are looking to build strength using weights or an explosive step up, your number of reps will be relatively low. If you’re looking for a cardio workout or to build endurance, you will do more.

How many step ups to burn 100 calories?

If you weigh 175 pounds and do vigorous steps for 6 minutes you will burn 115 calories, according to this calorie counter tool.

Are step ups good for cardio?

Absolutely! The key to get a good cardio workout is to step up with pace and intensity for a prolonged period of time. The lower the intensity, the longer you work out.

Are step up bad for knees?

If done with correct form, no. See ‘Common Mistakes’ earlier in this article for things to avoid to reduce the chance of injury.

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