It’s a stereotype because it’s true–too many guys in the gym just want to work their upper body. Alas, there is more to strength training than bench presses and curls. In order to be truly fit, your entire body must be fit–and able to function as one unit. The step-up is a great example of an exercise that trains your body to do just that.
While it is primarily a lower body exercise, the step-up works your core and, if done with heavy enough weights, your arms too. After squats, deadlifts and lunges, step-ups are next on my list of favorite leg exercises.
What’s the Difference Between a Step-up and Simply Going Up Stairs?
Running stairs can be a great cardio workout, but it’s not going to make your legs a whole lot stronger. When you do a step-up, you need your step to be higher than the stairs on a staircase. Doing a step-up onto a 6-inch step is like doing a squat and only going down 6 inches–it’s not going to do much other than make you look like a newbie. In order to really effect change in your muscles, you should use a step that puts your knee at a 90-degree angle when you plant your foot down on it.
How to Incorporate Step-ups into Your Workout
You should add resistance to your step-ups by holding weights in your hands, or by resting a barbell across your back. You’ll want to perform sets of 6-15 reps per leg, with enough weight to leave your legs quivering by the end of the set. You can perform step-ups by alternating legs, or by repeating the same leg for a set and then switching legs. I’ve found that in the context of conditioning workouts, alternating can sometimes be beneficial, whereas going one leg at a time is generally better for building strength.
Step ups can be performed laterally as well. (Stepping onto the step from the side). This works more of your inner thighs and hips as well as your glutes, hamstrings, and quads.
When performing a basic step-up, try to think about pushing through the heel of your foot, as opposed to having all the weight on your toes. Also be mindful of engaging your abdominal muscles on the way up in order to stay stable.
And ladies, don’t be afraid to test your limits with how much weight you can use on these. They are not going to make your legs huge–just firm and toned!