What are Step ups? (Using step ups for bigger legs)

What are step ups

What are step-ups?

Step-ups are a resistance exercise that targets muscles in the upper legs. They can be performed with just bodyweight resistance, a loaded barbell. or dumbbells depending on your ability and strength. 

They are great exercises for developing the quads and glutes as well as being a great functional movement for increased strength and stability.

Which muscles are targeted with step-ups?

Muscles worked with step ups

Step-ups are a great lower body, compound exercise. They predominantly target the quadriceps at the front of the upper legs but also activate the glutes, hamstrings and calves. 

Core muscles also act as stabilisers and the spinal erectors keep your back straight. These are targeted to a high degree if you are using a barbell or dumbbells as additional resistance. 

How do I perform step-ups?

Step-ups are relatively simple to perform. All you need is a bench (ideally about knee height), plyo box or other platform to step up on to. If you need extra resistance, use a pair of dumbbells or straddle a loaded barbell on your shoulders. 

How to do step ups

  1. Set up your platform to around knee height. 
  2. Pick up your weights if using them and make sure you have a steady stance.
  3. Put one foot on the platform. This is your starting position
  4. Take a deep breath. Upon exhale, step up onto the platform using your working leg to drive your body upwards.
  5. Keep your back straight throughout the movement. 
  6. Lift the non-working leg from the platform and lower it back down to the starting position. Do this with a slow, controlled movement so that you can feel the working leg taking the tension. Don't just jump off of the platform and let gravity pull your leg down. 
  7. Repeat for the required number of reps and sets. 

Tips for performing step-ups. 

  • Start with a low step and gradually raise it. Once you are confident and find it easy, raise it a couple of inches. Step-ups can be performed on a platform much higher than knee height if you have the flexibility. Doing this will engage the hamstrings and gluteal muscles to a higher degree but will also put a lot of tension on the knee joint. 
  • Step-ups can also be performed in a sideways motion. Doing this allows you to keep one foot planted on the platform and just press with a 'pump' action. If you are doing this, just use bodyweight and aim for good form and time under tension with slow movement. 
How do I do lateral step ups
  • The knees can take a lot of strain with this movement especially when barbells are loaded. Take extra precautions by wearing knee straps. These will also help to stabilise your negative movement when you step down from a platform. 
  • Try to use an explosive positive movement and a slow, controlled negative movement to activate the fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibres. 

Alternatives to step-ups.


Front squat

Leg press

Leg extension

Take away

We hope that you have found this article informative and that it has answered the question - what are step ups? Check out our free training programs for bodybuilders and strength trainers by clicking on the menu bar at the tp of this page. 
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