What are step ups?
The step up is a lower body compound exercise that involves stepping up onto an elevated surface such as a step or box. Step ups work the glutes, quads, hamstrings, adductors and abductors, calves, and core, and can help to improve stability and reduce muscle imbalances between the two legs.
Step ups can be progressed in two ways: adding weight, or increasing the height of the step. The higher the step, the more focus is placed on the glutes and hamstrings.
Commonly asked questions about step ups
Step ups are great for strengthening the muscles in your lower body, as well as improving core strength, balance, and stability. One of the biggest benefits of step ups over compound exercises like squats is that it works the legs unilaterally, which can help to even out any imbalances between the two sides.
Step ups are a strengthening exercise and can help to build muscle in the glutes, quads, and hamstrings if performed regularly, with progressive overload, over time.
Although doing step ups can burn calories, they are unlikely to help with weight loss unless combined with a calorie deficit. Doing strength exercises like step ups can protect against muscle loss while in a calorie deficit, and can even help to build muscle which means you can burn more calories at rest.
Step ups help to build and strengthen the gluteal muscles, which can create a fuller, more toned bum.
Step up tips
- Choose a height that allows you to perform the step up (and down) in a smooth, controlled movement. Once you've nailed the form and built strength, you can increase the height gradually.
- Focus on pushing up through the leg that is on the step, rather than using the leg on the floor to drive the movement.
- When lowering back down off the step, work against gravity to slowly lower yourself down (rather than falling).
How to do step ups/ How to do dumbbell step ups
Level: Beginners to Advanced
Equipment required: Step or plyo box, dumbbells
- Stand in front of the step or plyo box with your feet hip width apart. Brace your core.
- If using dumbbells, hold a dumbbell in each hand.
- Place your left foot on to the box and drive through this foot to push your body up and bring your right foot on to the platform.
- As you push up, focus on squeezing your glutes and maintaining a tall spine.
- Return your right leg back to the floor. Focus on using your leg muscles to control the descent.
- You can alternate between legs or switch after you've finished reps.
How to do barbell step ups
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Equipment: Step or plyo box, squat rack with barbell
Barbells are a great way to introduce progressive overload as the weight can be gradually increased each week.
- Set up the squat rack so that the barbell sits just under shoulder height, and the box or step is in front.
- Step under the barbell, place it on your shoulders, and grip with both hands. Stand up tall to unrack the barbell and move so you're standing in front of the box.
- Stand tall and engage your core.
- Place your left foot on to the box and push up through the foot to drive your body up and bring your right foot on to the box. Focus on squeezing your glutes to help the drive movement.
- Slowly return your right foot to the floor in a smooth, controlled movement.
- Repeat for the number of reps, then switch sides.
How to do side step ups
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Equipment: Step or plyo box
- Stand side on with your left leg next to the step or box. Engage your core and maintain a neutral spine.
- Place your left foot on to the box, then press through the heel of this foot to drive your body up and bring your right leg onto the platform.
- Return your right leg back to the floor, making sure to control the descent rather than falling down.
- Bring your left foot on to the floor. This is one rep.
- Repeat for desired reps then switch sides.
If you’re not sure if any of the above exercises are suitable for you, please consult your doctor before you start it. Need guidance on how to perform the exercise? Ask a personal trainer at your gym.