Are Step-Ups a Good Exercise?

Step Aerobics.
A close-up of a woman with her foot on an aerobic step. (Image: crossstudio/iStock/Getty Images)

The step-up is a compound exercise that works several lower-body muscles. It is a good strength exercise since it mimics a real-life movement, making it more functional than other lower-body strength exercises. The step-up has several variations, so you can include it in your lower-body program regularly and still keep your routine fresh.

Take a Giant Step

Stand in front of an aerobic step, bench or a plyometric box with your feet hip-width apart. Place your right foot on the step. Push through your right foot and propel your body up until your left foot lands on the platform next to your right foot. Pause for a count, then slowly lower your left foot to the ground, followed by your right foot. Step up again, beginning with your left foot.

Muscles Work Together

Step-ups primarily work your quadriceps, the muscles in the front of your thighs, and involve both your knee and hip joints. However, other muscles involved include your glutes, calves and hamstrings, which assist in the movement. Even your lower back and abs muscles get involved, as they act as stabilizers to help you maintain proper posture as you execute the movement.

Change it Up

One of the benefits of the step-up exercise is the number of variations that make the exercise easier or harder with some simple adjustments. Adjust the height of the step to make the exercise easier -- with a low step -- or harder -- with a tall step. Hold dumbbells in your hands or a barbell across your back to add weight to your step-up and increase the resistance. Turn the movement into a lateral step-up by facing forward and stepping up to the side.

Protect Your Knees

The step-up exercise can be hard on your knees. Lower your body slowly and with control. Don't let your leg just drop back down to the ground. When you step up, avoid pushing your knee forward past your toes. Your lower leg will move forward, but keep your knee back behind your toes. If you place your foot on the step and your thigh slopes down toward you --- your knee is higher than your hip, and the step is too high.

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