The Long Lost Step-Up

The Long Lost Step-up

Let’s face it, step-ups aren’t nearly as sexy as box jumps.  But that doesn’t mean they should be excluded from your programming.  The opposite is true, and the addition of step-ups can build some serious strength and help out in a lot of other ways, too.  Like making your butt look good.  In this post, I want to break down the step-up and try and convince you to add it into or back into your program.

It may not seem like the most complicated of movements, but the technique here is really important.  The very first step (pun intended) is to find something to step-up on.  The height of the object will be dependent on your prerequisite strength and mobility.  I like to use a box that is 18 to 20 inches high most of my step ups.  I’m 6’3″ and while height will a a difference, limb length is also very important.  To check and see what you’re working with, just put one foot up on the box like this:


From this position, you can see that the thigh is pretty much parallel with the ground and this height for me is equivalent to a parallel squat depth.  You can use smaller boxes if you like to or even stairs or small retaining walls.  Standard chairs are usually 18″ and work pretty well.  Office chairs with wheels on them do NOT work all that well.

After getting your box ready to go you’ll need to step up to the top.  Since this is a unilateral movement meaning it works each leg independently, you’ll want to pay close attention to a few things.  The first is where your knee is relative to the foot.  You’ll see in the photo above that the knee is directly over the foot and the shin is vertical.  Stepping up from this position is ideal because we don’t want unnecessary force placed on the knee.  You also want the knee tracking outward slightly over the last couple of toes.  This is to allow you to use primarily the glutes to begin the stepping up process.  Try to avoid jumping off with the back leg.  The leg with the foot on the box is the one making the money right now!


Once you are on top of the box, make sure you stand all the way up and get your balance before returning to the ground.  I like to perform all of my repetitions for each leg at once before switching legs.  This increases the stress placed on the muscles and is also less confusing to count reps.  Slowly lower yourself back to the ground making sure you have your balance and that you are set up and ready for the next rep.


Rinse and repeat.

Ok, so I know this isn’t the most exciting exercise or post, but there are MANY reasons why you should be doing step-ups.  Don’t just look at step-ups as a scaled option for box jumps.  I’ve used step ups to rebuild my squat after an injury.  Lunges are great, but if you have junked up hip flexors like I do, sometimes they aren’t very nice to you.  Step-ups, however, can help you rebuild you squat and balance out some dysfunctional muscle groups.  Here are a few of my favorite reasons to do step-ups:

  1. They provide a good variety and can performed on a lot of difference objects if you’re are limited with gym space.
  2. Easy to learn and work immediately.  Once you get the basics down, you can ramp up the volume pretty quickly.
  3. Easy to scale.  They can be scaled both up and down!  Do them on a shorter box or while next to a rack for stability and balance, or do them while holding weight to make them harder.  There’s lots of variation with step-ups.
  4. They can help to balance out weak musculature.  One of the main reasons I brought back the step-up was to help and strengthen the gluteus medius and help the bottom of my squat to be a much more stable and safe place to hang out.
  5. They are tansferable!  They can build some skills and strengths that translate very well to athletics and fitness.  If you’re learning pistols for example, the step-ups is a great place to start.  They help to build a lot of unilateral strength and balance too!

So there you have it!  It’s time to step-up and add these bad boys  into your workout arsenal.  You’ll be glad you did.  If you have any questions or comments, leave them on the comment’s section or share them on Facebook!

Be well, and Get Better,


*All of the photos in this post are from the book Hidden Horsepower: The Off Road Racer’s Guide to Better Performance.  It’s available in paperback and e-book format. To check out this book, follow the link below!


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