If you want to hit your legs hard and have no equipment, you can step up your leg strength – quite literally!
Not only are step-ups great for strength, but they are also one of the best exercises for correcting muscular imbalances between limbs.
We all have a favoured leg and it’s no surprise especially after injuries that some people may have suffered that there can be strength discrepancies as big as 20% between limbs.
Now I’m not claiming step-ups and the best exercise in the world.
The back squat is considered the king of exercises!
But there are many other valuable leg training exercises that work many of the same muscles in a different way.
After all, we know the back squat overloads the quads during the bottom range and due to this reason it really works the lower muscle fibres of the VMO.
Step-ups work the higher fibres of the VMO, so are actually a perfect exercise to include on Squat day if you want a variety of exercises to hit the VMO fibres from all angles.
Step Up variation can be also used as a temporary replacement for squats
So if you’re unable to squat like many of us found during lockdown – step-ups are a great option for a training stimulus.
They’ll also add variety, allow you to deload your spine from a heavy barbell, and keep your training fresh.
Gin Miller is credited with creating step training in 1989.
He wrote a choreographed aerobic training program that incorporates the use of low step platforms.
Step training became so popular that now the exercise is often associated with aerobic fitness and so-called muscle toning.
The truth is that the step-up and its many variations are a versatile lower-body exercise that can be used for:
- Structural Balance
- Body Composition training
- High-Performance Athletic Development
Structural balance refers to the major muscles of the body being in balance with each other.
This means balance between opposing muscle pairs (such as the biceps and triceps for the arms, and quadriceps and hamstrings for the legs) and also between the limbs (such as the right leg and the left leg).
So it’s not enough just to have the proper strength ratio between the hamstrings and quadriceps, for example; the strength of the quadriceps and hamstrings on the right leg should be equal to the strength of those muscles on the left leg.
The concept of structural balance extends beyond injury prevention despite what some may think- it can also help with knee rehabilitation.
You can progress more challenging step-ups as you get better at the different versions.
Here is how I like to progress all step-ups:
- Barbell on Back
- Barbell Front Rack
Regarding teaching tips of step Ups
With 95% of the step-up variations, the important point is that the top leg does all the work.
Next, the rear leg must be kept straight (of course, it will be flexed slightly when landing), and the toes of the bottom leg will lift (dorsiflex) to help prevent the trainee from pushing off.
The top leg is turned out five degrees, which is anatomically more in line with how the upper thigh bone inserts into the pelvis.
There are many other useful varieties of step-ups.
Here are my favourite step-up variations with demonstrations for you:
1) Front Step Up >>>
2) Side Step Up >>>
3) Poliquin Step Up >>>
4) Peterson Step Up >>>
5) Russian Step Up >>>
6) Triple Jumper Step uP >>>
7) Lunge to Step Up Combo >>>
We can discuss the benefits of some of these at a later date and where we’d place them within a training program for different goals.
Again don’t forget, the squat remains the king of all exercises
But the versatility of the step-up makes it a key exercise in any physical and athletic fitness training program.
With lockdown, it’s a great time to start utilizing these exercises
Sam ‘Step it Up’ O’Sullivan