Among the multi-joint exercises to improve the buttocks, the step-up is certainly one of the best known and practiced in the gym. Highly versatile and easily accessible, the step-ups are ideal for training the gluteal muscles by performing a movement that simulates climbing a step.
An apparently simple exercise, but no less effective than other more complex ones. In this article, we will find out more about the step up: from the muscles involved to the correct execution, from the mistakes to avoid in the weight room to the executive variations.
What Is The Step Up?
For scientific literature, the step-up is ideal for stimulating the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus. It is, in fact, a one-sided exercise with a closed kinetic chain, perfect as a complement to basic exercises, such as squats or deadlifts. Thanks to the recruitment of target muscles, in fact, it allows improving the levels of strength in the legs.
In spite of the simple biomechanics, the difficulty of the step-up and its variants can be modulated through the height of the box or the use of overloads. Elements that make it suitable for both beginners and more experienced athletes.
Step Up: Correct Execution And Technique
Before analyzing the biomechanics of the step-up and the execution technique, let’s see how to choose the right support. If you want to perform the exercise correctly and maintain its training value, I recommend that you choose a stable surface that is high enough to start the movement with the hip flexed at 90 °.
Once you have found the right support, you can start training the motor pattern of the step up. Follow these guidelines for error-free execution :
- Position yourself in front of the selected surface at a distance of about 10-20 cm, so as to have the center of gravity aligned and avoid compensations or imbalances. Feet open shoulder-width apart and arms at your sides.
- Place your entire foot on the surface, keeping the other one positioned on the ground.
- Raise yourself by pressing on the center of the supporting foot, almost imagining that you are sinking into the support. Try to focus the movement on the front leg only and limit the intervention of the back leg. The thrust allows the upward and forward movement of the body, the weight of which acts as an optimal input load.
- The knee must be in full or partially full extension.
- After performing the climb on the step, keep the support on the front leg without losing balance and avoid placing the rear leg on the support.
- Once you have reached the position, you can slowly bring the back leg to the floor by eccentric with the front one but always controlling the movement.
You can perform the Step Up either with alternate legs, doing all the repetitions first with one leg and then with the other, or you can alternate one repetition with the right and then with the left until the series is complete.
Common Mistakes In Step Up
Despite the relatively simple motor pattern, the step-up has some errors that would be better avoided for correct activation of the buttocks and the reduction of injury risk. When making a climb on the step pay attention to:
- Keep the speed and pace of execution constant, to have a uniform distribution of effort and avoid reaching the end of the series with excessive fatigue.
- Avoid being in too much of a hurry to bring your back leg onto the step: it is important to complete the excursion with the front one.
- Control the position to prevent compensations such as, for example, excessive forward flexion of the trunk as fatigue occurs or as a consequence of quadriceps weakness.
- Correct any “falls” inside the knee during the ascent and descent phase (adduction and internal rotation of the hip). The presence of dynamic valgus in the step-up is common especially in women with large pelvises and weak hip external rotation.
- Avoid bringing the trunk too far forward to decrease the moment of gravity on the knee and quadriceps activation.
- Keep the pelvis aligned with monopodial support and the knee in line with the ankle.
Benefits Of The Step Up
By introducing the step up into your gym workout routine, you can enjoy significant benefits such as:
- Increased strength in the legs;
- Improvement in stabilization and balance ;
- Increased levels of explosive force (when the rhythm and cadence of the movement are sufficiently sustained);
- Enhancement of athletic performance.
Furthermore, as a one-sided exercise, the step-up is ideal for individually training the legs and uniformly developing strength in the single limb, avoiding favoring one another.
Muscles Involved In The Step Up
The step-up is one of the most cited exercises when it comes to training for the glutes, but in reality, during the hip and knee extension movement, it also activates other muscles. In particular:
- Gluteus Maximus ;
- Histocrural ;
- Middle Gluteus ;
- Hip adductors.
Surely the action of the exercise is mainly aimed at the glutes and quadriceps, but if you are looking for better recruitment of the gluteus maximus it is possible to exasperate the hip extension. The gluteus medius and hip adductors, on the other hand, mainly perform the function of stabilizing the balance in the monopodial position.
Training With The Step Up
Having by now deepened the technical aspects and the benefits of the step-up, you are probably wondering how to insert this exercise in your training schedule in the weight room: the volume, intensity, and recovery, for a performing training session.
How many sets and reps to do?
Mechanical tension is the most important stimulus for muscle hypertrophy and it is precisely the effect we want to seek with this exercise. Therefore, you can insert from 3 to 4 series with a repetition range between 6 and 12, so as to keep the mechanical tension high and have an adequate time under tension.
Which loads to use? What intensity?
The choice of load and intensity in the step-up exercise depends on your level of training. In general, the advice is to maintain a medium-high load and intensity to be able to complete the total number of repetitions, without compromising the technical execution. However, I advise you to select a weight that allows you to perform 10 to 14 repetitions while always maintaining control over the movement.
How much time to recover?
In between a series of step-ups, keep your recovery between 60 and 120 seconds. A time long enough to allow you to support the workload between sets without varying the training volume and ideal for balancing metabolic stress and mechanical tension.
Example Of Step Up Card
The step-up is a complementary exercise to basic exercises such as squats, deadlifts, or presses. Therefore, you can do it in combination with them during your training in the weight room, when you want to have a greater focus on the squat of the single leg. Given the nature of the exercise, it is recommended to perform it on an average frequency (2 times a week) alternating between the different variants if possible.
The suggested combination is in 3 × 8 with 90 ” second recovery while maintaining a buffer of 2 repetitions. Then, depending on your experience in the gym (novice, intermediate or advanced) you can choose the training load that is most suitable for you and useful for promoting progress in the execution of the movement.
Variants Of The Step Up
Easily reproducible even outside a weight room, the step-up includes a large number of variations. Among the most common are:
Step up with dumbbells
The climbing movement on the support is performed with the use of dumbbells which, for the entire execution, you will have to keep close to the body. It is important to avoid swinging with the body so as not to compensate with the trunk in the concentric phase of the climb.
Goblet step up
This version is similar to the dumbbell step-up but uses a kettlebell or dumbbell in front of the chest as an overload. If you’re using a kettlebell, grab it from the side by the handles. In the case of the handlebar, on the other hand, I recommend that you keep the weight up and in a vertical position. Positioned in this way, the overload favors a more natural movement than the variant with dumbbells along the hips.
Side step up
I suggest you do this variation if you want to work on different muscles in the leg, such as the adductors and inner thighs. The movement remains similar to the standard version, to change is the starting position which will no longer be in front of the support but laterally to it.
Step up with barbell
To handle higher loads and avoid excessive strain on the arms, you can use a barbell to be placed on the upper back and held with a wider grip than the shoulders. In this case, you must pay attention to the choice of support and avoid too high surfaces that could make it more difficult for you to keep your balance.
There would be a lot of executive variations, but the take-home message is that the step up is a truly versatile exercise. Depending on the difficulty sought and the training goals, changes can be made to meet any need and keep the exercise challenging even for the most experienced athletes.
As we have had the opportunity to investigate, the biomechanics of the step-up is simple but this does not mean that the execution of the climb requires less attention. It is important, in fact, to control the movement and to focus on the recruitment of the target muscles, if you want to progress in the exercise and enjoy its benefits.
In the presence of technical errors and, above all, in the case of dynamic valgus, the advice is to work on the motor pattern and proprioception, performing the exercise in front of a mirror and carrying out strengthening exercises for hip adductors and abductors to stabilize it. the movement. Before moving on to more complex variations, make sure you have good control over the movement technique and don’t fall for the more common compensations.