It’s a stereotype because it’s true–too many guys in the gym just want to work their upper body. Alas, there is more to strength training than bench presses and curls. In order to be truly fit, your entire body must be fit–and able to function as one unit. The step-up is a great example of an exercise that trains your body to do just that.
While it is primarily a lower body exercise, the step-up works your core and, if done with heavy enough weights, your arms too. After squats, deadlifts and lunges, step-ups are next on my list of favorite leg exercises.
What’s the Difference Between a Step-up and Simply Going Up Stairs?
Running stairs can be a great cardio workout, but it’s not going to make your legs a whole lot stronger. When you do a step-up, you need your step to be higher than the stairs on a staircase. Doing a step-up onto a 6-inch step is like doing a squat and only going down 6 inches–it’s not going to do much other than make you look like a newbie. In order to really effect change in your muscles, you should use a step that puts your knee at a 90-degree angle when you plant your foot down on it.
How to Incorporate Step-ups into Your Workout
You should add resistance to your step-ups by holding weights in your hands, or by resting a barbell across your back. You’ll want to perform sets of 6-15 reps per leg, with enough weight to leave your legs quivering by the end of the set. You can perform step-ups by alternating legs, or by repeating the same leg for a set and then switching legs. I’ve found that in the context of conditioning workouts, alternating can sometimes be beneficial, whereas going one leg at a time is generally better for building strength.
Step ups can be performed laterally as well. (Stepping onto the step from the side). This works more of your inner thighs and hips as well as your glutes, hamstrings, and quads.
When performing a basic step-up, try to think about pushing through the heel of your foot, as opposed to having all the weight on your toes. Also be mindful of engaging your abdominal muscles on the way up in order to stay stable.
And ladies, don’t be afraid to test your limits with how much weight you can use on these. They are not going to make your legs huge–just firm and toned!
Cycling can be used as cross training for runners.
I hurt my foot the other day and didn’t feel up to running; even walking was causing me some discomfort. I knew that it would be foolish to try to run, but I really didn’t want to blow off my training altogether. Figuring that the impact of my foot hitting the ground while walking was the main cause for the discomfort that I was feeling, I decided to do some impact-free cross training. Starting off on the elliptical trainer, I figured I would just take it from there. Once I got into it, I started feeling pretty good!
However, after fifteen minutes on the elliptical trainer, I started to lose my patience (I’m not a big fan of cardio machines!), but instead of stopping my workout, I switched it up and got on a bike for fifteen minutes. My foot felt fine on the bike as well. Finally, feeling a bit frustrated that I wasn’t able to keep my heart rate as high as I wanted on the bike, I made another switch, this time to the stair stepper. Without even really planning for it, I completed a pretty decent cross training workout by the time I was done!
Cross training is basically just a fancy sounding way of saying “doing different stuff.” Mixing up different types of cardio helps to keep your workout from getting monotonous–and it’s better for your body, too. Your body is capable of many different movement patterns, and they all effect your muscles in slightly different ways. If you are a runner, cycling can be a great alternative on those days when you don’t feel up to running for whatever reason. Conversely, if you are more of a cyclist, then you can use running as cross training. As always, you are encouraged to experiment and find what feels best for you.
Cardio machines like the elliptical trainer and exercise bike might be nice alternatives to running, especially for people with injuries or ailments, because they can potentially cause less stress to your joints and connective tissues. But don’t feel confined to the gym! Get out in the real world and use your body. The gym is only practice for the real thing–life itself.
Fire that pistol!
I am always seeking out new physical challenges and the pistol squat is one of my favorite exercises. So when I came across this video of Steve Cotter doing jumping pistol squats onto a ridiculously high step, I decided that was a skill I wanted in my arsenal.
Of course there’s only one way to make that happen–practice!
The box that I am jumping onto isn’t nearly as high as Steve’s, but I am just starting out! Gotta keep practicing–It’s always a work in progress!
Keep in mind that doing this sort of thing at all is still a very advanced technique. The more difficult the physical challenges get, the more careful you need to be of the risks involved. You should probably first get comfortable with plyometrics and pistol squats on their own before combining the two.
Check out the video below for more!
Squats are probably the single most common exercise that people need help with in order to achieve proper form.
The main thing to know about squatting with proper form is to go all the way down until the top of your thigh is below parallel to the ground. That might be lower than you think. You should ask someone to watch you to be sure.
Also keep in mind that your heels should not come off the ground at any point during the lift. Third, the movement should be initiated from the hips, not the knees. What I’m saying is, stick your butt out!
A deadlift, to put it simply, involves picking up a weight that’s on the ground in front of you. I’m sure you’ve heard the advice to lift heavy objects with your legs and not your back–that advice is talking about the deadlift! It is a great functional exercise for this reason.
Another way to look at deadlifts is that they are similar to squats except that you are holding a weight in front of you. The two most common types of deadlifts are the Romanian deadlift and the more traditional Olympic deadlift. The Romanian deadlift involves less knee flexion than the Olympic deadlift.
Romanian deadlifts involve less knee flexion.
Squats and deadlifts are amazing postural exercises but you must really focus on good posture while you do them in order to get those benefits. Keep your chest held high and pull your shoulder blades together!
Deadlifts work your grip strength and lower back, but they also work your hamstrings and glutes. Make sure you don’t use your back too much on these and that most of your range of motion is coming from your hamstrings. That means just like squats, stick your butt out when you do a deadlift.
Hey Ladies, listen up–this one is for you!
Lunges are one of the best exercises for toning and strengthening your legs and butt.
Fellas, don’t think this means you don’t have to bother with them, though–lunges should be a staple of anyone and everyone’s fitness regimen.
Lunges, along with squats and deadlifts, are a crucial part of what I like to call “the big 3″ leg exercises. They hit all the major parts of your lower body, they get your heart pumping,
and they are great for revving up your metabolism.
Lunges can be performed by stepping forward and then lowering yourself down until your back knee is just above the ground. Typically, one might alternate legs, continuing forward with each step (often called a “walking lunge”).
Lunges with a twist!
Lunges can also be done by stepping backwards (“back lunge”), side ways (you guessed it–“side lunge”), or any other way you can think to do them. A stationary lunge is sometimes called a “split squat.”
When doing lunges, stay mindful of keeping your front foot totally flat and not letting the heel up (the heel of your back foot ought to be up, however). Also make sure to keep your posture and don’t allow your front knee to cross in front of your toes.
For added resistance you can perform lunges while holding dumbbells, resting a barbell on your back, using a kettlebell, or any other way that you see fit to. Get creative!
Watch the video below for more:
I love to challenge myself by attempting various feats of strength. I also love the pistol squat–it’s one of my favorite exercises and I’m always looking for different ways to make it challenging.
In this video segement, I attempt a pistol squat with a 40 lb. kettlebell–and manage to get off two reps! I guess next time I gotta go heavier!!!
Click the link for more info on one-legged squats. You might want to start practicing without the kettlebell first.