The step-up is one of the most common gym exercises around. It's popularity is arguably unmatched in athletes and general population gym-goers alike. It's a great way to strengthen each individual leg and correct imbalances, if found.
A typical progression would be to go from bodyweight to dumbbells, then barbell on the back and finally barbell loaded on the front, like a front squat.
Three Common Corrections
When I have clients do this exercise for the first time most want to take their foot off of the box between reps. I think this is not the optimal way to perform a step-up. Instead, keep the foot of your working leg on the box until the set is completed.
Secondly, don't push off of your lower leg. Keep the knee straight and the toe up. This will help to truly make it a single-leg exercise and gauge the strength of each leg. Since there is no way to measure "how much" you are pushing off of the bottom leg, don't do it, and reap the benefits!
Make sure you stand all the way up straightening your knee and hip in the top position. This might sound like common sense to some, but I see many people only go halfway or 3/4 of the way up. This minimizes the exercise and really leaves a lot of the benefits "on the table".
A Final Word
Not pushing off of your leg that's on the ground is a new challenge for most people. Keep that knee straight and your toe up - this will really keep you from pushing off, even your brain tells your body to do so. If you are new to step-ups start with just your body weight and use a box height where your knee is below your hip in the start position - see the pic on the left, below ... and it's ok if the box is even shorter and your knee is lower. And make sure your entire foot is on the box! *Another common mistake that may sound like common sense.
Once you stand all the way simply go right back down to the ground and immediately come back up again. Step-ups can be performed rather quickly. Look to perform 12-15 reps your first couple workouts where you incorporate step-ups.
And as always, if you have any questions, please leave a comment below or feel free to reach out to me at Phil@GephartStrength.com
Now go work hard!