Even with the existence of elevators, escalators and accessibility ramps, sooner or later we’ll find ourselves confronted with a set of stairs to climb—one step at a time. This fundamental action not only requires your legs and core to get busy, it also gets your lungs and heart cranking. So, why not embrace each step as a path towards better health? If that sounds good to you, it’s time to step up.
Step-ups are about as old school as it gets. As the name suggests, the idea is to step up onto a small platform or bench and then step back down. Specifically:
Stand in front of the step—with or without dumbbells in your hands. Place your right foot up onto the step and while flexing the hip and knee, push into that foot as you lift your left foot up to join it. Step back down with your right and then your left. This is a single “step-up” but the idea is to perform full sets of roughly 10-15 reps, alternating the lead foot on each new set.
Your spine is tall and long throughout the movement, the lead knee points in the direction of the lead foot and the core remains slightly braced.
You can tinker with how much weight you hold, how many sets/reps you execute and how fast you perform the movements, but perhaps the most essential variable is step height. In general, stepping higher works your hamstrings more while stepping lower hits the quadriceps, but here’s the most basic height guideline: When the lead leg is stepped up onto the bench or platform and that foot is flat, your knee should be bent at a 90-degree angle with your upper leg parallel to the floor. The foot of the trailing leg should be positioned such that the heel is lifted but your toes are still on the floor.
The step-up—depending again on weight, duration and speed—can serve as an effective warm-up or as a cornerstone movement designed to enhance endurance and strength. In this sense, it is often used instead of the traditional squat as a way to work legs while reducing stress on the knees and lower back.
Final note: The advice presented above is not meant for anyone with contraindicated health problems. Please consult a medical or fitness professional.
There are 1,860 steps from street level to the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building.