The Step Up: Exercise Select

The Step Up: Exercise Select

Introduction to The Step Up

The step up is an excellent movement for building the single leg strength and stability of your clients. The benefits of this movement translate into numerous fitness activities such as squatting, biking, and running. The muscles developed through this movement could also aid clients to lunge correctly and will help their balance and overall strength in each leg respectively.

There are dozens of different variations a coach could choose from in this particular movement. Some of these variations include boxes of varying heights and having the client execute the movement with different loads in varying placements. The creativity a coach can use with the step up is endless. For the examples in the video above and the text below, we will only be discussing two variations of this movement: The high box step up, and the low box step up.

As the name implies, the difference between these two movements depends on the height of the box being used as well the height of the client. To be considered a high box step up, the knee must be higher than the crease of the hip when the client’s foot is on top of the box. The opposite is true for low box step ups.

High Box Step Ups

The glute is more heavily recruited in the high box step up variation. The client should feel their glute beginning to activate as they lean their knee/shin forward onto the box prior to standing up.

How to Coach the High Box Step Up

  • Be precise in your assessment of the right to left leg balance:
    • It isn’t enough to simply ensure that the client can physically do a step up. Proper coaching is about observing small details and differences in how the client moves on the two different legs. Compare the strength, balance, and mobility of the clients left and right leg.
  • Look at the step up from straight on as well as from a 45 degree angle:
    • Straight on – you need to be able to see the kneecap so that you can see if the knee moves in/outward as the client steps up onto the box.
    • 45 degree – you will be able to see differences in weight shifting as they prepare for and do the step up.
  • The client needs to exert the same amount of pressure on the right and left side when they step up and step down:
    • A ‘forced’ step up rep looks like needing to shift the knee or shin forward as well as leaning the torso forward as you step up on the box. This happens because the client is searching for the most powerful position to stand up and the butt back with chest over the knee is one of those powerful positions that clients generally default to.
    • An example of the improper form is when the client’s glute or butt shifts to accommodate physical imbalance. Take a note of this if it should occur.
  • Start the step up with the weaker leg based on your assessment of the client:
    • The client will do all of the reps on the weaker leg, rest, and then do the next set on the stronger leg. The client’s core and low back will still have to work in order to step up effectively. Don’t waste potential adaptation on the weaker leg by going right, left, right, left.
  • Have the client step up to the box while maintaining consistency in a @4121 tempo in the beginning:
    • means 4 seconds controlled on the way down, 1 second pause at the bottom, 2 seconds controlled on the way up, 1 second control at the top.
  • Make sure the client maintains right to left balance as well as right to left pressure.

Low Box Step Ups

The low box step up is less of an actual glute developer than it is a terminal knee extension movement. The client’s leg must reach full extension at the top of the box. The small range of motion highlights the VMO (vastus medialis oblique) muscle. While there is a glute connection on the step up leg, there isn’t the same physical demand on the hamstring, glute, and low back connection like there is in the high step up.

How to Coach a Low Box Step Up

  • Set the box just above the ankle of the client for proper height:
    • Despite appearances, this movement can be challenging and very productive towards developing client strength if done correctly.
  • Look at the step up from straight on as well as from a 45 degree angle:
    • Straight on – you need to be able to see the kneecap so that you can see if the knee moves in/outward as the client steps up onto the box.
    • 45 degree – you will be able to see differences in weight shifting as they prepare for and do the step up.
  • Coach the movement like this:
    • On the way down
      • Have the client get their weight on the outside of the foot that is doing the work while they have the toes up and leg locked on the opposite leg.
      • Watch and make sure the client’s pelvis remains flat during the movement.
      • The client’s hips should remain aligned. They should not shift right to left during the movement.
      • The client should touch their opposite foot heel to the ground on the way down
    • On the way up
      • Make sure the client doesn’t use their opposite foot to push off of the floor.
      • The client should maintain the same proper alignment of front to back and right to left as they did on the way down.
  • The tempo beginners should use is very often 2121:
    • 2 seconds down, 1 second pause, 2 seconds up, 1 second pause. Do this over and over with clients to build a quality movement pattern.
  • Coaches should still look for the same movement flaws as they would in the high step up:
    • No hip or glute shifting back as they step up or down.
    • No right to left shifting of the hips.
  • The client will need a lot of repetitions on this movement in order to effectively improve this. However, don’t sacrifice the client’s technique by giving them excessive training volume in the movement.

As stated earlier, there is a myriad of different ways in which a coach can load (weight) the step ups, but that is not covered by the scope of this video. The type of step up a coach programs is dependent on the client’s needs and ability. That is why all OPEX Coaches conduct movement assessments before designing a program. As part of the OPEX Assessment, movement assessments look at a client’s symmetry and capabilities. Get an introduction to the OPEX Assessment in our new Free 7-Day OPEX Coaching Course.


Fitness Assessments for New Clients