What Are Lateral Step-Ups?
Lateral step-ups are a variation of the traditional step-up exercise, which involve stepping onto a bench or box sideways rather than forward, adding an extra layer of challenge to your workout.
Lateral Step Up Exercise Demonstration
Did you know lateral step-ups can drastically improve your knee and ankle stability, making you less prone to injuries?
Lateral step-ups are a simple variation of a common exercise that you can easily add to your workout routine to help you get a stronger and healthier body.
Although lateral step-ups aren’t performed much differently than traditional step-ups, they are a different exercise with different benefits.
Lateral Step Ups Muscles Worked
The step-up exercise is widely recognized as one of the most effective leg exercises, offering an accessible learning curve compared to exercises such as squats, deadlifts, or Bulgarian split squats.
Despite necessitating balance control, step-ups generally aren’t significantly more challenging than ascending a flight of stairs.
To increase the intensity of your workout, consider trying lateral step-ups.
By altering your movement direction from forward to sideways, lateral step-ups add a unique layer of complexity to the exercise.
This shift not only amplifies balance and control demands but also emulates real-world movements, thereby boosting your functional fitness.
One standout advantage of lateral step-ups is the comprehensive muscle engagement they promote.
While primarily targeting your quadriceps and gluteus muscles, lateral step-ups provide a well-rounded workout by activating various other muscle groups, which include:
Primary Muscles Worked During Lateral Step-Ups:
- Quadriceps: This group of muscles at the front of your thigh is instrumental in extending the knee during the stepping-up movement.
- Glutes: These are the powerhouse muscles in your buttocks that drive your hip extension when you step up and help maintain your balance.
- Hamstrings: Located at the back of your thigh, these muscles work in tandem with your glutes to support hip extension and control the lowering phase of the step-up.
- Calves: These muscles are key for stabilizing your ankle throughout the movement, especially when you push off from the ground.
- Rectus Abdominis: Your ‘six-pack’ muscle, this supports your spine and helps maintain a steady and upright posture throughout the exercise.
- Transverse Abdominis: This deep abdominal muscle contributes significantly to your core stability, helping you maintain balance during the lateral step-up.
- Obliques: These side abdominal muscles are engaged to stabilize your torso and assist with balance as you step sideways onto the platform.
Benefits of Lateral Step Ups
Although lateral step-ups and conventional step-ups are related, there are some benefits of lateral step-ups that you won’t get from the traditional step-up exercise.
Here are the most important lateral step-up benefits:
- Bolstering Stability: They play a crucial role in improving the stability of your knee, ankle, and hip joints, a foundation for better mobility and injury prevention.
- Prevention of Jumpers Knee: Lateral step-ups can help prevent jumper’s knee, a common issue among athletes and fitness enthusiasts.
- Boosting Mobility: They contribute significantly to enhancing your lower body mobility, adding a spring to your step.
- Muscle Balance: This exercise aids in developing a balance between the hamstring and quadriceps muscles, promoting symmetrical muscle growth and strength.
- Glute Activation: Lateral step-ups target the glute muscles more effectively than regular step-ups, contributing to stronger and well-defined buttocks.
- Conditioning: They provide both aerobic and anaerobic conditioning, improving your overall fitness.
- Muscle Development and Fat Burning: They stimulate muscle mass development and fat burning, steering you closer to your body transformation goals.
- Enhances Coordination: By involving ‘lateral’ movement, lateral step-ups improve central nervous system function and overall coordination.
- Improves Sprinting Speed and Running Mechanics: Regular practice of lateral step-ups can positively impact your sprinting speed and overall running mechanics.
- Vertical Jump Improvement: They can assist in increasing your vertical jump, a key component for many athletic activities.
How to Do Lateral Step Ups
Step 1: Position Yourself
Choose a suitable bench or box that is sturdy and of appropriate height. Stand beside it, with your side facing the bench.
Ensure there is enough space for you to move without any hindrance.
Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, and your posture should be upright.
In this initial position, your core should be engaged for stability.
Step 2: Place Your Foot
Turn towards the bench slightly and lift the foot that is closest to the bench, placing it firmly on the bench or box.
Your entire foot should be on the surface, not just your toes.
The other foot should remain on the ground.
This is your starting position.
Step 3: Perform the Step Up
Engage your core and put weight into the foot that’s on the bench.
Drive through the heel of that foot to push your body upwards.
During this movement, focus on using the strength of the leg that’s on the bench instead of pushing off with the foot that’s on the ground.
This step should be done in a controlled and steady motion.
When pushing your body into the air, you’re primarily engaging your glutes and quadriceps of the stepping leg.
Step 4: Balance at the Top
At the top of the movement, both of your legs should be straight.
Hold this position for a moment to maintain balance.
Ensure your chest is up and your shoulders are back, maintaining good posture. Avoid leaning to any side.
Maintaining this position requires engagement of the core muscles, including the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and obliques.
Step 5: Return to the Starting Position
Slowly lower your body back to the starting position, stepping down with the foot that was on the ground.
This descent should be controlled to ensure you maintain balance and stability throughout.
Lowering your body back to the ground utilizes your hamstring and calf muscles for control.
The foot that was initially on the bench or box should stay put, ready for the next repetition.
Remember to switch sides and repeat the exercise with the other leg to ensure balanced muscle development.
Now you know how to do lateral step ups!
In general, it is easy to do the lateral step-up exercise.
How to Include Lateral Step-Ups in Your Workout Program
Lateral step-ups are a great assistance exercise that you can do on both lower-body and full-body workout days.
You might be wondering: should I replace conventional step-ups with lateral ones?
From my experience, having both in your workout routine gives you the best of both worlds, as they’re unique exercises with distinctive benefits.
Let me share how I usually incorporate lateral step-ups into my regimen:
Best Set and Rep Ranges
You can use several different sets and rep ranges for lateral step-ups.
One option is to do your lateral step-ups at the beginning of your workout to activate your lower body and core muscles, using higher sets and reps such as four sets of 20 reps.
I normally choose this option, and I feel like it is an especially great exercise before lower-body intensive workout days, such as when I do 20 rep squats.
After doing my lateral step-ups, my knees and hips are always completely warmed up and activated for heavier exercises.
However, if you want to use this exercise towards the end of your workout, feel free to add more weight and lower reps. For example, you could do three sets of 5 reps (on each leg) with heavy dumbbells or kettlebells.
Although you can use a barbell to add weight to this exercise, I prefer dumbbells or kettlebells because it puts less pressure on your spine and it helps develop grip strength.
When I do heavy lateral step ups, I usually pair this exercise with a lighter lower-body exercise, such as the goblet squat or jump squats, instead of heavy back squats.
If I decide to do heavy lateral step-ups, I don’t often do it on the same day as other heavy compound exercises.
Progression and Regression Options
- Beginner Version: For beginners or those with balance issues, start with a lower step and work your way up. Alternatively, use a handrail or wall for support until your strength and balance improve.
- Advanced Version: For a more challenging version, hold dumbbells or kettlebells in your hands while performing the exercise to increase resistance, and consider using weight on only one side of your body to challenge your balance.
While performing lateral step-ups, it’s crucial to ensure your safety to avoid any potential injuries. Here are a few tips:
- Watch Your Form: Always maintain a straight back and engage your core for stability. Avoid leaning to the side or hunching over, as these can put unwanted strain on your spine.
- Slow and Steady: This exercise is not about speed. Move in a slow, controlled manner to ensure correct form and balance.
- Avoid Overextension: When stepping up, your knee should be in line with your ankle. Don’t allow it to extend past your toes, as this can cause undue stress to the knee joint.
- Soft Landing: When lowering your body back to the ground, make sure it’s a soft landing. Avoid jumping or making any sudden movements.
Final Thoughts – Are Lateral Step-Ups a Good Exercise?
So, are lateral step-ups worth your time? Absolutely!
This effective exercise can be your secret weapon to build strong, stable, and functional legs.
Whether you’re a pro athlete or a fitness enthusiast, lateral step-ups can be a game-changer.
If you have any questions about the lateral step-up exercise, please contact me!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- What are lateral step-ups? Lateral step-ups are a variation of the traditional step-up exercise, which involve stepping onto a bench or box sideways rather than forward, adding an extra layer of challenge to your workout.
- What muscles do lateral step-ups work? Lateral step-ups engage a wide range of muscles, including the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and obliques.
- Are lateral step-ups good for beginners? Yes, lateral step-ups are suitable for beginners. However, it’s advisable to start with a lower step height and gradually increase it as your strength and balance improve.
- How can I make lateral step-ups more challenging? To increase the difficulty level of lateral step-ups, you can hold dumbbells or kettlebells in your hands to add more resistance. You can also increase the height of the step or bench.
- Can I replace regular step-ups with lateral step-ups in my workout routine? While lateral step-ups can be used as a substitute for regular step-ups, including both variations in your workout can provide a more comprehensive lower-body workout due to the different movement directions.
- How many sets and reps of lateral step-ups should I do? The number of sets and reps depends on your fitness level and goals. As a starting point, consider performing 3 sets of 10-15 reps on each leg. Adjust as necessary based on your progress.
- Can doing lateral step-ups help improve my balance and coordination? Yes, lateral step-ups can significantly improve your balance, coordination, and lateral movement ability due to the balance control they require. They’re also excellent for strengthening the knee and ankle joints.
- Do I need any special equipment to do lateral step-ups? All you need for lateral step-ups is a sturdy bench, box, or step that can safely support your weight. As you progress, you may choose to use dumbbells or kettlebells for added resistance.
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