Lateral Step Ups Exercise – What Muscles Do Lateral Step Ups Work?

Lateral Step Ups Exercise Benefits
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Lateral step ups are a simple variation of a common exercise that you can easily add to your workout routine for an effective change that will help you get a healthier and stronger body.

Although lateral step ups are a simple exercise that aren’t that much different than conventional step ups, I wanted to write this article to help you learn how to do lateral steps, what muscles lateral step ups work, and why you should be doing more lateral step ups!

Lateral Step Up Exercise Benefits

Although lateral step ups and conventional step ups are related, there are some additional lateral step up exercise benefits that you won’t get from the conventional step up exercise.

Here are the most important lateral step up benefits:

  • Improving Knee, Ankle, and Hip Joint Stability
  • Prevent Jumpers Knee
  • Improving Lower Body Mobility
  • Developing Hamstring and Quadriceps Muscle Balance
  • Targets the Glute Muscles More than Regular Step Ups
  • Aerobic and Anaerobic Conditioning
  • Stimulates Muscle Mass Development as Well as Fat Burning
  • Improves Central Nervous System Function and Coordination Through “Lateral” Movement
  • Improves Sprinting Speed and Running Mechanics
  • Helps Increase Your Vertical Jump

Lateral Step Ups Muscles Worked

The step-up exercise is one of the best leg exercises for many people because unlike the squat, deadlift, or Bulgarian split squat, it is a very safe and easy exercise to learn. Step-ups require a lot of balance control, but overall they are not much more difficult to learn than walking up the stairs.

However, for a more challenging exercise, people should try lateral step-ups!

Lateral step ups are slightly more challenging because instead of simply stepping up forward, you will be stepping up laterally, which requires more balance and control.

Here is a list of the muscles that lateral step ups work:

  • Quadriceps
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Rectus Abdominis
  • Transverse Abdominis
  • Obliques

How to Do Lateral Step Ups

  • To do the lateral step up, you will start by standing parallel to the bench or box you are about to laterally step up on to.
  • Next, you will place the foot nearest to the bench or box on the box.
  • Following this, you will use the power of the leg that is on the bench or box to push your body into the air. If you can, do not use momentum from the leg that is placed on the ground to perform the step up.
  • At the top of the exercise, try to pause for a split-second, to control your balance.
  • Lastly, lower your foot back to the ground. You now know how to do lateral step ups!

In general, it is easy to do the lateral step up exercise. If my written explanation of how to do lateral step ups wasn’t good enough for you, check out this video of me performing 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.

Although you can completely replace conventional step ups with lateral step ups, I normally include both in my workout routine and occasionally even on the same training day.

The reason that I use lateral step ups so often in my workout routine is that consistently doing this step up variation has significantly improved the health of my knees and ankles. If you have knee or ankle issues, this is a great exercise for helping you improve your balance.

Best Set and Rep Ranges for Lateral Step Ups

There are also several different set and rep ranges you can use 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 4 sets of 20 reps.

I normally choose this option, and I feel like it is an especially great exercise to do before lower-body intensive workout days, such as when I do 20 rep squats. After doing my sets of lateral step-ups, my knees and hips are always completely warmed up and activated for heavier exercise.

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 3 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 my spine and it helps develop grip strength.

When I do heavy lateral step ups, I usually pair this exercise with more functional lower body exercises, 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.

Concluding Thoughts – Benefits of the Lateral Step Up Exercise

Lateral step ups are an effective exercise that can help build strong, stable, and functional legs. Whether you are a professional athlete or a weekend fitness lover, lateral step ups are a great exercise!

Read Next: Reverse Slide Lunge Exercise Benefits


Adam Kemp
Hello! My name is Adam Kemp. I am a professional basketball player and an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer. In 2014 I graduated from Marist College with a B.A. in Communications, and in 2022 I completed my Master's of Science in Nutrition Education at American University. Additionally, for the last eight years, I have played professional basketball in Europe. I am also an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer. The health and fitness tips you can find throughout the articles I have written include information I have learned throughout my basketball career, academic studies, and my own personal research. If you would like to learn more about my life, please take a moment to follow me on Instagram and Twitter.

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