Most people treat the Step-Up exercise like the common variation found in an 80’s aerobics class. A movement where you thrust yourself off one leg and plant the other onto a knee high (or shorter) step. You then proceed to pick the rear leg up off the floor with all your momentum and drive it high into the air in a fashion similar to that of a jubilant one man marching band. The exercise feels kind of easy but fast this way. Many will tell you that this kind of movement will work the legs and the butt most. You then decide to take it to the weights room for that sole purpose – to work your butt hard! You see others performing it who have been given similar advice and reasoning – even some who came to these conclusions in their own mind. Guys & girls alike, they all pick up some weights, find a higher step to accentuate the effect, and then proceed with the movement – Thrusting themselves off one leg, planting the other onto the step in front, and then picking the rear leg up off the floor with all their might…..and momentum. Does this work your legs? – To a degree it does. Does it work your butt? – Maybe a little. Is there a better way to do both? – Absolutely! When you want to use the step up as a leg and butt exercise more so than a cardiovascular exercise, you need to make some alterations. These alterations will make the exercise harder but they will also make your butt firmer and stronger – a good trade-off I think. In order to make the step up a proper strength exercise for your butt and legs, you need to start thinking of it differently. You need to start thinking of it as an exercise for one leg not two. This means you will need to keep tension in one leg at a time and keep this tension as long as you can in order to work the muscles harder. If you start using momentum and alternating the tension between both legs, you will not achieve the desired result. To perform the step up for a firmer and stronger butt, do the following:
Step Ups – no rear leg assistance:
- Find a bench/step that is knee height or a little shorter. This is a hard exercise and does not require much loading for effect. Hence, drop the weight right back for this exercise as it is hard enough with just bodyweight for a handful of reps (the suggested starting point for most).
- Prop your working leg up on the bench and have your non-working foot 1-1.5ft back from the bench with its heel spiked.
- Shift your bodyweight and that of any loading implements (such as a barbell or dumbbells) forward until the weight is in the middle of the foot of the front leg. Keep your back flat throughout the exercise and have a straight line from the ankle to the neck on the working leg side of the body.
- With no assistance from the back leg (this means no bending of the back knee, ankle or hip) Proceed to drive yourself up with purely the front leg by pushing through its heel. Note: when one or both of your feet are planted during a lower body exercise, you can initiate the front of the thighs and the quadriceps more by pushing through the forefoot, while you can activate your glutes (your butt) more by driving through your heels.
- The movement up should be slow as there is no momentum and no assistance from the back leg – the back leg is purely there as a landing shaft & nothing else.
- Drive through your heel and hip on the working leg side until you can completely stand up on that leg with a completely straightened the knee & hip.
- Whilst still keeping all your weight in the working leg, lower yourself down slowly towards the starting position along the same movement path in which you stepped up. Ensure the non-working leg is straightened with the toes pointed towards the floor whilst doing so.
- Lightly touch down on the tip of the toes of the non-working leg. Proceed to the next repetition with the same technique as the first.
Build up to 12-15 reps using just your bodyweight and excellent technique before proceeding to add loading to the exercise. Don’t feel the urge to go heavier and cheat a bit – enjoy the exercise as it is and reap the rewards from proper exercise form and a more developed butt in the process.