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How to Do Step-Ups

This Basic Exercise Is Guaranteed to Make Your Butt and Hamstrings Sore

Two plus size women exercising in Central Park, New York during a beautiful day.

Want to work your legs and butt but don't have any weights? Find a step, box, bench, or sturdy chair and learn how to do a step-up. This exercise combines the action of the lunge with stepping upward, like climbing stairs, to really target your butt, quads, and upper hamstrings. We've broken down this step-up exercise into three variations so you can find the version that works best for your level of fitness.

If you want to make this move harder, hold a dumbbell or a kettlebell in each hand, and do dumbbell step-ups. You can also do variations where you do multiple reps on one leg at a time to really target your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Aside from a lower-body-burn, this is also a great cardio exercise!

How to Do a Step-Up

A step-up is a basic exercise you can do at the gym, at home, or even outside to strengthen your legs and butt. As long as you have access to a sturdy step, box, bench, or chair, you can do this lower-body, strength-training exercise. Aside from targeting your leg and butt muscles, this is perfect for getting your heart rate up, too, so you can do it as part of your warmup. If you're new to this exercise, step on something low, then work your way to something higher. This exercise requires balance, so focus on keeping your core strong for stability.

Step-Up Exercise: Beginner

Before you start, find a step, chair, box, or bench that when you place your foot on it, your knee bends to a 90-degree angle. The weight benches or plyo boxes are often the right height, but a dining room chair can work too for an at-home strength-training session. If this seems too high, start with a lower step or box.

  • To start, place your entire right foot onto the step, chair, box, or bench. Press through your right heel as you step onto the bench, bringing your left foot to meet your left so you are standing on the bench.
  • Return to the starting position by stepping down with the right foot, then the left so both feet are on the floor.
  • Complete 15 steps leading with the left foot, then repeat another 15 steps leading with your left foot. Do three sets.

Step-Up Exercise: Intermediate

This is a toe-tap variation that will challenge your balance and work your glutes even more. This version works best with a shorter weight bench or a coffee table rather than a chair — prepare to feel the burn!

  • Start by stepping onto the bench with your right foot.
  • Straighten your right leg to stand on the bench while lifting your left leg, bending your knee up, so the hip and knee are both at 90-degree angles (shown in the photo above).
  • Keeping your right foot on the bench, bend your right knee as you lower your left foot to tap the floor with your left toes without putting all your weight into your left foot. This completes one rep.
  • Without stopping, press through your right heel as you straighten your right knee to stand with both feet on the bench. Your right glute should be engaged for the entire set of reps. That's why it burns!
  • Repeat for 15 reps on each leg. Do three sets.

Step-Up Exercise: Advanced

You'll need a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells for this variation. Start with something lightweight (three to eight pounds), then increase to heavier weights (10 to 20 pounds).

  • Try the beginner variation explained above while holding dumbbells — starting with five-pound weights in each hand and working up to 20-pound dumbbells. If you're ready for an extra challenge, try the toe-tap version.
  • Repeat for 15 reps on each leg. Do three sets.
Image Source: Getty / LeoPatrizi
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