The Best Variations of Step-Ups for Quad, Glute and Hamstring Development

Squats are one of the best exercises for the legs, but they aren’t the only leg exercise out there. Lunges and step-ups are also great compound exercises for the legs. The benefits of lunges are well-documented, but not so much with step-ups. But recently, researchers have looked at step-ups and their many variations to see if there are any differences between them.

The researchers looked at the standard step-up, a crossover step-up (stepping up onto the platform by having the opposite leg cross the body and stepping up), a diagonal step-up (stepping onto the platform diagonally), and a lateral step-up (stepping onto the platform from the side). What they found was interesting.

The standard step-up activated the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus during the eccentric phase (stepping down) and the gluteus maximus and hamstrings during the concentric phase (stepping up). Also, the gluteus medius was recruited the most during the crossover step-up. The takeaway message here is that variety is key.

It’s simple and straightforward then: Try doing a variety of step-ups to use different muscles of the lower body. Doing so will keep your body progressing, and it’ll change out the variety of the workout so that you don’t fall into a rut.


Simenz CJ, Garceau LR, Lutsch BN, Suchomel TJ, Ebben WP. Electromyographical analysis of lower extremity muscle activation during variations of the loaded step up exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Jan 10. [Epub ahead of print]

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