There are many different habits and workouts you can do to improve your life. What about doing step-ups, what benefits can you expect?
Step-ups are a type of body calisthenics, also known as bodyweight, resistance training exercise where you step on and off a stable platform. They are a great way to work out a variety of leg muscles.
The ideal height of the platform for step-ups varies from individual to individual. When in doubt you can start with low heights and build up from there. No matter what platform you use, make sure it is stable and suited for step-ups to avoid any injuries.
If your knees or any other body parts hurt during the exercise this may be a sign you need to start with other strength training exercises first. You may want to talk to your primary care provider before starting a new workout routine.
Some people question how useful this exercise can be but adding step-ups to your routine can offer you some of the following amazing benefits.
1. Stronger muscles
Step-ups are mainly a strength training exercise, which means they are mostly for improving muscle strength and endurance. Extra muscle is not only beneficial for your health in many ways but it is also considered to be visually appealing.
Some of the muscles you work out with step-ups include:
One review of studies even suggests that step-ups are more effective than traditional exercises like squats, deadlifts, and lunges for activating the gluteus maximus muscles (1).
If you like the idea of building muscle while doing step-ups you can carry extra weight, for example a heavy backpack, a weighted vest, or dumbbells while doing them to increase the amount of muscle mass you gain.
Since your body weight fully rests on one leg, step-ups are a great bodyweight exercise choice to build muscle mass. To build the most muscle mass you want to do about 4 sets of 10-40 step-ups depending on how advanced you are.
That being said, at some point your body weight may stop being enough resistance to build extra muscle mass with step-ups. When this is the case weighted step-ups or strength training exercises where you use external weights are the next step if you want to keep building extra muscle.
2. Stronger immune system
Your immune system is a collection of biological processes that protects you from diseases.
You do have to keep in mind that at some point working out can turn into overtraining which can weaken immune function. However, most people don’t come close to this point, especially with a generally less intense exercise like step-ups.
3. Can help with losing weight
Losing weight is about using up body fat, which is basically energy stored. To do this you want to make sure that you require more energy throughout the day than there is coming in from food.
One way to try to make this happen is by doing a workout. By increasing the intensity of your movements for a period of time you use up more energy than usual. Doing step-ups can help with weight loss since doing a workout like it generally requires more energy than most of your usual daily activities.
30 minutes of step aerobics which includes a lot of step-ups can help you burn around 251-432+ calories depending on weight, intensity, and much more. Step aerobics is generally more intense than regular step-ups but this does show the potential of step-ups for losing weight.
Another way workouts, mainly strength training exercises, help you lose weight is by increasing your muscle mass which in turn helps with burning more energy with everything you do. Step-ups are a great exercise for building extra muscle mass.
Combined with the calories burned during the workout this makes step-ups a great exercise for losing weight. That being said, there are exercises that can burn more calories in a shorter amount of time.
Keep in mind that other lifestyle habits like what you eat are important when trying to lose weight no matter what exercise you do. You can work out and gain weight at the same time if your other lifestyle habits are not good.
4. Helps you avoid muscle asymmetries
Step-ups are a strength training exercise where you put your whole weight on one leg at a time. By doing this you reduce the risk of using one leg more than the other. This is a possibility in other leg exercises like squats and leg presses.
If you use one leg more the muscle gain in one leg can be different than the other which leads to muscle asymmetries. Muscle asymmetries can lead to increased injury risk and bad posture so likely something you want to avoid.
5. Improved mood
Most people are not always completely aware of it but the physical health of the human body has a big influence on the mood and thoughts of the individual.
Doing step-ups doesn’t just help with this by improving general health. There are inevitably many different reasons involved but one reason why exercises like step-ups benefit mental health is that they promote the release of endorphins, “feel-good” hormones (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12).
Besides the actual physiological changes doing step-ups will cause, you will likely also have positive feelings about having done something challenging that’s good for you.
6. Builds fast muscle and muscle endurance
Not all muscle is the same, it can be made of different types of muscle fibers. These different types have different properties with accompanying advantages and disadvantages.
A common categorization of these muscle fibers is “type 1, slow-twitch muscle” and “type 2, fast-twitch muscle”. Your muscle groups are not made of one or the other, they are made of a certain ratio of type 1 vs type 2 fibers. The way you train can influence this ratio (13).
The type 1, slow-twitch muscle fibers are generally more useful for longer duration workouts like jogging, swimming at a low tempo, cycling at a low tempo,… Basically activities at intensities you can do for an extended period of time.
The type 2, fast-twitch muscle fibers are generally more useful for short duration, fast body movement workouts like sprints, powerlifting, javelin throwing,…Basically activities at intensities you can only do for a short period of time.
As a strength training beginner step-ups will initially help you build type 2 muscle fibers. Once you get to a point where step-ups start being a less intensive exercise they will help you build more type 1 muscle fibers.
7. Low-impact workout
If you exercise a lot, or you plan to, potential injuries are a very relevant concern.
Consistency is a big part of working out. The effectiveness of your workout plan will go down drastically if you can’t exercise for 2 weeks every month because of injuries.
Some exercises like running can be rough on body parts like knees and back. Especially if it is the case that you’re carrying around a few extra pounds.
Luckily doing step-ups is generally a low-impact workout, the shocks your body will experience are relatively soft. This is a huge benefit of step-ups, particularly if you are generally injury-sensitive.
8. Improves posture
When doing step-ups with the right technique you train muscles that are important for a good posture.
Improving your posture will help you avoid related injuries. One small study even suggests that open non-verbal displays, which a good posture helps with, are attractive (14).
Keep in mind that your glutes are not the only muscles that are important for a good posture. Other muscles like your abs, lower back muscles, and obliques play a role as well.
9. Improved cardiovascular health
Your cardiovascular system is the circulatory system inside of your body and includes the heart and blood vessels. These transport many types of important nutrients, oxygen, and waste throughout your body.
When you move more intensely your body needs to transport these things, which means using your heart, at a higher rate.
Your heart is a muscle that can be trained by using it more intensely. While doing step-ups is mainly a strength exercise, this exercise also makes your heart beating faster and thus helps you strengthen your cardiovascular system. This in turn leads to a wide variety of other benefits (15, 16, 17, 18, 19).
Do keep in mind that muscles can get injured. If you have not done any physical activity in a long time you may want to start out with low-intensity movements and build up from there.
10. No complicated technique required
Some machines and workouts almost require a university degree before you can use them optimally. For example, some kettlebell workouts or something like dancing can be slightly more complicated to get started with.
When trying to stick to an exercise routine you want to be able to start as soon as possible and as few reasons as possible to not work out.
You do want to pay some attention to your posture when starting out but step-ups are generally a simple workout when it comes to technique.
11. Improved cognitive function
Another benefit of exercises like doing step-ups is that they can help you improve your cognitive function in a few ways. First of all, they can help with the prevention of diseases like Alzheimer’s disease (20).
Another way working out benefits cognitive function is by improving brain plasticity (21, 22, 23). Better brain plasticity basically means that you are able to learn things faster, see the connection between things faster, and remember things better.
That means that adding a step-up workout to your routine can benefit you by improving areas like your academic performance, job performance, and much more.
12. Time-efficient workout
Another benefit of step-ups is that a good workout session with them doesn’t require a lot of time. To build muscle you basically want to put enough strain on your muscles so muscle growth processes start. This doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time out of your day.
You can easily see this comparison with other types of workouts for yourself. Measure how many minutes it takes to do step-ups until you can’t continue and compare that with how many minutes you can jog at a low tempo. Longer duration workouts can still offer benefits but this means that there is one reason less why you can’t work out.
This benefit of step-ups is especially useful if you have trouble finding enough time throughout your day to fit in a workout.
13. Improved bone density
This is helpful for avoiding broken bones. Depending on your age you may not be that worried about something like this right now. However, exercising right now can help you avoid broken bones in 40 years. The things you do today have an impact on the future.
The way many parts of your body work is that by challenging them you set in motion processes that strengthen these body parts. The same goes for your bones, by putting pressure on them you make them stronger in the long term.
Workouts like running can improve bone density even more than step-ups. Step-ups in turn are likely better than swimming for bone density since you put more pressure on your bones with step-ups.
14. Improves balance and coordination
You will definitely challenge your balance and coordination skills while doing step-ups. By doing this frequently you get better at it like with most skills. Many people forget to implement balance training into their workout routine but it is a helpful fitness component.
The benefits of improved balance and coordination don’t just show up in other technical sports. Daily activities as simple as walking the stairs require balance and coordination.
15. Healthier lungs
To move around your body needs oxygen, the more intensely the more oxygen. Your body absorbs oxygen from the air through your lungs.
By using your lungs more, thanks to workouts like doing step-ups, you can improve how well they work (30, 31, 32, 33, 34). Step-ups will not be the best exercise for engaging your lungs but the usage of a big muscle group like your legs will increase the amount of oxygen your body uses.
Improving how well your lungs function leads to benefits like improved exercise performance and getting tired slower.
16. Slows down aging
Most people think of age as the number of days, months, and years that have passed since the day they were born, this is usually referred to as their chronological age. There are also many other ways to measure “age” based on physiological factors (35).
Exercises like doing step-ups obviously won’t have an influence on the number of days that have passed since you were born. However, physical activity can slow down the aging in terms of how fast other measurement methods progress (36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41).
In general, these other age measurements are more accurate methods than chronological age for assessing risk on age-related diseases. Slowing these down can be a huge benefit for your health.
17. Improves sleep
Good quality and duration of sleep are extremely important for your physical health and cognitive function. Unfortunately, many people can do a lot better with both quality and duration.
A lot of the things you do throughout the day influence the quality and duration in some way. One of the things that can benefit sleep a relatively high amount is doing a workout like step-ups (42, 43, 44).
You do want to keep in mind that exercising too close to bedtime can have the reverse effect and mess with your sleep. Make sure you give your body time enough time to calm down after a workout. For most people, this comes down to avoiding exercises at least an hour or two before going to sleep.
While inevitably some workouts are better for some of these benefits than step-ups, it is amazing that you can get so many important benefits from adding one activity to your routine.
One thing you need to remember is that step-ups can be hard on body parts like your knees, especially if you have a lot of pounds to lose. If you feel any pain in your knees or other body parts that may be a sign you need to start with other workouts first.
Also keep in mind that consistency is a big factor for a workout plan. The more you love the exercise you do the easier it becomes to do it consistently. If doing step-ups is a workout you love, great. If not there are plenty of step-up alternatives and other exercises to consider that can also offer a lot of benefits.