There are many different ways to improve your current exercise routine. What about doing weighted step-ups, what benefits can you expect?
A weighted step-up is simply doing step-ups while you carry external resistance with your body. Popular types of equipment for this are dumbbells, kettlebells, heavy chains, a weighted vest, and weight plates. You preferably want your hands to be able to move for extra balance but weighted step-ups with a barbell can work too.
To do weighted step-ups you also need a stable object or platform strong enough to stand on. The plyo box may be a good option depending on how much pressure you want to put on it.
How much weight you should use to do weighted step-ups varies from individual to individual. When in doubt you can start with low weights and build up from there.
You do have to keep in mind that adding weight to regular step-ups increases your injury risk. Make sure your step-up technique is good before adding any external weights to the exercise.
How to do a weighted step-up
If you have the equipment mentioned above, to do weighted step-ups take the following steps:
Stand upright in front of the object facing toward it with your feet at shoulder-width and the weights in your hands or on your body. Raise one foot and put it on the surface of the object. Make sure your sole is entirely on the surface. Raise your body by exerting pressure with the leg of the foot that is on the object.
Put your second foot next to the other one. Step down with the first foot. Step down with the second foot. Do a repetition with the other foot first.
Benefits weighted step-ups
Some people question how useful weighted step-ups can be but adding weights to your regular step-ups can offer you some amazing benefits.
1. Helps you build more muscle
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 main muscles you work out with step-ups include:
Generally the more weight you have to move, the more muscle you will build with an exercise. That’s one of the reasons why people go to a gym instead of doing bodyweight exercises at home.
As a strength training beginner regular step-ups are a great bodyweight exercise choice to build muscle mass. 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 you can start doing weighted step-ups to be able to build extra muscle mass.
2. Can help you lose more 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. Weighted step-ups can help with weight loss since they generally require more energy compared to doing step-ups with just your body weight.
A big factor in how many calories you burn during a workout is your weight. To move around your body needs energy, measured in calories. The more weight you carry, the more energy you need to fuel movement.
For example a 155-pound (70 kg) person doing lunges for 15 minutes burns around 110 calories.
On the other hand, a 185-pound (83 kg) person doing lunges for 15 minutes burns around 131 calories.
There will likely be a difference in how much external weights increase calorie-burning vs the same weight in body fat but that just shows how doing weighted step-ups can benefit weight loss.
Another way workouts help you lose weight is by increasing your muscle mass which in turn helps with burning more energy with everything you do. Weighted step-ups help increase muscle mass too.
Doing weighted step-ups or not will likely not make or break your weight loss journey but even a small improvement in a workout you often do will make a big difference over 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.
3. Improved cardiovascular health
Your cardiovascular system is the circulatory system inside of your body and includes 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. Doing weighted step-ups makes your heart beat faster and thus helps you strengthen your cardiovascular system more compared to step-ups with just your body weight. This in turn leads to a wide variety of other benefits (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
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 without external weights and build up from there.
4. Can improve athletic performance
Getting better at a certain sport or exercise isn’t necessarily done by doing these activities more. Cross-training which is training in a different sport can be useful.
One study suggests that jump height in turn is related to sprint performance (8). This means that adding weighted step-ups to your routine can improve your performance in basically any sport that involves fast running.
5. Helps you build fast muscle
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 (9).
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 bodyweight 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. If you add external weights at this point you can continue building more fast type 2 muscle fibers.
6. 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.
Weighted step-ups put more pressure on your bones than bodyweight step-ups. This in turn will benefit your bone density in the long term.
Generally, workouts on land with a lot of jumping and strength training exercises are the best for improving bone density. Next, you have exercises that put less pressure on your bones like walking. Lastly, you have exercise in the water like swimming which will still benefit bone density but likely not as much as the other categories.
7. Makes your step-ups more time-efficient
Another benefit of weighted step-ups is that they can help you decrease the time it takes to get in a good workout. A good workout session isn’t necessarily about duration.
For example 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.
A more intense cardio workout can train your cardiovascular system in a shorter amount of time than one at a lower intensity.
Doing weighted step-ups instead of bodyweight step-ups can help with both of these things. This benefit of weighted step-ups is especially useful if you have trouble finding enough time throughout your day to fit in a workout.
8. 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.
Improving how well your lungs function leads to benefits like improved exercise performance and getting tired slower.
9. Improves coordination and balance
While the technique of step-ups is not that complicated, you do need to use some coordination and balance. By using these frequently you get better at them like with most skills. Step-ups with external weights are generally even more challenging for your coordination and balance.
Many people forget to implement balance training into their workout routine but it is a helpful fitness component.
The benefits of improved coordination and balance don’t just show up in other technical sports. Daily activities as simple as walking the stairs require coordination.
10. Improves posture
When doing step-ups, even more with weighted 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 (21).
All in all, it is amazing that you can get so many important benefits from making one change in your step-up exercise routine.
One thing you need to remember is that even though there are benefits to weighted step-ups, your injury risk is generally also slightly higher. Make sure your step-up technique is good before adding weights and pay extra attention to technique when adding weights.
Especially if you are more of an exercise beginner or intermediate you want to start with regular step-ups without any extra weights and build up from there. Once you feel you can start doing weighted step-ups you can start with lower weights first and if that goes well go up to higher weights.
If you feel pain in any body parts it may be a sign you are overdoing it. In that case, you may need some rest, better lifestyle habits, a less intense workout schedule, or it may be a sign that doing weighted step-ups is not for you.
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 you like doing weighted step-ups, great. If not regular step-ups and other exercises like certain step-up alternatives can also offer a lot of benefits.
Some weighted step ups alternatives include weighted lunges, weighted squats, deadlifts, box jumps, etc.