How Step Up Single-Leg Exercise Can Build Lower Body Strength

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The step up is an underrated addition to your training routine that can help to build unilateral lower body strength, but are you sure you’re even doing the exercise correctly?

For this movement, you shouldn’t settle for anything other than perfect form—especially because it’s such a killer exercise that can serve as a simple addition to your training plan. Let Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and associate fitness editor Brett Williams guide you through the move’s subtleties, saving you from the bad habits that are keeping you from unlocking your fitness potential.

Before you walk up to the box and get prepped to step, take note that it’s extremely important to pay attention the movement here. Hitting the proper form is essential to make sure you’re getting the most out of the exercise—particularly because of how easy it is to use inefficient, wasteful movements. Let’s break down everything you need to know.

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Men’s Health

Single-Leg Motion

Eb says: If you make this a simple step up onto the box, you’re missing the point. This is a move that’s meant to be unilateral, focusing intently on the front leg. You’re going to work on driving almost solely off that front leg, the bent leg on the box, and powering up.

To execute that properly, you need to disengage that back leg as much as possible. Do that by taking away your ability to drive off that back leg and flexing your foot. Try to lift your toes off the ground at the start and maintain that feeling; then you won’t drive off that back leg and you’ll focus on your front leg (and quad drive) that much more.

Pause and Squeeze

Eb says: You don’t want to finish hunched over, or think you’ve finished solely because both feet are on the box. Finish by standing tall and squeezing those glutes.

Finish on one leg. Don’t put your back leg on the box. Instead, stand tall on the one leg that drove you to the top of the box, then squeeze your glutes to drive your hips into extension, the same glute squeeze you’d use to finish a deadlift or squat.

Down Slow

Eb says: Take advantage of the chance to use a slow, controlled eccentric lower when you’re coming off the top of the box. It’s easy to turn this into some crazy aerobic move, where you’re just flying up the box and coming down, but again, then you miss the single-leg training advantages.

So slowly lower yourself, again, putting pressure on the leg that started on the box. You’ll find yourself hinging forward at the torso a bit, and that’s OK. But take your time for the full strength benefit here.

Want to master even more moves? Check out our entire Form Check series.

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