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June 13, 2022 9 min read

Step-ups are a great accessory choice for lifters trying to build their lower body strength as they can build overall muscle development and recruit stabilizer muscles. Depending on your fitness level, step-ups can be difficult.

Some people lack the balance, others may have injuries, and for some, they just simply don’t have a box to step upon.

If you are one of these people, then you're in luck as we have put together the seven best step-up alternatives for increasing your lower body strength.

The Benefits of Step Ups

For a lower body exercise to be worthy of being a part of this list, we needed to consider the benefits you would get from executing step-ups. So what would you expect to see from incorporating step-ups into your workout? 

Increased Agility And Balance

Being able to stop and change direction requires lower body strength. Athletes and lifters alike need to be able to shift their weight one way or another. So building stronger leg muscles allows for stability and movement, which results in fewer injuries in the long run.

Improve Muscle Strength 

Building muscle strength is beneficial for activities in your daily lives and for the demand in your workouts. By training the lower body, you’ll help your body by strengthening the muscles, correcting muscle imbalances, and strengthening the connective tissue surrounding the lower body joints. 

Run Faster And More Efficiently

Strength training in the lower body helps you run faster by improving your neuromuscular coordination, brute power, and VO2 max and improving your cardio efficiency through better movement coordination and stride improvements.

Alternatives to Step Ups    

Picking the best alternative exercises to replace step-ups isn’t too hard. The best moves stimulate multiple leg muscles while allowing you to lift relatively heavyweight. Down below we have created a list of the seven best alternatives to step-ups for lower body strength. All seven of the moves can be substituted into your next leg day for better aesthetics, more strength, and explosiveness. 

Bulgarian Split Squats

If you were to do one accessory exercise to improve your squat, step-ups, and deadlift, the Bulgarian split squat should be the one. Since one foot is elevated, the quad is taxed through a longer range of motion than other leg exercises. This longer stretch stimulates more growth over time, and with the weight being front-loaded the core and upper back will have to work harder to support the load and keep the body stable. You can use dumbbells or kettlebells to add resistance while doing this exercise. 

Benefits of the Bulgarian Split Squat:

Bulgarian split squats reduce muscle imbalances between legs and help to improve leg drive for squats, step-ups, and deadlifts.

With more leg muscle recruitment, as Bulgarian split squats make you work harder, through a longer range of motion, to recruit more muscle fibers to perform the same squat movement.

Plus they are beneficial in improving core and upper back strength, as well as stability. 

How to Do the Bulgarian Split Squat:

  1. Find yourself a step, bench, or box that you can rest a foot on. It needs to be about knee height.
  1. Get into a forward lunge position with torso upright, core braced and hips square to your body, with your back foot elevated on the bench. Your leading leg should be about 2-3 feet in front of the bench.
  1. Lower your front thigh until it is almost horizontal, keeping your knee in line with your foot. Don't let your front knee travel beyond your toes as this will put more strain on your knee.
  1. Drive up through your front heel back to the starting position.

Tip for Bulgarian split squats: The closer you stand to the bench, the more the Bulgarian split squat will put emphasis on your quads. However, if you’re too close, it can potentially give you some knee pain. Standing further away will tax your hip flexors more heavily, though it could also strain your groin. So make sure to experiment to find a distance that works best for you.

Hip Thrusters

The hip thruster builds both strength and mass in your glutes and, to a lesser extent, your hamstrings. Even though the glutes are worked during the back squat and deadlift, the hip thrust is closer to an isolation movement for the glutes. Working your glutes will carry over to step-ups by improving your lockout and explosive power, making this a great alternative exercise.. 

Benefits of Hip Thrusters:

Hip thrusters help to build more glute mass, strength, and power. This increase in strength leads to better stabilization throughout your core and lower back.

They aren’t a very technical exercise so they should be easier to perform properly under heavier loads, unlike large compound movements like squats and deadlifts.

How to Do Hip Thrusters:

  1. Place your upper back, roughly shoulder level, against the center edge of the bench and place the weight bar across the hips.
  1. Squeeze the glutes and press the bar straight up until the hips are in line with the shoulders and the knees. The bench should support the mid-scapula area. 
  1. Keep the core tight and maintain a slight chin tuck with your focus down your body.
  1. Slowly lower the bar down until the hips are just a few inches off the floor.
  1. Squeeze the glutes and repeat until the set is complete.
  1. Repetitions should be kept in the 6-8 range to build your strength.

Romanian Deadlifts 

The Romanian deadlift is like the standard deadlift, but you lower the bar to about shin level instead of going all the way to the floor. This adjustment keeps constant tension on the glutes, lower back, and hamstring muscles. 

A stronger lower back can carry over to your regular deadlift and help prevent spinal rounding (or cat-back) during heavy pulls, which can be dangerous. You can use dumbbells, a barbell, or kettlebells to add resistance while doing this exercise. 

Benefits Of The Romanian Deadlift:

Romanian deadlifts target your hamstrings and glutes more than traditional deadlifts, making them ideal for people wishing to strengthen these areas. They also put less pressure on your low back and are ideal for people with back pain.

Romanian deadlifts are a great option for people who want to increase hip mobility, which is beneficial in activities like step-ups, as being flexible helps with getting your leg up onto the box.

How to Do the Romanian Deadlift:

  1. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and grip the barbell with an overhand grip in front of the thighs. 
  1. With your chest up and shoulders down, take a deep breath in and hip hinge until the barbell is below your knees. Maintain a slight bend in your legs, locking your knees out increases your chances of injury. 
  1. Always keep the barbell close to your body. 
  1. Pause for a second, exhale, and use your hamstrings and glutes to pull you back to a standing position. Keep your back straight.
  1. Reset and repeat.

Good Mornings

The good-morning exercise works the hamstrings and core, but also strengthens the lower back. To start with, do this exercise with no weight and get comfortable with proper form before adding a barbell. 

Benefits of Good Mornings:

Good mornings can help to activate your posterior chain by working the muscle groups along the backside of your body; including your hamstrings, gluteus maximus, erector spinae, and lower back muscles.

With proper form, good morning exercises can increase your leg and back strength and enhance your hip-hinging form.

The good-morning exercise can increase your hip extension and flexion strength; improving your performance during other hip-hinging exercises like the Romanian deadlifts.

Good morning exercises can even improve your posture. With regular practice, good mornings can increase muscle hypertrophy along your back and improve your posture during your day-to-day activities.

How to Do Good Mornings:

  1. Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart.
  1. Place a barbell on your shoulders, resting it on your trapezius muscles. 
  1. Bend the knees slightly and hinge at the hips bringing the torso forward and hips back. Maintain a slight bend in your knees to lower your risks of injury. 
  1. Maintain a straight back and a strong core.
  1. Once your torso is parallel to the floor, return to the starting position.

Reverse Lunges

Reverse lunges are arguably one of the best lunge variations because stepping back makes it a hip-dominant exercise. This puts less stress on your knees and can build strength, muscle, and improve hip mobility for squatting, deadlifting, and other hip-dominant movements.

Benefits of the Reverse Lunge:

As with most unilateral variations, reverse lunges help to decrease muscle imbalances and the risk of injury.

Reverse lunges can help build unilateral strength, increase leg muscle development, and improve single-leg balance. They also tend to be easier on the lower back as your back remains extended, reducing stress on the lumbar spine.

You can adjust the length of the step back to put more emphasis on the quads (smaller step back) or glutes and hamstrings (larger step back).

How to Do the Reverse Lunge: 

  1. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. 
  1. Then take either a small or large step back with your left foot and lower your hips so that your right thigh becomes parallel to the floor with your right knee over your ankle.
  1. Keep your chest up, shoulders down, and pause for a second. 
  1. Push through your right foot and return to the starting position. 

Single-Leg Squats (Pistol Squats)

Single leg strength is a great option because it is an advanced unilateral move that increases single-leg strength, balance, and the movement mechanics of the lower body that can also be done by beginners with some modifications.

It requires you to build tremendous strength and balance. 

Even if you can’t do them with your body weight you can still work them into your workouts by doing them off of a box or with a suspension training system for assistance. 

Benefits of Single-Leg Squats:

Doing the pistol squat correctly will improve your balance and coordination, bolster athleticism, and strengthen your bilateral squat. They are easy to scale from easy to difficult, and they can be done anywhere. 

Pistol squats can increase flexibility and mobility along the posterior chain, while also improving proprioception through the legs and core. 

How to Do the Single-Leg Squat:

  1. Start by standing on one leg, with the toes pointed forward and/or slightly turned out. 
  1. Flex your front leg and point your toes in front of you. 
  1. Engage your core and hip flexors to get ready for your descent. 
  1. Make sure the weight is evenly distributed on the foot that’s on the ground, and carefully sit back into a squat, making sure your torso has a slight forward lean. 
  1. When you’ve reached your desired depth, use your single-leg strength to press through the floor, engaging the core to allow for maximal effort. Only go as deep as you can with proper form.
  1. Assume a stable and supported standing position on the working leg, and repeat for reps. 

Goblet Squats

The goblet squat is a great full-body exercise that builds muscle and develops cardiovascular fitness.

It is a fantastic exercise for those who are looking to improve their squat form and put less stress on their back. You can use dumbbells or kettlebells to add resistance while doing this exercise. 

Benefits of Goblet Squats:

The goblet squat works all the major muscle groups of the lower body, including the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

It also engages the core and the spinal erectors of your back, forearms, and even, in a minor way, the shoulders and upper back, as you have to actively engage them to help keep your chest and torso tall throughout the movement.

Since weight is held in front of your body, this exercise engages the quadriceps slightly more than squat variations where the resistance is carried behind the body, as with a back squat. If you're looking to build extra strength in your quadriceps while performing a total-body move, goblet squats are a good option.

To help pack on muscle and continue seeing strength gains make sure to fuel your body with a high quality protein like  Whey-Pro.

How to Do Goblet Squats:

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart, your toes angled slightly outward.
  1. Hold a kettlebell in both hands at your chest, gripping the handles as though you were cupping a goblet—one hand on either side of the handles. Bend your elbows so the goblet is positioned right at the center of your chest.
  1. Engage your core and look straight ahead—you want to keep your back neutrally aligned and your eyes facing straight ahead throughout the squat.
  1. Press your hips back and begin bending your knees to perform the squat. Inhale as you perform this downward phase.
  1. Keep the kettlebell close to your body during the movement.
  1. Focus on keeping your chest tall as you continue pressing your hips back and lowering down. The goal is to get your hips below parallel with your knees.
  1. Make sure your weight remains evenly distributed across your feet, or slightly more weighted toward your heels—you shouldn't come up on your toes as you squat.
  1. Check your position at the bottom of the squat—your elbows should be positioned on the inside of either knee at the lowest point of the squat. This helps ensure that your knees remain aligned with your toes as you move into the deep squat position.
  1. Press through your heels and reverse the motion to return to the starting position. Exhale as you rise, and be sure to press your hips forward at the top of the squat to more fully engage your glutes.

Step Up To The Occasion

Step-ups are a great leg workout that can be an extremely beneficial addition to your  lower body strength training routine.

You’ll tone and define your leg muscles while correcting any misalignments, which benefits your overall stance and posture.

If you are one of the people who struggle to perform step-ups because of injuries or other circumstances then make sure you switch it up and use one of these alternative exercises the next time you work your lower body.