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February 11, 2022 7 min read

A lateral step up is a variation of a traditional step up that actually replicates a squatting motion a lot better. Doing lateral step ups will offer you so many of the same benefits you can receive from squats, with a far easier learning curve. 

Muscle Groups Worked

Plyometrics, which refer to any kind of jumping exercises, really push your muscles to the ultimate level because they help increase your power, strength, and speed. Lateral step ups and box jumps are both considered plyometric movements in which you jump from the floor up onto an elevated surface.

Plyometrics are high impact and target your quads, your glutes, your hamstrings, and your calves.

In addition, lateral step ups work your hip flexors, which in turn helps improve your muscular endurance, balance, and coordination in these muscles. When lateral step ups are done at a high intensity level, they can really improve the amount of power in your legs and your lower body in general. 

How to Do Lateral Step Ups 

  1. First, place one foot on a box with the other on the floor. 
  2. Using your raised leg with minimal assistance from the other leg, push through your whole foot to lift yourself up to a standing position on the box. 
  3. Slowly step back down into the starting position in a controlled way. 

The lateral step up provides unilateral leg strength for better balance and to reduce weaknesses that limit bilateral leg strength.

It also improves your hip stability and aids knee extension in the most mechanically difficult range. Unlike traditional step ups, the side starting position allows you to move more similarly to a squat rather than a lunge, which is also something that can help set you up to do box jumps. 

Boxes in Gyms 

You might be somebody who is baffled by the sight of several large boxes scattered across the padded floors of gyms all over the world. Many people have never used boxes in their workouts at all, and they really have no idea how to use them.

This article will give you a few ideas of the things you can do with boxes, and once you learn how beneficial so many of the exercises are, you might think about incorporating box work into your regular workout routine. 

Adding Box Jumps and Lateral Step Ups to Your Routine 

You can incorporate lateral step ups and box jumps into your workout regimen in a few different ways.

For example, you could start with lateral step ups and box jumps (or any other plyometric moves) after your warmup but before the strength part of your workout. Or you could do them in between your strength training sets. 

A concept called  postactivation potentiation describes the enhanced performance of explosive movements such as lateral step ups or box jumps after you complete a heavy resistance exercise that targets the same muscles.

This means that completing a set of lateral step ups or box jumps after a set of squats can really improve your power and athletic performance. 

Lateral step ups and box jumps are only beneficial when performed efficiently. Never select a box that’s too high, because you might not make it to the top, or you’ll land in a deep squat instead of more of a quarter squat position, which is what you should be striving for in a box jump. A soft landing on the whole foot, in a slight squat with knees slightly out, is one of the keys to a proper box jump. 

Adding weight to lateral step ups or box jumps will make the exercises harder. 

You might even consider adding a weighted vest or ankle weights. Securing weight to your body will allow the mechanics of the lateral step up or box jump movement to stay the same. You can also hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand as you complete the lateral step up or box jump. 

Lateral step ups can make a great warmup exercise, be part of a circuit training workout, or act as a component of  high-intensity interval training (HIIT). 

This involves doing intervals of short bursts of high-intensity exercise followed by even shorter rest periods.

Most HIIT workouts include four to six intervals. Each interval involves a different exercise. You do the interval four times, then move on to the next one. A circuit training workout might involve a 30-second cardio burst between each set of resistance training exercises. You can still rest before the next set, but instead of taking a full rest, try to cut the amount of time in half. 

Variations of Lateral Step Ups 

The movements and requirements of the lateral step up can also be varied in a number of other ways.

Some step up variations include placing a barbell on your back, holding a barbell in the clean rack position, holding one or two dumbbells or kettlebells on your shoulders, holding a barbell or dumbbell overhead, or holding heavy weights such as sandbags on your shoulders, chest or Zercher position. 

You can lift your legs higher as a version of a high knees exercise. 

This also offers an excellent weight-bearing, full-body movement that increases your heart rate, warms the muscles in your lower and upper body, tones all of your muscles, and prepares you for far more complex exercises and activities. 

Alternatively, your opposite leg can be lifted to bring your knee up for added hip stability work, and slow eccentric movements can be used. The lateral step up can also be done as a step-down by starting at the top and lowering your left leg to the bottom slowly. 

The lateral step up exercise can be a primary leg strength exercise if you are experienced and strong enough to use it that way.

It can also be an accessory exercise for improved strength balance and hip stability, or as a rehab exercise (which is often done using assisted slow eccentric movements).

As a strength exercise with heavy loads, we suggest doing up to 6 reps. For an accessory or rehab exercise with limited or no weight, we suggest doing up to 15 reps. We also suggest doing the exercise near the end of your workout after more technical and speed-oriented work.

Box Jumps 

 

In addition to the squatting movements required in lateral step ups, you’ll see quite a few benefits when you incorporate box jumps into your routine, such as an increase in your power and explosiveness.

Many professional athletes focus on quick, explosive movements and they rely on the power in their legs to make it happen.

Box jumps will also help you increase your vertical jump range, but it might take some time for you to get up to that level. So we recommend starting with lateral step ups and then progressing slowly to box jumps.

How to do Box Jumps: 

  1. First, stand with the box one short step in front of you and your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Bend your knees slightly and drop down as you bring your arms out behind you. 
  3. Use the momentum from your quarter squat to propel you upward as you jump onto the box, allowing your arms to swing out in front of you. 
  4. Land softly on both feet while maintaining a slight bend in the knees. 
  5. Step back and down and repeat the movement. 

There are two ways to approach box jumps: to build more power or to build better conditioning. For more power, aim for 3 to 4 sets of 5 repetitions with a few minutes of rest in between your sets.

For better conditioning, choose a lower box. Complete 3 sets of up to 20 reps, resting for only about a minute between your sets.

If you are a beginner, always choose a lower box until you gain confidence.

Plyometric Skip 

 

Plyometric skips (which are also known as plyo skips) are a good way to add another level of balance and power to lateral step ups.

Here is how you can do the plyo skips in the most efficient way.

How to do plyo skips: 

  1. Start with the feet slightly apart, with the arms at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Press your left foot into the ground and jump while driving your right knee high and right heel toward the glutes. 
  3. Use running arm motions to help drive you upward.
  4. Land lightly on your left side and skip. 
  5. Drive your right foot into the ground and (explosively) jump while pulling the left knee-high and left foot toward your glutes.
  6. Land lightly on your right side and start skipping. 
  7. Repeat step 2 and continue the movement for up to 20 seconds. 

As you progress, you can work your way up to sixty-second sets. Speed and distance are not that important when it comes to plyo skips. The real goal is for you to jump as high as you can on each skip, while you explode off the ground to build up your lower body power. You can even do them while standing in place.

Single-leg Box Jump

Jump off two feet as usual, but land with only one foot on the box. Alternate your legs as you make progress. 

Seated Box Jump

Position the box in front of a bench. Sit on the bench and then jump right up onto the box from the seated position. 

Rotational Box Jump 

Stand sideways next to the box and perform a quarter turn in the air as you jump up onto the box. Then, switch sides and try it from a different angle. 

If you are hoping to gain explosiveness and power, or even more endurance, lateral step ups and all the variations of these leg exercises could be a valuable addition to your workouts.

Some Other Important Tips

The best way to add lateral step ups to your routine will probably vary depending on your specific goals.

For example, if you would like to add some cardio exercises to an otherwise strength-focused personal training workout, do lateral step ups in between some of your other moves. 

If you mostly want to build strength in your lower body, choose one of the variations that sound most interesting to you and try it instead of regular lateral step ups.

If you want to just work your glutes at the end of your workout, try combining a lateral step up that doesn’t require jumping with one that does. We suggest doing up to 15 reps of each type and then repeating the motion two or three times.

Warming Up Before and After Exercising

If you plan to do lateral step ups regularly, always remember to warm up correctly before and after each workout session. This helps reduce your risk of experiencing back pain or other injuries.

Always include proper warm-ups, a lot of rest, and a good nutrition program in your overall bodybuilding regimen. 

Your results will always be based on these few variables, and also on how well you can recover from your workouts. 

Incorporating lateral step ups into your strength and/or power routine can aid in muscle growth and fat loss. Pairing a consistent exercise routine with Shredded-AF can keep you on track for your goals while helping you maintain mental clarity and energy on those days when you need it the most.