Step Up Alternative Exercise: 15 Exercises That Rival Step-Ups

Table of Content show

Step ups are a go-to lower body exercise, but sometimes you need alternatives. Swapping in new exercises can shock your muscles and avoid plateaus. This guide covers a variety of excellent step up alternatives to build serious lower body strength.


Read on to discover the top step up alternatives to sculpt powerful, defined legs!


Key Takeaways

  • Step ups target quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves for total lower body development.
  • Alternatives like lunges, Bulgarian split squats, and single leg deadlifts mimic step up benefits.
  • Utilize barbells, dumbbells, and just bodyweight for variety and progression.
  • Swap step up alternatives in 1-2 times per week to strengthen your legs from new angles.


Work these phenomenal step up alternatives into your routines for new muscle stimulus and serious lower body gains!


Upgrade your leg workouts with creative step-up alternatives! Gain a deep understanding of targeted muscles, explore 15 phenomenal exercises with proper performance details, discover set and rep guides for stronger legs, learn programming techniques to seamlessly incorporate alternatives, and get progressions and tips for maximizing muscle activation. Don’t settle for stale routines – revolutionize your leg training now!


Muscle Groups Targeted by Step-Ups

Muscle Groups Targeted by Step-Ups

Before covering alternatives, let’s review the muscles step ups work:


  • Quads – Step ups heavily engage your quadriceps through a large range of motion.
  • Glutes – Pushing through your heel activates your glutes to extend the hip.
  • Hamstrings – They stabilize your knee and decelerate knee extension.
  • Calves – Your calf muscles plantarflex the ankle as you push off the step.


Now let’s look at 15 phenomenal exercises that mimic these benefits.


15 Step-Up Alternative Exercises

Here are the top step up alternative exercises to sculpt muscular, defined legs:


Bulgarian Split Squats

1. Bulgarian Split Squats

  • Stand staggered in a lunge stance, rear foot elevated
  • Bend both knees, lowering until your front thigh is parallel
  • Push through your front heel back to the starting position



2. Lunges

  • Step forward into a lunge, lowering until both knees are bent at 90 degrees
  • Drive through your front heel to return to starting position
  • Repeat for all reps then switch legs


Barbell Squats

3. Barbell Squats

  • Hold a barbell across your upper back in a shoulder-width stance
  • Push your hips back and bend your knees to lower into a squat
  • Press through your heels, extend your knees and hips to stand back up


Dumbbell Step Ups

4. Dumbbell Step Ups

  • Hold dumbbells at your sides, step onto a box or platform with one foot
  • Press through your heel to step up, bringing your other foot to meet the first
  • Step back down one leg at a time to return to the starting position


Step Up Alternatives Single Leg Deadlifts

5. Single Leg Deadlifts

  • Stand on one leg, hinge at the hip by pushing your hips back
  • Keeping a flat back, lower your torso while raising the other leg behind you
  • Squeeze your glutes and return to standing


Kettlebell Swings

6. Kettlebell Swings

  • Hold the kettlebell with both hands between your legs
  • Hinge at the hips, swing the kettlebell back then explosively swing it forward
  • Extend your hips and swing the weight to chest height as you stand upright


Step Up Alternatives Box Jumps

7. Box Jumps

  • Stand facing a sturdy box or platform, feet shoulder-width apart
  • Dip down into a quarter squat then explode up onto the box, fully extending your hips
  • Step down under control to return to the starting position


Glute Bridges

8. Glute Bridges

  • Lie faceup with knees bent, arms at your sides and feet flat on the floor
  • Push through your heels, squeeze your glutes and raise your hips toward the ceiling
  • Hold briefly at the top, then lower back down with control


Forward Step Ups

9. Forward Step Ups

  • Stand facing a box or platform, and step onto it by extending one leg
  • Bring your trailing leg to meet the leading leg atop the box
  • Step back down one leg at a time under control


Reverse Lunges

10. Reverse Lunges

  • From standing, take an exaggerated step backwards with one leg
  • Bend both knees until the rear knee hovers above the ground
  • Drive through the front heel back to the starting position


Split Squats

11. Split Squats

  • Take a big step forward into a lunge stance, front knee bent at 90 degrees
  • Bend your back knee, lowering your rear hip toward the floor
  • Press through the front heel to return to the starting lunge position


Barbell Hip Thrusts

12. Barbell Hip Thrusts

  • Sit on the floor with your upper back on a bench holding a barbell across your hips
  • Drive through your heels, push your hips upward, lift your barbell
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top then lower back down with control


Walking Lunges

13. Walking Lunges

  • Stand upright, step forward into a lunge, lowering until the front thigh is parallel
  • Push off the front foot and step forward into the next rep with the opposite leg
  • Continue alternating legs as you walk forward or in a circle


Dumbbell Squats

14. Dumbbell Squats

  • Hold dumbbells at your sides, stand with feet just beyond shoulder-width
  • Push hips back, bend knees and lower into a squat until thighs are parallel
  • Drive through heels back to the starting squatting position


Bodyweight Step Ups

15. Bodyweight Step Ups

  • Stand facing a sturdy box or platform, step onto it by extending one leg
  • Bring your trailing leg to meet the leading leg atop the box
  • Step back down one leg at a time under control


Mix up these phenomenal alternatives to blast your legs from new angles and make serious strength gains!


Now let’s cover how to program them into your routines.


Read also:


Programming Step Up Alternatives

Here are two effective ways to incorporate step up alternatives:


Substitute Into Existing Step Up Workouts

Swap one of the alternatives for your programmed step ups for 1-2 leg sessions per week.


Dedicate Workouts to a Single Alternative

Do 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps of a single movement like Bulgarian split squats for an entire lower body workout.


I recommend starting with 3 sets in the 8-10 rep range and progressing up to 4 sets of 10-12 reps before increasing weight.


Exercise Pro Tips for Maximum Results

Use these expert tips to get the most out of any step up alternative:


  • Go deep – target proper depth for maximum muscle activation in each movement.
  • Use full ROM – get a big stretch and complete hip and knee extension.
  • Go heavy – pick challenging weights within your capability for progressive overload.
  • Drive from the heel – prevent knee strain and target glutes.
  • Improve mobility – ankles, hips and thoracic spine for proper form.
  • Brace your core – maintains spine neutrality and transfers force.


Follow these guidelines and step up alternatives will carve runner’s legs like no other!


Benefits of Step Ups

Before moving on from step ups entirely, let’s review the major benefits they provide:


Build Lower Body Strength

Step ups are a compound exercise that targets multiple leg muscle groups through a large range of motion under load. This builds impressive overall lower body strength.


Isolate Quads

The vertical movement pattern heavily targets your quadriceps muscles. This makes step ups a great quad isolation exercise.


Activate Glutes

Pushing through your heel on the step engages your glutes for strength, shape and definition.


Increase Core Activation

Balancing and stabilizing your core is required during step ups for posture and alignment.


Improve Stability

Controlling your body on one leg increases balance, proprioception and stability through your hips and ankles.


Add Variety

Step ups are an easy exercise to add diversity to stale lower body routines.


While step up alternatives provide a fresh stimulus, step ups themselves offer unique benefits worth incorporating year-round!


Boost Power and Performance with Box Jumps

Boost Power and Performance with Box Jumps

Box jumps are a type of plyometric exercise that build explosive power and athletic performance. Here’s how they work:


  • Start in front of a sturdy box or platform, feet shoulder-width apart
  • Dip down into a slight squat, then explode upwards onto the box
  • Fully extend your hips, ankles, and knees to maximize height
  • Land softly and with control on the top of the box in a quarter squat
  • Step down and reset for the next jump


Executing continuous maximum-effort jumps recruits fast-twitch muscle fibers. Over time this develops impressive power, acceleration, and dynamic athleticism through your entire posterior chain.


Strengthen Your Legs: Step Up Box Squats Explained

The box squat is an excellent step up alternative to build foundational lower body strength. To perform it:


  • Place a box or platform behind you, height just below parallel depth
  • Hold a barbell across your back in a traditional squat stance
  • Initiate the squat by pushing your hips back and bending your knees
  • Descend until your glutes gently touch the box then drive back up


The box provides a stopping point at a specific depth, allowing you to squat with proper mechanics. This builds tremendous squat strength to boost all your lifts.


Sculpt and Tone with Effective Lunge Step Up Exercises

The lunge step up combines a forward step up onto a box with a lunge movement pattern. To execute it:


  • Stand facing a box, step onto it by extending one leg into a lunge
  • Push through the heel of your front foot to step fully up onto the box
  • Step back down into a lunge under control, alternating legs


This advanced exercise reinforces proper lunge form while increasing the range of motion. Together this provides an incredible sculpting effect on your quads, glutes, and hamstrings!


Step Up Alternatives comprehensive guide

Best Step up Exercise Alternatives – Take Your Legs to the Next Level!

I hope this comprehensive guide empowers you to integrate a wide range of creative new step-up alternatives into your workout routines. By substituting these fresh movements like deadlifts, bodyweight exercises, and plyometric exercises in place of traditional step-ups, you can provide your legs with unique stimulation for continued growth.


Additionally, these alternatives offer the added benefit of engaging your upper body, hip flexors, and back foot for a more holistic workout experience. Whether you opt for a plyo box or a step-up box, implementing the best step-up alternatives will help you elevate your leg training to new heights.


Experiment with the exercises, apply the insightful tips, and utilize the programming techniques provided here to unleash the full potential of your quads, hamstrings, and glutes!



Q: What is a step-up exercise?

A: The step-up exercise is a lower body exercise that involves stepping up onto a platform or step with one foot, followed by bringing the other foot up to meet it, and then stepping back down.


Q: What are the benefits of doing step-ups?

A: Step-ups are a great exercise for targeting the muscles in your legs, including your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. They also help improve balance and stability, and can be a good cardiovascular workout.


Q: How do I do a step-up exercise?

A: To do a step-up exercise, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart in front of a step or platform. Step up onto the platform with one foot, followed by the other foot. Step back down and repeat on the other side.


Q: Are there any alternatives to step-ups?

A: Yes, there are several alternatives to step-ups that you can try. Some options include squats, lunges, Bulgarian split squats, box jumps, and glute bridges.


Q: Is the step-up exercise a good alternative to other leg exercises?

A: Yes, the step-up exercise can be a great alternative to other leg exercises like squats and lunges. It targets similar muscle groups and can be modified to suit different fitness levels.


Q: How can I make step-ups more challenging?

A: You can make step-ups more challenging by increasing the height of the platform or step, adding weights (dumbbells or kettlebells) to increase resistance, or performing them as single-leg step-ups.


Q: Can step-ups help with improving my balance and stability?

A: Yes, step-ups can help improve balance and stability as they require coordination and control throughout the movement. They also engage your core muscles, which are important for maintaining balance.


Q: Are there any tips for proper form when doing step-ups?

A: Yes, when doing step-ups, it is important to keep your back straight, engage your core muscles, and ensure that your knee stays in line with your ankle as you step up and down. Also, make sure to fully extend your hips at the top of the movement.


Q: Can step-ups cause any risk of injury?

A: Like any exercise, there is a potential risk of injury if proper form is not maintained or if you push yourself too hard. It’s important to start with a proper warm-up, use a step or platform that is appropriate for your fitness level, and listen to your body.


Q: Can step-ups be included in my workout routine?

A: Yes, step-ups can be included in your workout routine as a leg-strengthening exercise. They can be performed as part of a lower body workout or as a standalone exercise.