Step Up…You’re Not a Kangaroo!

The 2010s and onwards will probably go down in history as the period in human development that was enslaved by social media. If in 2018 you are not found on social media and not just google, well then my friend, you just don’t exist!

The almighty interwebs will guide us too when faced with all the modern day quandaries, some helpful and some not so helpful.

  • How do you gut a fish? Let Youtube guide you. It’s how I learned actually.
  • How do you market your online PT business? Let’s some random 24 year old personal trainer help you in return for $12k (sadly true, this one!)
  • What’s the best leg strength exercises? Numerous websites will espouse the value of maintaining a diet of squats, deadlifts and olympic lifting exercises.

While this last recommendation is actually not bad it’s possibly not the best choice for most of us wanting and needing leg strength exercises that add to our health and wellbeing account. Yes, squats and deadlifts are valuable. We spend probably 60% of our training programs employing these two but, we also spend time on single leg strength exercises.

There are no real problems with squats and deadlifts for some of the time but it can be common for an individual to have little imbalances in their hips, ankles, particular muscles which will be unknown to the exerciser until something hurts.

Hurting sucks and yes, if you’ve tried some one leg strength exercises, they suck too.

Often times the more something sucks in the gym, the more benefits it holds and we should practice the sucky stuff until it’s not so sucky anymore. 

Balance or lack of is probably why single leg work sucks. The balance issue is most commonly due to the smaller synergistic muscles, the joint stabilisers, not knowing quite what to do when called upon. As great as squats and deadlifts are, they can become quite efficient quite quickly and some imbalances can arise.

We are bipedals designed with the intent to walk, run, climb and lots of other stuff unilaterally – one leg in front of the other. Our bodies are meant to utilise the muscles that control hip, knee and ankle posture and position as well as the muscles that actuate movement.  We are not Kangaroos!

By taking a little bit of time to work on the single leg exercises we can prevent a lot of pain if we were only to train bilateral movements like squats, deadlift, leg presses, kettlebell swings and such.

To compliment our bilateral movements, what unilateral / one legged exercises can we include?

  • Lunges
  • Single leg deadlifts
  • Various staggered stance squats and dedlifts
  • Step ups

Today, I’m going to run through step ups. Now, you might think there’s not too much to consider with technique. You might take steps at home, work and in the shopping centre, but to get the most out of your time doing step ups, there are a few considerations – so hear me out.

  • Start with a small step and progress to a larger step as you need to
  • Ensure the complete foot is on the step
  • Brace your midsection throughout the repetition
  • Drive pressure through your heal as you start the step up
  • Grip the step with your toes
  • Push the step down with your foot and hip
  • How far forward your knee travels is a personal comfort thing, but to start with, try to keep the knee no more than over the toes
  • At the top when upright – squeeze your ‘butt’
  • Try to control your descent – don’t just drop back down
  • You can repeat the same leg for a set before changing legs or you can alternate legs per repetition.
  • Add weight is needed – if your balance is good

Let’s look at the step up in action…

There are a few variations, but this is the main version we use at the gym.

How to program? 

This is totally dependant on the individual and goal, but for general strength, 3 to 5 sets of 5 reps prove enough. You could use these on a weekly basis to include after squats etc or you could work them harder, with more focus for a few weeks every 2 to 3 months while just maintaining a simple squat etc routine.

Next week I’ll look at another single leg delight.

Want to tell me how much you hate step ups? Please get in touch below.