Exercise 101: Step-Up Using Free Weights

Name of Exercise —Step-up

Type of Exercise —Multi-joint

Muscles used —Quadriceps, hamstrings and buttocks

Starting Position

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  • Hold dumbbells in each hand or place a weighted bar on your upper back. Note : You can also do these without weights. If you don't have experience with weights, consider taking a class that offers step and weight training together first.
  • Keep your chest up and out while keeping your shoulders back. Stand in front of the bench or step with your feet shoulder-width apart.

Upward Movement

  • Step up with one leg and place the entire foot onto the step or bench.
  • Keep your back straight and avoid leaning forward.
  • Lift yourself up using the leg that is on the step. Do not push-off with the leg that is on the floor.
  • Extend your hip and knee, push your body upward, and place the trailing foot onto the step.

Downward Movement

  • Step off the bench with the trailing leg.
  • Try to place the trailing foot at least 12 inches behind the base of the step.
  • Bring the lead foot off and place it next to the trailing foot.


  • Stand in the starting position and step up with the opposite foot.
  • Keep alternating legs throughout the exercise.

Trainer Tip

Remember to keep your whole foot on the bench or step rather than just the front or the heel. The natural tendency in this exercise is to lean forward as you begin the upward movement, but don’t do it. Keep your back straight.

Repetitions, Sets, and Weight

The number of repetitions (reps) and sets you should do depends on your strength goals. In general, muscle strength works to increase the basic function of the muscle and is the typical workout goal. Muscle endurance is important to people who participate in endurance activities, such as running or biking. Muscle power is beneficial for athletes who need to use sudden quick movements for activities like sprinting and football. Beginners should start with a basic routine and gradually move toward a strength, endurance, or power routine.

Beginner : 1 set of 8 to 10 reps

Muscle Strength : 1 to 3 sets of 5 to 8 reps

Muscle Endurance : 1 to 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps

Muscle Power : 1 to 3 sets of 3 to 5 reps

Use a weight that is heavy enough to perform the desired number of reps and sets for your skill level using good form. After you are able to perform more reps and sets than is outlined in your category, try to increase the weight you lift by 5% to 10%. Your strength goals may change as you progress.


Selecting and effectively using free weights. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/selecting-and-effectively-using-free-weights.pdf. Accessed November 14, 2017.

Step training guidelines. American Council on Exercise website. Available at: https://www.acefitness.org/fitfacts/pdfs/fitfacts/itemid_2794.pdf. Accessed November 14, 2017

Last reviewed November 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP  Last Updated: 1/31/2014