4 Stepup Variations That Will Strengthen Your Lower Body

By the Editors of SilverSneakers |

Feel steadier on your feet and put more power in your stride with these moves.

stepup variations

Got a sturdy step of any kind? Then you’ve got what you need for a killer workout for your legs, glutes, hips, and core.

Meet the stepup. Just as it sounds, a stepup involves literally stepping up onto a step, bench, or box, and then stepping back down. Simple, but so powerful. It’s a functional exercise that will help you move better throughout your whole day.

You’ll work the major muscles in your lower half: your quadriceps (front of thighs), hamstrings (back of thighs), and glutes (a.k.a. your bottom). The stepup is particularly effective at strengthening your glutes medius (outside of your hip), which is crucial to stabilizing your knees as you walk.

Plus, the stepup engages each leg separately, so it’s a great way to build core strength and total-body balance.

Sold on the stepup? We thought so. Here are four variations to get you started.

How to Use These Exercises

You can do stepups at home, at the gym, or on your daily walk. At home, you can use the lowest stair. At the gym, grab an aerobic bench and a few risers or a low workout box. If you’re walking at the park or in your neighborhood, look for steps or a bench—just make sure they are in good condition on clear, safe ground.

No matter what you use, it’s best to start at a lower height and gradually work up to something higher as you gain strength, balance, and confidence. Even a small stepup done well is effective!

Prioritize good form to stay safe and get the most benefit from the exercise. Keep these pointers in mind:

  • Perform the move near a wall for support, if you’d like.
  • Brace your core as if you’re about to get punched in the gut.
  • Keep your chest up and shoulders back as you step up.
  • Let your leading leg do the work. Don’t push off the floor with your trailing leg.
  • Move slowly and with control. Pause whenever you need to.

Start with the first variation. Gradually work up to three sets of six to eight reps. If that feels good, try the next variation, and so on. Add any you like to your regular workout.

As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or move advanced those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

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Variation #1: Bodyweight Stepup

You’ll want to master the basic stepup before you try more challenging variations. In this version, you’ll complete all reps one side and then all reps on the other side.

Do 6 to 8 reps per side

How to do it: Stand in front of a step. You can rest your hands on your hips or by your sides.

Set your left foot (leading) on the step, push down through your heel, and lift yourself up until your leg is straight. Bring your right foot (trailing) up to the step.

Step down with your right foot (trailing) and then your left foot (leading). That’s one rep. Perform six to eight reps, or as many as you can with good form. Repeat by leading with your right foot.

Variation #2: Alternating Bodyweight Stepup

This variation adds balance and coordination challenges to the basic stepup. Just like the name suggests, you’ll alternate your leading leg rather than performing all reps on one side and then the other. Even though you’re moving in rhythm, be sure to move with control.

Do 6 to 8 reps per side

How to do it: Stand in front of a step. You can rest your hands on your hips or by your sides, letting them swing naturally as you move.

Set your left foot (leading) on the step, push down through your heel, and lift yourself up until your leg is straight. Bring your right foot (trailing) up to the step.

Step down with your right foot (trailing) and then your left foot (leading). Make sure you have good footing.

Repeat by switching your leading leg. Step up with your right foot (leading), and bring up your left foot (trailing).

Step down with your left foot (trailing) and then your right foot (leading). That’s one rep. Do six to eight reps, or as many as you can with good form.

Variation #3: Dumbbell Stepup

If you’ve mastered the bodyweight stepup, you can add a strength challenge by holding light weights in each hand.

Do 6 to 8 reps per side

How to do it: Stand in front of a step. Hold light dumbbells in your hands, keeping your arms by your sides.

Set your left foot (leading) on the step, push down through your heel, and lift yourself up until your leg is straight. Bring your right foot (trailing) up to the step.

Step down with your right foot (trailing) and then your left foot (leading). That’s one rep. Perform six to eight reps, or as many as you can with good form. Repeat by leading with your right foot.

Make it harder: Once you have this version down, you can try an alternating dumbbell stepup.

Variation #4: Offset Dumbbell Stepup

Feeling good with the dumbbell stepup? Add a core challenge by holding a light dumbbell in just one hand. Your goal: Maintain good posture as you move—no tilting to the side!

Do 6 to 8 reps per side

How to do it: Stand in front of a step. Hold a light dumbbell in your right hand, keeping your arm by your side. Hold your left arm out slightly to the side for balance.

Set your left foot (leading) on the step, push down through your heel, and lift yourself up until your leg is straight. Bring your right foot (trailing) up to the step.

Step down with your right foot (trailing) and then your left foot (leading). That’s one rep. Perform six to eight reps, or as many as you can with good form. Repeat by leading with your right foot and holding the dumbbell in your left hand.

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