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4 types of step-ups


Step-ups can be used as a strength and conditioning exercise to improve strength and cardiovascular capacity. This exercise primarily targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles. I love using step-ups with trail runners and hikers because of the specificity. It also requires control from glute med, which has an impact on form and efficiency. For example, often if someone's knees cave in toward their midline during hiking or running, strengthening the glute med muscle can improve their form and efficiency both on and off the trail. Step-ups can be helpful to address this!


KATHLETICS Trail clients see multiple types of step-ups throughout the year. Step-ups are versatile because you can use multiple heights of a step or box, various load strategies, and different planes of motion. In step-up sessions, it's most common to see alternating step-ups with a weighted pack on your back. In step-ups as a single exercise within a strength workout, body weight, dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell can be used.

As an exercise in a workout, here are a few common forms:


Step-ups can be done with or without weight. For the weighted versions, dumbbells, kettlebells, and a barbell are most common. Dumbbells or kettlebells would be held at your sides involving grip strength. Barbell step-ups would have the barbell sitting on your upper traps, similar to how you set up for back squats.

Front Racked Step-Ups

Front racked step-ups are similar to regular weighted step-ups except instead of holding the weight at your side, it's now sitting at your shoulders requiring more core stability. You can also use dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell for these.

Side Step-Ups

Side step-ups get glute med involved a bit more by focusing on keeping your knee in line with your toes both on the way up and on the way down in a lateral motion. Side step-ups are especially helpful for preparing for trail conditions that have obstacles or uneven terrain. The weighted versions of these are most commonly seen in my programs with dumbbells or kettlebells at your sides.

Step Overs

Step overs are similar to regular step-ups, but this time you complete the other half of the sequence by stepping up and then stepping down. This helps prepare you for downhill terrain. The weighted versions of these are most commonly seen in my programs with dumbbells or kettlebells at your sides.


With trail goals in mind, I'd recommend completing step-ups in at least one shape or form weekly. Whether that's as an exercise within your strength program or as a step-ups session for duration, reps, and/or pack weight.

As an exercise, aim for 3-4 sets at an RPE of 7-8 most of the time. Reps will vary based on the phase you are in, as well as the overall goal. Is it to build strength in step-ups? Is it to increase endurance? Is it to enhance power?

As a step-ups session, choose your marker for the session (duration, reps, pack weight, or a combination of the three). For reps, aim for 500-1,000+ steps per session. You can break this up with rests at each 100 reps. If you're going for duration, rest every 5 minutes for 1 minute and increase from there. Aim to increase one variable (time, reps, or weight) by +/-10% each week to encourage progressive overload.

I encourage you to add step-ups into your routine if you have trail goals this year!


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