Exercises I love is a rotating series where I highlight various exercises that are a part of my training program and those of my clients. These exercises return a solid "bang for the buck" in terms of strength training, conditioning or mobility.
Today's exercise that I love is the Dumbbell Offset Step-Up.
A Step-up is a compound movement that promotes strength and coordination of the muscles that control the ankle, knee and hip. To maximize the value of your Step-Ups keep these coaching points in mind:
We want to promote hip extension as much as possible. I’ll often see people unload their heel during the Step-Up, which has the effect of making it more knee (quad) dominant.
Use a surface that allows you to maintain full foot contact and drive through your heel. Be sure to fully extend your hip at the top of the movement, rather than stopping at knee extension. I find that driving the opposite knee through helps with this.
The working leg is the one in contact with the bench or box. Allow that leg to do as much of the work as possible.
I can always tell when people are using too much weight because they’ll load up on their back leg and transfer momentum to the working leg. Lighten the weight and allow the working leg to shoulder most of the load.
There are two primary ways in which I like to perform Step-ups. The first is to keep your working leg in contact with the box at all times. You’ll perform all of your reps on one side then switch sides.
The second is to step up on one side completely, return the floor and switch sides. You’ll alternate back and forth for the designated number or reps. I like this variation for promoting hip flexion and coordination because each rep requires you to step and reload.
In either case, I prefer to keep the non-working leg from ever touching the box. Doing so creates an added stability and coordination challenge.
If you’re struggling with increasing the weight on your bigger lifts, core strength may be a culprit. Including exercises like the Offset Step-Up can help to eliminate those deficiencies and lead to overall strength increases. The offset nature challenges your ability to stabilize because you will not have opposing loads cancel each other out. Where you might feel pretty stable holding two dumbbells, you’ll have to compensate for the uneven load to maintain your balance.
Finally, I prefer to use Step-Ups as a supplemental exercise to round out my program. For example:
A1. Back Squat: 4x5
A2: Pull Ups: 4 x 8
B1: Offset Step-Ups: 3x8/side
B2: Plank Row: 3x8/side
Another programming option is to include them on a day where you only perform unilateral exercises.
Compound movements are one of the best ways to build strength. Using offset loads as demonstrated here allows us to improve core strength as well. Consider using offset loads to buttress your overall strength and stability, while also addressing weaknesses that could potentially slow your progress.
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