Barbell Step Up Exercise Form Guide with Video & Pictures

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By Alex
Last updated on
Exercise NameBarbell Step Up (non-alternating)
Primary MusclesQuadriceps
Secondary MusclesCalvesGlutesHamstringsHip Adductors
Required EquipmentBarbell, Plyo Box or Weight BenchPower Rack
Rep Range5-15
VariationsAlternating Step Up, Dumbbell Step Up, Explosive Step Up, High Step Up
AlternativesBulgarian Split SquatSplit SquatLunge, Single-Leg Leg Press, Pistol

Barbell Step Up Instructions

Note: Pictures coming soon!

1. Starting Position

  • Use a wide overhand grip to grasp bar; support bar on upper traps.
  • Unrack bar from outside of power rack.
  • Stand ~12-18 inches in front of box, with feet hip width apart.
  • Raise leg and put foot on box such that thigh is parallel to floor (keep foot here until you switch sides).
  • Assume a neutral spine and upright torso for the duration of the lift.

2. Concentric Repetition

  • Extend leading knee and hip to step up on box, bringing trailing foot down next to leading foot.

3. Midpoint

  • Don’t pause. Once trailing foot has landed on box, immediately commence eccentric rep.

4. Eccentric Repetition

  • Flex leading knee and hip while reaching trailing leg back to step down into the starting position.

5. Repeat

  • Repeat the motion for the desired number of reps. Then switch legs and complete the same number of reps. Once both sides are done, you’ve finished one set.
  • I’ve found that 5-12 reps yields the best results. I stay below 5 reps since heavier loads interfere with balance, which makes using good form increasingly difficult.

Common Barbell Step Up Errors to Avoid

Using trailing legDon’t cheat by pushing off the trailing leg. All the power should from the leading leg.
Leaning forwardKeep your torso as upright as is possible. Make sure your hips are square; directly under and supporting, your torso. Don’t allow them to tilt anteriorly (i.e. butt out, big lower back arch).
Hunching overKeep your chest up, and tighten your abs and lower back. Look straight ahead (except to watch your step!). As said earlier, your spine should remain neutral throughout the lift.

Barbell Step Up Tips

  1. Drive through the heel of your leading foot; not throught the ball of the foot. This provides the most efficient transfer of energy from your body and into the box.
  2. The knee and foot of the front leg should be straight forward throughout the step up movement. Don’t turn them inward or outward.
  3. Vary the distance between you and the step to emphasize different muscles. A longer stride targets the glutes more, while a shorter stride focuses more on the quads.
  4. Change the height of the box to emphasize different muscles. A higher step works the glutes more, while a shorter step hits the quads harder.
  5. Use a bench if you don’t have a box. Just make sure it’s stable and can safely hold your weight plus the weight of the bar.
  6. Use the barbell step up as an assistance movement for the squat. Implement in your routine after squats; or have it be your main leg exercise during a “light” lower body training session.

Is This Exercise Right for You?

This exercise is best for intermediate & advanced lifters looking for increased leg mass, strength and symmetry.

It also has applications for experienced lifters looking to bust squat plateaus and improve balance.

Beginners, on the other hand, should stick to basic leg exercises. Master squats and lunges before trying step ups. Unfortunately, as a beginner, you lack the base strength, balance and proprioception needed to get a worthwhile results from the movement.

You should think of avoiding the barbell step up if you have any inhibitive ankle, knee or lower back issues as well as any other leg-related hinderances (e.g. hamstring strain).

Alex from King of the Gym
Hey! My name is Alex and I'm the founder and author of King of the Gym. I've been lifting weights seriously since 2005 in high school when I started a home gym in my parents' basement. I started writing about fitness in 2009. Then, in 2014, I got into writing home gym equipment reviews and I haven't looked back. My current home gym is in my own house and it's constantly growing and evolving. My goal is to help you build the home gym of your dreams! Read more about me here.

3 thoughts on “Barbell Step Up Exercise Form Guide with Video & Pictures”

  1. Concise and comprehensive write-up in the virtues of step ups; I, myself periodically practice these but even I didn’t quite appreciate all the exercise had going for it and the techniques involved. However, I use dumbbells with a higher box but I’m not too sure about stepping down heavily with a heavier barbell across my traps and impacting my spine…but I’m gonna give it a go at a lower height (so I can increase my weight and focus more on quads) and, I guess step down as gently as I can (to avoid impacting my spine)?


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