Step Up Alternatives (10 Best At-Home Substitute Exercises)

Steps ups are a great way to target your lower body, but it's difficult to perform them correctly if you don't have a suitable step.

It’s hard to think of replacement exercises that work with the equipment you have, but don't worry; we've created a list of step up alternatives so you can still get the benefits of step ups.  

Step ups engage your quads, hamstrings, and buttocks in a way that helps build muscle and condition your whole body.

It's not always practical to do step ups at home, but some alternatives mimic the movement and engage similar muscle groups, so you don’t miss out.  

1. Walking Lunges

Walking lunges are a great way to develop a solid lower body. They’re a useful alternative to step ups because they engage all the same muscle groups without the need for any equipment.  

Start by standing tall and put one foot out in front of you. 

Step into it and bend your knees to a 90-degree angle before pushing up and moving your other foot forward. Make sure your back knee doesn’t touch the ground as you perform each step, and aim for 8-10 reps on each leg per set.  

Walking lunges are great for beginners, and they engage all your leg muscles, including your glutes.

Training Tip: If you find them a bit too easy, you can add more resistance by holding a weight in each hand and up this as you get stronger overtime.  

Related Articles:

walking lunge

2. Box Jump 

You might have seen people performing a box jump in the gym, but it's not as intimidating as it looks. Start with a box about a foot in front of you and stand with feet shoulder-width apart.

Bend your knees and push through your heels to drive your body up from the floor and jump onto the box. Pause for a second and then hop back down to repeat it.  

The explosive movement involved in a box jump is great for your legs, and you engage your core to stabilize your body as you land. You will need a box to perform it, but it’s a great alternative to step ups and will give you similar gains.

Training Tip: These can be done anywhere as you do not need a plyo box and are excellent exercises to incorporate into outdoor workouts.

If you prefer to use a safe and stable surface indoors then check out - Our Favorite Plyo Boxes

box jump

3. Bulgarian Split Squats

For a Bulgarian split squat, you need a chair or bench to rest your back foot on. Start roughly two feet in front of the bench, pick up your right foot and place it on the bench behind you.

Keep your body straight and bend your left knee to lower yourself towards the floor. Pause at the bottom with your knee just off the ground, and then raise yourself back up to starting position. Repeat this 8-10 times, and then swap feet so you get the benefit on both sides.

Bulgarian split squats are quite challenging and may take a little time to master, but they offer some real benefits. They engage all the leg muscles and your glutes, helping you to improve your overall strength. They also help with your coordination and balance in a way that is more beneficial than step-ups, so they’re a great one to work into your routine.

Training Tip: Start off with low weight and master the balancing aspects before increasing. These can burn your glutes quickly if you overload yourself!

Related Article - 18 Dumbbell Glute Exercises

bulgarian split squat

4. Deadlifts

For deadlifts, you will need some kind of weight, preferably a barbell, and space to perform it. Start with the bar on the ground in front of you.

Slightly bend your knees and bend over at the hips until you can grip the bar. Next, move your buttocks backward, and then, pushing through your legs, raise the bar up as you stand. Hold it at hip level for a few seconds and then lower it back down.

Deadlifts are a useful compound exercise to engage many big muscle groups. If you have a home gym, then they are a good replacement for step ups. 

Training Tip: Deadlifts are good for all levels of experience. Start with a light bar if you are a beginner and progress slowly in weight while you focus on technique.

See Also - Trap Bar Vs Barbell Deadlift: How They Compare

barbell deadlift

5. Sled Pushes 

Sled pushes work your legs, back, and core, and you're able to customize the resistance to challenge your body.

Start with a loaded sled in front of you and bend forward, so your shoulder is resting against it. Your legs, shoulders, and arms should all line up so that they are all pushing in the same direction. Push the sled until you reach the end of the track, and you should feel it in your legs and back.

Not every home gym will have a sled or enough room to use one, but they are a good alternative to a step up and actually engage more muscle groups.

Training Tip: Engage and activate your core as you push your sled. This will help build force and momentum and make it much easier to move.

sled push

6. Glute Bridges 

Glutes bridges focus the energy on your glutes and hips, and while they won't work as many muscles as step ups, they're good as part of a lower-body routine.

Start by lying on the floor, face-up, with your hands by your side and knees bent upwards. Next, lift your hips off the ground and pause at the top before lowering them back down to the ground. Try to repeat this 8-10 times, and you should start to feel the burn.  

Step ups help condition your glutes, and it’s good to work in some glute bridges as part of your alternative workout.

Training Tip: You'll definitely want one of the best gym mats for this movement. Don't forget to jump over to our guide to get yours!

glute bridge

7. VMO Dips 

VMOs (vastus medialis obliques) are a muscle group just next to your knee, which are increasingly important as we get older. These dips are like a reverse step up and are well suited for older people or those recovering from an injury. 

Start by standing on a raised platform and put one leg out in front of you. Bend the other knee and slowly lower your body down until the leg in front of you is almost touching the floor. Pause, and then return to starting position. This movement will help mimic the step-up exercise and give you greater flexibility.   

Training Tip: This exercise is not just for the elderly and can play a role in knee and leg strength anyone who does serious lifting.

VMO Dips

8. Good Mornings 

Good mornings help work your core, hips, and upper legs particularly, so they're good to incorporate instead of step-ups in your lower body regime.

Start standing tall with your legs shoulder-width apart and a barbell held behind your shoulders. Slowly bend at the hip until your get to waist height, and then raise back up again, keeping your back straight throughout.

You do need a barbell for this exercise, but because there's so little movement, you don't need much space. This makes it a perfect step-up alternative for those with a small home gym.

Training Tip: Good mornings are a classic exercise and for good reason. Take this exercise slow and steady to get the best results.

Further Reading - Good Mornings Vs Deadlifts: How They Differ

good morning exercise

9. Single-Leg Presses 

This is one of the most effective ways to target all the smaller muscle groups in your lower body, but you will need a leg press machine, which many homeowners won't have.

If you do, start by sitting on the machine with one foot on the pad and one on the floor. Brace your body and push with your leg until the weight pad reaches the top. Pause for a second before lowering back down to starting. Make sure to alternate legs so you get the benefits on both sides.

Single-leg presses will probably help condition your body more effectively than step ups, but you are reliant on equipment, so they won’t be available for everyone.

Training Tip: Push through your heels for maximum effect on your leg muscles.

Related Article - Best Leg Press Machines

single leg press

10. Squats 

Squats are regarded as one of the most important compound exercises, and they are an effective alternative to step ups because they engage all the same muscles. You can perform them with your own bodyweight or use weights to add resistance if you’re more experienced.

Read Also - Squat Vs Leg Press: Which Is Best For You?

Start standing up with your feet shoulder-width apart and feet pointing forwards. Keep your back straight and bend at the knees, lowering your buttocks and body towards the floor. Pause at the bottom, and then push through your heels back into starting position. Try to repeat this movement 8-10 times in each set.

Training Tip: Similar to the previous leg press, always push through your heels when squatting. In addition, consider partnering with a spotter as you increase weights.

barbell squat

Benefits Of Step-Up Substitutes Over Regular Step Ups

Step ups have a lot of benefits, and they’re popular with people of all fitness levels. The advantage of these alternatives is that you can mix it up and engage some smaller muscle groups which you might not normally train.

By alternating between alternatives like glute bridges and box jumps, you can train your body in different ways, shocking the muscles, and improving your gains.

Along with improving your conditioning, you can also keep your mind focused. By mixing in alternatives and new exercises, you prevent workouts from becoming stale and continually challenge your body. This helps you to stay excited and put 100% into your workouts.


Muscles Worked When Performing Step Up Substitutes

Step ups work out many of your more important muscle groups, and these alternative exercises look to mimic the movement and target the same areas. The muscles below are where you'll see most of your gains:

Quads 

Your quads are the large muscles on the front of your thighs that are vital for day-to-day activities like walking, running, sitting, and standing. Any exercises that involve bending your knee will engage quadriceps, and step-up alternatives like squats are really effective at growing them.

Your glutes are essential for your posture and all movement. The step-up alternatives which involve hip movement will engage your glutes, and you can normally maximize the benefits by pausing for a few seconds at the end of each movement and tensing them. 

Adductors 

Your adductors are located on the inside of your thigh next to your hips. They help with your stability and provide support for running and jumping. Step up alternatives with explosive upward movement will engage your adductors, and exercises like box jumps are a great way you work these muscle groups.

Hip flexors 

For full flexibility and movement, you need to have solid hip flexor muscles. Exercises involving your knees, particularly squats and Bulgarian split squats, are excellent for your hip flexors and will aid your overall conditioning.

Your hamstrings are located on the back of your legs and are engaged when there's explosive movement in your legs. They're vital for a strong body, and without well-developed hamstrings, your body won't be able to perform at its best. All of the step-up alternatives will engage your hamstrings, but walking lunges are particularly effective.  

Your calves are a small muscle group, but they're responsible for a lot of the power coming from your legs. Located on the back of your lower leg, your calves are engaged when you’re moving at an angle or gradient. This makes step ups really effective for training them, but some alternatives like squats and leg presses can also give you the same results.


Common Step Up Questions Answered

Are step up alternatives good for losing weight? 

Yes, by combining some of these exercises with a healthy diet, you can lose weight. They'll also help strengthen your lower body which will make other exercises easier.

Are step ups bad for your knees? 

Step-ups can strain your knees even if you’re using the cushioned steps in a commercial gym. If you have any pre-existing knee injuries, it's worth doing an alternative that is lower impact.

Can I use a chair for box step up alternatives? 

You can use a sturdy chair as an alternative, but it may be higher than your usual step, making it challenging for beginners.


Conclusion

Step-ups are a useful compound exercise, but they aren’t suitable for everyone. There are a lot of alternative exercises that mimic the movement and deliver similar benefits to your legs and glutes, and we’ve introduced some of the best options here.

For the best results, you should look to mix them up to keep challenging your body as you improve your strength and conditioning.

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Paul J

Last Updated on September 7, 2022