You would think that treadmill walking, brisk walks around your neighborhood, or just trying to pick up after your kids and make the bus every day would be enough to keep your lower body toned and tight. Of course, if this were the case, then no one would struggle with their thighs and hips. Unfortunately, a great lower body takes some planning and effort. The thighs and hips can become especially problematic because this is an area where the buildup of adipose tissue (fat) begins and likes to stay.
A great way to attack your thighs, hips, and gluteal muscles so that they become more like polished diamonds than lumps of clay is to add step-ups to your routine. One of the best things about step-ups is that you do not have to wait until you get to the gym to do them. You can do them outside, if weather permits, to get your lower body in the best shape ever.
Muscles Activated by Step-ups
Step-ups activate the knee extensors of the thigh, and the powerful hip extensor hamstrings and gluteal muscles. This means that you get a great overall lower-body workout by using a rather simple exercise. However, simple certainly does not mean easy. Nevertheless, a few months of step-ups will work wonders by activating and firming your lower body muscles in the shortest possible time.
All four muscles of the quadriceps femoris (“quadriceps”) of the anterior thigh are activated by step-ups. The vastus lateralis muscle lies on the lateral (outer) part of the thigh. The vastus medialis covers the medial (inner) part of the thigh. The vastus intermedius is located between the vastus lateralis and the vastus medialis and it covers the central and deeper parts of the thigh. The fourth muscle in this group, the rectus femoris, attaches to the hip and it courses down the central portion of the thigh. All four muscles come together above the knee to attach to the patellar tendon, which connects to the patella (kneecap). The patellar ligament fixes the patella to the top part of the tibia bone of the leg just below the knee. Together, the quadriceps femoris extend (straightens) the leg at the knee joint, by pulling on the patella and through it, the patellar ligament that is attached to the lower leg (tibia bone). The rectus femoris also flexes the thigh at the hip joint by pulling the knee and thigh toward the chest. In the step-up, the four quadriceps muscles help to extend the knee during each step upward.
The gluteus maximus is the largest hip extensor muscle. It is most active during the push phase of the stair climb upward because it helps to straighten (extend) the hip joint by pulling the thigh posteriorly (backward). The fibers of this muscle run from the posterior side of the ilium bone of the hip and sacrum bone of the lower region of the vertebral column, to the posterior part of the femur and the iliotibial track (a tough band of tissue that runs along the lateral part of the thigh and attaches to the lateral side of the tibia bone near the knee).
The hamstring muscles include the semitendinosus, the semimembranosus, and the hamstring portions of the biceps femoris muscle and the adductor magnus. In general, the hamstring muscles attach to the hip bone structure posteriorly and run to either cross the knee joint (semimembranosus or semitendinosus, biceps femoris) or attach to the femur bone (adductor magnus). These muscles help the gluteus maximus to extend the hip during each step upward, and they are active to reposition the leg for the following step.
You should warm up your knees with stretches and knee bends before beginning step-ups. Locate a step (e.g., the bottom step going up to your house or apartment) or perhaps a sturdy and steady box. If you are in a gym, you should be able to locate a step with a non-slip surface to use for this exercise. Place your hands on your hips and keep your back straight and shoulders up (don’t lean forward).
1. Place your right foot on the step or platform. Keep your torso upright. Push off with the left leg to raise your body onto the step, placing that foot alongside your right foot. Try to avoid excessive forward movement of your right leg and torso as you step on the step.
2. At the top, with your weight on the right foot, lock your left knee, and extend your left leg behind you and upward in a kicking motion. This will really help to activate your gluteal muscles.
3. Bring the left leg back to the step, then, finally, step down with the left, followed by the right leg. After 12 step-ups with the right leg, switch, so that the next 12 are done with the left leg coming up first. Complete your set with 12 steps for each leg. Rest for about one minute, then begin your steps by stepping up with the left leg and step down with this leg. Two sets of step-ups are fine to start with, but you should work up to four sets.
If you need a greater challenge, you can hold a light dumbbell in each hand during the step-ups. Step-ups will chisel firmness and shape into your hamstrings, gluteals, and quadriceps. Not only will your muscles be activated, but your entire cardiovascular system will be challenged, and that means more calories expended to increase your goals for reducing body fat. After a few months, your legs will look firmer and shapelier than they have looked in years. Why not find a step and get started right now?
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