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How To Do Lateral Step Ups With Proper Form

Lateral step up

Looking to switch things up? Lateral step-ups, also known as side step ups, are a great alternative to squats and lunges, with many additional benefits.

The lateral angle of the movement applies great to athletic performance in sports like tennis, hockey, soccer, and basketball where a lot of shuffling and quick changes of directions is required.

Aside from athletic function, lateral step-ups are great for building glute and quad health while being easy on the knees.

As a former college hockey player, I still do lateral step ups to this day.


Read on to learn why this exercise belongs in your routine.

Lateral Step Ups - How To

Set up: Find a solid box, bench, or platform around knee height.


Position yourself: Stand close to the box, your feet shoulder width apart.


Step up by lifting your outer leg and placing your foot firmly on the box.

Lateral step up

Push through: Press your heel into the box, elevating your body until your leg is straight.

Lateral step up

Feel free to incorporate your hip flexors and core by lifting your opposite knee towards the ceiling

Lateral step up

Step down: Slowly drop your other foot to the ground while maintaining a stable knee and control of the movement (avoid letting your knee cave in).

Lateral step up

Repeat for the appropriate amount of repetitions, then switch sides.

Tips and form

When lifting your body onto the box, do not compensate by pushing off with your other leg. If the exercise is too difficult, go down in weight or start with a shorter box.

Tight midsection: activate your glutes and engage your deep core muscles throughout the movement. Avoid swaying to the side and keep a solid foundation when you step up.

To learn the proper form, start with lateral step ups using only your body weight. As you gain strength, you can start increasing the weight. 

Dumbells are a popular weight choice, you can either hold one in each hand or use both hands to hold a single heavier dumbbell at your chest.


Other options include plates, kettlebells, medicine balls, sandbags, barbell, or any comfortable weight.

Bench/Box height: The height of the step up is dependent on your overall strength, flexibility, and experience with the exercise.

Lateral Step Ups - Muscles Worked

Quadriceps - Heavily engaged throughout the movement, the quadriceps activate as you push with the heel of your foot onto the box and while you lower yourself back to the ground. 

Gluteus medius - The most heavily involved stabilizing muscle, the gluteus medius is tasked with keeping lateral stability as you step up and down, providing balance throughout the movement.

Gluteus medius

Gluteus Maximus - Known as the primary glute muscle responsible for hip extension, the gluteus maximus drives the upward action, assisting in lifting the body onto the box and maintaining control throughout the descent.

Gluteus maximus

Gluteus minimus - Aids the gluteus medius in stabilizing the pelvis and provides support during the lifting portion of the step up.

Adductors - Interior thigh muscles serve to support and align the leg during lateral movement, preventing the knee from collapsing inwards.

Core & hip flexors - Work together to maintain balance and appropriate posture, giving you stability and control while you raise and lower your body.

Stabalizer muscles - Small muscles in the hips, knees, and ankles contract to maintain the movement while stabilizing alignment to avoid potential injury.

Hamstrings, ankles, quadratus lumborum, and spinal erectors are also active throughout the movement.

Lateral Step Ups vs. Glute Step Ups

The obvious difference between the two is the angle of the step up. With glute step ups, the motion is forward and backwards, whereas with lateral step ups, it’s side to side. 

It may not look like a huge difference but the intention and dynamics behind the exercises can influence your decision on which is right for you.

Glute step ups are designed around targeting your glute muscles, mainly the gluteus maximus. Glute step ups also focus on the quadriceps while tentatively working the gluteus medius.

Glute step ups vs lateral step ups

Lateral step ups engage many hip and knee stabalizing muscles throughout the motion. The gluteus medius and quadriceps are the most prominent muscles worked while gluteus maximus plays a smaller role.


Both lateral and glute step ups involve hip extension, however, adductor muscles are much more active in lateral step ups.


Are lateral step ups more effective than lunges?

Both are reliable options for functional strength, muscle building, and athletic performance.

Lunges require forward or backward motion, which provides a stronger stretch to the hip flexors and hamstrings while also focusing on quadriceps, glutes, and core stability.

Lateral step-ups require stepping onto an elevated platform from the side, highlighting a vertical motion targeting the outter quadriceps, gluteus medius, and adductors while putting less pressure on the knees. 


What exercise should I do instead of step ups?

Lunges are a great alternative to step ups, working many of the same muscles with a similar movement style.

Side lunges, squats, split squats, wall sits, and deadlifts are all dependable options as well.

If you're looking for a more advanced exercise, try out the ATG split squat.

How to do step-ups for glutes?

1) Position a box or bench in front of you. 

2) Hold your preferred weight. 

3) Stand in front of the box or bench, facing it with your feet hip-width apart. 

4) Put your right foot on the box. 

5) Lean forward slightly while bracing your core and keeping your shoulders back and down. 

6) Force your right heel into the box, elevating your body until your right leg is straight and you're balancing on that leg while standing on the box. 

8) Take a quick pause at the top. Then, control the drop by lowering your left leg back to the ground. 

9) Repeat for the appropriate number of repetitions and switch legs.

How do I get a shelf on my upper glutes?

Target the upper glute muscles (gluteus medius and gluteus maximus) with exercises such as glute focused RDLs, glute kickbacks, and kas glute bridges.


[1] Davies, Clair, and Amber Davies. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief. 3rd ed., New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2013.

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