Stepups are an exercise all cyclists can use to improve their cardiovascular fitness, strength and mobility. Even though it’s a basic move where you step up onto a box or bench and then step down, this exercise resembles the pedaling motion, which benefits cyclists but is also used in a surprising number of ways.
Stepups are found in rehabilitation programs, as cardiovascular conditioning and in strength routines. Because of the similarities to the cycling motion — and the fact the stepup can be done almost anywhere and adapted to multiple goals and environments — it’s a great addition to your year-round training plan.
MOBILITY AND STABILITY
The stepup motion is relatively close to pedaling a bike, you have one leg flexed and then you push down, one leg at a time. That said, you can use the stepup to improve and maintain your mobility by increasing the range of motion you use during the exercise. This could mean reaching way back off a short box or using a taller box to challenge how low you can go. This routine demonstrates a stepup with a knee drive at the top, which can help with your mobility and stability.
For stability, the fact you are on one leg and elevated makes the stability demands relatively involved. To really do the stepup well, make the leg on the step do all of the work. Don’t let the foot that is tapping the ground help much, or at all, as you step up and lower back down carefully. Increasing the range of this motion challenges your mobility and your strength through that range. Start with a small box so you aren’t tempted to cheat and you get the stability benefits that will be a huge help on the bike.
Stepups are most often included in strength and core workouts. To increase the load you are using you can use a higher box, more range of motion and move slower focusing on making one leg work at a time. You can also add weight in the form of dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells and a variety of other heavy things that increase the demands of your steps. When I have clients preparing for ultra-runs and hikes we often use longer stepup sets of 1–5 minutes to prepare for the long climbs, especially if they don’t have access to a mountain locally.
You have likely run stairs, used a stair-stepping machine or gone to step class, the stepup can be used in the same fashion. This routine shows you how to use continuous alternating stepups to get a greater cardiovascular workout. The focus should not be on heavy weights but on moving smoothly and avoiding compensations like knees caving in or feet going out to the side as you step out.
Once you have a few weeks to months in the bank with your stepups, consider adding a day each week with some plyometrics. The box jump or alternating lunge jumps could be paired with stepups or replace your stepups for some workouts or some periods of the year.
Remember you are not going to the Olympics for jumping so keep these jumps focused and aim for quiet landings in an athletic position with knees over toes (not caving in) and your feet completely on the box. As in this routine, I prefer most cyclists step down to avoid injury, and get the benefit of the down portion of a stepup.
The question is not whether you are going to do stepups, but when and how you will include them in your cycling routine. The best part is it is hard to choose a bad way to use stepups since they make you stronger, more balanced, boost your cardio and work on your mobility.