Home > Training

Step-ups: one exercise to improve uphill running, boost power and prevent injuries

Adding step-ups to your training will improve your overall running performance

hill workout

Adding some step-ups to your training regime once or twice a week is one of the best ways to improve uphill running and boost power. Step-ups strengthen hamstrings, glutes, and calf muscles, which are all essential for efficient running mechanics. Focusing on these will improve running form (particularly uphill running), since the motion mimics running uphill.

Single-leg strength is important for runners, since running is a one-sided activity (you are always on one foot), and step-ups are typically done one leg at a time, which helps address any muscle imbalances and contributes to more balanced running, also reducing the risk of injury.

Uphill running on trails
davidmarcu/Unsplash

How to do a perfect step-up

First, find a step: in the gym, you can use a plyometric box or a weight bench. You can try step-ups outside using anything you can find that substitutes as a step–a picnic bench works. Look for a stable, flat surface.

Stand facing your step, feet hip-width apart, and place one foot firmly on the platform. The foot on your step will be your working leg.

Engage your core, keeping a tall and upright posture throughout.

Push through the heel of the working leg, and lift your body up onto the step, straightening the working leg. Keep your knee aligned with your foot to prevent it from collapsing inward.

WATCH: Stay injury-free with these single-leg exercises

As you step up, drive up hard through your working leg, feeling core muscles, glutes and quads all engaged.

Carefully lower your body by bending the knee of the working leg and stepping back down with your non-working leg–make sure you are lowering with control and not plummeting down quickly.

To start, for the first month, try two or three sets of six to eight reps per leg; increase your step height if you’re feeling ready.

When you’re ready to make your step-up more challenging, try loading the exercise by holding a light dumbbells or kettlebell in each hand.

Check out the latest buyer's guide:

The best winter running socks for 2024

Here you'll find the perfect pair for any and all winter running conditions