Step-ups (SUs) are a fantastic, low-cost and highly effective workout for any mountain athlete. While I would love to perform every workout in the hills, life gets in the way. Having a step-up box in the garage, on the back deck, or in the basement will allow you to get some legit training in with a minimal time commitment. If you are familiar with indoor training on the bicycle or the rower, step-ups are the equivalent workout for mountain people, whether skiers, mountaineers, hikers or mountain hunters.

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • Simple
  • Effective
  • Efficient
  • Variable for any athlete
  • Indoors
  • Make mountain training accessible for the flat-lander

Cons:

  • Not a real outdoor workout (no fresh air or sunlight in the basement!)
  • Potentially very boring

While I can’t recommend SUs as the one-and-only workout, they definitely have a place in the training regime. Whether you are a family person without the time to get to a good set of hills, or you live in a flat part of the city/world, these can be added to your training a few times per week to spice things up and build both the eccentric and concentric movements of your quadriceps muscles. Gym stepper machines work only that concentric movement, leaving you in a world of hurt the first day in the hills when you are walking down. Step-ups have you covered for both up and down.

Additionally, time under load with the pack is excellent for your core and shoulders, getting you ready for the real deal.

Pro-Tips:

  • I am 6’0″ and use a 16″ box. You can adjust your box height to work well. I tried an 18″ box but had some knee discomfort, so I ditched it.
  • You can count your progress in your head, by using a hand clicker, or by the time on the clock.
  • If you’re indoors, open a window and/or use a fan to cool yourself. Wearing the pack indoors increases your core temperature more than you might expect.
  • Make sure you have good hydration and nutrition, as this can be a sweaty workout. I love using a carbohydrate beverage before the workout if I know it’s going to be a taxing effort, but also during the session.
  • Don’t forget to get outside and go for a real hike!

Workouts:

  • 600, 1000 or 1,200 step-ups. You can also pick your own goal.
  • 1 hour (moderate effort)
  • Max step-ups in 30 minutes (hard effort)
The pain-cave doesn’t need to be a dungeon.

Variations:

  1. The basic step-up is right leg up, left leg up, right leg down, left leg down. Left leg up, right leg up, left leg down, right leg down. That’s two SUs.
  2. SU with wide legs and out-turned toes.
  3. Cross overs: Step onto the box laterally, crossing your legs over at the top as you step down. Cross overs work your legs and core at new angles.
  4. Step right over and then shuffle around to the front to step up and over again, this time turning to the other side.
  5. Ladder:
    1. Round 1: One step up, go over the box and shuffle back to the front, one step up, go over the box and shuffle back to the front.
    2. Round 2: Two step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front, two step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front.
    3. Round 3: Three step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front, three step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front.
    4. Round 4: Four step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front, four step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front.
    5. Round 5: Five step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front, five step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front.

Your Step-Up Box

Your box needs to have a few key attributes:

  • Stable
  • Strong enough to handle the impact
  • 16″ in height is a good starting point, but test this out a bit before you commit
  • Wide enough to handle your entire foot with some extra room

You can purchase plyometric boxes from places like Rogue Fitness, or you can build your own. I know someone who built this box, but you can build something pretty simple using lumber and a bit of plywood. In a pinch, you may have a park bench or some other natural platform in the neighbourhood to use.

2020 weight-free step-ups to ring in the new year.

Your Pack

You can use any backpack, but having a pack with a hip belt is a wise choice. Thus, a weight vest is not ideal. You can fill the pack with something heavy, but whatever you choose, you don’t want it to be too angular or hard to ensure you don’t have a corner digging into your back. Well-sealed bags of sand, salt or gravel are some choices, but a padded kettlebell or steel plate can also work. Outdoorsman makes the Atlas Trainer, a specific product for this kind of training, and you can test that out.

I am using 30 lbs for this workout. You may be tempted to go heavy, but that’s not the purpose of the workout. You can do some heavy rucking outside, but on the box, you will risk injury with too much weight.

Your Attitude

Do you want to be a better hunter? Do you want to be fitter and stronger, mentally and physically? Do you have problems getting outside on a mountain whenever you want to train? Then you need to do step-ups. Get some! Tag me on Instagram or Facebook story if you’re doing step-ups. If you have an excuse for not doing these, tag me as well. I’ll give you some advice!

Categories: Workouts