Everyone knows that performing leg exercises is completely taxing, painful, stressful, and 'pumptacular.' It takes you to a dark place in your mind but it’s worth its weight in gold. That’s the adaptation gold! Leg work is crucial for power development if you’re an athlete, balance, stability, metabolic demand, strength, endurance you name it.
One exercise often gets put aside, picked last, or neglected, and frankly, it is one of the best exercises you can do. Most people at some point in their training have done a step up, it was popularized in the step aerobic classes back in the day.
The step-up allows for single leg loading, balance, and strength training. It teaches the leg on the box to create and keep tension and produce force through the ankle, leg, and hip. It can be loaded with dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, bodyweight, you name it it can be loaded. It can be used for strength, speed, and explosiveness. I believe they should be in everyone’s program at some point.
Now, let’s take the step up and give it some spice. Welcome the Step-Down
The step-up is started from the floor with either one leg on a box/ or step or both feet starting on the ground. However the step down starts at the top range of the movement, it focuses on slowly lowering to the floor with complete control and then keeping that tension and generating force to drive back up. Then enter the high step down, this is done using a higher height of step or box. This allows the hip to drop lower than the knee, generating greater force to pull your bodyweight back up, training a greater range of motion of the hip, knee, and ankle.
The depth of the step down is also a great tool to teach a deep squat, the ability for the hips to drop below knee level teaches the deep squat position. It trains flexion at appropriate angles for the hip, knee, and ankle.
Starting at the top arms will be reaching forward to help enforce the forward torso angle, if you remain too vertical as you descend the center of mass will be too far back and you will shift back onto the back leg for support and the tension will come off of the leg on the box, taking away the purpose of the movement. This is seen often as most people are eager to get to the floor too fast, over time performing the movement the body will understand the mechanics and perfect it.
Next is lowering the leg towards the floor, again we want to be slow and methodical so we get ost out of the exercise. As you are lowering you are leaning forward and bending at the knee, you should feel the muscles front and back of your leg, and back of the hip engage to pull you into the lowering position.
The most important part of the exercise is the foot touch, the goal of the floor touch is to not transfer as little weight as possible to the foot on the floor. The goal is to keep about 95% tension through the leg on the box and 5% as the opposite foot touches. To reverse the direction and to start the step-up portion you want to keep driving through the elevated foot (heel and toe) and use the down foot as little as possible to push off. As you can see in the video it is a slow transition into the step up, the more tension and drive you produce through the front leg makes the exercise more effective.
If just starting on the Step Down and you need to progress into the full movement, start with just the lowering part. Get the controlled position and focus on the slow lowering to find and feel the muscles engaging.