10 Best Step Exercises: Proven Cardio & Lower Body Routine

Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Published by Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer
Last updated: January 27, 2024
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Whether you're a fan of the energetic gym environment or prefer exercising at home, step exercises are versatile enough to fit any setting.

They encompass a range of workout styles, including HIIT, circuit, and strength training, effectively targeting specific muscle groups or the entire body.

I’d also advise you to include a high-quality pre-workout into your routine to gain an extra edge, increase your performance, and maximize your results.

Let’s begin.

Quick Summary

  • The 9 best step exercises for cardio and lower body routine are Box Jumps, Decline Push-Ups, Straddle Squat Jumps, Straight Arm Plank Ups, Box Squats, Lateral Step Ups, Triceps Dips, High Step-Ups, and Box Jump Burpees.
  • These exercises are designed to use body weight for a challenging workout, enhancing fitness by incorporating jumps, squats, and step-ups.
  • MedicineNet recognizes the multiple benefits of aerobic step exercises, which include improved cardiovascular and musculoskeletal health, aiding in weight loss, and enhancing mental well-being.
  • In my view, step exercises offer a balanced blend of cardio and strength training, making them ideal for a comprehensive fitness routine.

Best Step Box Exercises

A person doing step box exercises

From my experience as a trainer, step box exercises have been key for my clients in achieving goals from weight loss to muscle strengthening, with the added benefit of requiring minimal space.

Aerobic step exercises offer cardio and strength training that provides many benefits, according to the MedicineNet [1].

These include:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved mental health
  • Weight loss
  • Improved metabolic rate
  • A low-impact exercise for those with knee pain
  • Improved musculoskeletal health (bone density, muscle mass)
  • Minimal space required
  • A versatile piece of equipment

Beyond their physical benefits, step exercises also enhance the mind-body connection, demanding a level of mental focus and coordination that supports overall cognitive health, much like the principles found in practices such as yoga or tai chi.

Let’s now get into some of the best exercises.

Box Jumps

A person in the gym doing box jumps

Box jumps can be done in various ways and are a great way to develop explosive power, coordination, and balance.

These are the steps: 

  • Stand with your feet slightly more than shoulder distance apart and your arms at your sides.
  • Bend your knees slightly and maintain a straight posture with your eyes looking forward.
  • Execute the jump with your feet forward, a slight dip of your knees, followed by an explosive extension of your hips, legs, and arms to propel yourself onto the step.
  • Land in a balanced position on the box with both feet firmly planted before stepping down.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Decline Push-Ups

Decline push-ups exercise will strengthen your chest and triceps muscles.

In my experience, decline push-ups have significantly improved my clients' chest and triceps strength.

These are the steps: 

  • Position yourself in a decline push-up position by placing your feet on a bench or box behind you and placing your hands on the floor shoulder-width apart at chest level.
  • Inhale deeply.
  • Lower yourself, stopping when your chest almost touches the floor as you exhale.
  • Keep elbows tucked close to your body to maximize engagement of the triceps and chest muscles.
  • Push up from the lowered position back into the starting position as you inhale.
  • Do not lock your elbows when pushing back up.
  • Hold a second at the top and repeat for the desired reps.

Straddle Squat Jumps

A person doing straddle squat jumps in the gym

Add this variation of squat jumps to your exercise routine to improve strength and coordination.

These are the steps:

  • Stand with one foot on each side of the step.
  • Extend your arms out in front of you.
  • Bend your knees into a wide squat position.
  • Keep your head up, chest out, and back straight throughout the exercise.
  • Jump up onto the step, maintaining the squat position.
  • Land softly on both feet and immediately drop into the original squat position before jumping again.
  • Repeat for the desired reps.

Straight Arm Plank Ups

These plank-ups are a great way to target your upper body, primarily the arms, core, and shoulder muscles.

Having incorporated straight arm plank-ups in my routines, I've seen notable improvements in arm, core, and shoulder strength.

These are the steps: 

  • Have the short side of the step in front of you.
  • Place your hands on the floor on each side of the step.
  • Begin in a straight-arm plank position.
  • Your chest will be over the middle of the step, and your body will be in a straight line from head to toe.
  • Place one hand on the box and press firmly.
  • Bring the other hand onto the box.
  • Move the first hand back to the floor, then the second.
  • Keep repeating this movement for the desired number of reps.

Box Squats

A person doing box squats in the gym

Box squats are one of the most effective step aerobic exercises that increase strength and power in your glutes, hamstrings, and quads.

These are the steps: 

  • Start by standing up with your feet placed hip distance apart and your toes slightly pointed outward.
  • Hold a light medicine ball or weight with both hands at chest level.
  • Lower into a squat position until your glutes touch the box.
  • Push through your feet to drive up off the box and back to the starting position with control.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

“The box squat targets the gluteal muscles of the buttocks. However, the hamstrings, quadriceps (front thigh), and front shin muscles are also working to perform the movement.”

- Travis Edwards, MPT, BSc

Lateral Step Ups

Lateral step-ups will target your inner thighs, glutes, and calves.

My clients have seen remarkable improvements in their inner thighs, glutes, and calves with regular lateral step-ups.

These are the steps: 

  • Start by standing in a split stance, placing your left foot on the step and your right firmly on the floor.
  • Place your hands either on the sides of your body or hold dumbbells for added resistance.
  • Lift your body onto the aerobic stepper with your right foot.
  • Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.
  • Switch sides with your left foot on the floor and your right foot on the step.
  • Perform the same number of reps.

Triceps Dips

A person doing tricep dips with a box

A triceps dip will tone the triceps muscles and target the arms, chest, and abs.

From my training sessions, triceps dips have been effective in toning arms and enhancing core stability.

These are the steps: 

  • Place your palms on the edge of the aerobic stepper (or exercise bench) behind you, shoulder distance apart.
  • Extend your legs in front of you.
  • Straighten your arms - this is the starting position.
  • Bend your elbows, slowly lowering your body toward the floor until they are at 90-degree angles.
  • Keep your torso upright.
  • Push back up to the start.
  • Keep your back straight and your elbows close to your body throughout the movement.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

High Step-Ups

High step-ups will strengthen your leg muscles, glutes, and core and require strength, balance, and coordination.

These are the steps: 

  • Stand facing the step, which should be at knee height or above.
  • Place your right foot on the bench with your right knee and ankle in line.
  • At this point, your left foot is on the floor.
  • Engage your core and press through your right heel as you lift your left leg to step up onto the box.
  • Keeping your core tight, lower yourself back to the start, keeping your right foot on the step.
  • Repeat for the desired reps.
  • Switch to your left leg.

Box Jump Burpees

A person doing box jump burpees

Box jump burpees will challenge your full-body strength and get your blood flowing.

You can adjust the difficulty of the exercise by removing the push-up (easier) or increasing the step height (more challenging).

In my personal training experience, box jump burpees have been a game-changer for full-body conditioning.

These are the steps: 

  • Stand in front of the step, about 1-2 feet away.
  • Squat down and place your hands on the floor.
  • Jump your feet back, bringing yourself into a push-up position with your feet shoulder-width apart (or together to work the abdominal muscles more).
  • Do one push-up.
  • Jump your feet forward and then immediately leap up onto the step.
  • Land with soft knees.
  • Jump backward off the step and squat back down to the start.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Training Tips

A gym coach holding a clip board in a gym

Follow these tips when using exercise steps to maximize your workout and avoid injury:

  • Step up and land softly.
  • Use a non-slip aerobic step.
  • Step up at a height appropriate for your level of fitness.
  • Lower step height if you experience any knee pain.
  • Step up with your ankles, not your waist.
  • Ensure you perform each exercise with a controlled movement.

Are Step Exercises Good for Interval and Circuit Training?

Yes, step exercises are good for interval and circuit training.

In my professional experience, integrating step exercises into interval and circuit training routines has proven highly effective, offering variety and challenge by targeting different muscle groups, perfect for both high-intensity plyometrics and lower-impact workouts.

A workout step provides a challenging, balanced workout as you rotate through different exercises that target a specific muscle group.

Additionally, an aerobic stepper is a versatile piece of fitness equipment for plyometric exercises, traditional step aerobics, strength training, and low-impact exercises.

A deep dive into muscle activation reveals how step exercises contribute to overall muscle balance, highlighting their role in correcting imbalances and promoting functional strength and better posture.

FAQs

Is Step Exercise Good for Weight Loss?

Step exercises are good for weight loss because they are an aerobic workout that burns calories and increases stamina and muscular endurance. You can add high-intensity interval training to increase the challenge and burn more fat.

How Effective Are Step Workouts?

Step workouts are highly effective at improving cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and stamina, and decreasing body fat. Individuals of all fitness levels benefit from step aerobics.


References: 

  1. https://www.medicinenet.com/what_is_step_exercise_good_for/article.htm
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About The Author

Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer
Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health and is the owner of Taylor Made Fitness. Her philosophy centers on cutting through the hype and misinformation surrounding dietary supplements, focusing instead on practical, science-backed strategies for health and weight loss.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Christiana Mikesch, CPT
Senior Coach
Christiana Mikesch, CPT is a personal trainer and author with contributions to publications like the Chicago Tribune and Yahoo. She emphasizes a holistic approach to weight loss, combining an energy-fueling diet, goal-oriented workouts, and daily habits. Her approach avoids short-term goals and fosters a lifelong commitment to health and well-being.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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