When it comes to targeting the glute muscles, there's no doubt that step-ups are fantastic exercises. Not only do they engage the glutes, but studies have consistently shown that step-ups are among the most effective exercises for activating the butt.
In fact, multiple research studies have delved into the glute activation potential of various exercises, providing valuable insights into their effectiveness. A 2020 meta-analysis concluded which exercises were best for glute activation, and what they found will probably surprise you, it did us!
If you’re not familiar with what a Meta-Analysis is, it’s basically an in-depth review of the current literature and studies on a particular topic. They’re considered the most trusted research studies as they include findings from multiple individual studies.
The table below outlines various exercises' average glute activation potential, as measured by the mean %MVIC (maximum voluntary isometric contraction) and has been put together utilising findings from 16 individual research studies that fit the evaluation criteria.
Table: Glute Activation Potential of Various Exercises
As the table above shows, step-ups are by far the most effective exercise for glute activation, with an average mean %MVIC of 125.09 ± 55.26.
While glute activation alone doesn’t categorically tell us which exercises are best for building muscle (we need to consider other factors such as loadability, progressive overload opportunities etc), research has found that muscle activation is related to muscle hypertrophy. So opting for exercises that have high levels of muscle activation is a sound approach to building the glutes.
On the other hand, not everyone may be able to perform step-ups for various reasons. Some of the reasons may include the following:
In light of this, we present the 7 best step-up alternatives to help you maximize your glute growth. Here are the exercises that we'll be covering:
Before we move on to the best step-up alternatives, let's take a quick look at which muscles are worked when performing the exercise.
The glutes comprise three major muscles: the gluteus Maximus, medius, and minimus. The gluteus Maximus is the largest and strongest of the three muscles, and it's primarily responsible for extending the hip (i.e., increasing the angle between the thigh and the pelvis).
When performing step-ups, you're basically doing this very movement. As you lift yourself up onto the step, you're increasing the angle between your thigh and pelvis. And since you're doing this movement under a load (lifting your body weight and any additional weights you're holding) you're engaging the gluteus Maximus muscles and building strength and size.
The glute medius and minimus, on the other hand, are responsible for stabilizing the hip joint. Since step-ups are a unilateral (meaning you work one leg at a time) exercise, these two muscles are recruited to maintain stability in the hip as you move through the exercise. This helps to keep your hips level and prevents excessive swaying and tilting.
So when looking for a step-up alternative, we want exercises that primarily target the glute maximus but are also unilateral in nature so that the gluteus medius and minimus are called into play to aid pelvic stability. Let's look at seven such exercises that make great step-up alternatives.
The Bulgarian Split Squat is an excellent lower body exercise targeting the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. This variation of the traditional squat involves elevating the rear foot on a bench or step, which increases the range of motion and intensity of the exercise. The Bulgarian Split Squat builds glute strength and enhances balance, stability, and overall lower-body functionality.
You will need a bench, step, or another stable elevated surface to place your rear foot on to perform this exercise. While holding dumbbells or a barbell for added resistance, make sure to maintain proper form throughout the movement to maximize its effectiveness and prevent injury. The Bulgarian Split Squat is a versatile exercise that can be easily incorporated into your glute workout routine.
The B-Stance Romanian Deadlift is an innovative and effective exercise that targets the glutes, making it a fantastic addition to your workout routine. While traditional deadlifts, including the Romanian deadlift variation, are excellent exercises for glute development, they are bilateral exercises, meaning they involve both legs working simultaneously. The B-Stance Romanian Deadlift is the perfect solution for those seeking unilateral exercises focusing on one leg at a time.
Adopting the B-Stance transforms the Romanian deadlift into a unilateral exercise, allowing you to concentrate on a single leg while maintaining balance. In this variation, the non-working leg remains on the floor for stability, but it only supports about 10% of the load, ensuring that 90% of the weight is channelled through the working leg. As a result, you can still reap the benefits of a single-leg Romanian deadlift.
One of the key advantages of the B-Stance Romanian Deadlift over the single-leg variation is the ability to work with heavier weights. This increased load not only helps in building muscle but also aids in improving overall strength and stability.
The B-Stance Romanian Deadlift, therefore, offers a perfect blend of unilateral training and enhanced load capacity, making it an ideal choice for those looking to maximize their glute development and overall lower body strength.
This is an excellent alternative to the step-up if you want to maximize your glute growth. The cable glute kickback allows you to target your glutes with less load on your knees than a step-up. Instead of performing a vertical movement, you'll do a horizontal one.
While this exercise is typically performed using a cable machine at the gym, you can easily modify it for home workouts using resistance bands. To perform the Cable Glute Kickback, attach a resistance band to a sturdy anchor point, such as a door or heavy piece of furniture, and secure the other end around your ankle.
With the resistance band in place, kick your leg back and up while engaging your glute muscles. Ensure to maintain a slight bend in your standing leg and keep your core engaged for stability. When you can no longer kick your leg back, hold the contraction for a few seconds before slowly returning back to the starting position.
Alternatively, if you’re working out at the gym, utilise the cable machine. Attach the ankle cuff to one cable and set the cables to the lowest position. As you would do with the resistance band, kick your leg backwards to engage the glutes and repeat for the desired number of reps (12 reps on each leg is always a good starting point!).
The Cable Glute Kickback is a great way to target the glutes without straining your joints. It's ideal for individuals who cannot perform step-ups due to injury or mobility restrictions. It is an effective and accessible option for people looking to maximize lower glute growth and give the gluteus maximas beating!
B Stance Hip Thrusts are a unilateral lower body exercise that targets the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles, while also engaging the core and promoting hip stability. This modified version of the conventional hip thrust exercise emphasizes one leg at a time, allowing for a more focused approach to muscle activation and strength development in the targeted leg.
The B Stance Hip Thrust is performed with one foot positioned flat on the ground and the other resting on its heel, creating a staggered stance. This stance helps to improve balance and stability as it requires the body to maintain proper alignment throughout the movement. The exercise is usually executed with the upper back resting on a bench or a step, with or without additional resistance such as a barbell or dumbbell, depending on the individual's fitness level and goals.
B Stance Hip Thrusts offer several benefits to individuals looking to enhance their lower body strength, including improved glute activation, greater emphasis on unilateral strength, and increased hip mobility.
By incorporating this exercise into a well-rounded fitness routine, individuals can effectively target and strengthen the often-underdeveloped glute muscles, which play a crucial role in everyday movements and athletic performance.
Additionally, B Stance Hip Thrusts help to identify and correct muscle imbalances, ensuring a more balanced and injury-resistant physique.
Lunges are a versatile and highly effective lower body exercise, targeting the quadriceps, gluteal muscles, hamstrings, and calves while engaging the core for stability.
They are a functional movement, helping to improve overall balance, coordination, and flexibility, which translates into better performance in daily activities and sports. Lunges can be easily integrated into any fitness routine, whether you're a beginner or a seasoned athlete, and can be performed with or without additional weights.
The basic movement involves stepping forward with one foot while bending both knees, creating a 90-degree angle, and returning to the starting position. This can be repeated on the same leg or alternated between both legs. The simple nature of lunges allows for several variations to suit individual needs, preferences, and fitness levels. Some popular modifications include reverse lunges, deficit lunges (stepping onto an elevated surface), walking lunges, and lateral lunges.
Lunges can easily be performed at home with no additional weights. However, should you wish to increase the intensity and challenge your muscles further, adding dumbbells, a barbell, a weight plate, or even using a smith machine can help you take your glute gains up a notch!
The Stairmaster is a popular piece of exercise equipment found in gyms and fitness centers that replicates the motion of climbing stairs. It offers a cardiovascular workout while engaging various muscle groups, making it an effective and efficient exercise option for individuals looking to improve their fitness.
The Stairmaster essentially involves continuous step-ups for extended periods of time. As users step onto the machine's rotating staircase, they lift their body weight with each step, mimicking the natural movement of climbing stairs. This repetitive motion targets and strengthens the lower body muscles, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes. Additionally, the Stairmaster engages the core muscles as they work to stabilize the body during the ascent and descent.
One of the key benefits of the Stairmaster is its similarity to the step-up exercise. By replicating the movement of stepping up onto an elevated platform, the Stairmaster provides a very close alternative for individuals who may not have access to stairs or prefer an indoor workout. Continuous stepping increases the heart rate, promoting cardiovascular fitness and calorie burning.
The Stairmaster offers adjustable speed and resistance settings, allowing users to customize their workout intensity based on their fitness level and goals. Whether used for steady-state cardio or interval training, the Stairmaster can provide an effective and challenging workout that improves endurance, strengthens the lower body, builds the booty and helps burn calories.
We wrap up the list with the hardest exercise of them all, the single-leg squat! This one is tough - it requires lots of strength and coordination, so don't be disappointed if you don't get it right the first time. With practice, however, single-leg squats can become a great exercise to target the lower glutes and the entire lower body. Plus, you don't need any equipment- just your body weight!
In a single-leg squat, you start by standing on one leg with the other extended straight in front of you. While maintaining your balance, lower yourself into a squat position, ensuring your knee does not cave inwards or outwards. Push through the heel of your standing leg to return to the starting position. You can use a wall, chair or TRX bands for support if needed (Just like the pic above!).
Single-leg squats are an extremely effective way to work the glutes and increase overall leg strength. They help improve balance, coordination, and mobility, promote core stability, and can even help reduce the risk of knee injuries. Try this exercise if you want to add a challenging and unique exercise to your lower body routine.
Step-ups are one of the best exercises for glute growth but are not always accessible due to mobility or equipment limitations – or sometimes you want an exercise that you can lift heavier weights with. Fortunately, plenty of alternatives can help you achieve the same results without putting too much pressure on your joints and many of these exercises can be performed in the comfort of your own home.
Whether you want to strengthen and add some size to your glutes or improve your stability, coordination and athletic performance, these 7 step-up alternatives will be sure to challenge your butt. So give them a try and see which one works best for you. And don't forget: consistency is key!
Ready to take the next step? Start implementing these exercises today and watch as your glute growth skyrockets! Good luck!
Yes, step-ups can be an effective exercise for targeting and growing your glute muscles. When performing step-ups, you engage the gluteus maximus, the largest muscle in your buttocks. The glutes work to extend the hip joint as you step up onto an elevated platform. To maximize glute activation during step-ups, focus on driving through the heel and maintaining a proper form with a neutral spine.
Comparing step-ups and squats depends on your goals and personal preferences. Both exercises can be beneficial for lower body strength and development. Squats are a compound exercise that targets multiple muscle groups, including the glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings. They provide a greater loading potential and help build lower body strength.
On the other hand, step-ups primarily focus on the glutes and can provide a unilateral training stimulus, helping to address any muscle imbalances. It's generally recommended to include a variety of exercises in your routine to target different muscle groups and movement patterns.
If you're looking for a substitute exercise for dumbbell step-ups, you can consider lunges. Lunges are a unilateral exercise that targets the glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings, similar to step-ups. You can perform them by stepping forward or backwards and lunging until your front or back knee forms a 90-degree angle. Holding dumbbells at your sides or using a barbell on your back can increase the resistance for a greater challenge.