To be fair, there are lots of underrated gym exercises. But why not give this neglected exercise some love?
WHY IT'S NEGLECTED:
A step up on an elevated platform with, you guessed it, one leg is actually kind of HARD! It requires balance, strength, healthy joints, as well as DOUBLE the TIME and TWICE the PAIN to complete when compared to the double leg squat. It's not really a sexy exercise either and is difficult to load with tons of weight.
WHY DO IT:
Focuses on entire leg strength (especially the hip) and balance. It's great for sprinters and athletes for improving single leg power, even cyclists can benefit. Those with hip issues and tall athletes who need to minimize closed chain exercises, like squatting, can benefit. It helps prevent muscle imbalances and improper movement patterns.
HOW TO DO IT:
Those with knee issues/pain should reconsider doing this exercise and/or significantly lowering the step level and weight.
1. Get a STABLE piece of equipment, like a metal plyo box. Depending on body proportions, 16-24 inches tall is typical (you can also go higher to do a different exercise: the high step up).
2. Now comes the interesting part. You can step up straight forward OR to the side: without any weight, with a barbell on your back, with a barbell in front (like a front squat), with a kettlebell held close to the chest, with a weight vest, with arms overhead, and so on.
Here's some help: Barbells are better for heavy loading and experienced, injury free athletes looking for max power. KB's are a great for general fitness. No weight is good for beginners or when doing Blood Flow Resistance training. Stepping to the side works the movement differently and is great choice for training outside of the overworked frontal plane. Arms overhead challenges the core more.
3. No matter which direction you choose (sideways or forward), step up with proper form to correctly work the muscles. It may be tempting to fudge form when tired and/or to do more weight, but this exercise is not the time for that.
a. The knee never goes beyond/over past the toes (the man's knee above is borderline distance).
b. Push down and pull with your top foot while minimizing the push off from the ground with the other one.
c. Keep your spine on the straighter side and center of gravity stable for better balance.
d. Feel the work in your quad, deep hip muscles and hamstrings. Lower down controlled because many strength benefits come from eccentric movements.
e. Your typical reps and sets can applied to this exercise. It's also excellent with blood flow resistance bands, you get more reps to train correct patterns and literally every muscle in your leg will be on FIRE!
If you want to learn more about this exercise, consult the below resources: