Are Step Ups And Lunges The Same?

step ups
September 8, 2022 0 Comments

Table of Contents


In this article I will be answering the question “are step ups and lunges the same?”. I will be analysing both exercises to see where the similarities and differences are.

Both are great exercises for building up the posterior chain and quads. In addition, both exercises are good for conditioning purposes. 

Are Step Ups And Lunges The Same?

Steps up and lunges are similar, however they are not the same. Step ups as the name suggest involve stepping up onto something, usually a plyo box. 

With lunges you are lunging forward and going through a greater range of motion than the step up. You are distributing your weight over both legs with the lunge. With step ups all the work is done by the leg that is on the box. 

Both exercises can be weighted very easily using dumbbells, barbells or kettlebells. There is involvement of the core as well in both. 

Greater Range Of Motion On Lunges

There is a greater range of motion on lunges than there is with step ups. A study in the journal of sport rehabilitation [1] found that the lunge elicits greater activity of the rectus femoris, gluteus maximus and glute medius.

I have noticed as well that I feel more glute activation on lunges compared to step ups. Many others have similar experiences, the study also confirms this to be true. 

Walking lunges were a favourite of old school bodybuilders. You can perform them with dumbbells or barbells, they are fantastic at eliciting muscle hypertrophy in the legs. You also need to have good endurance for this exercise.

If you perform heavy lunges on a regular basis you will add some serious mass to your posterior chain and your legs will get bigger. It is possible to increase the involvement of the glutes more with the step up by stepping up onto a higher box. 

>> Are One Leg Leg Presses Better Than Lunges?


Dealing With Instability

The lunge is harder to perform than the step up, this is due to the fact that it requires more balance and stability. As such, there is more involvement of the core muscles when doing lunges.

If you do heavy walking lunges beltless on a consistent basis, your core will get a lot stronger over time. This is another advantage of lunges. For people who have difficulty with stability on lunges, they can use the step up to get similar benefits of the lunge.

The step up works similar muscles to the lunge so the two exercises are interchangeable. However, I have already established that they are different. 

Knee Irritation On Step Ups 

Anecdotally, there are quite a few people who experience knee irritation on step ups if they step up on boxes higher than say 12 inches. 

This can be easily avoided by performing step ups to a lower box. You should do this if you are experiencing this problem. It must be said that if you have a history of knee injuries, you should think twice before doing heavy step ups or lunges.

There is stress on the knee on this exercise when you go heavy and overuse injuries could develop. You have to listen to your body, just like you would do on any other exercise. 

Step Ups For Calves

The step up can be a great exercise for hitting the calves indirectly. It is very common to feel a burn in the calf when performing step ups. You will feel your calves working harder than when you are doing lunges.

Therefore, heavy step ups can be a fantastic way of beefing up your calves. Most people don’t think of this exercise when they think of calf training. Instead, they think of traditional variations of the calf raise. 
step ups

Barbells Or Dumbbells For Loading?

As I have already mentioned, there is a good choice that you have when deciding how to load the lunge and step up. You could use dumbbells, kettlebells or barbells.

If you choose to load with a barbell, you will benefit from greater core involvement on the step up and the lunge. Your grip will be taxed a lot more with dumbbells and kettlebells.

If you are doing a longer set of step ups or lunges, the extra grip work with dumbbells can prove really beneficial to beef up the forearms. It is an indirect bonus of this exercise.

What you choose to do when it comes to loading is up to you. It is a personal choice and it predominantly comes down to your goals. If you want to work the core more then barbells are a great choice. 

Final Thoughts

Are step ups and lunges the same? I have explained in this article that they are very similar but are distinct. They are not the same! Both the lunge and the step up work similar muscles.

However, the lunge works the glutes to a high degree and is a better exercise if you wish to build your glutes. The lunge allows for a greater range of motion and therefore is fantastic for giving the muscles time under tension.

The step up is an exercise that can be your hidden weapon in increasing the size of your calves. Most people don’t think about the step up when they think of building bigger calves!

Barbells are a better choice for loading if you want more core involvement. Dumbbells or kettlebells are a great choice for beefing up the grip and forearms at the same time.

Both exercises are perfect for conditioning and are very functional in every day life. This is why it is a good idea to include at least one of these exercises into your routine.

If you have any questions about the lunge or step up please leave them in the comments. Do you currently perform lunges or step ups?

As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!

>> RELATED: Are squats and lunges enough for legs?


[1] Boudreau SN, Dwyer MK, Mattacola CG, Lattermann C, Uhl TL, McKeon JM. Hip-muscle activation during the lunge, single-leg squat, and step-up-and-over exercises. J Sport Rehabil. 2009 Feb;18(1):91-103. doi: 10.1123/jsr.18.1.91. PMID: 19321909.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.