Optimize Your Step-Ups For More Hypertrophy!

Optimize Your Step-Ups For More Hypertrophy!


There is one simple thing that you can do to immediately increase your ability to grow any muscle, and it doesn't require any additional money, time or even energy.

This sounds too good to be true right?


Well it's very real and very easy; all you have to do it add stability. 


What does this look like in practice? Let's look at a few examples...

If you want to grow your quads, shift from a High Bar Barbell Squat to a Hack Squat.

If you want to grow your lats, move from a Bodyweight Pull-Up to machine assisted. 

If you want to grow your delts, exchange those DBs for a machine when you perform lateral raises. 


The solution to each of these is to go from a less stable variation to more. 

It really is that simple. 


But why is this the case? 

Our muscles are tricky little creatures and don't like to get bigger. They like homeostasis and will fight to the death (sometimes literally) in order to hold their ground. This is why we, as individuals who want big muskles, have to outsmart their stubbornness. 

Sometimes this is through progressive overload. Sometimes it's by implementing intensity techniques. We can undulate volume and periodize and stretch and release fascia and stretch some more and eat a lot of food and go back to stretching, and all of this DOES work, but it's also requires a lot of thinking and experimentation and time. 


But we want big muskles NOW! And we want it to be easy, right?!

A commonly understood paradigm for hypertrophy is the need to direct tension towards our target muscles and keep it there until those fibers can no longer shorten against said tension. In lay terms, this means that if we want big biceps then we will need to make sure that our biceps are the failure point when doing our curls. 


Ok ok, hold on now...This is obvious. We all understand this!

But how do we differentiate between DB curls and barbell curls? Or preacher curls versus spider curls? Or machine versus cables?


THIS is where our old pal Stability enters the chat!


When we're using DBs (for example), we're asking ancillary muscles to kick in and assist to make sure our primary pattern goes off without a hitch. For curls, these would be the delts, rotator cuffs, traps and even the erectors and abs! And what if any of these other muscles fails before our biceps? That can't be good...

Now let's model this with a machine curl. The ancillary muscles are no longer being recruited because the machine is supplying the stability! This means that when we hit failure, we know it is our biceps that can no longer contract against the external load. And this is really promising for hypertrophy!


Let's now bring this model back around and evaluate the Step-Up:

The typical execution of step-ups is a clusterf*%$. It requires a ton of strength not to mention coordination and balance just to be able to perform controlled reps that have any chance at inducing growth. Generally, it just resembles a much-less-cool high wire act. Not much gets actually accomplished.

But...adding some stability completely changes the outcome. Instead of focusing on not falling over, we can now direct that towards overloading the quads and glutes. Instead of using the back foot to spring off the floor every rep, we can maintain tension all the way through the eccentric and allow the muscles to handle the deceleration. Instead of only ~25% of the ROM actually providing any effectiveness, we can now use our upper body to regulate difficulty and level the resistance curve from start to finish. 

My preference is the Assisted High Step-Up using some sort of straps as shown in the video. But these can be altered according to the individual as well. The only thing necessary to implement this improvement is to ensure that stability is increased. From there, it's all icing on the cake.

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