Lunge Step Up: Strength and Stability

If your hips are sore after a long backpack or even hike, this might be the exercise for you. There's a chance you simply need to strengthen your glutes. In this simple exercise that you can do at home, you will achieve that and more.
Courtenay Schurman Courtenay Schurman
October 04, 2016
Lunge Step Up: Strength and Stability
by Courtenay Schurman, MS, CSCS

Several months ago, I successfully rehabilitated my core and left hip stabilizer muscles, but steep steps remained awkward and tentative on my right leg. It turns out that crucial gluteal muscles were lagging behind those on the left side. It was time to even things out.

The Lunge Step Up turned out to be a great movement for retraining balance and regaining strength specific to pack carrying. If you need more stability and strength for uphill travel, this compound movement will help you build all the smaller muscles from the ankles and feet upward through the knees to the glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings. 


Set up: Place a secure step (6-15” - height will depend on your height, leg length, and balance) a stride distance in front of you. Stand with feet parallel and hands holding dumbbells or on your hips.

Movement: Lunge forward onto the step with your right foot and lower your torso until your knee is at a right angle to the step. Your back (left) knee can be straight or bent. (Picture 1) In one smooth move, swing the back (left) knee up over the step and ahead of you (Picture 2). It might help to imagine another high step in front of you. 

Balance: Pause on top of the step for 1-2 seconds with your left knee elevated, abdominals engaged, and right leg straight. Reverse the movement, returning to the bottom lunge position and then to standing. Complete the sequence for desired number of repetitions on one leg, then repeat so left foot is lunging onto the step and right knee is thrusting in front of you.


Keep abdominals tight, ribs drawn down, lower back in neutral position, shoulders and hips squared forward and posture tall, not collapsed forward. 

Keep weight in the heel of the forward leg in order to activate the gluteal (buttocks) muscles. 


Start with the leg you feel will be more challenging and complete the same number of repetitions on both legs.

If it is hard to balance with hands on your hips, hold them out for balance or try the exercise with no step. You may also hold onto a dowel or pole at your side, or set the step next to a wall.

Make sure the forward knee remains behind your laces. Your front shin (in both the step and floor phases of the lunge) should be perpendicular to the floor.

Increase step height, hold a dumbbell in two hands in front of your chest, or hold one in each hand for more challenge. You can also complete the movement with a pack on your back.

Begin with a low step, bodyweight resistance, and few repetitions. Work up to higher repetitions, increased weight, and a higher step as you master the movement. Complete 5-8 repetitions per side, then repeat with the other leg. Do 2-3 sets, twice a week.

Courtenay demonstrates the lunge step up. Photo by Doug Schurman

For more how-to exercises and tips for the outdoor athlete, visit Courtenay Schurman’s website at or send her a question at

This article originally appeared in our Fall 2016 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.

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