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The Russian Step Up


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We favor performing one leg at a time for the given number or reps specified, meaning if 10 reps are called for doing all 10 stepping up onto the bench/box with the right leg first, then focusing on the left leg. This isn’t entirely necessary, and I leave it up to you and your personal preference. Also, you want to select a bench or box platform height that sees the top of your thigh parallel to the ground. A higher box works the hamstrings/glutes more; a lower box hits the quadriceps harder. Although this will vary for most athletes, it’s more important to get it started than get it “perfect” – use a parallel bench or box. Some highlights now, as to why this lift is just THAT GOOD….

Pre-1900 literature found in the Physical Culture Library/University of Texas found that the step-up was commonly practiced before the turn of the century. Dr. Dudley Allen Sargent, who was the director of physical training at Harvard University, used a form of the step-up when devising a method of cardio respiratory testing.

Sargent’s method was used over 80 years ago, and was deemed the Harvard Step Test. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that this lift seems to have died out in the United States, likely given the exploits of Joseph “Curtis” Hise. He not only gained a pro- digious level of strength and size with high-rep squats but more importantly – had the ability to motivate other lifters and get them to discover the merits of high rep squatting.

Approximately a decade ago, the full squat was still the foundation exercise programming used by virtually all elite athletes in the former Soviet Bloc nations, whether they were weightlifters or otherwise. It was a respected graduate of the Central Institute for Physical Education and Sport in Moscow, Anatoly Bondarchuk – who would break from convention. He concluded that a particular form of what’s known as the high step-up had two big advantages over the barbell squat: Greater gains in thigh and hip power and fewer injuries.

Leonid Taranenko was a world record holder in the clean and jerk (superheavy- weight class) – 586lbs. Ready for the punch line? For more than 4 years prior to setting this world record, he didn’t perform a single back squat. Instead, the ONLY form of heavy leg training he performed was the barbell step up.

Here’s some inspiration for you: Leonid Tarenenko 266kg clean and jerk

He accomplished this folks, by building his barbell step ups to an astounding three reps with each leg, using 396 pounds. Success leaves clues, and we leave the deci- sion up to you insofar as to whether to pursue this gem…