When it comes to leg day, it doesn’t get more classic than the squat. But if a squat is the only lower-body movement in your leg-day routine, not only do you risk getting bored, but you’re missing a chance to work not only your legs and glutes but your core and upper body, too.
Enter: the dumbbell box step-over. The exercise is a lot like a box step-up, but with the addition of two weights, either dumbbells or kettlebells. Stepping not just up but over taxes and tones the lower body in a different way than just squatting. “Dumbbell box step-overs are a challenging movement and a great way to train and challenge the entire body, but also more specifically to sculpt and train the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quads, core, and even upper body,” explains certified personal trainer Katherine (KG) Gundling, a CrossFit level one trainer at ICE NYC.
“These are one of my favorite exercises to play around with because they build strength quickly, are deceivingly challenging, and are definitely underappreciated,” Gundling says. Plus, they’re really versatile: All you need is something to step onto and two weights.
Whether you’re looking for a new move to add to leg day, are DIY-ing a hotel-gym workout, or just want to sculpt your whole body (with major emphasis on the booty), here’s how to do this move.
First, find a box (or a bench or a stack of weight plates) to use. Make sure it’s high enough that when you put your whole foot on the box, your knee is at a 90-degree angle. (If your knee is higher than your hip joint, the platform is too high, especially if this is your first time trying the movement.) Hold one weight in each hand at your sides. Stand six inches from the box so that you’re facing it, with your hips square and your shoulders stacked right over your hips.
When you’re ready to begin, brace your core, draw your shoulders back, and squeeze your lats. Take a large step with your right foot, placing the whole foot on the box (A). As you drive your weight into the foot on the box, keep your chest up, your arms straight, and your shoulders back. Straighten your right leg and bring your left foot up until you are standing on top of the box, and squeeze your glutes (B).
Then, re-engage your core and draw your shoulders back if they’ve rounded forward. Step down with your right leg, then with your left leg (C). Once you’re on the ground, turn around so you’re facing the box. That’s one rep. Repeat the movement, this time stepping up first with your left leg.
Gundling recommends warming up first with two sets of 10 to 12 reps of dumbbell step-ups–where you’re just stepping up on top of the box–using a light weight, then doing two sets of 4 to 6 reps of the step-overs using a moderate weight. If you want to use two 20-pound dumbbells during the workout, for example, warm up with two 5- to 12-pound dumbbells first.
If you’ve never tried a dumbbell box step-over before, start with the basics. “This movement requires a lot of coordination and stabilization of the whole body. I recommend that beginners first master the unweighted box step-up and then get used to doing weighted dumbbell box step-ups before finally progressing to the dumbbell step-over,” says Gundling.
And if you want to make it harder? Either go heavier or slow it down. “Focusing on and slowing down the eccentric part of the movement—the part when you’re stepping down and off the box—is great for improving strength, balance, and stability,” says Gundling.
The benefits of the dumbbell box step-over
Once you get the hang of this killer movement, you’ll really be toning and strengthening your entire body. Below, check out the full-body benefits of dumbbell box step-overs.
You’ll get a peach pump
“If you perform the dumbbell box step-over and its variations consistently you will notice booty gains, which will be noticeable in glute shape and strength, as well as an increase in your back squat and deadlift weight,” says Gundling.
For even more emphasis on the booty gains, make the box higher. The higher the box, the more the movement will build and strengthen the muscles of your posterior chain–aka the glutes and hamstrings. The lower the box, the more the movement will target your quads.
Your legs will get stronger
“Another bonus of the box step-over is that it strengthens each leg unilaterally, as opposed to as one unit. Unlike with jump squats or leg presses, your legs can’t compensate for each other [during a step-over] if one is stronger,” says Gundling. That means that you’re evenly working the quads, hamstrings, and calves of each of your legs.
You’ll stabilize your core
Those two weights at your sides are fighting to pull you down, which means you have to engage your core to keep your torso upright. “You can’t properly do this movement unless your core is engaged,” Gundling says. “Over time, engaging your core like this will improve overall core strength, stabilization, and balance.” And you know what that means? Better posture, reduced lower-back pain, and more defined abs.
You’ll boost your upper-body strength
Ditch the dumbbells and this move will primarily target the lower body. But hold onto the dumbbells and you’ll also be training your grip, shoulders, traps, and back. Gundling explains that this is because your upper body is now working under tension.
If you do any push-ups, pull-ups, shoulder presses, or barbell movements, you’ll definitely notice the difference. Even better? Because the movement strengthens your back, you might just find that your posture improves, too.