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September exercise of the month: the lateral step-down

Kayla Thompson, MS, ACSM-EP

Ahhh, September! We have made it! The brutal heat of August is behind us, and we move into, hopefully, cooler times. This can be a huge encouragement to get out and get active!

For September, let’s look at a very special lower-body exercise that helps increase leg stability and improve balance. This incredible movement is known as the lateral step-down!

The lateral step-down works your quadriceps and glutes. Your quadriceps are the muscles on the front of your thigh and your glutes are on your bottom. The movement involves standing on one leg on an elevated surface. This is not a speed-demon movement. Slow and steady wins the race on this one!

You will need some equipment, and you can use what you have around the house. The elevated surface needs to be stable and have structure. It can be a stack of large books, a yoga block, a small step stool, stairs, or other object you have at home. If it seems unstable, use something else. It is not worth a fall!

When using blocks or books, etc., you can set up your elevated surface near a wall, table, or next to a counter. This way if you lose balance or need help, there is a solid structure to grab. If you need to hold on to the wall or counter for balance, do so.

This movement can be a little tricky. I recommend starting with a lower leveled surface, about a one- to two-inch elevation, and following the three rules below to keep your body in good form.

Performing a lateral step-down

· Stand with one leg on your elevated surface – this is the inner leg

· The other leg – outer leg – will not rest on any surface

· Keeping the outer leg straight, bend at the knee and hip on the inner leg to lower your body toward the floor

· Once your foot barely hits the floor, push back up

Don’t cheat yourself here. No pushing off the floor to get back up!

You want to follow the three rules and keep your body in good form. There are three rules to mastering this gem, maintaining body alignment, and getting all the goodness from this exercise.

1 – Keep the outside foot flexed up

Imagine you are going to plant your whole foot on the floor or focus on touching your heel to the floor. No toe tapping!

2 – Watch your knee alignment

Keep your inner-leg kneecap in line with your second toe, however, don’t let the knee move in front of your toes. That will put unwanted stress on the knee. If your knee sneaks past your toes, bend more at the hip. If you can set up in front of a mirror, you will see where your knee is as you lower down.

You also want to keep that knee out. As you lower, your body will take the path of least resistance and that knee will try to cave in. You want to fight that urge. Keep the knee in line with that second toe and push it out.

3 – Keep your hips level

Don’t let the hip on your outward leg to sag causing you to reach the floor faster. That is not good for your body and is cheating yourself! A tip to this is thinking about wearing a belt. You want the belt to be straight across your hips and parallel with the floor, not leaning to one side.

For a workout including the lateral step down, keep reading!

· Warm up with 5 minutes of walking or light running

· 3 to 4 sets of the following:

o 10-15 push-ups – modify as needed

o 30 to 60 second planks – adjust time to maintain good form, listen to your body

o 1 minute of dancing

o 10-15 bicep curls – use a challenging weight

o 10 lateral step downs on each leg – try 1-2 inches, increase height to challenging, but with good form

· A 5-minute fast paced walk or run

· Cool down with a 10-to-20-minute walk to let your heartrate return to a normal level

Focus on the three rules and maintain good form. Listen to your body and progress when it allows you to. This movement is a great tool in your belt of health! Don’t forget to log your activity and progress where you can to help stay encouraged on those hard days!

Kayla Thompson is a patient support representative at the HopeHealth Medical Plaza in Florence and is a certified exercise physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine. She has a Master of Science in clinical exercise science.



HopeHealth educates its patients on the importance of having a health care home. As a primary care facility, HopeHealth’s medical team works to prevent and detect illness and the early onset of disease, provide routine physical examinations and promote overall healthy lifestyles.

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