How Dumbbell Box Step-Overs Can Strengthen Your Legs and Glutes

Add this full-body move to your leg-day routine.

When it comes to leg day, it doesn't get more classic than squat. However, if a squat is the only lower-body movement in your routine, you may become bored. You'll also miss out on the chance to do moves that work not only your legs and glutes but also your core and upper body.

Learn about the dumbbell box step-over, which works more than just your legs, how to perform the move, and how to incorporate it into your routine.

What Are Dumbell Box Step-Overs?

The dumbbell box step-over is a lot like a box step-up but with the addition of two weights, either dumbbells or kettlebells. Stepping up and over a box taxes and tones the lower body differently than just squatting.

"Dumbbell box step-overs are a challenging movement and a great way to train and challenge the entire body, but more specifically to sculpt and train the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quads, core, and even upper body," Katherine "KG" Gundling, a certified personal trainer, told Health.

"These are one of my favorite exercises to play around with because they build strength quickly, are deceivingly challenging, and are definitely underappreciated," noted Gundling.

Plus, the exercise is versatile. All you need is something to step onto and two weights. So, whether you're looking for a new move to add to leg day, customizing a hotel gym workout, or want to sculpt your whole body, here's how to do the dumbbell box step-over.

Dumbell Box Step-Over Benefits

Once you get the hang of the killer movement, you’ll tone and strengthen your entire body. 

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,” said Gundling.

For even more emphasis on the booty gains, make the box higher. The higher the box, the more the movement will build. Then, the move will also strengthen your posterior chain muscles, known as the glutes and hamstrings. In contrast, the lower the box, the more the movement targets your quads.

Your Legs Will Get Stronger

"Another bonus of the box step-over is that it strengthens each leg unilaterally, as opposed to 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," said Gundling. 

In other words, you're evenly working each leg's quads, hamstrings, and calves.

You'll Stabilize Your Core

Those two weights at your sides are fighting to pull you down. So, you must engage your core to keep your torso upright.

"You can't properly do this movement unless your core is engaged," noted Gundling. "Over time, engaging your core like this will improve overall core strength, stabilization, and balance."

After completing the move enough times, you may notice better posture, reduced lower back pain, and more defined abs than before.

You'll Boost Your Upper-Body Strength

Ditch the dumbbells, and the move will primarily target the lower body. However, if you hold onto the dumbbells, you'll also be training your grip, shoulders, traps, and back. Then, your upper body works under tension, explained Gundling.

You'll notice the difference if you do push-ups, pull-ups, shoulder presses, or barbell movements. Even better? Because the activity strengthens your back, you might also find that your posture improves.

How To Do a Dumbbell Box Step-Over

how to dumbbell box step over
Emma Darvick

First, find a box, 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.

Then, do the following sequence:

  1. Hold one weight in each hand at your sides.
  2. Stand six inches from the box so you're facing it, with your hips square and your shoulders stacked right over your hips.
  3. When ready to begin, brace your core, draw your shoulders back, and squeeze your lats.
  4. 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.
  5. Straighten your right leg, bring your left foot up until you stand 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.
  6. Step down with your right leg, then with your left leg (C).
  7. Once you're on the ground, turn around to face the box.

That's one rep. Repeat the movement, stepping up first with your left leg.

Katherine Gundling

Before You Begin

Warm up with two sets of 10–12 reps of dumbbell step-ups, stepping up on top of the box, using a light weight, recommended Gundling. Then, do two sets of four to six reps of the step-overs using a moderate weight.

If, for example, you want to use two 20-pound dumbbells during the workout, first warm up with two five- to 12-pound dumbbells.

Then, if you've never tried a dumbbell box step-over, start with the basics.

"This movement requires a lot of coordination and stabilization of the whole body," explained Gundling. "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."

And if you want to make it harder than that? 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," added Gundling.

Be careful starting the exercise if you haven't done similar exercises or have joint or leg issues. You risk bone, muscle, and joint injuries if you suddenly change your activity level. Talk to a healthcare provider if you're unsure whether you should try dumbbell box step-overs.

A Quick Review

Dumbbell box step-overs can help strengthen your entire body, especially your legs and glutes. The move is like a box step-up, but you use two weights to add resistance. 

However, if you're a beginner, starting the move without weights, slowly working up from light weights, then heavy ones, can reduce the risk of injury.

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  1. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical activity guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition.

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