Bench exercises are a great way to work out a variety of different muscles in your body. Because a number of different items can be substituted in for the bench, these exercises are great to do at home or if you only have a limited range of equipment to use. One of the best bench exercises in terms of leg strength and flexibility is the step up and step over. These exercises are based on the same basic principle but differ in a couple of important ways.
The step up is an exercise in which you'll step up onto a bench and then back down. The step over involves moving all the way over the bench and works your leg mobility and flexibility a bit more than the step up, which tends to focus more on strength. The two exercises complement each other very well and will be quite helpful for athletes of all types, particularly for people who run.
Beginners should avoid using a weight at all when executing the step up. As you begin to feel comfortable with the exercise, consider holding a barbell behind your neck with both hands, palms facing forward. This will add to your weight and force your legs to work harder while you exercise.
The procedure for the step up involves two basic positions. Stand so that you're facing the bench with both feet on the ground. Place one lead foot onto the bench, and in a smooth and fluid motion bring your other foot up so that you're standing on top of the bench. This is the second position. Next, use the lead foot to carefully step back and then follow with the other foot. You can repeat this as often as you like.
Step overs involve the same basic procedure, except that the lead foot will step all the way over the bench with the other foot following. The lead foot will then step over the bench again, while you're still facing forward, and the other foot will follow.
Safety and Technique
The risky part of this exercise is when you step backward. Be very careful as you do so, and do not move too fast. It may help if you have a spotter there to help catch you if you should fall. In terms of technique, be sure to move slowly enough so that you don't put unnecessary strain on any of your muscles.
People looking for more advanced versions of the exercise typically add weight onto their shoulders. You can also step onto the bench and then step forward off of it. This adds an additional component to the coordination of the exercise and is an advanced technique that you should only experiment with when you're fully comfortable with the basics.
This exercise is a great way to develop general leg flexibility and strength. It works a number of different muscle groups in the legs.