Muscles Used in a Dumbbell Stepup

Women doing step aerobics

The dumbbell stepup exercise is an effective workout that targets several muscles in your legs, back and abdomen. The exercise targets muscles either primarily, as synergists, or as stabilizers during the exercise. You can also perform stepups without dumbbells, but using the weights increases the resistance and workload for your muscles.


You perform the dumbbell stepup exercise using a raised platform or a bench, and two dumbbells. The higher the platform, the harder the move is. Execute it by standing in front of the platform and then stepping onto it with your right foot. You then push off with your left leg and bring it next to your right foot on the platform. After a brief pause, step down with your left leg, followed by your right leg. Repeat the exercise with the opposite leg leading.


One primary target of dumbbell stepups is gluteus maximus muscle located in your buttocks. Gluteus maximus is the major muscle in your butt and functions in extending, rotating, abducting and adducting your hips. During the stepup exercise, the gluteus maximus works to extend your hip.


The stepup also primarily targets your quadriceps, located on the front of your thighs. Quads consists of four muscles called the rectus femoris and the vastus lateralis, intermedius and medialis. Quads function in the extension of your knee and flexion of your hip during the stepup exercise. Stepups also target an adductor magnus muscle in your inner thigh as an synergists, or a muscle that assists to accomplish the movement. Adductor magnus is one of the three muscles of your inner thigh adductors. It works in the adduction, flexion, extension and rotation of your hip. During the stepup, adductor magnus works to extend and flex your hips.


The dumbbell stepup also synergistically targets two muscles in your calves. The gastrocnemius is located on the back of your calf and consists of two muscles called the medial and lateral heads, while the soleus is under your gastrocnemius. Both of these muscles function in plantar flexion, or extending your ankle. The gastrocnemius also functions in the flexion of your knee.


The stepup exercise engages many other muscles as stabilizers, including your hamstrings on the back of your thighs, erector spinae in your back, trapezius on your upper back, gluteus minimus and maximus on your buttocks, obliques and rectus abdominis on your abdomen, and levator scapulae on your neck. Stabilizer muscles contract without a significant movement to maintain your posture during the exercise.