Step-downs are another exercise I like to do with the trap bar. Essentially, this single leg exercise is the reverse of a step-up and the main focus is on the lowering/eccentric component of the movement. This exercise strengthens and builds the muscles of the quads and glutes, lower leg and foot, and also develops balance.
You can also do this exercise with dumbbells, kettlebells, band resistance, or just your bodyweight. I actually recommend starting out with just bodyweight and owning the movement before you add additional resistance. Then progress to dumbbells, and lastly, the trap bar. My mind was absent when I was doing these, and I grossly underestimated the amount of weight I was using. I thought I was using 65 lbs, but I was using 95. Start off light, and work your way up.
While this is a lower body exercise, believe it or not, it will have a positive carryover to your ability to perform pull-ups. Having strong legs and glutes will help keep your pelvis and legs in a stable position so your body does not swing back and forth of the bar like a pendulum. This will reduce the length of the path your body has to travel to the bar, and it will keep your body in a rigid position, both of which will positively impact your ability to perform pull-ups. When it comes to mastering the pull-up, every small detail matters.
- Stand on a box or step. While I am using a trap bar, you can use dumbbells and can hold them by your sides, or you can hold one dumbbell or kettlebell in a goblet style position.
- Form a tripod base by keeping the weight on the mid/back of your foot, and keeping your toes down, particularly your big and baby toes. These parts of your foot should remain in contact with the box/step for the duration of the exercise. Pretend that you are suctioning or screwing your foot to the surface.
- For the duration of the exercise, your head, torso, and hips should be in a stacked position. Do not allow your lower back to hyperextend or ribcage to flare.
- Before you go, take a deep breath in through your nose (360 degrees of air around the spine), brace your core (5-6), and tuck your ribs towards your hips (close the space in your midsection). This will stabilize your pelvis and spine, allowing you to focus on your lower body.
- Now perform a step down, and slowly lower yourself down so your foot is an inch or so above the floor, or lightly grazes the floor, then push back up and return to the starting position. If you struggle not touching the ground, you can fully plant your foot on the ground. But your main focus should be on the negative/lowering component. Aim to make the eccentric phase 2-3+ seconds.
- As you are performing the lowering component, slowly exhale through your teeth.
- Never allow your muscles to disengage at any point. Eccentric does not mean that you get to relax and shut off your muscles. Maintain control at ALL times.
- Keep the weight stable by driving your arms into your sides. Pretend that you are crushing something in your armpits.
- Do not allow your knee to cave in or fall out. It should remain in line with your toes. Also, in most instances, it is perfectly ok if your knee is above, or even slightly in front of your toes. The key is that you do not allow your weight to shift to the front of your foot, and for your heel to leave the ground.
- Reset before each rep.
Make this exercise easier by touching the ground at the end of each rep, and by using just bodyweight.
Make this exercise more challenging by not touching the ground between reps, by increasing the length of the negative phase, or by adding more resistance.
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