Between work and family you may not have much time to exercise, no matter how much you enjoy your time in the gym. So it makes sense to get the most bang you can squeeze out of your exercise buck by finding activities that burn fat while building muscle. Any weight-training exercise can potentially burn fat, but the dumbbell step-up often does the job better than most.
In addition to a pair of dumbbells, all you need to perform the exercise is a raised platform or step that’s wide enough to fit your entire foot. An exercise bench, a small stool or a stair step are among your options. The higher the platform, the more intense your workout. Grab a dumbbell in each hand, then stand straight in front of the platform with your arms hanging at your sides and your palms facing your body. Lift your right leg and place your foot on the platform, then push up through your right heel and bring your left foot next to your right. Step back down, beginning with your left leg, to complete one repetition. Keep your head up and your back straight throughout the exercise.
Dumbbell step-ups help build a number of muscles. The exercise targets the quadriceps muscles in the front of each thigh. The gluteus maximus in your butt assists your movement, but you can shift more focus to that muscle by standing farther from the bench and taking a longer step. Your calf muscles, plus the adductor magnus on the insides of your thighs, also assist during step-ups. You’ll also work a variety of stabilizing muscles in your back, core, thighs and around your hips.
The number of calories you’ll burn by performing dumbbell step-ups varies according to several factors. But the exercise has an aerobic component -- that’s the step-up part -- so dumbbell step-ups will likely burn more calories than typical weight-training exercises. Performing step aerobics without weights burns about 520 calories per hour if you weigh 155 pounds. You probably won’t burn that many calories while holding dumbbells, because you won’t move as quickly. But you can expect to burn approximately 450 calories per hour performing dumbbell step-ups, depending on your current weight and how intensely you work out. If you’re burning at least as many calories as you’re consuming each day, adding dumbbell step-ups to your exercise routine will burn fat. You must burn 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound, so it’ll take approximately seven to eight hours of dumbbell step-ups to burn 1 pound of fat.
Consult a doctor before you begin a new exercise program, particularly if you’ve been inactive or you have any health concerns. If you’re new to step-ups, begin with the body-weight version until you get used to the movement and feel well-balanced. One set of step-ups typically includes a series of repetitions leading with your right leg and another series in which you lead with your left, although you may alternate legs if you wish. Try to work up to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions with each leg per set. Use sufficient weight so your final reps are challenging.
M.L. Rose has worked as a print and online journalist for more than 20 years. He has contributed to a variety of national and local publications, specializing in sports writing. Rose holds a B.A. in communications.