Poliquin Step Up – Benefits, Proper Form, & Muscles Worked

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Invented by the late great strength coach, Charles Poliquin, the Poliquin step up was designed to help athletes progress towards the Petersen step up.

It aims to get athletes strong whenever their ‘knee goes over the toes’, which is a position encountered super frequently in virtually every sport.

Today we’re going to take a closer look at how to perform the Poliquin step up properly, its benefits, and a few alternatives.

Let’s begin!

How To Perform The Poliquin Step Up

You’ll need to use some sort of an incline to perform these.

A slant board or squat wedge should do the trick nicely.

You can start on the ground or use an elevated surface (such as a small plyo box or step up box).

I’m using my VMO Pro, an adjustable slant board designed specifically for these reverse step ups.

Start the Poliquin step up by bending at the knee so that your working leg’s knee tracks out and over your toes.

Gently touch the ground with your non-working leg’s heel.

The further out in front you can get that off-leg, the greater the knee bend will be, and the deeper the stimulus.


Check out my full review of the VMO Pro, the best slant board for ATG movements like the Poliquin step up!

Poliquin Step Up Pointers

  • Try to keep your non-working leg’s ankle dorsiflexed throughout the movement.
  • Don’t push off the ground with your non-working leg – it should just be a soft pause.
  • Maintain tension in the VMO throughout the entire movement.
  • Start on your non-dominant side.
  • Don’t work through pain.

Poliquin Step Up Benefits

This seemingly quite simple movement has some pretty profound benefits…

Massive Carryover To Sports-Specific Movements

Whether you’re a basketballer, volleyballer, sprinter, football player, dancer, or virtually any kind of athlete, you’re probably encountering this ‘knee over toe’ position regularly.

Importance Of Patrick Step

Whenever you jump, land, or sprint, your knee is out past your toes.

If you want to become stronger, more efficient, and more explosive on the court or field, you need to strengthen the knee in this position.

Prevents ACL Injuries

If the knee can’t safely travel forward, it will travel inwards.

So when you land from a jump, for instance, if your knee can’t absorb the landing forces by moving forward (past the toes), it’ll internally rotate, which is the major cause of ACL injuries.

So one of the major benefits of the Poliquin step up is that you’re going to become so strong in that knees over toes position that you’ll almost certainly not be at risk of blowing out your ACL!

Poliquin Step Up Progressions

Let’s run through each of the different variations of the Poliquin step up you can work your way through…

1. Increase Height

The easiest Poliquin step up regression is to begin on the ground.

Once that’s fairly easy, you can look to increase the height of your platform.

The higher you go, the tougher it’ll get.

I recommend sticking at around 6″ of height.

2. Increase Length

You can also make these more difficult my reaching out further in front of you with that off-leg.

If you’re struggling to get much length, remember the cue of shooting your hips forward which I’ve found helps when you’re on the elevated surface.

3. Increase Load

Once you’ve got the hang of that, you can start loading up.

I personally just use kettlebells or dumbbells, but you can work your way up to some serious weight!

At this level, you’ll need extremely good balance and ankle mobility, as well as VMO strength!

Poliquin Step Up – Sets & Reps

Anywhere from 12-30 reps is fine for these, depending on how much weight you’re using.

I mostly do them unloaded and shoot for about 25 reps and feel as though that’s a solid amount of time under tension for the VMO.

Poliquin Step Up: Muscles Worked

When you start doing Poliquin step ups, it’ll become abundantly clear which muscle is at work here…

Of course it’s the VMO, or the teardrop muscle of your inner quad.

Poliquin Step Muscles Worked

The Poliquin step up, if done correctly, will work the VMO almost exclusively.

Most people will feel a deep burn in their VMO after just 10-20 reps with no added weight.

While your calves and Achilles are doing a bit of work to help stabilize the lower leg during this movement, you’re really only going to feel your VMO working during the Poliquin step up.

Poliquin Step Up Alternatives

The Poliquin step up has a couple kissing cousins which are extremely similar in nature and are also worth experimenting with…

Patrick Step

The difference between a Patrick step and a Poliquin step up is that in the Patrick variation, you’re standing on a flat surface with no incline.

This variation requires considerably more ankle mobility but allows you to get a great stimulus even just on the ground!

Petersen Step Up

The toughest progression of all the reverse step ups is the Petersen step up, which is extremely similar to the Poliquin step up, only you’re standing on a flat surface and rocking up onto the balls of your feet.

The Poliquin step up was actually devised to make people stronger in this ‘knees over toes + on balls of feet’ position that we encounter in so many athletic movements.

I’ve found I get a significantly deeper stretch through the VMO doing this particular variation and the burn is absolutely wicked!

What’s The Verdict?

The Poliquin step up is an absolutely essential, foundational movement for anyone looking to bulletproof their knees.

It’s easier than the Patrick step in some sense, as it requires less ankle mobility to execute properly.

I firmly believe this exercise should be mandatory for basketball players, volleyball players, sprinters, football/soccer players, and virtually any kind of athlete you can think of!

The idea is to become really strong in that ‘knee past toe’ position, and the Poliquin step up is one of the best places to start.

Harvey Meale

Harvey Meale

I'm the founder of A1Athlete, a publication dedicated to helping athletes optimize their training and dominate their opponents. When I'm not in the gym, I'm probably neck deep in research or writing another article!

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