When you stick faithfully to your workout schedule and listen carefully to your body’s recovery cues, you’ll eventually want to check in on your progress and ask yourself, “So, how strong am I?” For those moments when you’re ready to see how much all your hard work at the gym, on the megaformer, or in yoga has paid off, physical therapists recommend box “step-downs.”
Cameron Yuen, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at New York City’s Bespoke Treatments, says that box step-downs mimic going up and down the stairs, and reveals weaknesses in your body from ankle to hips. “If you watch [yourself in the mirror] from the front, you can see whether the knee goes straight ahead, has some wobble side to side, or whether it caves in medially [down the middle],” says Dr. Yuen. “That lets you also know about your hip function and potentially your foot function.”
While every body is unique, Dr. Yuen says that your gluteus medius—a muscle that helps your hips move properly—may be to blame if you find that your knees are unstable. “If your knees are under a lot of load and you have wobble there, that does potentially contribute to some cartilage damage, or meniscus damage, or some ligament damage on the knee over time. It’s a good test to see how your knee function is, but also your hip function,” says the physical therapist.
How strong am I? The box step down test will tell you in minutes
Using backward, lateral, and foreward step-downs, complete 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps on each side, every other day with ample time for recovery.
Step 1: Plant your right foot on the far left side of a plyo box with your left food hanging in the air.
Step 2: Bend your right knee and tap you left heel behind the box (backward), to the side of the box (laterl), then in front of the box (forward).
Step 3: Complete the same exercise on the left foot.
If you do find your knee wobbling during the exercise, Dr. Yuen recommends completing resistance band exercises like clamshells and resistance band side steps to strengthen your gluteus medius. When you’ve built up your strength, try the box exercise once more.