Step by Step: Taking Advantage of the Stairs

Step by Step: Walter Lewis Fitness CoachIF YOU’RE LATE to a session with Steve Kostorowski at Water Street Gym (3401 K St. NW, 202-338-2711), he has a method for getting your heart rate back on schedule: a couple flights of stairs.

After a few seconds of trying to keep up with his stairmill (that’s the cardio machine that looks like an escalator, not the one with two pedals that go up and down), your heart rate will be ascending right along with you.

“They always wonder, ‘How can I be this out of breath in one minute?'” he says. The answer is they’re working against gravity and their own body weight, while targeting muscles they’re not used to taxing — namely, their glutes.

It’s a timeless recipe for fat-burning, strength-building and bun-shaping. “Think about how far back in history stairs go — the Mayan ruins, the pyramids,” Kostorowski says. “I bet the Mayans had awesome butts.”

His clients aren’t doing so badly in the buttocks department, either. Beyond the quickie stairmill sessions, Kostorowski regularly drags them a few blocks away to “The Exorcist” stairs (see below) for interval work. Sound boring to climb constantly? Not when mixing it up Kostorowski-style. He’ll instruct them to skip every other step, head sideways, or do lunges. He might have them perform heel raises, or he’ll get them hopping to work on their explosive power. “The stairs are just a prop,” he says. “How you use them is only limited by your imagination.”

Walter Lewis, owner of Awesome Physique, specializes in outdoor training, so he’s thought a lot about how to use stairs in his workouts. It’s one of the only tools he knows he’ll be able to find no matter where he’s meeting a client.

So, when it’s time for upper-body work, they use steps for push-ups. If trainees are still building up to being able to do them flat on the ground, Lewis can have them elevate their hands to make the movement easier. And if they’re looking for more of a challenge, he can make them elevate their legs instead to make the movement harder.

Want to get at your triceps? Lewis would have you sit on the bottom step, grab the edge with both hands, shift your fanny forward so it’s hanging in the air and then bend your arms down to perform dips. If there’s a handrail, he can even have you doing pull-ups.

This kind of variety is essential because a little stair climbing goes a long way. “We don’t use stairs as we would biking or running,” Kostorowski says. “It’s too much stress on your body.” The other downside, of course, is the possibility of falling down. That’s why he’ll allow clients to bound up as quickly as they want, but on the way back, he has them take it slowly and hold onto the railing.

After all, if you manage to avoid taking a tumble, stair climbing can take you to a whole new level — or at least a whole new butt.

For a place known for its short skyline, Washington, D.C., sure has a lot of stairs. Just commuting usually involves tackling at least one epic escalator (the one at Wheaton is a record-breaking 230 feet tall) — so, if you’re late, you’re climbing. But there a few sets of steps that are particularly spectacular for a workout or just a walk up:

» “The Exorcist” steps (the 3600 block of M Street NW): They’d look pretty freaky even if they hadn’t been made famous by a scene in the 1973 movie — 97 steps is a lot to handle. But they’re free and open at all hours if you’re looking for a challenge. Just don’t fall down them like that priest.

» Washington National Cathedral (3101 Wisconsin Ave. NW): Even though they cost $10, the Tower Climbs here almost always sell out. After all, the trek up 333 steps from the crypt level to the bells offers stunning views beyond the city (you can see the Blue Ridge Mountains!). Mark your calendar for the next tours, May 1 and 2 during the cathedral’s annual Flower Mart.

» Lincoln Memorial (west end of the Mall): You’ll have to dodge the tourists, so you’re probably better off walking than running the stairs that lead up to one of the city’s grandest landmarks. But even if it feels like it takes you four score and seven years to make your way to the top of those 98 steps, it’s worth it. No wonder it’s one of Lewis’ favorite places to take clients.

Photo by James Thresher/The Washington Post

Posted By Vicky Hallett at 12:51 AM on March 31, 2009



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Fit: Let’s Review: A Look Back at 2008 Fit Tips

City RunnerWHY IS OUR TUMMY sore? It’s still recovering from learning the “super crunch” from Mike Everts, owner of FIT (1633 Q St. NW, 202-255-7814,, back in April. Remember? You lie flat on the ground, extend your arms above your head, then pike up so you can clap your feet and hands together in midair. Mastering a set of those would make for a fine New Year’s resolution. But if you’re looking for other ideas to make 2009 healthier and hotter, we’re happy to jog your memory about what we’ve covered over the past year — from budget-saving training to Montel Williamsfavorite diet tip to a happy hour that won’t give you a hangover.

1. The Runaround
The best way to see a town isn’t from a touristy trolley — it’s on your own two feet. City Running Tours (which operates a D.C. tour, as well as similar ones in other major U.S. cities — see pairs travelers with guides who are willing to go just your speed, whether that’s a jog/walk or a flat-out sprint. And while you’re on the run, they point out landmarks, recommend places to eat and even take photos, so you’ll have proof of what an active adventurer you are.

2. Rope Learns
Bored — or burned — by rope climbing? Instead, wrap your thick string around a pole and then pull it toward you hand over hand. Or, have someone else hold the other end, stabilize yourself in a squat and prepare for war: Both of you can whip your ends repeatedly to try to flick the rope out of the other’s grip. Those are just some of the ideas behind the Battling Ropes System, which is taught at several area Bally Total Fitness locations.

Healthy Food3. A Good Sport
Your chances of becoming a female Olympic gymnast start to plummet if you haven’t given it a try by, oh, age 6. But with four years to go until the next summer games, there are a few sports you could master in time for the next round of trials. How about rowing? Many of the top folks (including local star Jamie Schroeder) didn’t even get in a boat until college, and you can practice indoors on an ergometer virtually anywhere.

4. Home Improvement
Even workout DVD goddess Kathy Smith knows it can be hard to focus on an exercise DVD in your living room. That’s why she advocates finding ways to “create a little ritual.” Shut out all distractions, make it convenient — and promise yourself a reward for sticking to the program. Her pick? A manicure.

5. It Takes Two
Personal training seem too pricey? Make it a two-fer. Duets, personal training for two people instead of one, are gaining popularity with folks looking for a bargain without losing personal attention. Plus, if you pick the right buddy, he/she will push you harder than if you’d showed up alone — a little competition can go a long way.

6. Child’s Play
Even if you’re too old to believe in Santa Claus, it’s never too late for some kids’ games. Hopscotch, jump rope and four square don’t have an age limit. And just because you’re having fun doesn’t mean you aren’t burning calories. At Mind the Mat Pilates (2214 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria, 703-683-2228,, you might even find yourself crab walking. It’s “great for strengthening the back and opening the hip flexors,” explains co-founder Megan Bellamy Brown.

7. Rear View
Most of us won’t be appearing on “America’s Got Talent,” like the D.C. Cowboys, the gay, western dance act. But the exercise guidance they got from trainer Kevin M. Norris (1311 S St. NW, 202-352-7875, is applicable to anyone strolling along 17th Street: “Hello, they’re going to be looking at your asses. So I [taught them] Bulgarian split squats — that’s a form of lunge. Two of the best butt builders are the lunge and squat.”

Pageant Walter Lewis Training8. Juice Rocks
Going green isn’t just about being eco-friendly, it can make over your diet, too. Talk show host/author Montel Williams grabs everything with an emerald hue from the produce aisle at the grocery store, with the exception of broccoli and asparagus (digestion and smell issues, apparently). “Spinach, kale, collard greens — it’s all going in my juicer and in my mouth,” he told us. The result: A whole lot more veggies in his stomach and less space for junk.

9. Lend Me Your Ears
It’s hard to be on pins and needles about acupuncture when you’re getting it at “happy hour.” That’s what they call the group sessions at Silver Spring’s Heron Wellness ($30, 10723-B Columbia Pike, 301-754-3730, Although no drink specials are involved, you’ll definitely leave with a buzz from the feeling of getting pricked in several spots on your ears.

10. Mall Makeover
Don’t have the bucks to join a gym? The next best thing may be The Mall. That’s where Miss D.C. International got ready for the “fitness” portion of the competition with the help of trainer Walter Lewis of Awesome Physique ( Copy her routine and you’ll be ready to compete, too: Run the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial, grab on the nearby handrails to do pullups and use the trees planted along the Reflecting Pool as markers (think along the lines of walking lunges for five trees, then side squats for two).

Photos by iStock, courtesy Miss D.C. International

Posted By Vicky Hallett at 12:00 AM on December 30, 2008



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Top Story: Monumental Muscles: Miss D.C. International

Walter Lewis FitnessWHEN THE NEWLY crowned Miss D.C. International works out, she has to answer to two trainers: Walter Lewis of Awesome Physique and a certain 19-foot-tall rendering of Abraham Lincoln.

The presidential statue has been watching over 23-year-old MBA student Titi Williams-Davies for the past two months as she’s been hitting the Mall with Lewis, who specializes in outdoor exercise. Instead of a gym, he favors the mile-long stretch along the Reflecting Pool from the Lincoln Memorial to the World War II Memorial — and his favorite warm-up involves climbing to greet Honest Abe.

“When I see this,” he says, gesturing to the iconic elevated temple, “I see stairs and I think a person can run up them, lunge up them, squat up them.”

Others might not even notice a black handrail next to the Reflecting Pool, but Lewis turns it into a pull-up bar. (He has Williams-Davies use an underhand grip, stick her legs in front of her and start lifting.) Benches? They’re perfect for single leg step-ups, or he can make Williams-Davies turn around, place her hands at the edge of the seat and do triceps dips.

“And the trees are reference points, so I don’t need cones,” he says of the seemingly endless row spaced about 15 feet apart.

In a Lewis workout, intervals are measured in trees — in the form of “Do walking lunges for five trees” and, “Now, jumping jacks for two trees.”

In terms of equipment, he lugs around just a mat (for abs exercises) and a pair of gloves.

“We want to protect her pretty fingers from debris and poo,” Lewis says, before instructing Williams-Davies to do a push-up, walk her hands and feet over three steps and then repeat (for two trees).

If it sounds tricky to do all of this in D.C. summer weather and still look like a pageant queen, that’s because it is. An exhausted Williams-Davies seems unable to respond with more than one-word answers after a set of sumo squats (a side squat combined with a leg lift).

“Did you eat breakfast this morning?” Lewis inquires. Her response: “[Grunt.] Oatmeal.”
But as miserable as she may be during that last set of bicycle crunches, Williams-Davies rebounds quickly after the cooldown to gush about her new routine.

“I lose interest easily at the gym. But this always presents something new,” she says.

And she doesn’t just mean Lewis’ laundry list of exercises. There’s also the tourist factor — they stare, take photos and ask questions. She credits those experiences for helping her overcome some self-consciousness she needs to lose before the Miss International Pageant in Chicago later this month.

“A lot of people do run here, but not a lot of people do bear crawls between trees,” Williams-Davies says. And even fewer have a large man chasing after them saying, “We need to bring the booty down some to hit that core.”

Boosting muscle tone along with confidence certainly will help for the Miss International finals, too. There’s no swimsuit competition like in the Miss America Pageant, but the contestants are judged on their “fitness” while wearing their choice of athletic wear.

“The most obvious indication of fitness is if you have definition,” Williams-Davies explains. “This has done a lot for that.”

And there’s a guy named Lincoln who can vouch for her hard work.

Photo by Lawrence Luk

Posted By Vicky Hallett at 12:01 AM on July 1, 2008




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