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.

STOP STARING, START STAIRING
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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