Stairs. Don’t groan at them, use them.
Whether you are a beginner, avid hiker, mountaineer, athlete or a “starter over” stairs are often the answer to “getting there.” “Getting there” being your goal. Used with imagination and common sense, stairs are a workout class. They develop endurance, vital capacity, and very good legs.
When Bonnie Prudden opened her Institute for Physical Fitness in White Plains, NY back in the mid-fifties, there was no elevator in the old school house that she renovated, but there were 42 stairs from the first floor to the third floor. They were used for conditioning, discipline and special muscle building. Each day a “Daily Flight Plan” sign was posted at the foot of the stairs telling how to mount the stairs on that particular day. “Hop on one foot to landing…3 knee bends…other foot to top” or “on all fours” or “double leg jumps.” All descents to other gyms were made backward with three quarters of the foot over the edge of the stair and heels forced down to stretch, with a gentle bounce, the calf muscles.
There are many ways of looking at stairs but the best way is optimistically and with purpose. If you weigh 150 pounds and you climb one flight of stairs (about 10 feet), you lift 150 pounds times ten feet, or 1,500 foot-pounds. Each leg lifts 750 foot-pounds in just one flight of stairs. If you go up and down your stairs ten times a day that would be 15,000 foot pounds a day lifted by the muscles designed to help your heart. You will also lower that same number of foot-pounds as you come down the stairs.
Mountaineers often use the stairs to get in shape for the season. The mountaineer’s pace is slow and steady. It never varies, whether the terrain is easy or hard. It is truly hypnotic in its effect and makes it possible to carry a very heavy load for many hours. Mountaineers climb 1000 feet in an hour. Figure that each stair rise is seven inches high. A flight of twelve steps taken fourteen times will net you approximately 100 feet of altitude (and descent). Done twice daily will add up to 1000 foot mountain climb in five days. After a while you can add a pack with 10 pounds to your slow, steady pace.
If you are an “older” or a “starter over,” don’t give in to the stairs as “barriers.” Barriers are supposed to keep a person from getting from one place to another. Most barriers are self-imposed and your stairs should be considered as a challenge, not a barrier. If you have them in your home use them as your athletic equipment. They don’t cost a cent. For you your stairs should be an adventure for getting you ready for what is to come…a different way of life.
Stairs are the mountain in your house, office building, recreation center, Y or park, whatever mountain you want it to be. No need to scale the mountain on first try. Start easy and then add variety. Muscles love variety and each time you add a new way of mounting your flight of stairs, you use your muscles in different ways. When going up the stairs your feet and the back of your lower legs do much of the work. Coming down it is your thighs or quadriceps.
Here are a few ways:
- One step at a time leading with the same foot. Don’t forget to change feet the next time.
- Toes turned in going up use the anterior tibialis, and is particularly good if you have flat feet or are practicing figure skating.
- Turn toes out coming down while working your quadriceps.
- Use the bottom step to stretch your calf muscles and heel cords both before you mount and when you return. Flexible calf muscles help prevent torn Achilles tendons and also allow for a more graceful stride
As you become stronger and more adventuresome you can try hopping, jumping, going sideways, and two at a time, backward and on all fours.
If your stairs are in your home, don’t forget to make a chart so that you can check off your progress each day. Post it at the bottom of your stairs. Carry your chart with you if your mountain climbing stairs take you elsewhere.
At Bonnie’s Institute in Massachusettes where there was an unending parade of students and visitors, there were weight bags (1, 2 and 5 pounders) at the bottom of the stairs. As you went up you carried some with you, leaving them at the top for whoever was going down. No telling how many times those weight bags made their rounds each day.
I can’t do it: my knees hurt!
Your knees are between your thighs (quadriceps) and your lower legs (gastrocs and soleus). If your knees hurt it is often because those two sets of muscles have collected trigger points, which have caused the muscles to shorten. Your poor knee in the middle is asking for help. Use Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy® to relax the muscles and get rid of the pain. Then mount your stairs with a smile.
Other sources for STAIR ideas:
- Myotherapy: Bonnie Prudden’s Complete Guide to Pain-free Living
- Bonnie Prudden’s After Fifty Fitness Guide
- How to Keep Your Family Fit and Healthy.
For more information about Bonnie Prudden®, Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy®, workshops, books, self-help tools, DVDs, educational videos, and blogs, visit www.bonnieprudden.com. Or call 520-529-3979 if you have questions or need help.
Enid Whittaker, Managing Director, Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy®