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story.lead_photo.caption Stickman demonstrates the Alternating Stair Climb. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)

During the first half of my career, I found myself inside a fitness center nearly every day.

Whether I was working a shift or exercising on my own, I found solace inside the exercise cathedrals that dot our Midwest landscape. No matter how large or small, each fitness center provided an atmosphere of camaraderie, encouragement and hope that I will always remember fondly.

Over the past decade, my focus has shifted to the business side -- which has been altered drastically by the pandemic.

I have seen fitness center trends come and go. The '80s featured heavy Nautilus machines, cardio-based group exercise classes and spa-like locker-room amenities. The '90s included a greater focus on personal training and the proliferation of free-weight training for men and women.

In the 2000s there was a transition from independently owned "Mom and Pop" fitness centers to thousands of lookalike franchises. These days, there are so many different types of fitness studios that many users hold two or three memberships simultaneously.

But the one thing that bonds users to a fitness center experience is the social community, and I don't believe that will ever change.

Walking in those front doors and hearing the front desk attendant call you by name will always be a dynamic that is valued. Whether you're meeting a friend for a Sunrise Yoga class or participating in a heart-pumping Boot Camp with 20 other people, the fitness center experience is about sharing a common interest, encouraging one another and achieving better health in a group atmosphere.

But the pandemic has dampened the spirit of the fitness experience.

In many states, fitness centers are forced to remain closed and come up with alternatives for engaging their member populations. Members have sought virtual resources, at-home equipment and engaged the services of "traveling trainers" to help them stay healthy.

It is a different time, but it's important to remember that this is temporary. Eventually, fitness centers will reopen and members will return to take part in the social community that has been so rudely interrupted by the pandemic.

The key is to make sure that you have a plan in place to keep the momentum going until that day comes. Home exercise, neighborhood runs and family fitness are all great options to maintain a baseline level of fitness.

This week's exercise is a great option for those looking to maintain leg strength while exercising outdoors. The Alternating Stair Climb is easy to learn and is appropriate for nearly any fitness level.

1. Find a nice tall staircase, ideally one with 40 or 50 steps (they can be arranged in flights with landings; the total is what matters).

2. Stand at the bottom of the staircase and don't hold a handrail.

3. Step up on the second stair with your right foot and place your hands on your hips.

4. Go ahead and step forward so that both feet are on the second stair.

5. Again, step up with the right foot, this time onto the fourth stair.

6. Continue stepping up every other stair with the right foot first. Once you reach the top, walk down to the bottom slowly while holding the handrail.

7. Repeat with the left leg stepping up every other stair for the entire staircase.

The Alternating Stair Climb is an outdoor exercise that can also be enjoyed by the whole family. I'd encourage those with kids to give it a shot, as young kids generally love any type of physical activity they can perform with their parents.

That's certainly true in the case of my family and I know the perfect staircase right near our house. Enjoy!

Matt Parrott has a doctorate in education (sport studies) and a master's in kinesiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.

vballtop@aol.com

Stickman demonstrates step 1 of the Alternating Stair Climb for Matt Parrott's Master Class.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)
Stickman demonstrates step 1 of the Alternating Stair Climb for Matt Parrott's Master Class. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)
Stickman demonstrates step 2 of the Alternating Stair Climb for Matt Parrott's Master Class.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)
Stickman demonstrates step 2 of the Alternating Stair Climb for Matt Parrott's Master Class. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)
Stickman demonstrates step 3 of the Alternating Stair Climb for Matt Parrott's Master Class.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)
Stickman demonstrates step 3 of the Alternating Stair Climb for Matt Parrott's Master Class. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)
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