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story.lead_photo.caption Emmanuel Eyiuche does the Staircase Ladder Drill at Little Rock Athletic Club, where he is a personal trainer. (Democrat-Gazette photo illustration/Celia Storey)

If you look hard enough, fitness opportunities can be found almost anywhere. The thing is, people associate certain places or structures with either a negative or positive connotation based on their experience.

As the world continues to navigate the complexities of social distancing, it's worth discussing the common places that exercise can be performed — outside the gym.

I want to try a little imagination exercise. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in.

Imagine you are walking through a park with vivid green grass, a slight breeze that's just enough to cool your skin, and not another person in sight.

You glance across the park and see a large playground structure. Think about how this makes you feel.

As you continue walking, you arrive at a large concrete staircase that is four flights tall. Think about how this makes you feel.

OK, now open your eyes.

If this little tour inside your imagination worked like mine did, you felt joy when you looked at the playground and challenged by the staircase. I'm not a psychologist, but I think it's because we associate playground equipment with fun and happiness, emotions we felt as children. Conversely, staircases are viewed as obstacles that force us to exert unnecessary energy, given the inventions of the elevator and escalator.

The point of this exercise is to understand that many objects in our environment can be used to perform an uplifting workout. Whether the object is a playground or a staircase, see the opportunity and not the challenge.

Staircases are, in reality, extremely useful for training without equipment.

My favorite staircases are ancient, grand and provide a reward at the top. Think of the 72 stone steps leading to the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Ring any bells? This is the staircase that Rocky ran up in the iconic movie, which provide a spectacular view of Philadelphia City Hall and other impressive buildings.

Close your eyes and picture the Rainbow Staircase at Eureka Springs. Or how about the Junction Bridge stairs near the Little Rock River Market? Yes, Arkansas has its own iconic staircases. I encourage everyone to seek one out for this week's exercise.

The Staircase Ladder Drill is a great cardio workout that will also challenge lower body muscular endurance.

1. Find a nice tall staircase, ideally 40 or 50 steps total.

2. Stand at the bottom of the staircase, and don't touch either handrail.

3. Walk slowly up four steps, then turn around and walk back to the bottom.

4. This time, walk up eight steps, then walk back to the bottom.

5. Now walk up 12 steps, and so on.

6. Every time you go back up, add four more steps to the total. If your staircase has 40 steps, you will complete 10 "reps."

7. Complete this ladder drill for two or three sets, trying to increase your stepping speed each time.

This exercise is best when performed at dawn or dusk, because there's just something motivating about eclipsing a big staircase with a beautiful sunlit backdrop. And maybe, just maybe, you'll want to stick around and take a few deep breaths of fresh Arkansas air. 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

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