Monday, October 18, 2010

Want a Cheap Alternative to the Gym? Try Stair Climbing!

By Janice Lloyd, USA TODAY

Lindy Goss says she is the anti-jock.
The mother of three daughters and wife of a golf coach has zero interest in hitting the gym or a golf ball.

READ: More ways to stay fit on the cheap
But don't underestimate her fitness level: Goss is hooked on a form of exercise that is rising in popularity. It has helped her drop a dress size, improved her overall strength and endurance and supports a cause close to her heart.

Goss, 38, is training to climb the 103 floors of the Willis Tower when the second annual SkyRise Chicago takes place Nov. 14. She and several girlfriends are lifers, she says, after trekking up the 2,109 steps last year and helping raise funds for the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. "I'm definitely healthier because of this," says Goss, whose father-in-law has been a patient at the institute. "We weren't at all winded afterwards."

Their training is one of the least expensive ways to get healthy. They meet twice a week at a high-rise condo near Goss' home in Evanston, Ill., and head to the stairwell. "We have to do it as early as possible to get it over with," Goss says. "It's still exercise. The hard part is finding time."

Stair climbing is one of the best ways to strengthen the glutes and leg muscles, according to the American Council on Exercise. It's a great cardiovascular workout and burns more calories than jogging and walking.

Events are held in skyscrapers and towers all over the world. One of the first was in 1977 at New York's Empire State Building (1,577 steps to the observation deck), which celebrated its 33rd climb in February. There are hundreds of climbs and "tower running" events.

Goss and girlfriends do not race. "We see the people with their sweatbands and outfits, doing their stretches beforehand," she says. "It looks kind of silly, really." But everyone has priorities. "I dropped a full dress size to a size 6," she says. "I definitely lost weight on my hips."

In addition to two days of stair climbing, she and her friends walk or jog other days as part of their training. That routine would meet the federal guidelines for physical activity if they did it all year, but they only train in preparation for this event. Goss took up training again in August.

Fitness experts applaud her efforts but would like to see her step it up a notch.

"You need to do cardio work three to five days a week," says Barbara Bushman, an exercise physiologist at Missouri State University. "And it has to be a habit to get the full health benefits."

One huge benefit for Goss: Hitting the steps is a major stress buster. "We talk all the way up the stairs, complaining about work and other things," says Goss, a real estate agent in the Chicago suburbs. "You find by the time you get there, you're feeling much better about everything."

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