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Mid-Day Workouts: How Do You Break Free from the Cube?

Five flights of metal stairs. 177 individual steps. Seven round trips (more or less). Hundreds of trees standing by as we lunge, run, walk and sidestep our way up and down an outdoor staircase, metal grids underfoot and green leafiness overhead.

Sound like the stairclimber to heaven or hell? Either way—at REI headquarters in Kent, Wash., this is my preferred lunchtime antidote to sedentary work. (In stores and the distribution centers, REI employees are on their feet and on the move, but it's a different story here. Think computers, cubicles and plenty of seat-time.)
 lunchtime stair workout
When I started here a few years back, I was amazed at the robust menu of mid-day exercise opportunities: Walk or run the nearby paved trails. Bike with the notoriously gung-ho cycling crowd. Take a yoga class. Play volleyball, basketball or Ultimate Frisbee. Or—more mysteriously—one could "go to the stairs."

Make that "stairs in the suburban woods." Turns out that, in addition to the more typical amenities (lake, trails, woods, hills), nearby Lake Fenwick Park features a metal staircase 177 steps high. There's a longtime tradition amongst REI employees of going to this park at lunchtime to climb stairs.  

My first reaction, as a somewhat-intimidated newbie: "Are you people crazy?"

mid-day stair workoutToday, I have a different take. Now, the mid-day opportunity to test myself against those stairs strikes me as an incredible privilege. (How many other employers vigorously promote a culture of exercise—complete with on-site showers?) The stairs have also become a crucial mid-day timeout, and a chance to surprise my brain and body.

For instance: Inspired by the mucus-green banana slugs that ooze their way across the park's trails, my latest game is one of reverse psychology: Just how slowly I can lunge my way up every other flight of stairs? (Better balance, control and an improved yoga half moon pose are just some of the payoffs.)
You might not have the luxury of an outdoor staircase, but how do you exercise your noonday demons? Are you toying with the idea of starting a new workout routine but still in the "thinking about it" stage?

Here's how I turned around my attitude from skeptical sideliner to devoted stair climber:

• Keep an open mind. Upon hearing "metal staircase," I pictured the outdoor bleachers at my high school. (And saw myself falling through same.) Reality proved to be quite a different, sturdier thing.

mid-day stair workout Schedule exercise time the way you would any other meeting.

• Find a friend to exercise with. It's a proven formula for success. I wouldn't make it to the staircase if I didn't have a standing appointment with other regulars.

• Fear of commitment? Try this: Make an appointment with your workout buddy, but don't confirm in advance each time. Just plan to show up. If your friend arrives, great. If not, go ahead and do your thing. The point is to escape the mesmerizing glow of the computer screen. (Props to writing teacher Natalie Goldberg for this stealth meet-up idea.)

• Not in tip-top shape? Go at your own pace and learn by observing people around you. Watch the pacesetters for ideas rather than comparison purposes. For instance: I picked up slo-mo lunges from Jen and Dave; got some ideas about interval training from Laurie's library book; found inspiration in JP's quick feet, Julie's focus, Lynn's sidewinder step, Barbara's phenomenal commitment… The list goes on.

• Keep it fun: a new workout mix on the iPod, a private game of adding a new twist each time, a challenge to increase the number of repetitions each week.

• Enjoy the novelty of meeting a very tangible, concrete goal during your workday.

Keep in mind that if you have any health concerns or haven't exercised much lately, the Mayo Clinic and other medical authorities advise that you check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.

Posted on at 1:30 PM

Tagged: exercise, fitness, rei, stair climbing and workouts

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Fantastic use of a lunch hour, great to see everyone doing it together!

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