Flights of Fancy – Hamilton’s staircases will challenge your fitness level

“Just take the stairs” is a commonly tossed around term, encouraging people to add physical fitness to their day. Hamilton has five staircases going up (and down) the escarpment, and this is a perfect time of year to get outside and challenge your fitness routine to new ‘flights’ (or heights, as it were). Some staircases are more challenging than others, but all offer undeniable health benefits.

Stair climbing doesn’t take too much skill and it’s low impact. For a little variety you can take two steps at a time, which expends a lot of calories. “Just walking stairs for an hour is about 540 calories (based on a 150lb person). Running uses about 1,000,” explains Damian Lockhart, a Hamilton-based certified C.H.E.K. exercise coach at Xelf. He suggests holding on to the railing for assistance or keeping your arms at your sides to challenge your legs. “It’s the most practical form of exercise – especially for an aging population.”

In fact Lockhart’s parents recently downsized to a townhouse with 36 stairs – something they weren’t sure they were going to like. “Me being a personal trainer, I said the stairs were a good thing and they would adapt. They’ve been there for two months and my mom commented that the stairs are ‘nothing’ now.” Fun

As a society, we tend to do a little too much sitting. Hamiltonian and certified fitness trainer, Karen McLaughlin of Your Fitness Grove, says an important benefit of stair climbing is the fact that they work the posterior chain muscles (hamstrings, glutes, calves). “We sit in chairs all the time and basically the backs of our leg (muscles) get turned off – they’re not engaged.” Always be kind to your knees. She advises keeping your torso upright at all times; don’t lean forward as that puts too much stress on the knees. Keep your knees in line with your hips and push through the heels to engage the back of your legs.

If you’re just starting out, Lockhart suggests going up and down twice. You should be able to walk up and down three or four times before you consider running them. He personally likes the Chedoke stairs. He’ll walk up and down, then jog through the path and jog up the set on Garth Street, and then jog back – or vice versa. For an upper body workout, you may want to keep some dumb bells in the car for bicep curls, or try some push-ups at the bottom and top of each staircase. Going down is actually the most strenuous for the muscles, particularly the calves. “Because you’re breaking the momentum of your body weight each time,” Lockhart explains. “Even though it doesn’t feel as challenging, your muscles relax for a second and have to contract again quickly to catch you.” If you really want to kick things up a notch, you can wear a weighted vest when you train.

Something unique to the sets of Hamilton stairs is their setting, immersed in nature and along walking trails. “We know there’s a huge benefit of being exposed to nature,” McLaughlin says, noting exposure to nature has been known to lower cortisol levels and lower blood pressure. “It’s an extra bonus.”

Lastly, is the social aspect. The Chedoke stairs are likely the busiest, but it’s a good opportunity to connect and engage with others, even make new friends. “Social connection is actually the number one factor for gauging how healthy you are,” says McLaughlin. Give those stairs a try. You may find yourself climbing your way to a more fit self, and making a few new friends while you are at it.

Local Links:

Xelf, Hamilton

Your Fitness Groove, Hamilton

The Escarpment Project, Hamilton

Fun Map

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