Homegrown Fit

The perfect workout maybe your backyard

This week, The Los Angeles Timespicked up a story on Backpacker Magazine contributor Dan Koeppel’s “staircase tour” of his hilly Los Angeles neighborhood. Koeppel originally wrote about his 16.2-mile hike up and down the hills of Echo Park and Silver Lake in Backpacker a couple years ago, and the Times story updated the saga. Here it is in a nutshell: Koeppel originally started hiking around his neighborhood in order to get in shape for a climb up to the summit of Mt. Whitney and to take a mental break from writing a book. After finding all these hidden staircases all over his neighborhood, he eventually cobbled together a route with 4,182 steps and a 7,445-foot elevation gain. (You can find turn-by-turn instructions for it here.)

What was lost in the Times story was the phenomenal shape Koeppel’s stair circuit left him in then and keeps him in now. Lost is the fact that Koeppel gets this great workout right outside his front door. But that’s a good thing: Koeppel’s idea for stringing together stairs came more from his explorer’s curiosity than a desire to piece together 7,000+ feet of vertical. And to me that’s how a great fitness plan should evolve. It should stimulate your mind and body, and it shouldn’t require driving to a trailhead for a trail run, schlepping to a gym after work, or laying out $1,500 to put a treadmill in the basement. I know from experience.

In the years between high school and finally getting around to going to college, I had no money, and no idea what to do with myself. So I spent my free time exploring hundreds of miles of countryside by bike, and I put together a weight room out of two giant bottles of liquid Tide for dumbbells, my step-brother’s 75-pound barbell from junior high, a kitchen chair, and my little step-sister’s backyard jungle gym. And honestly, I whipped myself into the best shape of my life up until then. I could pull off multiple sets of 10 pull-ups all day long. 100 push-ups? Yes (although I only did it once). I also made a bike go faster than I ever had before or since. My biggest costs were inner tubes and tires for my bike and a new bottle of Tide every two months or so.

I mention Koepel’s story and mine because I think all of us need to start seeing the wealth of fitness resources in our houses and in our neighborhoods. Instead of using the unavailability of a mountain to hike or a gym to join as an excuse not to stay in shape, we should get out and do stuff that’s convenient: join the pick-up soccer or basketball game at the park, turn a chair into a push-up and dip station, or do like Koeppel and turn the stairways and sidewalks into a trail network for a long hike. Here’s what’s cool about all this: it’s physically hard, but it never feels like a workout. It’s always stimulating, so you keep on doing it, day after day until you realize that, hey, you’re really fit.

Grant Davis has spent the last decade writing and editing articles about health, fitness, and nutrition. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.