Tenement Training – Going Down

As promised, I will be sharing with you this time my insights into that other much-neglected tenement-block activity, going down stairs. Again, much thought and effort can be put into this, witness our Queen.

Not that she goes down tenement stairs too often, but have you noticed how she rarely looks down to pick her step? AND she does it in heels. I’m a bloke, so you’ve no idea how much this impresses me. This feat is the result of part of her long and arduous training in the duties of a monarch and although most of us do not have the time to devote to honing our skills to quite the same degree, there is nevertheless much to be gained from her example. (She shares this skill with statesmen and movie stars, all of whom seem to have nothing better to do with their time than be taught how to do things like this.)

Going down is a bit more tricky than the other way round, which is deceptive in a way because we normally think of going up as a chore, whilst going down is the easy bit, surely? Indeed, our options are rather more limited on the way down but that is not to say that we cannot turn this everyday happening into something useful for our general posture and conditioning.

Going down stairs is a mildly plyometric form of exercise, i.e. you are putting more strain on your muscles than they can withstand. So when you go down a step, your knee gives way just a little bit until your muscles succeed in arresting the movement. This is very mild compared to, for example, jumping off a gym bench whilst carrying half your body weight across your shoulders, but it can nevertheless be used to good effect to give your daily regime that little tweak which makes the difference between dull habit and a refreshing change.

When you take a step down you will in all probability put the ball of your foot on the step first. This can barely be avoided; what you should avoid is plonking the rest of your foot there straight afterwards. Like going up, going down is most importantly about control: See if you can allow your heel to come down evenly, can you control how it settles onto the step below? Of course, if you are wearing high heels, there will be less movement for you but even so it is very important to have that control (especially if your heels are giving you less than half a square inch to stand on!).

It’s not just about the leading foot, though: your standing leg is also working throughout this step. Your thigh muscle is supporting you as your body is being let down, as is your lower lumbar region, and that crucial bit where your thigh muscle goes into the top of your knee cap* also comes into play. Adding that resistance, that control as gravity helps you to descend, will help to strengthen your muscles gently and – if you are as mindful of your posture on the way down as on the way up! – it will help to pull your back and shoulders into a healthier shape too.

Some staircases – bits of Buckingham Palace, those tacky buildings where they do the Oscar awards – have very wide steps. Here you can push the exercise that little bit further, by putting your heel down first on the step below. I do this (whenever someone gives me an Oscar) with an eye to cricket training, because some bowlers put themselves out of shape by going straight onto the ball of their front foot when they deliver the ball. You don’t have to be a cricketer to try this one, though: it gives you that extra bit of movement in your thighs and knees as well as causing you to pay a bit more attention to what is happening in your lumbar region.

Even if you are not a cricketer and even if you never get invited to an Oscar ceremony or to be Queen, you can still try it from the last step in a flight as you step out onto the floor.

So, that concludes this extravaganza on walking up and down stairs. If you would like guidance on how to do other mind-bogglingly simple things, do let me know.

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