My Street Workout: The Downtown Detroit (Primal) Lunchtime Decathlon

Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Posted in category Fitness

I had posted this “ghetto workout” video because I could identify with it. It mimics many of my own workouts. Sorta. The strategy, as the men in the video have shown, is to make use of whatever surroundings you have available to develop a fitness workout using the various tools in that environment. It’s not only a welcome break from the ho-hum isometric-style exercises in the gym (blah!), but it’s also more akin to functional fitness.  Gym rats may occasionally be buff, but they are rarely fit. Street-type workouts, such as the kind that I do, can include speed/sprints, agility, core work, power, plyometrics, sustained aerobic efforts, and bodyweight exercises. It’s an eclectic mix, and my exact routine depends entirely on what I feel like doing that day. No plans, no strict route, no strategy. I’m just having fun and enjoying being outside on a workday.

You see, I have this wonderful opportunity to work out on weekdays, any time from late morning to mid-afternoon. The building I work in is located in the dead center of downtown Detroit, a place which bustles on weekday afternoons. Thus I have the perfect starting point. I am very fortunate that I have the flexibility to take off for an hour to an hour-and-a-half and get my workouts in. I have been doing this particular workout for four years. I jokingly refer to it as my lunchtime decathlon. The only limit I set is that I do not do this workout when it hits above 88-90 degrees. I’ve done it in November, and in the rain, but 90 degrees in the afternoon sun is a bit of a stretch.


The Detroit River. That's Windsor, Ontario across the way.

Each downtown workout of mine is different – no two are ever the same. But they are all essentially interval-based. My interval times differ each time out, depending on how I feel, what I did the day before, and how much time I have to play around. As I said, I never plan or strategize ahead of time. I usually make up my mind as I head to the locker room or out the door. Also, I venture into various areas of downtown and the surrounding areas so that I keep things interesting and new, and I never get bored. Following is a photo tour of what a typical lunchtime decathlon might look like. I do this workout routine from one to three times per week, depending on the weather, my work schedule, and all of my other workouts and activities.

The first thing I might do is head toward East Jefferson and aim for the trail along the Detroit River. I get a good view of Windsor, Ontario (above) and head down toward General Motors World HQ.


If the fountains aren’t too crowded I’ll run agility through them, from end to end.


Along the way there are many cement seating areas where I can do jump training, or plyometrics, to develop explosive power and lower body strength. The toning effects that go along with that are pretty good, too.


Then I run along one of the river walk detours, usually sprinting on the uphill bridges.



Then I head toward Hart Plaza where there are lots of obstacles and tools for plyometrics and power intervals.


Then I am back on the river walk, headed the other way toward Joe Louis Arena.


Along the way I do plyometrics on the cement blocks that line the trail, which differ in height. I do forward jumps, side jumps, and occasionally, backward jumps on the shorter blocks.



Here are some more plyometric tools. I’ll do many repetitions of jumps on and off these blocks.


Then I head to the street behind Cobo Hall where I do some short sprints and walk a bit after each one to recover.


After doing sets of explosive plyometrics, I’ll jog backwards up the short, grassy hills, with my weight on my toes, to work the hamstrings and calves.


Then I do a high-speed sprint toward the Cobo steps.


Then I light up the stairs. These steps are wide and low, so I do two at a time, powering and sprinting my way up at 100% effort. At the top, there is usually a horde of employees sitting outside eating their lunch, looking at me like I am some kind of a nut. I am just warming up for the next set of stairs I will encounter.



Then after several stair intervals I do several hurdle jumps.


Sometimes I have an audience. The cops will occasionally park and watch me. Sometimes I get a whistle or two (it’s my legs). It sure beats a taser.


Then I head toward my favorite destination – Joe Louis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings.


Stairs, glorious stairs. There are eighteen sets of stairs all the way across.


Sometimes I run the entire set, sometimes I sprint up at top speed and walk down (the most common way), and other times I walk a consistent pace with no intervals. These stairs are steep and challenging. And they sit directly in the sunlight, offering no shelter from the afternoon sun.


Then, in between each eighteen flights of stairs (one full set), I may hit the cement plyometrics right across the road. These are fairly high, and they are difficult after a few sets of the Joe Louis stairs.


But I must say, I own these puppies. Only twice in four years have I seen others attempting to run or walk them. Both times, they gave up. It’s just me and the stairs, and the Joe Louis security team watching me.


Then I ditch into the woods at the riverfront. I do running plyometrics on these high rocks.


Then at the end of the river walk, I hit this plyometric playground. I usually sprint the whole thing, in a circle, and then do plyometric jumps from level to level, and back down again.



Then I may do a light jog all the way back toward the GM world headquarters.





Then I run a long sprint down this empty corridor, off the river walk, heading back toward Hart Plaza.


There are several zig-zag paths in this area, and I run them at about a 60-70% effort.


Then I head down into the Hart Plaza bowl to run those stairs. These are wide, not-so-steep stairs that beg to be tackled two at a time, in long strides at full power.


I’ll blast up one end and walk across to the other side and jog down.  I’ll typically do 5 – 10 sets of these. I typically attract an audience of homeless guys.



Then I do a few sets of the higher stairs in the middle of the bowl, and I run back through Hart Plaza to do some jumps on those cement planks in the center.



Then I drop down into the “gallery” and run stairs that go every which way.




Then I run back through a maze of brick trails and do a few sets of plyometrics on these cement benches, along with some push-ups.


Then I head toward East Jefferson, back to the office.


I wind down by doing a slow jog or fast walk through this quiet section.



No, that police wagon is not waiting for me. Then I take a sharp left to my favorite plyometric section. First some power jumps using the bench.


Then the made-for-me plyometric boxes.


In all, there are thirty-five of these, meaning thirty-five more jumps for me.



Then I cross East Jefferson.


And do some agility moves through the barrels.




Then I arrive at the office.


And step inside. Another great workout finished. Shower and back to work.


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23 Responses to My Street Workout: The Downtown Detroit (Primal) Lunchtime Decathlon

  1. Mark says:

    July 7th, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    Wow, quite a workout Karen. And your photography is terrific. It makes me want to visit Detroit? Of all the horror stories I’ve heard about the place (I’ve never been), it’s not quite how I envisioned it.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Michael the Artist says:

    July 7th, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    That is some beautiful photography there. I haven’t seen Detroit portrayed so favorably in photographs in a long time.

    “Ghetto workouts,” eh? I don’t think this is new. I seem to remember a movie from the 1970s about a guy in Philadelphia who trained for a boxing match in the same way–ran through the streets, climbed stairs, punched meat in his buddy’s warehouse–and it turned out to be quite effective! Can’t seem to remember the name, now… but Diana Lewis from Channel 7 played a reporter who interviewed the guy… :)

  3. Bruce says:

    July 7th, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    I’m shocked by how attractive downtown Detroit looks! I’ve been to suburban Detroit many times but never the city downtown. Always assumed it was a slum or something close. As to your workout Karen, all I can say is, I am exhausted just READING it!!!

  4. Karen De Coster says:

    July 7th, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    Mark, thanks — I am a really good photographer, but these photos were snapped up quickly, on the fly (literally!), with my point-and-shoot Canon 1100! It’s amazing how this little carry thing works so great. It’s a $200 digital point-and-shoot. But I can carry it while running.

  5. clark says:

    July 8th, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    So I’m not the only one who had a gloomy perspective about Detroit. Where’s the discarded newspapers and trash blowing in the wind? I didn’t even see a bunch of graffiti or one bum. Aren’t they everywhere up there? Kidding, they are in the office buildings making gov’t policy -heh. But the workout, now that is what I was talking about awhile back when I said my buddies who worked out at the gym, all high-pro glow and buff-like got tried really fast walking the hills in the woods with me while out camping, fishing and hunting. They would probably be the same with your workout, I might even be winded after jumping those benches. Awesome skyline pictures, it displays everything quite well, don’tchya see? A workout/health blog would be good to do, better than Richard Simmons, that’s for sure.

  6. Bob Roddis says:

    July 8th, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Detroit is also on the shores of a pretty clean and excellent lake, 25 miles across, Lake St. Clair. v=PiDbveGifHM
    This is probably not what you thought Detroit was like.

  7. Serenity says:

    July 11th, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    Karen, you are my hero. There’s no way that I could do those hurdle jumps.

  8. Alexis says:

    July 17th, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Your stamina amazes me! I am just learning about paleo-primal fitness and am fascinated with the simple but effective ideas behind it – if I can ever develop my own workouts applying those principles and have half the energy you described here, I will be one happy (and proud of myself) individual! Oh, and I did find myself cracking up a bit at your comment about the cops whistling at you, but it’s better than being tased. Nice.

  9. JK says:

    August 10th, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Exhausting workout – I could maybe do half. ;-) Yes, downtown Detriot is beautiful and those are great photos – most people just don’t know and don’t visit. With all the stamina you have, you’ll have to workout for the two of us.

  10. Mike says:

    August 13th, 2009 at 8:42 am

    Makes my Keynesian workout seem worthless.

  11. John Beeler says:

    August 13th, 2009 at 8:54 am

    What Mark said. My guess is downtown Detroit is like downtown Wilmington, Del. — nice modern office buildings (Wilmington is dominated by Dupont) but once people are done with work for the day the city just shuts down and you don’t want to be out after dark.

  12. Mike says:

    August 13th, 2009 at 9:03 am


    Just read the article in the Detroit Free Press about this. It innocuously identifies you as “a certified public accountant… who blogs about politics and fitness,” and I was struck with the sudden realization that many more of the people I read pleasant little articles about might be hardcore Rothbardian anarchists. Whoa.

  13. TG says:

    August 13th, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Karen DeCoster for Surgeon General, not Aunt Jemima !!

  14. DP says:

    August 13th, 2009 at 11:57 am

    I have a lot of joint problems and stadium stairs were a staple for me back in the day. I could go up the stairs however many at a time, sometimes hopping on one foot. I would go down very carefully, using the handrails.

    It doesn’t make sense at first how I could be so broken down but still be able to sprint up stairs, but I was able to control joint impact better than running on a flat surface. Going down, not so much.

    If the wooden stairs were up, I’d be in joint-protecting heaven, but make a terrible racket — as if I didn’t look silly enough already. Then there’s that time a rock band was trying to do sound checks…

  15. John Nowlin says:

    August 13th, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Great workout, it would certainly kick my butt. Does your workout also work you upper body?

  16. Reactionary says:

    August 13th, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Too much scenery. Not enough Karen.

  17. Patrick O'Hannigan says:

    August 20th, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    Sounds like some of my homegrown “Crossfit” workouts. My hat’s off to you. One question, though– how do you save your knees, given all that pounding on concrete? When I do bench jumps in the park near my home, I can feel it in knees and ankles afterward, which is probably why I much prefer chinups on the monkey bars.

  18. Karen De Coster says:

    August 20th, 2009 at 9:55 pm


    My knees are made of iron and are a perpetual 18 years old. My shoulders: 3 surgeries, 2 joint reconstructions, making my shoulders about 80 years old. I really don’t do a lot of concrete running (I’m not really a “runner”), so I’ve saved my knees. I do sprints/intervals, and get it done quickly, as opposed to plodding along on cement for hours. (Boring!) I also like to run off-road, on the hiking trails, when I do run.

  19. Michigander Upnorth says:

    September 11th, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Take a ride down warren and gratiot ave right around 10:00 pm and tell me how beautiful detroit is. I would rather live in a landfill than detroit. Its the downfall of southern michigan. Even Kilpatrick was a fake.

  20. Carrie says:

    November 9th, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Love this!!! I walk the city on my break too – 30 minutes and no showers so it’s low impact but I love it!  The city is so beautiful and I adore the pictures.  I wish everyone could see the city like this.

  21. Nice says:

    April 10th, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    There is nothing I really enjoy more than coming to this webpage every morning shortly after work. Thanks a bunch for all of the amazing posts!!

  22. AntiCollectivst says:

    April 16th, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    Patrick – I used toto have knee problems from running and jumping until I went to “zero-drop” sneakers.  I’m not big on the whole individual toe cut-outs but I have a pair of New Balance and a pair of Merrills which both have Vibrams soles. They totally changed my life.

  23. Links and Quick Hits | Free The Animal says:

    January 13th, 2014 at 10:17 pm

    [...] Karen De Coster takes you step by step through an urban workout in downtown Detroit. Lots of cool [...]

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