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Regina H. Boone, MCT
Karen DeCoster jumps to work out near the Detroit River during her lunch hour. She uses stairs, concrete structures, blocks and anything she can find along the downtown streets that can function for a workout.

DETROIT — Karen DeCoster sees the speaker boxes at Detroit's Hart Plaza as an aerobic step jungle and the entrance in the back of Joe Louis Arena as her personal StairMaster.

The benches along the Riverwalk serve as push-up and triceps dipping stations. The spiral structure at the end of that route makes a good plyometric playground.

Sound funny? It's a form of functional fitness that DeCoster, enviably trim and buff at age 46, swears by.

"People are getting in these ruts, these plateaus," she says. "It's the same thing over and over. They do the same three bicep curls. I can do something out here with a bench and work my entire upper body. And I'm having fun. Every time out I find something new. Like a planter. I can do something with a planter."

Functional fitness is a growing fad. Its premise is that instead of mindlessly using machines at the gym, you can get a better workout by doing things humans were designed to do — jump, run, lift and move heavy things, including yourself.

DeCoster, a certified public accountant who lives in Clinton Township, Mich., used to keep fit mainly by cycling. For the past four years, she has relied on her lunchtime functional workout in downtown Detroit.

It's a routine that's not really a routine, because DeCoster loathes keeping track of repetitions, miles, minutes spent, calories burned or any other outside indicator of success. For her, it's all about using the natural environment of an urban center and minding a natural burn.

"I just listen to my body," says DeCoster, who blogs about politics and fitness at karendecoster.com.

DeCoster says she does the workout "one to three times a week." It starts at her office in the Dime Building on Griswold Street in Detroit.

It eventually leads to the city's Hart Plaza, where she does plyometric jumps onto 35 1-foot-tall speaker boxes surrounding the "Transcending" circle sculpture, and then more in a cement structure that features varying heights of cubes.

She runs along the river, sometimes stopping to do sprints. She has done hurdles over wire barriers. She does push-up sets on empty benches. And she'll run as many as five times up and down the Joe Louis stairs — 18 rows of 36 steps each.

Whatever she sees, she uses.

"I was in Tennessee last week, and I had an old porch with a wooden pole," she says. "I took my set of bands, and instead of using a door as an anchor, I used the pole, and I did chest, back, arms. Then I did runs up the hills. You can kind of use anything. You just have to look at things and see it for what it can be."

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