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The Best of Pittsburgh's Indoor Activities

In my household, the holiday that falls annually on Sept. 22nd—Autumnal Equinox Day—is always marked with a very serious sense of thanksgiving and relief. After all, the arrival of ‘AED’ officially signifies the end of summer. So assuming I’ve escaped another humid and scorching season without suffering from sunburn, or sunstroke, or mild blindness, I consider it my responsibility to observe a ritual day of thanks.

I’m also a person who strives to stay active, and so naturally, it’s during the chillier months that I most enjoy a hearty workout. Bad idea, you say? Masochistic? Not in Pittsburgh. Throughout this beautifully gloomy town, cold-weather opportunites for pumping up or slimming down can be found almost anywhere—assuming you know where to look. Simply print the following guide, and by the time sweater season rolls around, you may just end up in the finest shape of your life.

Introduce style to your street fights with Capoeira

Created by African slaves in Brazil, the visually stunning martial art known as Capoeira looks good for a reason: The slaves themselves designed it to specifically resemble a complex dance routinue. That way, they could practice the deadly self-defense techniques in clear view of their owners. Still fervently practiced in Brazil today, Capoeira is an extremely demanding sport that requires intense physical stamina.

If you’d care to give it a shot, Uptown’s Nego Gato offers classes for serious students, as well as those interested primarily in the sports’ health benefits. Classes are also offered for students of all kinds at the South Side’s Breathe Yoga Studio, home to the Pittsburgh Capoeira Club, where your first Capoeira experience will set you back just five dollars. In addition they offer classes in Oakland on the Pitt campus.

Try T’ai Chi, a physical and mental meditation well-suited for all ages

Speaking of obscure martial arts that are beautiful to observe, the ancient Chinese practice of T’ai Chi Ch’uan is a perfect choice for anyone determined to stay both bodily and psychologically strong, but not necessarily able to participate in contact sports, or other activities that physically tax the body.   

Primarily a mind-body exercise that combines slow and steady movements with breath regulation, T’ai Chi is meant to enhance the flow of vital energy in the body. Today, the art is generally used to maintain health, and to create an overall sense of relaxation.

To try it yourself, visit Rothrock’s, a Kung Fu and T’ai Chi studio with locations in Wexford, West Mifflin, and on the South Side. Especially serious students tend to congregate at the Still Mountain T’ai Chi Studio in Mt. Lebanon, where a certified Buddhist monk directs classes and workshops. Call or go online to register.

Visit an indoor shooting range, which requires another kind of concentration altogether

Then again, the concept of positive energy and inner peace isn’t for everyone. If you happen to be the type of sportman (or sportswoman) who prefers the dual sensations of hatred and rage, why not let off a little steam with a rented gun? And while a trip to the shooting range won’t exactly have you burning carbs or sculpting abs, there is something to be said for improving your hand-eye coordination.  

Newcomers to the sport might consider giving Bullseye Ranges in Collier Township a shot. A self-described high-end indoor shooting facility, Bullseye boasts 24 individual lanes, dozens of rental guns, and thankfully, a number of pistol safety courses.

Interested in a more extensive training education? In West Mifflin, there’s Anthony Arms & Accessories Shooting Center, (2980A, Lebanon Church Rd., 412-469-9992), where a two-hour handgun safety course will set you back $50, and where range time and gun rental are only $7/hour each.

Slightly further afield is the impressively professional A&S Indoor Pistol Range in Youngwood. You’ll find certified NRA instructors here, and a wide range of pistol courses, including defensive and personal protection instruction.

Increase your brain power while working up a sweat at  SportsWorks

If you’re lucky enough to have a coterie of Xbox-obsessed youngsters at home, you may have wondered if they might not benefit from a bit of old-fashioned exercise themselves. In that case, consider hauling them off to the North Side’s SportsWorks, a wonderfully imaginative warehouse packed with interactive exhibits designed to explain the complex physics of the body. At SportsWorks, families of all ages can unlock the scientific secrets of rock climbing, Olympic sprinting, and professional baseball pitching--all by doing it themselves. You’ll be breaking a sweat, in other words, while increasing your grey matter at the same time. What a concept!

Engage the whole family at the former Neville Island Sports Complex

If your young charges happen to be a bit  more difficult to please, you might look into the multitude of activities on offer at the Robert Morris Island Sports Center on exotic Neville Island. Public ice skating sessions take place each day of the week here, and games of miniature golf (an out-of-door activity, unfortunately) will only set you back a very reasonable five dollars per person.
You can rest assured that grown-ups are taken care of at the Sports Center as well. Not only is there an indoor golf dome where dad can bang balls in air-conditioned comfort to his heart’s delight. There’s also a fantastically well-maintained fitness center where mom can tone those thighs on Star Trac elliptical trainers, Cybex Stairmasters, recumbent bikes, jump boxes, treadmills, spinning cycles, and who knows what else. Day passes will run you ten dollars at the fitness center, which, incidentally, is exactly what Dad gets charged at the driving dome. Now that’s equality! 

Try tennis, even during the peak of a snowstorm

If you live within Pittsburgh’s city limits, you’ve no doubt driven past the gigantic blimp of a structure on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Beechwood Boulevard in Point Breeze. Known locally as the Tennis Bubble, this 36-foot-high dome hides a total of five slightly cushioned hard courts inside; in racket vernacular these are referred to as Premier Courts. At $20-30 an hour, walk-up court fees are slightly pricey here. But remember: This bubble set the city back some $430,000. And when the dome is removed (mid-April to October), there’s no fee at all. An alternative? Mt. Lebanon’s tennis bubbles where you’ll find clay courts.

And don’t forget those lower-leg exercises …

Skateboarding parks in Pittsburgh unfortunately operate in the same style: The open-air locations, such as the Polish Hill Bowl (450 30th St., Polish Hill) and the McKinley Skatepark in Beltzhoover (Bausman St., McKinley Park), are always free-of-charge. Choose to roll with four walls and a roof over your head, however, and you’ll need to pay. Of course, that minor detail is unlikely to deter anyone who lays eyes on Moon Township’s recently upgraded B-Cubed Skatepark. Located off Parkway West and not far from the airport, surprises you’ll find here include a massive wooden bowl, a terrifyingly tall vert wall, quarter-pipes, smallish half-pipes, rails, and more. Why not dig your dusty old board out of the basement and build up a healthy sweat with kids half your age? Trust us: The humiliation is quite the character-builder. And you can’t imagine what a steady diet of skateboarding can do for your calves …

Dan Eldridge is a Lonely Planet guidebook writer and the author of Moon Handbooks Pittsburgh, which is available at major bookstores and at Amazon.com or BarnesAndNoble.com. Visit his blog at www.jointhelaborparty.com.    



Colors of Brazil with capoeira

Yoga at Breathe Yoga Studio

On the ice at Neville Island

Clay courts at Mount Lebanon

All photographs copyright Brian Cohen
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