Finally, it’s here: the warmth of summer. The sun is shining, birds are chirping and the gym promises only a stuffy and stale replay of all the workouts you’ve done when the weather was not so great. So you lace up your shoes for a run, which still doesn’t seem that inspiring. As you jog by a local park, you notice the playground. Time for a detour.
From the playground at your local park to the grade school version, swing sets and slides offer a no-cost fitness facility. It doesn’t take a study or a survey to identify the value of variety in a workout program: A stimulating environment, a chance to use some new equipment and creative new exercises can be effective in keeping workouts from feeling bland and boring.
Using playground equipment and a little ingenuity, you can come up with exercises that work out nearly every muscle group. You’ll have to use your body weight as resistance, since there aren’t any free weights, and that calls for some clever positioning. Here are some exercises to get you started.
Swing Set Pushup
PRIMARY MUSCLE(S): chest, triceps, abdominals
How to do it: Any ol’ swing set will do. Place your hands on two adjacent swings and get into a pushup position. Lower your body down and press hands into swings to raise yourself back up. (Flex your abdominals throughout movement to keep hips up and back supported).
Slide Donkey Kicks
PRIMARY MUSCLE(S): abdominals, hip flexors
How to do it: Sit on edge of slide or other flat surface. Balancing on your butt, lift your feet off the ground and pump knees in forward-to-back motion between your chest and fully extended-out position.
Abdominal Swing Extension
PRIMARY MUSCLE(S): abdominals, upper back (lats)
How to do it: This one is a challenge. Go back to that swing set and find an empty swing. Stand about 1 foot in front of the swing and place both hands in the middle of swing seat. Keeping your feet planted, slowly extend your hips, back and arms forward over swing. Before you fall, contract your muscles in the opposite direction and rise back up to original position. That’s one rep.
Strap Reverse Pushups
PRIMARY MUSCLE(S): upper back (lats), bicep
How to do it: Wrap a rope or strap around monkey bars to proper height (about chest level) and hang on tight. Lower yourself to an upside down pushup position with your arms extended. Flex your arms and tuck your elbows into your sides to pull yourself upward. Lower yourself slowly down and repeat. (Can also be done using a low playground bar or on two swing set chains)
How it works: Include this routine in your weekly schedule. It’s short, simple and effective. You can warm up by just jogging for 5 to 7 minutes around the playground — or if you ran there from home, that’s your warm up. Start with the first exercise for 30 seconds of continuous effort. Go as fast or slow as you need to provide a challenge, making sure to maintain good form. Then rest for 20 seconds. Continue the 30-seconds-on/20-seconds-off pattern for the remaining exercises. At the end, rest for an entire minute, then repeat the circuit, starting with the first exercise. Complete four of these circuits for an intense 20-minute workout. Tip: to increase the intensity of the workout, decrease the rest periods to 15 seconds or even 10 seconds between exercises.
With your workout complete, you can chase down that ice cream truck for a nice, cold popsicle, guilt-free.
Zach Hunt is a fitness coach and personal trainer in Spokane.