This is a series of posts regarding the ins and out, hows and whys of performing workouts at your local playground.
If you’re new to exercising in general, then this post is for you. You’ll still want to read part I to understand how hard and for how long you’ll be working out. Yes, this means even if you’re a beginner, I’d recommend using the H.I.I.T. method. In order to reach those improvements and gains in your body and your overall level of fitness, you’re going to have to work hard and work smart.
Just remember: do your absolute best, modify when you need to, and listen to your body.
I found a couple “beginner” videos for examples of exercises that meet your current ability level, as well as ways to modify basic playground workout exercises:
The first video is done by a fitness professional with a high quality video production, but I really like the “homemade” quality of the 2nd video. The exercise examples are broken up by a narrative portion with the woman speaking openly and honestly about why she started working out at the playground and why it really is a great way to sneak in a workout.
As a beginner, these are the bodyweight exercises, broken down by muscle group, that you should be attempting on your local playground:
— CHEST: Standard (body horizontal to the ground) or incline (upper body higher than lower body) pushups. The closer to horizontal, the more energy and strength you’ll need. In other words, standard pushup (off knees) = hardest, standard pushup (on knees) = harder, incline pushup = easier, wall push-ups = easiest.
** A good rule of thumb for pushups is this: if you can complete 2-3 sets of 15 reps each, its time to graduate to the next pushup difficulty level!***
For wall pushups, any stable, vertical surface on the playground structure will do; for an incline pushup, find either a lower step on a play structure or a park bench/chair.
—BACK: To work your back, you’ll need to find some type of pulling exercise that fits your ability level. I’ve got three suggestions for a modified pull-up in order of difficulty from easiest to hardest:
1. Buy a single resistance band (the thicker the band, the higher the resistance), throw it over a high bar or monkey bar, and with a straight (not rounded) back and a tight core, perform a modified pull-up.
In the starting position, your arms should be fully extended and you should feel plenty of tension (i.e. resistance) from the band. Make sure to pull the bands as far down and as close to your body while pinching your shoulder blades together (imagine having to squeeze an orange in the middle of your back).
Most playgrounds have some sort of lowered horizontal bar. Make sure you pay attention to the form in this video, though!
3. If there is a horizontal bar or a set of monkey bars that you can grab with outstretched arms AND your feet still on the ground, do a jump-assist pull-up. With this, you’re bending your knees and jumping to help propel you through the pull-up motion. You still need to get your chin above the bar (if possible), but you’re allowed to land after each rep and use the jump assist for as many reps as you need it.
As with all of these exercises, doing a version that’s too EASY for you won’t give you any results or allow you to progress, and doing a version that’s too HARD for you will likely result in an injury. Take the time to get to know your body — listen to it and stay within your limitations.
— LEGS: It doesn’t get much better than simple squats and lunges.
HOWEVAAHH…before you go running off to your playground, please please watch these quick videos below, because proper form is so, so important for these exercises.
I love the variations in the video below — stationary lunges and holding onto a pole or handle for balance — for beginners.
Since the legs are such a large muscle group, you might want to add a 3rd type of leg exercise to your repertoire. That would be the step-up. Find a stable step or platform (possibly one with a handle if needed) that’s about 10-14″ off of the ground. Step up onto the surface with one leg, then bringing the other leg up. When you alternate which leg you step up, and conversely, step down with, you’re able to work both the quadriceps and the hamstrings on BOTH legs.
For an added bonus to the step-up, when both feet are together on top of the step, pause and perform a calf raise, pushing up onto your toes and then lowering back down.
a lot of people everyone, the leg exercises aren’t as much fun or as rewarding per se as the upper body stuff, but done with a H.I.I.T., you’re gonna burn fat and tone up quick.
You can get creative here — using whatever your playground and surrounding park area give you to work with — so I’ll just throw out a few suggestions that I think would be ability-appropriate:
Planks — make sure your body makes a flat plane, keep your core tight, and remember to breathe!
Running/Jogging/Sprint Intervals — walk/jog for 30 seconds and run/sprint for 10 seconds
Swing crisscross — great use of playground equipment; sit on a swing seat, recline 45 degrees back, with legs extended slightly separate them into a V shape then alternate crossing right over left then left over right
Mountain climbers — cardio AND core work? Ugh. Really, though, this is a great exercise and you get to choose the pace of climbing that works for you.
Next up in the series: a playground workout for those at an average to above average fitness level! So stay tuned and, as always, be well.