Taking your kids to the playground can be a fun AND athletic experience. If you can’t make it to the gym, don’t belong to a gym or are not sure even where to get started on working on your fitness, these are some ideas on how to use your own body weight and the equipment at the playground to grab a workout (all while playing with your kids!)
Mindy Irish has a BS degree in Physical Education and is a Figure competitor in the sport of Bodybuilding in the National Physique Committee (NPC). She is not claiming to be a fitness professional, but simply offering ideas on how to challenge your body for goals of improved fitness. Please consult a physician before performing any exercise and know your own body’s limits.
All exercises can be done in sets of 3 with 8 to 15 reps in each set.
Please note: Physical changes come with consistent effort performed over time, alongside a balanced diet, plenty of water and adequate daily sleep.
Exercise: Swing Squats
How To: As you push the child away, proceed down to a squat by bending at the knee, keeping your weight over your heels and torso upright. Push back up through your legs, squeezing your glutes and hamstrings, to receive your child’s swing return and putting yourself back in the starting position. Repeat.
Exercise: Swing Split Lunge
How To: Stand to the side of the swing with one leg to the front and one to the back. As you push the child away, lower your body until your front leg is in a horizontal plane. Keep your front knee behind the front toe, with torso up straight. In time to receive the child on the swing return, push back up to your starting position. You’ll feel the exercise in your glutes, hamstrings, hip flexor and quad. Do equal sets with each leg forward.
Exercise: Swing Side Lunge
How To: This is done without the child in the swing. Start with feet together and swing in hand. Make a lunge to one side focusing on keeping torso upright and getting into a low-squat position. On the return up, squeeze glutes, quads, hamstrings and inner/outer thigh, using leg power to return upright and minimal amount of pull on the swing. Swing is used for balance. Repeat for other leg after one set on the first leg.
Exercise: Pole Squats with Calf Raise
How To: Using a pole with enough headroom for your rise and fall, stand with hands on the pole and feet shoulder width apart. Squat to legs parallel to the ground (like table top), torso up right, knees straight ahead or slightly out at an angle. Return to starting position, squeezing glutes, hams and quads. The final move is to make a calf raise when in the upright position for an added exercise move. Focus on going slow on the rise and using the pole for balance and minimum pull up on the return.
Exercise: Bench Step Ups
How To: Find a park bench, picnic table or step; Stand with feet close together and close to the bench. You can alternate left and right leg, but I usually focus on one leg in a full set at a time and then switch to the other leg for the next set. Using a step-up motion, raise leg to the riser and squeeze glute/hams to lift body up on the bench/step. Rear leg holds tight to the bench for balance. Upon return to the ground, DO NOT bounce back up for the next rep using momentum, but rather have a slow and controlled movement to start your next rep. Finish your set and repeat on other leg.
Exercise: Curb Calf Raises
How To: Find a curb or step with safe clearance for your activity. Start with both heels together, heels hanging off the curb and feet pointing straight. Squeeze calves and lift for your first rep, pausing to squeeze muscles at the top. Return to starting position, allowing heels to drop below the curb plane. Elevating this exercise versus doing it on flat ground gives you greater range of motion since you’re going below flat ground level. Additional sets can be performed with toes pointed out, heels together AND toes together, heels pointed out to hit several sides of the calf-muscle head.
How To: Stand with swing in front of chest, held with both hands. Allow your body to fall back at an angle with arms fully extended and swing held steady out in front of chest. Using back muscles and biceps, pull body up to the swing, pause and squeeze muscles, maintaining your body’s reverse angle to the ground (don’t try to stand upright). Use a slow, controlled movement to return body to reclined, angled starting position (right picture) and repeat for desired reps. Maintaining the body at an angle and keeping feet safely planted is key in this exercise.
Exercise: Swing Press
How To: Get on knees with swing in front of body. Using the support of your hands and arms, outstretch swing forward, keeping control of your core and upper body the entire time. Pause at full extension and squeeze core and upper body to return to starting position. Advanced movements can be made by choosing to push the swing out further as the body gets stronger. The benefit of the exercise comes in keeping control and steady of the swing seat.
Exercise: Swing Push Ups and Swing Pikes
Push Up How To: Get on all fours in front of swing. Using the strength of the upper body to hold yourself in a plank position, carefully hook feet into the swing (as if someone were holding your feet). You’re now in a push-up position and can start your repetitions, lowering your upper body to the ground and then returning to plank. This is an advanced move, so if you’re not ready, skip the swing and do push ups on the ground with your choice of knees raised or lowered to the ground.
Pike How To: Either when finished with your swing push ups or alternating within the reps (push up, pike, push up, pike), when at the plank position with feet in the swing, draw your knees in towards your chest, bringing feet and swing toward you. Your bottom will raise in the air and most of your weight is now on your upper body. Hold in that position and return to plank. This, too, is an advanced move, so use caution when attempting this exercise.
Exercise: Swing Chest Pushes
How To: I discovered this when pushing two kids at one time! Stand in the middle of two swinging kids and get them swinging at the same time and speed. As the kids return to be pushed, place your hands on their backs and follow the return of their swing with your arms outstretched. You’ll feel a stretch in the chest muscles. Push the kids forward and squeeze the chest muscles as the arms and hands follow through. It’s pretty much a swing-pushing motion, it’s just a great exercise when doing two at one time. There’s a great stretch and contraction of the chest muscle, but be careful not to allow the swing pendulum to draw the arms too far back in the extended action.
Exercise: Bench Push Ups
How To: There are two levels of intensity to this exercise. For a less intense exercise, use the higher part of a bench or wall. For more intensity, use a lower-leveled bench seat, picnic table seat or slide. In both cases, put arms and hands a bit wider than shoulder width apart and get body into a plank position with legs straight. Lean forward and allow your body weight to fall onto your upper body. Lower your body with chest to the bench/surface, bending at the elbows. Hold, squeezing chest muscles and then extend arms to push back up to starting position. You can add the triceps into this move by keeping elbows tucked into your side as an alternative exercise.
Exercise: Bench Dips
How To: Start out by sitting on a bench, chair, slide base or picnic table seat. Put hands on sides of legs with hands facing out and palms to the seat. Straighten arms and lift your body off of the seat, with legs extended out front and straight. Using your triceps, keep elbows pinned back and dip your body, lowering your bottom and torso towards the ground. The movement is in the arms and not in moving your torso or legs. At full extension, push body back up to start and repeat. Beginners will be able to do a smaller range of motion and the more advanced will be able to lower body for a full range of motion.
Exercise: Bar Rows
How To: Much like the swing rows above, the bar rows are working the back muscles. Plant feet and legs, grasp the bar in an overhand or underhand grip and lower body away from the bar, extending the arms fully. Use the arm and back muscles to return the body to the bar and finish the repetition. Lowering the body slowly and squeezing the muscles on the return is the best way to execute the exercise. As a comparison to this exercise and the one below, this exercise has your body completely under the bar above, therefore putting all of your weight on the pull of the back muscles.
Exercise: Bar Pull Ups
How To: This exercise is a nice way to engage the back muscles while not also bearing all of your body weight, as in the pull-up movement. Pitch the body at a slight angle, holding the bar with both hands. Lean the body back while at the same time preparing yourself for a pull up movement similar to the body being in a vertical motion. Pull the torso and head towards the bar, squeeze your back and arm muscles and return to the starting position. Your legs are constantly planted offering stability to the upper body, but promoting movement in the upper body alone.
Exercise: Bar Jump Ups
How To: This move is the precursor to the pull up below. Stand with arms outstretched to secure bar above. Feet are flat on the ground and arms are extended with an over or underhand grip above. Using legs, jump up while simultaneously pulling body up with the arm and back muscles. The leg jump helps add a bit of momentum, all while allowing the upper body to pull the chin to the bar and then lower it back down. Aim to increase reps with each trial. Be patient! Be persistent! These type of moves take practice and repetition over time to develop the muscle maturity and memory for the movement. Consider getting someone to hold your legs and use them as a spot to assist in the move.
Exercise: Traditional Bar Pull Ups
How To: Due to my options at this park, I could only find a bar that caused me to have to bend at the knee to be fully extended without feet touching the ground. If you can find a bar at a higher height, it’s preferred. Grab the bar in the over or underhand position and hang with body completely straight. Flex back and arm muscles and pull chin up to the bar, pause and return down slowly to the initial position. Repeat.
Exercise: Knee Ups/Leg Lifts
How To: Hang from a bar and using your abs, bring knees to a 90-degree position to the body. Keep knees bent and lower them back down to the starting position. Advanced move: if you can straighten your legs and raise and lower them, it adds more intensity.
Exercise: Slide V Sit/ In and Outs
How To: Sit at the base of a slide on the flat part. Bring the body up into a v formation and hold. To add the in-and-out movement, you can bend the legs into your chest and straighten them back out again, all while tightening your core and maintaining your balance.
These exercises are just an array of ideas on how to use the playground to be active with and alongside your kiddos!
Visit Indyfamilyresource.com/resources/indyfamilyfitness for more ideas on how to be active together in your Family Fit Club at a park, on a trail, in the home or on a bike!
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