Those moments between sandbox supervision and monkey bar madness are an opportunity to get fit. Really. The equipment is all around you. All you need to do it hang, pull, swing, and dip your way into shape. Why should the kids have all the fun?
“The playground is like the original gym,” says Francine Delgado-Lugo, a strength coach and cofounder of Form Fitness Brooklyn. “A jungle gym inspires movement in children, teaches them to move in different directions, and gets their heart rate up — all the things that should be your goal in a workout, too.”
With a few modifications, you have everything you need for a 20-minute bodyweight workout at your child’s playground. Where to start? “If you’re limited on time and space, you want to do things that give biggest bang for your buck,” says Delgado-Lugo. “That means moves that are full body like squats, lunges, and pull-ups. These involve recruitment of musculature throughout the body so you’re working multiple muscle groups at once.”
Just remember your parental duties while you’re breaking a sweat. “Keep an eye on using proper form — and watch out for little kids running around,” says Sivan Fagan, a certified personal trainer and owner of Sivan Fagan Fitness in Baltimore. And speaking of kids, you’ll still want to keep an eye on yours, making a Tabata-style routine (which Delgado-Lugo suggests to give your workout purpose and structure) a perfect set-up. In Tabata, you spend 40 seconds doing the move and followed by 20 seconds resting (and checking up on your kid).
With that in mind, check out these 8 bodyweight moves you can employ the next time you’re at the playground, and get ready to transform yourself into a lean, mean, play-date-supervising machine.
Works: Biceps, pecs, latissimus dorsi (upper back)
How to: “On the swing set, reach up and grab the bar,” says Fagan. Warp you fingers around the frame with an overhand grip, engage your core, and as you exhale, you're your arms and hike your chin up to bar level. Release and repeat.
How many: Four 40/20 sets
Swing-Set Core Strengthener
Works: Biceps, abdominal muscles
How to: “Swings can give you a great ab workout,” says Delgado-Lugo. “The higher you’re swinging and pumping your arms, the better your core control needs to be.” After testing to be sure the set supports your weight (it should), sit in a swing, and engage your core as you begin pumping legs and arms to get the motion going. Focus on tightening your abs on the upswing, while engaging back muscles to hold your body steady on the decline.
How many: Three 40/20 sets
Works: Biceps, triceps
How to: “Use the seesaw as a fun family exercise: Your kid can sit on one side and act as the human weight or resistance, while you push down on the opposite side,” says Fagan. Start facing one end of the seesaw with your kid on the other side. As your child seats himself, use your arms to press down on your side to keep the plank level. Press down a little harder to raise your child (slowly) in the air. Bend arms until the plank is once again level. Allow the plank to rise above your midsection, keeping pressure on it with your hands. Pull down on the sides of the plank to bring it back to even level. Repeat.
How many: Three 40/20 sets
Seesaw Core Control
Works: Abdominals, glutes
How to: “The seesaw makes for a great balance exercise,” says Delgado-Lugo. “It takes a lot of core control.” Start by climbing onto the middle of the seesaw in a low crouch. Carefully inch your feet one way or the other until your weight is centered in the middle and you are able to get both ends of the plank off the ground. Slowly rise to standing, engaging your core and butt muscles to keep the plank flat. Balance for 40 seconds, then crouch down to rest.
How many: Two 40/20 sets
Parallel Bars Quad Shredder
Works: Core, quads
How to: “Use the parallel bars for L-holds,” recommends Fagan. To start, find the parallel bars (or any set of evenly spaced, equal-height objects. Place your hands on either side and press up until arms are straight. Keeping your legs straight, raise your feet off the ground and directly in front of you until your body creates a L-shape. Hold for as long as you can; relax. Repeat.
How many: Four times
Bench Butt Buster
Works: Glutes, calves, quads
How to: Find a bench. Hop on, hop off. Repeat. “The park bench is the perfect accessory to any playground workout,” says Delgado-Lugo. “You can use it for squats, lunges, push-ups, and dips. You can jump on it, you can jump off it.”
How many: Five 40/20 sets
Works: Chest, triceps
How to: “Playground benches are great because they let you modify your movements depending on ability,” says Delgado-Lugo. “Use the back of the bench or the seat to do push-ups at an incline to make it a little easier—or put your feet on the bench and your hands on the ground to make it more challenging.” Other bench push-ups variations: Try plyometric push-ups, where you begin with your body in a straight line, arms bent, and palms pressing into bench seat. Push away from the surface and clap hands and go back to start position.
How many: Three 40/20 sets
Works: Glutes, cores, quads
How to: See a slide? Run up it, says Delgado-Lugo: “This is a great quad workout.” Feel free to slide back down.
How many: Six run-up/downs
And don’t forget: “Just running around and playing with your child is a workout in itself,” says Delgado-Lugo. “So take advantage of your time together and have fun!”