Exercise does more than help control your weight. Studies have shown that exercising regularly can control or prevent a host of diseases, elevate mood, raise your general energy level and endurance, and help you sleep better at night. While it's hard to argue with the benefits of regular exercise, it can be difficult to find time to work out. Between kids, work, and everything else our days throw at us, taking the time to devote to a workout regimen is often the last thing on our minds. But there is a way to get a full body workout without going to the gym that lets you spend time with your children, and it's as close as your local playground.
Using the playground as your gym has several benefits. It gets you outdoors, requires no membership fees, and lets you exercise while spending time with your children. It may come as a surprise, but there are several gym-quality exercises that can be done at the playground using the available equipment and a little know-how. Here are some basic exercises that you can do at almost any playground. Before starting, don't forget to stretch, at home or at the park, to lessen the possibility of injury.
Chasing your kids around the playground definitely counts as a cardio workout and is a great way to get your child in on the fun. If chasing your child around the playground is a little too much, try circling the play area at a brisk pace for 15 to 30 minutes as a warm-up. If you want to stay in one place, use a curb or low-lying part of the jungle gym to do step-ups. Another good playground exercise that will get your blood pumping is jumping jacks. If you want to focus on something that burns calories and works almost all of your major muscle groups, nothing beats jumping rope. All of these are great exercises that will get your blood pumping before you start focusing on your target areas.
The push-up is one of the simplest exercises. It doesn't require anything but the ability to get into a prone position. Push-ups are great not just for building strength in your upper body, but they also work your core. If you aren't in the mood to get down in the dirt of the playground, there is an alternative, and you've more than likely sat on it. A sturdy bench (preferably one bolted in place) can provide three varying levels of difficulty when it comes to push-ups. Start out by finding a bench that has a back rest, setting your hands slightly more than shoulder-width apart, and taking a few steps back. Once you've found a distance that provides the kind of resistance you want, start your push up, and take care to keep your elbows tucked close to your body. When doing push-ups this way gets too easy, switch to using the bench seat to increase the difficulty. For the hardcore exerciser, try doing push-ups with your feet on the bench and your hands on the ground. This type of push-up, called an elevated push-up, is more difficult because it angles more of your body weight toward your hands.
Don't leave the bench alone just yet. You can work your triceps by doing bench dips on the seat. With your back to the bench, place your hands shoulder-width apart. Start off with your legs bent so your thighs are parallel with the ground. Slowly raise and lower yourself, making sure to keep your elbows tucked. As you gain strength, move your legs further and further out until you balance on your heels when doing this exercise. The further out your feet are, the more of your weight will be placed on your triceps.
Pull-ups are one of the greatest tests of upper-body strength, and most playgrounds come with a ready-made apparatus to do them. Perhaps a little difficult for the taller crowd (depending on the playground), monkey-bar pull-ups are not just a great exercise, but they also let you work different muscle groups by changing your grip. If you want to work the biceps, use an underhanded grip; grip the bar with your palms facing you. Want to get some definition in your back and shoulders? Use an overhand grip (palms facing away). If there are no monkey bars, try the same exercise on a slide ladder. Face the ladder with your feet together, grip the ladder depending on which muscle group you want to target, lean back, and pull yourself upright.
Nothing beats the swings on a playground for working your core. Like the bench, the swing gets you off the ground so you don't have to worry about dirt. A great core exercise that may not sound like much at first is the suspension plank. Face the swing set, place your hands shoulder-width apart on a seat, move your feet backward until you are balanced on your toes, and hold for a minimum of ten seconds while keeping your body straight and your arms only slightly bent. This exercise combines balancing your weight on the swing and keeping several different muscle groups (arms, back, shoulders, and core) tight as you maintain position.
Another core exercise that uses swings is knee tucks. Start off in the classic push-up position, then put your feet on the swing seat. Keep yourself balanced and slowly bring your knees to your chest before reversing the action. If you aren't a fan of balancing on the swing set, try doing sit-ups on an available slide. Secure your feet on the slide handles, and recline with your head toward the slide bottom. Cross your arms over your chest and sit up. For an extra boost during the workout, try keeping your knees bent.
Calf raises are often done in the gym with a machine, but you can get a good workout without the heavy equipment using only your body weight. Step on the lowest rung of a slide or jungle-gym ladder and balance yourself on the balls of your feet. Grip the ladder for balance as you slowly raise yourself onto your toes and lower yourself back to the starting position. Take care not to use your upper body for anything other than balance.
For an exercise that targets your thighs, glutes, lower back, and hamstrings, try squats. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned slightly out. Looking straight ahead, bend your knees as if you were sitting in a chair with your back as straight as possible. Make sure that you keep your heels on the floor and that your knees don't go out beyond your toes. Lower yourself as far as you can, then raise yourself up in a controlled motion. If the movement makes you feel shaky, use a bench as a gauge and safety net until you've built up enough strength to do it on your own.
Like squats, lunges are a great exercise for working your entire lower body. Start standing upright with your back straight and take a large step forward. Lower yourself until your front thigh forms a 90-degree angle with the ground. Keeping weight on your back toes, slowly drop your back knee, but don't let it touch the ground. Once you've straightened back up, switch legs. Lunges can be done in one place or traveling.
Find more about the author: Kim Hart