Why stay cooped up in the gym when you could swing by the playground for a functional workout that'll engage your body and mind in a whole new way? A playground workout may be just the thing you need to add some zest back into your workout routine and unleash your inner child.
A playground workout comes with a myriad of mental and physical health benefits. For starters, you'll rise to new challenges and work your muscles in different ways. But you'll also score the benefits of spending time outdoors, like a stronger immune system and a reduced risk of depression. In fact, people reported higher life-satisfaction scores after spending just 20 minutes in a park, according to a February 2019 International Journal of Environmental Health study.
Ready to break a sweat in your local park? Start with these outdoor exercise ideas, then check out the park workouts below.
Start With Mobility and a Dynamic Warm-Up
As a kid, you ran from the swings to the monkey bars, up the stairs and down the slide without a care in the world, and you certainly didn't think about how many sets or reps you got in or what your form looked like. But it may have been a while since you've swung on monkey bars or jumped on benches, so you need to prepare your body accordingly.
Start with some mobility moves like wrist, hip and knee circles. Next, get your heart pumping with a dynamic warm-up to loosen up your muscles and prep you for the workout ahead. You may want to incorporate cardio drills like jumping jacks and high knees, as well as dynamic stretches like soccer kicks and alternating side bends.
Get Creative With Playground Equipment
Every playground is different. But here are a few common pieces of equipment, plus how to incorporate them into your workout.
Swings are like suspension trainers. Think of some of the moves you've done on a TRX (or seen others do) and mimic them on a swing.
Decline Push-Up: Place your ankles on the swing and come into a high plank. Keep your core engaged and bend your elbows as you lower your chest toward the ground. Extend your arms and push yourself back up.
Knee-Tuck or Pike: From the same starting position as above, bend your knees to pull your knees in toward your chest. For a more advanced option, keep your legs straight and pike your hips up toward the sky and then return to plank.
Bulgarian Split Squat: Stand facing away from the swing. Extend one leg back behind you and place the top of your foot on the swing. Bend your knees as you lower your hips toward the ground, keeping your chest lifted.
Treat the park bench like a weight bench to take some of your favorite exercises outside.
Step-Up: Step onto the bench with one foot and draw the opposite knee in toward the chest to balance. Step back down and repeat on the opposite leg.
Triceps Dip: Take a seat on the edge of the bench, legs bent or fully extended. Support your body weight on your hands at your sides, then bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle and lower your hips toward the ground. Push back up and straighten your arms.
Up and Over: Stand perpendicular to the bench. Place one foot on the center of the bench. Push down forcefully through that leg, then jump vertically and land with the opposite foot on the center of the bench. Keep repeating quickly.
Burpee Bench Jump: Place your hands on the bench as you start in an incline plank. Perform a push-up, step your feet in, then jump on top of the bench. Jump or step back down and repeat.
Always make sure your playground equipment is stable and secure — and beware of rust and sharp edges.
Monkey bars are a great substitute for pull-up bars.
Scapular Retraction: Grip the bar with hands shoulder-width apart. Keep your arms straight as you move your shoulder blades down and back and lift your breast bone. Release slowly and with control, then repeat.
Active Hang: Maintain the scapular retracted position and firm up your entire body. Engage your core. Squeeze your legs together. Aim to hold for at least one minute.
Pull-Up: Once you've mastered the scapular retractions and active hang, use your back muscles to pull yourself up and bring your chin over the bar.
Hanging Leg Raise: From the active hang position, pull your knees into your chest or keep your legs straight and lift them up parallel to the ground using your core. Avoid swinging.
Open Grassy Area
Use open space at your playground or park to sprint, skip or do body-weight exercises that require more room than you have at the gym.
Burpee Broad Jump: From standing, squat down, then step or jump into a high plank. Perform a push-up. Step or jump your feet back toward your hands. Stand up with your knees slightly bent and torso leaning slightly forward. Jump forward as far as you can, landing gently with your knees bent.
Skipping: Draw one knee toward your chest as you simultaneously drive the opposite arm forward, elbow bent at 90 degrees, rising onto the ball of the foot of your standing leg. Repeat the motion on the other side. Get as much height and distance as possible.
Lateral Shuffle: Stand sideways with your legs wider than hip-distance apart. Bend your knees and sit your hips back. Keep your chest lifted and abs drawn in as you step to the side, then bring the other leg in toward the leading leg, laterally shuffling.
Sports Field or Running Track
Pretty much anything you can do in an open grassy area, you can also do on a sports field or running track. The added bonus is that you have markers to help you better calculate distance.
Striders: If you're on a football field, run 25 meters at 25 percent of your max effort, then up the intensity to 50 percent over the next 25 meters, 75 percent over the third 25 meters and finally, all-out 100 percent as you approach the opposite end of the field.
50s and 100s: Sprint five 50-meter intervals and five 100-meter intervals. Increase speed and/or distance for an added challenge.
Read more: The Ultimate Body-Weight Beach Workout
Playground Workouts to Try
Ready to put it all together into one creative, sweaty playground workout? Here are three options for you to start with. After you've tried all of them, get creative and make up some of your own!
Strength and Sweat Circuit
Pick five of your favorite moves from above and do 10 reps of each with five 50-meter sprints in between (you can estimate this or pick your own distance — say, the space between two trees). Rest for two minutes in between rounds and complete two to four rounds total.
Calisthenic Power Workout
- 15 push-up knee tucks on a swing (perform a push-up, then do a knee tuck from a high-plank position)
- 15 bench dips
- 5 monkey bar pull-ups
- 15 bench step-ups
- 1-minute rest
- Complete 2 to 4 rounds total
Core and Cardio Workout
- 1-minute forearm plank
- 10 swing pikes
- 1-minute high knees
- 10 hanging leg raises
- 1-minute mountain climbers
- Repeat for 3 to 5 rounds total