The best workouts are ones that feel more like play than hard work. And you can make your workouts more fun with some light-weight, portable equipment you can throw into a backpack or duffle back and bring with you just about anywhere.
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"Taking a workout outdoors, whether it's to a park, a beach or even your yard, is an incredible way to get some much needed sunshine and fresh air for a sweat session," says LA-based personal trainer Jennifer Campbell. "It also allows for more space than training indoors or a crowded gym, allowing for more dynamic movements and speed work."
Here's a list of inexpensive exercise toys and moves you can do with each of them. From two-stepping through an agility ladder to waltzing with a resistance band, your workout will feel more like a trip back in time to the schoolyard than a grueling sweat session.
1. Jump Rope
"Jumping rope is a great exercise to warm up the body and get the blood flowing," says Andrew Lee, a Road Runners Club of America certified running coach based in New York City.
It's also a fun way to embrace your inner child while you're getting an awesome workout. Plus, you can get a good jump rope for less than $15. Use it for five minutes of cardio before your workout or jump rope in intervals as part of a HIIT session.
Try it: Jump in place or skip or jog rope forward for five intervals of 15 seconds for beginners, 30 for intermediates and 60 for advanced athletes with equal rest intervals in between.
Once you've mastered the beginner moves, add in a backward jog, double unders (where the rope goes around twice while you're in the air) or hop on one leg, starting with 15-second intervals and working up to a full minute.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $13.89
2. Agility Ladder
An agility ladder — essentially, a rope ladder you lay on the ground — keeps you on your toes, moving quickly, and helps you increase your speed and, well, agility. Don't worry if you get a bit tripped up! Just laugh it off and keep going.
Try it: Tara Garrison, a certified strength coach and trainer, suggests these three exercises to get you started:
Move 1: In and Out
- Stand at one end of the ladder and think: in, in, out, out with your feet. So step one foot into a square, then the other.
- From there, step your first foot outside of the ladder beside the next rung.
- Repeat with the other foot on the other side.
- Step in again with the first foot and repeat for the rest of the ladder.
- Sprint back to the start.
Move 2: Two-Step
- Stand at one end of the ladder.
- On your toes the entire time, take two steps into each square, one after the other.
- At the end of the ladder, sprint back to the start.
Move 3: Carioca (aka Grapevine)
- Stand at one end of the ladder, standing at one corner. Think: in, in, out, in, in, out.
- Step into the first square with your left foot, then step into it with your right.
- Step outside the ladder on the left with your left foot, next to the next rung.
- Shift your weight onto your left foot, then start the whole process again with your right foot stepping into the next square.
- Repeat all the way down and sprint back to the start.
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3. Resistance Bands
The light-weight ones are great for shoulders, medium is perfect for beginners working the larger muscle groups or exercises for inner and outer thighs and heavier ones are ideal for those who are a bit stronger or are aiming to get stronger and for working larger muscle groups, she says.
Try it: Find a tree, lamppost or piece of playground equipment to wrap a resistance band around. Grab the handles in each hand and do chest presses, rows or standing twists. Or place the band underneath both feet and hold the handles as you perform squats, biceps curls, front/lateral raises, side bends, overhead presses, triceps kickbacks and upright rows.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $59.94
4. Running Parachute
A running parachute is a great training device for stamina, muscular endurance and acceleration. Heather Jeffcoat, a physical therapist and owner of Fusion Wellness and Physical Therapy in Los Angeles, recommends using the parachute to help you perform fun and challenging resisted sprints. The faster you run, the more resistance you will feel.
Try it: Warm up by fastening the parachute around your waist and jog for three minutes. Then, every three minutes, perform a 30-second sprint. Alternate between jogging and sprinting for 15 to 30 minutes.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $14.99
Cones are excellent for agility drills, and they're super portable. Perform drills that have you zig, zag and weave to strengthen your mind-body connection and add a little play to your routine.
Try it: Jeffcoat suggests lining up the cones about 20 feet apart. For the last 20 feet, place cones about six to 10 feet apart and staggered. Start by doing one set of quick side steps leading with your right foot. Turn around at the second marker and repeat leading with the left foot.
At the third marker, turn around and switch to grapevining, running sideways and braiding your feet in an alternating fashion, leading with the right foot. At marker 4, turn around and repeat leading with the left foot.
At marker 5, go in to high step running, knees coming up toward your chest. When you're at marker 6, turn around and run backward. At marker 7, face forward and go into zig-zag sprints. Repeat going back the other direction and do as many sets as you'd like.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $19.95
6. Resistance Loops
Resistance loops are small — a perfect tool for on-the-go training — and they can be a lot of fun if you add a danceable playlist to the mix. As with bands, Jeffcoat recommends getting loops of varying strengths.
Beginners can start by wrapping the light-weight loop around their mid-thighs and doing walks, squats or lunges. Or for an added challenge, lower the band down to the ankles. Here are two more dance-inspired moves you can try:
Move 1: The Line Dance
- Place the band around the middle of your thighs or ankles and lower down to a slight squat.
- Begin stepping sideways and maintain tension on the band as you step to the beat. Make sure you are not tipping your upper body side to side.
- Take 20 steps one way and repeat in the other direction.
Move 2: The Box Step
- Place the band around the middle of your thighs. Bend you knees just slightly.
- Step to the right side with your right foot, then step the left foot to meet it, maintaining tension in the band and keeping time with the music.
- Step back with the right foot, then together.
- Now step to the left side with your left foot, then bring the right one to meet it.
- Finally, step forward with the left, then together with the right. You'll have made the shape of a box.
- Repeat for 10 to 12 reps in a clockwise direction. (One completed square or box is one rep.)
- Then repeat going in a counterclockwise direction.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $17.85