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The 30-Minute Bodyweight Workout: Playground Edition

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Think the town playground is just for kids? Think again! Turn a day at the park into a challenging (and free!) workout with these effective total-body moves. All you need is a basic playground with monkey bars, swings, a slide, and an (unoccupied!) park bench or two. Ready to get started? Check out the circuit workout below — all you need is a pair of sneakers, plenty of water (or maybe a juice box?), and that youthful sense of adventure.  Illustrations by Shannon Orcutt 

Warm-up
A proper warm-up isn’t child’s play. Start things off with a dynamic warm-up that preps the body for movement. Take a cruise around the park at a slow, relaxed jog for 5 to 10 minutes, and then mix in some dynamic movements like high skips, leg swings, butt kicks, walking lunges, and knee hugs. Get the arms and shoulders primed for movement with arm circles, shoulder shrugs, and arm crosses. Greatist Expert Jonathan Angelilli also recommends jumping jacks — they move every muscle and prepare the body for impact. Once you’re warmed up and ready to go, head over to the playground for these full-body strength-training moves.  

Lower Body

1. Ladder Step-Up
If a playground has monkey bars or a slide, it’s gotta have a ladder, too. Stand behind it with arms holding the rails for support. With the right leg, step up to the highest rung or step possible. Firing up the glutes and hamstrings, bring the left leg up to meet the right, and then return both feet one at a time to the ground. This move also works the core and improves stability and balance. Alternate stepping with right and left legs for 12-15 reps on each side.

2. Bench Jump
Work the core, glutes, and quads with this dynamic move. Find a backless park bench that’s about two feet from the ground. Stand on the bench with knees slightly bent and arms extended straight out in front of the torso at shoulder height. Jump down so legs are on either side of the bench, then jump back up quickly. Do as many jumps as possible in 30 seconds, with no more than a minute rest in between. Repeat for 5 sets. Beginners can modify this exercise by slowing down and moving just one leg at a time — the less advanced move works the same muscles but doesn’t require quite as much "oomph".  

3. Slide LungeChallenge the lower body and work on balance at the same time! Stand at the bottom of a slide with your back to the top. Bend the left leg backwards in a lunge position and rest the left foot on the slide with the hands on the hips. Bend the right knee until the thigh is parallel to the ground, and then press through the right heel to rise back up. Complete 10-12 reps, and then switch legs.  

Upper body

4. Park Bench Push-UpGet the challenge of a push-up and none of the dirty hands with this move. Find a stable, well-anchored park bench (preferably one that’s about waist height). Hold the back of the bench with hands a bit wider than shoulder-width apart. Walk the feet backwards a few steps so the body forms a diagonal line with the ground. Beginners can start almost vertical, while advanced fitness buffs can walk the feet further from the bench for more of a challenge. Next, with the elbows tucked at your sides, lower the torso towards the bench. Hold for a second, keeping the core engaged and the body in a straight line (no sagging butts!), and then return to start position. Repeat for 10-15 reps.

5. Monkey Bar Pull-upReady for some tougher stuff? Monkey bars are the perfect height to knock out some GI Joe/Jane-style pull-ups. To keep things interesting, start with an overhand grip (palms facing away from the body) and shoot for 3 to 5 pull-ups, then switch to an underhand grip (palms facing the body) for 3 to 5 chin-ups. Still working on this move? Try hanging from the bar with arms extended for 30-second intervals to build arm and shoulder muscles. Alternatively, jump up and hold the top position of the pull-up — it’ll work those upper body muscles and help you build the strength necessary to do full pull-ups.   

6. Swing RowHead back to the swings for this upper body move. Grab the chains of the swing and lean back with arms extended so the body forms a 45-degree angle to the ground. Use the arms, shoulders, and chest to pull the body to meet the hands. More advanced athletes can lean back further to create more of a challenge, while newbies can stand closer to vertical for an easier introduction to this move. Try 15-20 reps.

Cardio

7. Hill RunsMore into running like the wind than pumping iron? Increase speed with some quick hill runs. Find a steeper spot in the park (or a set of stairs) and sprint up the incline 5 to 10 times, jogging back down to flat ground. No hills available? Hit up 10 sprint intervals, maxing out for 30 seconds and jogging for a minute in between bursts.

Core

8. Swing Knee TucksTime to take this classic stability ball move out of the gym! Get in a push-up position with hands on the ground and feet resting on the seat of a swing, shoelaces down. Slowly bend the knees, bringing them in towards the chest while keeping the rest of the body steady and the core strong. Straighten the legs back to the starting position, and repeat for 10-15 reps.

9. Swing CrisscrossThis lower ab move requires a bit of balance, so tread carefully when trying it for the first time. Sit on a swing and hold the chains firmly with your hands. Lean back until the torso is at a 45-degree angle to the ground, and extend the legs while engaging the abdominals. The body should form a shallow “V” shape, with the arms gripping the swing’s chains for balance about chest-high. Slowly cross the left calf over the right shin. Uncross the legs, and repeat with the right calf over the left shin. Shoot for 15-20 crisscrosses without dropping the legs or disengaging the abdominals.

10. Slide Sit-UpFor this move, a playground slide works just like an elevated sit-up bench at the gym. Lie down on the slide with your head pointing towards the bottom. Hook feet around the top of the slide for stability. If that’s too challenging (or slippery!) scoot back up so the calves are resting on the platform at the top of the slide, with just the thighs and torso on the slide. Cross the arms over the chest and sit up until the elbows touch the knees. Try 15-20 reps.

Love this playground workout? Keep it interesting with new elements each time — add a longer cardio section, bring some jump ropes (Rocky, anyone?), or pack resistance bands to add new challenges to the routine. Or better yet, bring some workout buddies (and your imagination) to make the workout more fun and to stay motivated. After all, what’s recess without friends?    

What are your go-to playground exercises? Tell us in the comments below or tweet the author at @SophBreene.

After spending eight years as a high school and college athlete, I'm learning how to maintain a healthy lifestyle on my own (aka without a coach... Read More »