Why Playground Workouts Can Be a Parent’s Best Fitness Friend

By Haley Shevener

Initially, working out in the playground came from necessity. I was balancing work, parenting, marriage, the grind of daily life, side projects, and my own training. With so many commitments, I was having trouble fitting in my own workouts, and didn’t want to spend another hour at the gym, especially when that meant cutting into what little time I had with my family.

Every Sunday, we’d head to a nearby playground and my son would run, jump, crawl, and swing. While he and my husband were occupied by the swings, or chasing each other, I would wander over to the main play structure, which had a tall bar that was practically daring me to do some pull-ups. I had just began to feel comfortable working back up to pull-ups — after taking some time off to work on getting my core function up to par after a diagnosis of pelvic organ prolapse — and so I decided to play around.

Once you shift your perspective, everything starts to look inviting.

A nearby bench looked like a great place for some step-ups, a swing set started to resemble a set of rings or a suspension cable, and that tall bar was the perfect place to start back up with training pull-ups. By the time my son was bored with the swings, I’d worked up a sweat.

Each week, we’d go back and I’d find some other way to use the park to get in a quick strength session. I started noticing other parents joining in on the fun, and every now and then someone would offer some encouragement or a high-five.

Sometimes, my son and husband would join in, and sometimes, I’d climb, crawl, and chase after my son. And, yes, sometimes I’d sit and sip my coffee and enjoy the time where I didn’t have to feel so “on” as a parent. (Remember: choosing to move, or not, is your choice and sitting and taking a break is just as important as movement).

What mattered was that I now saw that I had more options! If I wanted to get in some movement, I no longer felt like I had to wait for the gym.

Easy Access and Efficiency

Many parents have access to a playground that offers a variety of “equipment.” Getting in some of your movement while you’re already there potentially eliminates an entire trip to the gym, which can have prohibitively high membership fees and might lack adequate childcare.

Whether those factors are obstacles for you or not, a quick playground session can be an awesome option for some fun, outdoor movement. Even if you need to keep an eye on your little one, how about getting in a squat every time you push the swing?

Flex Your “Play” Muscle!

Becoming a parent further reminded me of the power of play. Play is how we learn, connect, and grow. I find that my clients are often struggling with the idea of play — while we know how valuable the idea of play and the playground is for our kids; what about for us?!

Movement doesn’t have to look like structured exercise for it to benefit us. Balancing on a narrow beam or tight rope, climbing up a play structure, and crawling through a tunnel during a game of tag make getting movement variety more fun and engaging. Don’t worry about the sets and reps; instead, soak in the creativity and challenge that the playground offers!

Total Body Training Without Equipment

Many people who train with the intention of improving their general health and fitness will never need a simple piece of “gym equipment.” I work with clients in their homes and, sometimes, I never even need to bring a single weight! We can use tables, chairs, jugs of water, and anything else that can be lifted, stood on, or moved.

The one thing that can be challenging with home workouts is working on your upper body pulling strength. The playground makes training pulling motions accessible and much simpler than dangling yourself off a dining room table (although I’ve been there, too!). Bars, swings, ropes, and poles transform into places to do rows, flies, and pull-up movements. Equipment is usually placed at various heights, making the possibilities endless! Having a go at the monkey bars is pretty humbling, if you haven’t tried them since elementary school, but you can work up to all of these movements by changing the position of your body relative to the piece of equipment.

Even though you don’t need to bring equipment, you could also take a resistance band or two and increase your options even more!

Can I Work In With You, Bro?

Okay, so it goes without saying, but the playground is for kids, first and foremost. If you’re going to use the playground for your own training, make sure you’re aware of the little ones around you, and that kids get priority. I often find that kids at the playground want to join in on the fun!

Work Out Your Confidence

Sometimes, I talk to women who really want to start getting in more movement while at the playground, but are afraid of the reactions they’ll get from other park-goers. I totally get it; it can feel like everyone is staring at you, unsure of why you’re doing split squats on a park bench.

If you want to get in some playground push-ups and planks, think of this as a great opportunity to work on building your confidence and practice doing your thing without worrying about what other people will think of you! It takes practice, but eventually, it will come naturally to you, and you’ll probably find that other people don’t care, or are supportive of you (and that their opinion isn’t the one that matters, either!)

Keep It Simple

Really, the possibilities are endless, but instead of getting overwhelmed, start simply. Think of basic human movements: push, pull, squat, hinge, rotate, locomote, etc. and work within your abilities. Here are a few ideas to get you started!

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About the author:  Haley Shevener

Haley Shevener's diverse skillset stems from a background in dance, certifications in Olympic weightlifting through USAW, kettlebell instruction through RKC, FMS, and a myriad of certifications and mentorships specific to pre- and postnatal fitness. Haley is also a member of the Body Positive Fitness Alliance. She strives to be inclusive in her practice, places a great deal of emphasis on research and honing her skill set, and considers herself to be lucky to do what she loves and to share that with others. You can learn more about Haley on her website and connect with her on Facebook.

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