Playground Fitness

By Kristen Turner – June 1, 2014
Photo by Brian Fitzsimmons

As students spill out of their classrooms and into the landscape of summer, many moms must recalibrate their fitness routine to accommodate their children’s summertime activities. Carving out time for a parent’s own exercise, social needs, and self-care with kids in tow can be a challenge during the hot summer months. Yet summer is an optimal time to shift an existing exercise regimen to a new venue, involving the children and modeling healthy fitness habits. 

Streamlining children’s playtime with a parent’s own fitness routine creates an efficient and fun way to spend time together. Whether it’s doing a few exercises while supervising children on the playground, creating an adult play date with other moms, or joining an existing mom-centric fitness program, the neighborhood playground is ripe with potential for creative play and exercise for both moms and children alike.

Many women find community fitness programs coached by a “mom’s fitness expert” help meet the unique physical and emotional needs of motherhood. By sharing the parenting journey with other women, moms experience a place for emotional support as well as a place to find fitness. The fluid environment of a fitness class with children present allows a mom to attend to her child’s needs and interruptions without feeling like a disruption to other participants. The culture of these groups embraces the integration of motherhood duties and group workout participation. In this accepting environment, a mom may be called to tend to a sibling conflict, change a diaper, hold a crying baby on her hip, or bandage a scraped knee. Unlike trying to exercise at home alone, the pull of the group makes an interruption merely a “pause” and not a “stop” to a workout.

Backyard Fitness founder and iGnite leader and personal trainer Allison Phillips teaches “Exercise Playdate” classes for moms throughout the year. Accommodating mothers with babies, toddlers, and pre-school and school-age children, her clients exercise with the children playing nearby. “The fun factor is off the charts when moms get together,” Phillips said. “Not only are moms’ exercise groups important for fitness, friendship, and fun, they also become a place for giving and receiving support, sharing information, and sharing life. Kids learn about an active lifestyle, daily exercise, and self-care by watching their first and most important teacher and role-model—Mommy.”

When children witness their mom being active and having fun with exercise, they’re often inspired to imitate her. Rather than parents acting as spectators to the child’s play, the child becomes a participant in the adult’s play, and every trip to the park becomes a mutual outing for fun. Active parents make for active kids. 

Tatum Rebelle, founder of Total Mommy Fitness (a group dedicated to pregnancy and postnatal fitness), espouses the benefits of playground workouts for moms and kids. “The greatest benefit is the example that playground workouts set for children,” Rebelle said. “They grow up associating exercise with play and quality family time. Working out is not a dreaded hour at the gym; it’s included in creative and fun activities. Fitness is taught as a way of life, not a chore.”

Creating a parenting social circle that revolves around things other than just children’s birthday parties and sporting events provides time to enhance relationships with other women as well as adhere to a fitness regimen. The enjoyment and anticipation of meeting up with friends improves the likelihood that the exercise appointment will be kept. Mom is not only more likely to show up to the workout, she’s likely to work harder, too. Time passes more quickly, and the perceived exertion is lower when sweating alongside fitness buddies.

Crystal Tidmore, mother of four, participates weekly in iGnite’s “Fitness Playdate,” thanks in large part to her daughter. “In all honesty, it's my 3-year-old who keeps me accountable,” Tidmore said. “She wakes up on our workout days excited to go and play with her friends. She'll say, ‘Mommy, is today exercise class?’ So I know that it benefits us both. It's so encouraging as a woman to practice a healthy lifestyle alongside other moms. We push each other and ourselves to be stronger in every dimension of our lives. It's also important to me to show my kids by example that their mom is committed to staying fit.  How else would I be able to keep up with them in Capture The Flag?”

The playground is also a welcoming environment for other moms to venture into fitness, too. When word about neighborhood workouts spreads to curious moms, other women with similarly aged children may be encouraged to join in. While few feel totally confident lunging around a playground alone, with other like-minded moms, that workout becomes a party. 

With no equipment required, creative workouts at a playground utilize the actual playground equipment and surroundings. Benches and curbs can be used for body weight exercises (step-ups, bench dips, angled push-ups, incline lunges, two-footed hops, and planks). Soft surfaces surrounding playscapes are a perfect area for plyometric exercises, push-ups, and crunches. Basketball courts and sand volleyball areas lend themselves to wind sprints, lunges, squats, jumps, and all kinds of movement drills and games. Monkey bars can be used for hanging abdominal crunches and assisted chin-ups. Add in an exercise band and a pair of 5-pound dumbbells, and the variety of possible exercises expands even more.

Be strategic to incorporate exercise into a family’s summer schedule; workouts, friendship, and fitness are as close as the nearest neighborhood park.

Sample Playground Fitness Workout

Dynamic Warm-Up (two rounds)

Ten repeats of each of the following exercises: air squats, jumping jacks, high knee skips, side shuffles, cariocas, walking hamstring kicks, running butt kicks.

Partner Combo One (do both if solo)

One partner does stationary lunges while the other runs 25 yards, completes ten bench step-ups, and runs 25 yards back. Switch roles and repeat three times.

Partner Combo Two

One partner does air squats/squat jumps while the other side shuffles 25 yards, completes 15 bench dips, and side shuffles 25 yards back. Switch roles, and repeat three times.

Partner Combo Three

One partner does two-legged/one-legged leg glute bridges while the other performs high skips for 25 yards, completes ten two-footed hops onto the curb, and runs 25 yards back. Switch roles, and repeat three times.

Abs Circuit

Group 1: Hanging abs crunches on monkey bars, ten times. Repeat.
Group 2: Swing planks and crunch (feet in swing, hands on ground). Bring knees up to chest ten times. Repeat second round with pike hips up.
Group 3: Plank with shoulder tap on the soft surface, 20 times. Rest and repeat.
Rotate through all three stations.

Cool Down (5 to 10 minutes)

Static stretching and fellowship.



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