How to Use Playgrounds as Gym Equipment

By Emma Aguirre – June 18, 2022

Kids’ playtime at the park can mean playtime for mom and dad as well with just a little creativity. Using playground equipment and your own body weight to work up a sweat on the playground is an effective way to switch up any workout routine and challenge your body in different ways. Use your time at the park to test your real strength! Here’s what to look for at the park and how to potentially use those pieces of park equipment.  

Monkey Bars 

.Kid on monkey bars.

We all remember swinging from the monkey bars as little kids, but when was the last time you tried as a larger adult? Swinging along monkey bars will work the lats, as well as the shoulders and a little abdominal work, and will really challenge your strength! 

Pullups are an excellent way to test your back strength using the overhead bars, especially if you’ve been working at it a while in the gym. As a beginner, use those overhead bars to dead hang and shrug the shoulders. Try keeping one foot on the floor as a modification. Single-arm pullups and negative hangs are also great alternatives. Hanging from the bar will help decompress the spine as well, loosening aches and pains.  

If you’re feeling extra brave and want to impress your kiddos, try hanging upside down with your knees latched over a bar and crunching the torso toward the feet. This is considered an advanced move for the core, so be careful! 

Hanging abdominal work from the overhead bar will work your core, grip strength, forearm strength and back. Try pulling the knees into the chest one at a time with a slow and controlled tempo or moving faster as if you are cycling midair. Try driving both feet up with straight legs toward the chest (to about hip height) into a pike. Add in a twist to activate those obliques. 

Benches 

Two people working out on a park bench.

Park benches are a fantastic way to squeeze in full-body movement and are one of the most flexible pieces of equipment you can use. Starting with the upper body, elevated pushups with feet on the seat or modified pushups using the back of the bench or the seat will train those pecs as well as your core. Play with your hand placement here to add in more tricep activation by bringing your elbows closer to the rib cage or going wide for more chest work. 

Flip things around for tricep dips using the seat for your hands. Remember to keep the hips low and use the upper body to press up. Drive the elbows back toward the back of the bench. Here, cross one ankle over the opposite knee and feel a great stretch through the hip and glute (don’t forget to do both sides!), or level it up by extending those feet out in front. 

The options for the lower body are endless using a park bench. Basic squats tapping the bench on the descent before popping up with power either onto the toes (lifting the heels) or into a jump squat make for an excellent quad-focused move. Traditional box jumps can also be mimicked using the bench, powering into a jump and landing softly on the seat with bent knees. 

Bulgarian split squats, with one foot elevated on the seat, train the glutes and hamstrings as well as quads. Unilateral movement, which is using a single arm or leg, is essential in working on any imbalances you might be experiencing and works those deep stability muscles, the ones that keep you upright. 

Laterally, turn to the side and place one foot solidly on the seat and use the seat to push off as you lift your leg. Consider pulling your knee into your chest as you lift for a little extra balance challenge or a hop for more plyometric focus.

For abdominal work using a bench, consider knee-ins. Balancing on the end of the bench on the sit bones, with your hands behind you on the seat, extend the legs out as you lower the torso. Draw the knees back into the chest as you rise back up. Reverse-plank knee-ins would be a solid progression up from here. 

Swings

Girl on swing.

Swings can level up your workouts with a few key moves because they mimic the TRX suspension trainer. Its unstable surface, a key principle in training, will kick the core into high gear. A plank with suspended feet in the swing seat, adding in up-downs for that upper body or pendulum swings will work the midsection as well. Standing rollouts with the forearms in the seat, shooting them diagonally toward the sky, are another excellent core movement that will also work the upper back. Standing bicep curls and rows are possible using just a swing set. Suspended single-leg burpees, as well as single-leg suspended lunges, will kick the workout up a notch because stability is challenged and deep core activation is required. 

Do these exercises alone, or pair these powerful bodyweight moves with short cardio intervals like jumping jacks or high knees, playing with time or reps to build a fun opportunity for a workout while your kids stay active as well. Get the whole family involved and build a circuit workout together. Little eyes are always watching! 

 

About the Author

Emma Aguirre smiling.

Emma Aguirre’s training career began with spinning almost 20 years ago in a small women-only gym in South Texas. After a career in journalism, Emma switched to fitness full time, certifying in Practical Pilates, TRX and Jillian Micheals BodyShred program. She is also qualified as an AFAA Group Fitness professional and holds several personal trainer certificates, as well as Precision Nutrition’s Level 1 certification. She is currently certifying as an International Sports Sciences Association master trainer and spends her days coaching clients online as a Personal Health Advisor at Austin’s Wellthy Soul. 

 
 

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