The Playground Workout

There are often two common reasons for people not working out: not enough time and not enough support. (Of course, money, lack of access to trainers or gyms, fear of failure and anxiety over body image are also factors.)

It’s understandable, especially for busy parents. With kids and work, sometimes just getting out of bed seems like a workout! But it’s amazing how easy it can be to fit in some quick, heart-pumping activity when you stop thinking about the “work” part of a workout. Instead, start looking for ways to have fun and get fit at the same time.

A great example: Head to the playground with your kids. Each station or play area represents a new opportunity to flex your muscles. You’ll sweat, the kids will have a blast playing with you, and when you go home, you’ll be so happy you made it happen!


At the playground, most kids head straight for the swings. Who can blame them? Swinging free with your legs in the air, pumping them to go higher and higher — that’s pretty close to flying. Just that movement alone is great for your big leg muscles and your core, so grab a seat and start swinging!

Ready to amp it up? Try leaning back, and when the swing is fairly still, slide your hands down the chains as low as you can. Engaging your core, scissor your legs so you cross right over left, left over right, etc. Start with 10 seconds — it’s harder than you think! If 10 feels too easy, go for 30. Take a rest, and then start again. If you can make it two to three sets, you’ll feel a big difference in your core.

Another option? Try swinging first, and then scissor your legs so you cross right over left, then left over right. This is a great full-body workout, and it will take all of your mind-body focus to do it successfully. Once you’ve completed your criss-crosses, get off the swing and get into push-up position on the ground directly in front of the seat. Carefully lift one foot and rest it on the swing seat, then lift the other. With your wrists directly under your shoulders, look at a point just ahead of your wrists and slowly bring your knees in toward your chest. Hold for a moment, and then slowly bring your legs back to their starting position. You may feel a little shaky, and that’s OK — this is a great move for working on your stabilization, balance and strength. However, you can always bring one foot down to the ground and alternate legs if you feel more comfortable. If you can do eight reps, great! Take a rest, and then try one more set.


The monkey bars are one of the most effective pieces of workout equipment you’ll find at the playground, but you probably just remember how fun they were to swing on as a kid. Nothing has changed, except you’re a bit heavier. This is good news for your fitness, since you’ll be using your body weight for resistance as you scurry from one bar to the next. Make sure you bend your knees so your feet stay all the way off the ground.

Ready to amp it up? Do some pull-ups and chin-ups. Keep your hands in either prone or supine position (overhand or underhand) and try to lift yourself up to or over the bar. This will work out all of your big muscles, so if you have any shoulder or rotator cuff issues, this may be a move to skip. If it’s too tough, this is a great time to recruit a kid or your partner to help: Have him or her gently give you a little support under your feet or hips, lifting you up slightly so you don’t have to raise all of your body weight.


Going down the slide is really only a workout if you laugh the whole time — and that’s not hard to do, since it’s so much fun. But try this: As soon as you’ve reached the ground, put your hands on the edges of slides and try to complete five to 10 push-ups. You’ll focus on your triceps, since slides are fairly narrow, so be sure to send your elbows straight behind you and lower down to bring your chest as close to the slide as you can.

Ready to amp it up? Making sure that there’s nobody behind you in line, lie backwards at the top of the slide and, hooking your feet on either side of the handrail bars, slide down until you’re almost flat. Try some small crunches (not full sit-ups), keeping your hands behind your ears to support, but not tugging on your neck. This is definitely a more advanced move, so if you’re afraid you might lose your foothold, please skip this one so you don’t go sliding backwards head-first down the slide!

If all of that is too much, try doing jumping jacks at the bottom of the slide while waiting for your kid to come down. When he/she does, take a break to offer a hug and high-five, then get back to work!


Sand is great because it’s an unstable surface. From push-ups to jogging, sand takes a standard fitness move and revs it up significantly. Try marching in place for 30 seconds while your kids build sandcastles. From there, sink into 10 good air squats, by pressing your glutes down and back as if you’re sitting in a chair, then pressing back up to the starting position.

Ready to amp it up? Try some single-leg calf raises: Bend one knee so it’s flexed behind you and do 10 reps on one leg. Switch and try to go for two sets on each side. This will definitely make you work on your balance!


The stairs/ladder is great for step-ups and step-downs. Keeping a gentle grip on the bars or nearby equipment for balance, step one foot up on a rung, then the other. Then, step down to the ground with one foot, then the other and repeat. You can keep an eye on the kids the whole time, and you’ll not only work on your quads, hamstrings and calves, you’ll kickstart some good cardio, too.

Ready to amp it up? After you watch your kids scramble up the ladder, why not drop and do 10 push-ups? You can pick how intense the move is: the higher the bar, the easier the move. And the lower you go, the more body weight you’ll be pushing up. Try and do five push-ups on each bar, starting at the top and going all the way down. It might be hard, but it’s super effective.

The bottom line: Fitness is where you create it. Sure, a gym is packed with equipment and trainers and treadmills. But as a busy parent, if you can’t get there, bring your workout to wherever you are. Never miss an opportunity to get a quick workout in, even if it’s just a few strength-training moves at the playground. It’s good for you, and it’s great for the kids who are looking up to you. Fitness should always be a priority!

Katy is a mom and fitness instructor who loves helping people work towards their fitness goals.

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Washington FAMILY Staff

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