If you’ve got small kids as I have, you’ll know how hard it is to find ‘me time’ for simple things like a bath by yourself let alone making time for exercise.

Even if your children are at school during the day most people work or have other commitments that get in the way of exercise. But here’s an idea you might not have considered:

Do your workout with the kids, in the playground!

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Why are exercises in the playground so great?

As a Mum to 3 year old and 6 year old girls I’m no stranger to parks and playgrounds. Even with a new climbing frame for last Christmas in our garden the girls still love getting the chance to play on new equipment and probably bump into some other children to play with there too.

The fresh air does wonders for ‘blowing the cobwebs away’ as my own mother says, by which she means destressing, expending pent up angst and/or energy, is good for the immune system, and sunlight helps our bodies produce those all-important Vitamin D stores that we tend to lack in our the Northern hemisphere.

I admit I’m more of a ‘do-er’ than a ‘sitter’ and resent having to keep still for too long, but even appreciating that other parents might appreciate some rest, I regularly witness parents (mostly women but the theory applies to men too) sitting on benches for an entire hour moaning about their thighs/bingo wings etc., discussing what boot camp/class/trendy diet they plan to start next week.

If only these ladies would look up and see what their little ones are accomplishing on the free equipment in this free playground that is open all hours they’d see that workout could be easier to fit in than they think!

Get Trim on a Trim Trail

Some parks actually have Trim Trails – which are essentially playground-like structures designed for physical activity (aka exercise) for both adults and kids alike; your local council should be able to tell you where your local ones are and they should be easy to find online too.

Monkey bars, rope bridges and nets to climb will all challenge your body in ways you wouldn’t do in everyday life, even with ‘conventional’ exercise. OK, so children have youth, great flexibility, a lack of injury history and typically bags of energy on their side, but much of their vitality can indeed be attributed to the fact that they get out there and use their body simply by playing.

But even if your park only has a basic few pieces of equipment, knowing how you can use them can provide a workout to rival any expensive gym equipment, and you kids will love that you’re getting involved and playing with them!

exercises in the playground_2

Here are some ideas you can try in your local playground.

Steps incline/decline push-ups

For an easier push-up, keep your feet on the ground and place your hands at the outer edges of a step so that your body is at an angle. Lower your chest towards the steps then raise, repeat for however many reps you can manage with the full range of motion.

For a harder version, place your feet on a step with your hands on the ground so now your head is pointing towards the ground, then to the push-ups from this position.

Monkey bars

This one should be self-explanatory. Like with pull-ups and chin-ups (but with the help of momentum gained while keeping moving), these challenge the arm and back muscles. Plus it’s extremely satisfying getting to the other side without having to drop down half way across!

Fireman’s Pole

Up not down! Make sure the pole and your hands are dry and free of grease (a small towel makes a useful playground accessory, especially if it has been raining), and grip the pole with your hands.

Use your hands, feet and knees and arms if necessary to climb up the pole as high as you can go, then climb back down the same way, trying not to ‘cheat’ by sliding down instead!

Bench Tricep Dips

Find an unoccupied bench, and facing away from the bench place your hands on the seat and either bend your knees at right angles or straighten them out in front (your choice), keeping your bottom raised off the ground. Use your tricep muscles to lower your bottom towards the ground then raise it back up again. Repeat for 10-15 reps.

Swing Split Squat

Stand with your back to the swing and lift one foot up behind you to place on the swing. Place your hand on your hips and bend your front leg, keeping your foot flat on the ground and knee aligned over your foot, allowing your back knee to lower as you do. Return to the starting position and repeat for 10 reps before switching and doing the same on the other leg.

Pull-ups/Chin-ups

The basic structure of most climbing frames is poles or beams of metal or wood, which are perfect for doing pull-ups and chin-ups (watch for splinters on wooden frames).

Find a horizontal pole that you can comfortably grip with both hands whilst standing on the ground. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and use your back and arm muscles to pull the bar towards you, raising your feet off the ground, then lower.

Simplified method:

If you can’t manage a full rep, find a bar you can climb up to so that you begin at the top with your chin aligned with the bar, then practice lowering yourself in a controlled manner.

Use your imagination – think of exercises in the playground

These are just some of the many ways you can use a playground to create a great workout, what other creative ideas can you come up with to keep things fun and interesting?

PS. if you’re not a parent or don’t look after children often then don’t let that stop you – there’s no age limit on most playground equipment so as long as you’re not stopping other kids from playing there’s no reason you can’t be the ‘big kid’ and get climbing too! You might find during school/nursery hours are quieter so the equipment you want to use is more likely to be free.

Read more from Expert Pollyanna Hale.

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