February 17, 2014

Rut-Buster Playground Workout

What could be more obnoxious than posting an outdoor playground workout when most of the playgrounds throughout the land are coated in treacherous ice and buried under 47 feet of snow?

Oh yeah, maybe posting La Jolla beach bike ride photos during a polar vortex.

Sorry about that. We've already established that I'm kind of an asshole.  But what's a thin-blooded weather-wimpy snow-bird blogger supposed to do when she gets bored with the gym?

OK, so I suppose I could have donned a big down parka and ski hat and tried to simulate more typical February weather for my workout.

photo: undersan

But the cops and the Balboa Park maintenance workers already look at me kinda funny when I go charging around the playground without age-appropriate companions. I suspect I would have looked even more conspicuous navigating the grassy lawns in skis or snowshoes.

Anyway, before I got struck down by the flu, and lacking a bona fide adult playground to romp in, I went to the park and put together a playground workout. I made the Lobster snap a few photos afterwards of the routine I invented.  (You can tell the photos below are staged because I am not wearing mandatory headphones!) Then the other day I went back for another round because the first time was actually fun.  And I added a couple of new exercises.

The sad thing is I didn't have a camera or a photographer the second time, because there were fewer kids around and I got even more aggressive about using their toys.  I'm hoping, when they finally arrest me for trespassing and disturbing the peace, that the Lobster is around and manages to get a few shots of me being handcuffed and stuffed into the squad car.

So. for any of you still reading who haven't clicked away in disgust, here's my recipe for how to make a semi-tolerable workout out of a park playground.

Step One: Pick one or two favorite "reward" exercises.

There has to be at least one piece of available equipment or some other exercise that is relatively FUN or just forget the whole thing and go to the f--cking gym instead.

For me, a secret swinger, this is a no-brainer.

But it could be a merry-go-round, a slide (as long as you ascend the ladder as fast as you can and make it exercisey), the monkey bars, doing somersaults, practicing handstands or cartwheels, scrambling up and over something tricky a few times without breaking an bones, or whatever.

Step Two:  Pick a Few Other Complimentary Exercises

The idea is to have a few additional, possibly more miserable, exercises to go with each "fun" one so you cover most movements and body parts, but never have to go too long without a reward.

The more muscle groups you can combine with each exercise the better; you'd ideally like to work your core, your legs, and your arms. Additionally, you want to have these incorporate pushing movements, pulling movements, up & down movements, and twisty movements.

Plus, bonus for exercises that incorporate jumping, balancing, or inversion!

Note: because this is a circuit workout I feel like I get extra credit, so I go a little lighter on the strength training intensity than I might if were in the gym.

There are hundreds of possibilities, and the important thing is finding ones that work for YOUR body and hurt only in the appropriate ways, not in a those oh crap, now-I'm-screwed ways.

Push ups and variations thereof are an obvious choice. You can make them easier (off tables or benches) or harder by burpifying them or jacking out your legs or lifting one leg at a time or walking your arms and legs around between downward dips, or doing them with your feet raised up on high things.  You can make 'em twisty by alternating into side planks. Many of these work the core as well.

Ignore my form. 
I suspect my butt is not where it's supposed to be.

Pull-type exercises are trickier as you need something to pull against, like monkey bars or swings, but you can also bring a stretchy band or toss a rope around a tree limb or use Dave's inspired supine row maneuver.

There are plenty of ways to torture your legs (and some of these also work the core as well): lunges, backward lunges, sideways lunges, step-ups, jumping jacks, wall (or tree) sits, high or broad jumping, kicking, or squatting--all these can work well at making your legs miserable.

Step Three:  Pick Several Amusing Ways to Transport yourself a Few Hundred Yards.

Sprinting is fine, but this should not be your sole means of getting from one place to another. Sideways running (either grapevine or like a basketball player), skipping, running backwards, dancing, or dribbling a soccer ball can all work.

Step Four: Set up a Water Station or Find a Drinking Fountain

This way not only do you stay hydrated, but you have a second "reward" in your circuit. Or hell, if it's an after-work exercise session and you don't mind risking injury or incarceration, make it a happy hour workout and put an even more festive beverage in your water bottle.

Step Five  (Optional) Bring Toys!

Cones, stretchy bands, dumbells or kettlebells, mini trampolines, pogo sticks whatever.

Just a thought.
photo: wikipedia

Step Six: Put it All Together and Go Get 'Em!

1. Warm up or not.  I don't care.  I like to take a slow jog around the general area before starting just to alert concerned parents to my possibly threatening presence and let them get used to me a bit before I get too weird.  It also gives me an idea about which equipment I'll be able to use and to plan accordingly.

2. Grab the most difficult to access piece of equipment when you can, and build the body weight and running and jumping stuff in around that.  Use the equipment for as long as feels appropriate, 30 sec- 2 minutes, or however long you can get away with it.

2. Sprint, skip, shuffle etc yourself to a new location and do something else that uses different muscles.

3.  Sprint, dribble, run backwards etc to your beverage station and drink something.

4.  Skip, dance etc to a different location, while keeping your eye on your favorite equipment; you may need to either add some extra alternatives if kids are being annoying and using your gym or you may be able to monopolize the equipment for the WIN. Be flexible and also be prepared to lose track what you've done and what you were planning to do and what order things are going in.  Just do SOMETHING and then run around and do SOMETHING else.

5. Repeat! You can either vary the specific exercises within each category (i.e. lunge/jump/squat), or keep it simple and repeat the exact same 3 or 4 complimentary exercises, whatever seems most appealing

6. Keep doing circuits until you are too tired or bored to continue, or when you hear sirens approaching or spot an angry mob of parents with pitchforks and flaming torches heading your direction.

I aim for about 25 minutes, which is usually how long it takes before I'm bored and want to go home.

Sample Circuit:

If the swingset is free... Swing!

Shuffle sideways alternating sides

Push-up to Side Planks

Grapevine to playground

Play on Monkey Bars or try some pull-ups (standing or unassisted)

Sprint to water fountain

Drink! Breathe!

Walking lunges (dumb bells optional)

Skip to swingset

Swing again, whee!

Scramble up and over brightly colored playground thingy a few times and discover your balance sucks and barely escape breaking your neck (not pictured).

This was not the thingy, it lives in Canada, but I wish it were, it's cute:

photo: wikipedia

Run backwards to park bench


Dance to water fountain

Drink! Gasp! Curse!

Sprint back to bench

Shoulder Press Push-ups off Park Bench



Side lunges

More skipping

Tricep dips off bench


Swing! Swing! Swing! Yeee-hawww!!

Any of you guys like to work out in parks or playgrounds when weather permits? Or does this sound all like crazy talk?


  1. I *love* to swing! And I miss the days of old wooden swing seats on heavy-duty chains. While I understand the safety value of the butt-squeezer rubber swings, they just do not have the same whee factor. At all. (And yes I did get whacked in the head by the wooden seats more than once as a kid. Don't care.) I love the idea of a park circuit, but you'd never be able to get me out of the swings to do anything else. :-D

    1. I haven't been on a wooden seat in years but don't recall them being all that comfy! I guess different seats for different butts! But am glad I'm not the only nutty "swinger".

    2. I always thought they were quite comfy, but my butt was significantly smaller in the 70s. Mostly they were just better for getting a good arc going because you didn't have to fight the strap squishing your legs together and could therefore PUSH! :-)

  2. Count me in!!! I will do both - the hard core version and the happy hour version!!! I need to live in a place full of sunshine year round.

    1. I am sure someday Kim you'll Swing in the Sunshine! (Yearround!)

  3. My friend and I played/exercised on a playground several times last summer and had a blast. This is such a great workout idea - as long as you're not kicking kids off of the equipment, why not workout at a park?

    P.S. I loved my Hippety Hop back in the day. Do they come in adult-sizes?

    1. Shelley, they do indeed! We should make a fortune by creating exercise videos using 'em!

  4. I love to swing, swing, swing!

    I like watching other people doing playground workouts...I will be the one swinging!

    1. Amen! I think these playground workouts are a great theory, but I can't really see myself out there actually doing it. I'm not exactly sure why, it's just not the kind of workout that seems "me." I'll be next to you on the swing set.

    2. Maybe you guys don't like looking like total idiots? :) But enjoy the swings!

    3. Maybe I don't enjoy looking like a total idiot? I don't know, man. Your link to the adult sized hippity hopper is pretty compelling!

  5. This secret swinger is going to try this soon. As soon as it's not too cold.

    1. Definitely not recommended in the freezing cold messymimi!

  6. I miss playing on the swings. I'd still do it, but the seat has changed to something straplike and I don't like how it fits.IGive me a solid swing seat and I'm happy.

    1. I had no idea the old wood seats were so popular! Guess they should think about bringing them back Leah. Hey, plus you can stand on 'em and swing too, I forgot about that variation.

    2. I can assure you it is possible to stand and swing on the new flappy seats. Unfortunately, Taller Me finds standing swinging not as fun as Shorter Me did.

      Mary Anne in Kentucky

    3. You could also whip your feet up and wrap the chains around your ankles to swing upside down. Bonus points if you had long hair! :-D

    4. Yet again I find myself wishing there were a LIKE button for comments as you guys crack me up and I wish we coudl all play on the swings together!

  7. True Story: I accidentally typed in "CrankyFinesse.com" when trying to get to your blog today. Which is also kinda fitting since you're all suave with your circuit. I love playground workouts!!!

    1. Oh gosh, "suave" is the last thing it looks like IRL, but I love that it doesn't sound totally insane yum yucky!

  8. What can we say? You're a likeable asshole! Loved this entry. When I was in grad school, I used to take "thinking" walks. One of those walks led me past a campus playground that had a long set of monkey bars. Part of my walk became walking the monkey bars without touching the ground. It took me a few weeks to get through the whole thing, but I eventually did. I felt so strong and successful - it was a wonderful feeling!

    Those days will return! Thanks for reminding me of past success!

    1. Love your monkey bar adventure and I'm sure those days will return lucky mama! And thanks for the "likeable asshole," love that!

  9. "Just do SOMETHING and then run around and do SOMETHING else."
    This is the essence of fitness advice.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  10. This is such a cute approach to working out! I really wish it were less cold here so I could do more "play" workouts like this.

    1. Thanks Rosa and so sorry about the weather!

  11. As a family medicine physician I always try to tell my patients that workouts and exercise can be fun. I love your routine, looks like a lot of fun, especially the swinging!!

    1. Thanks Kelli, great to hear from a family physician, you guys are heroes!

  12. When I visited Redwood city after running around their park, I would workout in their playground! It had several bodyweight contraptions that were fun and useful!

    1. You seem like the sort of guy who'd make great use of a playground Dr. J!

  13. I love swings. But no I do not like to subject others to my flab.

  14. I have a bunch of playgrounds with interesting themes. One has a massive castle and dinosaurs I really want to play on but it is always covered in kids even on school days. I just don't have the nerve. Swings would be good but we only have baby swings. I wonder if they have a problem with teenagers hanging out on the swings smoking or something.
    We do have adult fitness parks near me as well. I would rather go to the gym. They just lack imagination or something.
    I guess I should be happy I live in such a fitness town. I do use the outdoor skating rink and we have a maze that is fun and a lot of nature trails.

  15. OMG I love this post! Such a fun idea (and really made me miss the sunshine).

    And as always, love the attitude :)

  16. Great read...the more creative we get with exercising the better resulted we can see...Jump rope has always been a favorite of mine! http://bellybegoneforgood.blogspot.com


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