Workout while kids play
If you're creative at the playground, you can get a solid workout in while your kids get their energy out
Susan Daggett gets some exercise in while her 4 month old baby girl Olivia stays close at a north side play lot. (Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune)
Yes, playground workouts can be embarrassing, especially when other moms and dads are relaxing or chatting on cellphones. But if you're strapped for time, playgrounds are ideal workout spots, and not just because they're free. You're stuck there anyway, they've got all the equipment you need, and research shows even tiny bouts of exercise are associated with increased fitness.
And while a public workout takes some courage, "your actions might inspire a lifetime of health and fitness in your children or others," said celebrity fitness trainer Marco Borges.
For some people, playground equipment may even be better than regular-size workout structures, said Borges. Monkey bars, for example, are built for kids so they're shorter than regular pull-up bars. "That means you can start from a standing position and use your legs for added help," said Borges, who runs a playground fitness boot camp.
Though your own body weight is really all you need for a good workout, almost all playgrounds offer at least three key pieces of equipment that can enhance the experience: monkey bars, benches or steps and swings. Here's how to make use of each one:
Try chin-ups: Hang with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart with your palms facing toward your body. Pull your body up until your head is above the bar, then slowly lower to the starting position, said exercise physiologist Tom Holland, author of "Beat the Gym."
What it works: An upper-body resistance workout, chin-ups target several major muscle groups in the back, shoulders and arms. They also work core muscles.
Kick it up a notch: Try a pull-up by changing your hand position and grabbing the bar with your palms facing away from you. Add a weighted backpack or attach a small child to your back.
Make it easier: Rest your feet on the ground if the bar is low enough. Or simply hold your chin over the bar as long as you can, a strength test called the "flexed arm hang." Simply hanging from a bar stretches and relaxes the back. Or hang from the bar and tuck your knees up to your chest.
Bench, steps or low platform
Try the bench step-up: Place your right foot on a bench about knee height. Step up and tap your left foot on the bench while fully extending your right leg. Slowly step back down with the left leg, then immediately repeat, said Holland.
What it works: The legs — hamstrings and glutes — and core muscles.
Kick it up a notch: Find a higher step. Or, place your hands behind your head and jump with both feet on to the bench or platform. Hop back off the step, landing on both feet.
Make it easier: Find a lower step.
Try the ab walk-out: Hold the swing with your hands and keep your feet on one spot, said Borges. Using your abs, stretch your body into an elongated position. Return to the start position.
What it works: Abdominal muscles
Kick it up a notch: Balance on one leg.