Getting a good workout doesn’t require being stuck in a gym during the late summer heat or those deliciously crisp fall days that follow. To change things up a bit in your workout routine, consider making use of a free and easily accessible resource: your local playground.
While playgrounds themselves are nothing new, in recent years, adults are returning to them in greater numbers—and not just to entertain their kids. Thanks to the rise in popularity of outdoor boot camps, which often make use of equipment available in parks and playgrounds, many adults are taking a second look at playgrounds as an affordable way to exercise their inner child and outer adult—and make exercising seem less like a chore and more (dare we say it?) fun.
Lindsay Vastola, owner of Body Project Boot Camp, a New Jersey-based boot camp company with three locations, and the editor of Personal Fitness Professional Magazine, a national industry publication and media company for fitness professionals, also credits the rising popularity of adventure racing for the new view of playgrounds as an exercise space.
People enjoy working out in playgrounds because “they’re craving something outside of the big box gym and typical fitness routines," Vastola says. "Playground workouts allow adults to rekindle the feeling of being a kid again and let them be creative about getting fit. Being outdoors also naturally just gives people extra energy."
Vastola suggests using anything you can hang or swing from in a playground to exercise a variety of muscle groups. Slides can be used for more challenging push-ups or sit-ups, monkey bars can be used for pull-ups, and holding oneself stationary on a swing in plank position can be a great core workout.
Peter Lavelle, co-owner of Ultimate Bootcamp, which has 14 locations throughout New England, says he appreciates the creative thinking that playgrounds encourage. He incorporates them into his company’s boot camp workouts by using benches for tricep dips and using the rubber mats from playground flooring for high-impact work like burpees and squat jumps.
Lavelle says it’s important to keep in mind that playgrounds are designed for kids and are primarily for their use—so adults using playgrounds for exercise should use the equipment during off-hours or when the space is relatively empty. (No pushing little kids out of the way so you can do pull-ups!)
He also cautions that safety is of the utmost importance and reminds exercisers that playground equipment is designed for children’s bodies and weight. Before clambering onto the equipment yourself, “try to ensure that it’s capable of holding your weight, and be respectful of the fact that it’s designed for children," Lavella says. "Playground maintenance and repairs cost money, so if you’re going to use the space, make sure that you leave it as you found it.” (i.e. without cracking a frame or otherwise damaging equipment.)
In playgrounds designed for children, be sure to check local laws regarding unaccompanied adults in playgrounds, as some municipalities have strict rules against them. Luckily, adults are now getting their own outdoor gyms and playgrounds, both in the U.S., as reported by the New York Times recently, and in the UK, as reported by the BBC.
To find playgrounds near you, check out the Map of Play from KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit dedicated to children’s play, or its free playground finder app, available on iTunes. Beta testing sign-up is also available for Android devices.
For ideas on creating your own workout routine at a playground, check out these links:
- 29 ways to shed pounds at the playground from Shape magazine
- 30-minute playground circuit training from Women’s Health magazine
- Full-body playground workout from Parents magazine
- Tips to turn any park into a gym from Men’s Fitness magazine
- 20-minute park workout for moms from Kaboose.com
- Fun playground workout ideas from Weight Watchers
- Time-strapped parent workouts from the Chicago Tribune
Tell us: Where are some playgrounds near you that offer adult-friendly workout equipment? What are the most effective things you've done to exercise at a playground?