There are so many great ways to embrace outdoor fitness, and I’ve always been mystified by those who opt for exercising indoors when they don’t really have to. The research shows that people go longer, harder, and enjoy running more outside versus a treadmill.
I’m going to apply this logic to resistance-training — if it’s a nice day, why would you want to go into a stuffy, crowded gym when you can just hit a park?
There’s also the benefit of time management. If you’re busy but also want to spend more time with your kids, then working out in a park gives you both a chance to play instead of ditching them at your health club’s kiddie corral.
And you can get creative about how you get there to add an extra fitness component. If you’re going solo run or ride your bike to the park, and if you’ve got kids there are lots of fitness strollers suitable for jogging or towing behind a bike. Another strategy is to have the kids ride their bikes while you run, or if they’re good little runners you can all decide to go on foot — quickly. Basically, take advantage of any opportunity to leave the car at home.
Did I mention working out in a park is free? Are you sold on this idea yet? Great! Let’s do it.
How to create your own circuit using the exercises provided:
1. Stick to one exercise before moving on to another, taking a break between sets.
2. Alternate back and forth between two exercises without a break between sets or with a very short break. When you’re done with those two, move on to another two.
3. Make it a full circuit. Do one set then move to the next exercise for the next set, then the next exercise and so on. Try and do the circuit three full times.
4. Between sets run laps around the park to add in a good aerobic component. This will really get your heart rate up and burn lots of extra calories.
5. You can do this park workout just once a week to mix things up with your other exercise endeavours, or, if you really like it, make it a staple of your routine that you do three to four times a week.
Park bench push-up
The park bench push-up is great for women as some find it challenging to do a push-up flat on the ground and maintain good form. Using this method reduces some of the gravitational force because of the easier angle, but it’s still a great exercise. Use the seat of the bench to make it more challenging. If you put your hands on the backrest portion, which is higher off the ground, it becomes easier.
Here are some tips on technique:
• Feet firmly planted and hip-width apart.
• Engage those core muscles and keep your body aligned.
• Make sure you have a firm grip on the bench. You don’t want to slip and be in for some costly dental work.
• Breathe in on the way down and out on the way up.
• Don’t go too quickly or too slowly. One to two seconds each direction is great. Try to keep some tension on the muscles and don’t use much in the way of inertia.
• If you can do more than 12 then it’s too easy. You need an angle that gets your face closer to the ground to increase the resistance. Shoot for each set being in the six to 12 range.
Note that it doesn’t have to be a park bench, but can be part of a play apparatus that you hold onto.
For the rest of these exercises, remember the tips above about engaging the core, how to breathe, the number of reps and the length of time for each motion.
Monkey bar rows and chin-ups
The trick here is to find a bar in the park that your chin is higher than.
It has been my experience that the vast majority of women cannot do a single chin-up. This is nothing to be ashamed of, but a simple fact of gravity. Therefore, putting your legs into the equation helps remove just the right amount of weight to make it challenging but not impossible.
For using a bar like this in a chin-up fashion, assume a typical chin-up position, except note that your feet will stay on the ground throughout. Rely as much as you can on your upper body muscles to complete the chin-up, but use your legs as necessary to take off just the right amount of weight.
First off, DON’T do it this way. That puts your shoulders in a dangerous position. Instead, do it like this guy is. Again, doing triceps dips (remember breathe in on the way down and out on the way up) where you support all your body weight can be very challenging for women – just like with the chin-ups. For that reason you need to find a set of bars that are close enough to the ground so that you can use your legs to take off just the right amount of body weight to make it smooth and doable.
Park bench step ups
Start with two feet on the ground, then at the mid-point both feet will be on the bench, then you’ll finish with two feet on the ground. The National Strength and Conditioning Association is pretty uptight about the order in which this movement works.
1. Leading leg places entire foot on the bench.
2. Shift bodyweight to lead leg and then bring trailing leg onto the bench.
3. Step off bench with SAME trailing leg.
4. Step off bench with leading leg.
5. After six to 12 reps, switch leading leg.
The trick with a good lunge is keeping your balance, your core muscles tight and activated and going up and down in a smooth motion. A slide lunch is essentially the exact same as any other, except that your back foot will rest on the end of a slide (or bench). Focus most of your weight on the heel of your front foot. Also, while you want to avoid excessive forward movement of the knee, it is a myth that you should never allow your knee to go beyond your toes while lunging or squatting.
Don’t forget to switch forward legs to do both sides.
This was a basic workout that hits the major-muscle groups, but there are certainly more you can look into. Remember that not all exercises are for everyone. Learn the difference between muscular discomfort (the “good pain” of working your muscles) and the “bad pain” of trying to force your body to do something it can’t.
James S. Fell, MBA, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary.