The Nerd Fitness Playground Workout

Who says playgrounds are for children?

Okay, well probably most people say that.

…because they are for children.

…but that doesn’t mean you can’t use them to get a great workout.

For the first 10 years of my training career, I was a gym rat who loved to pick heavy things up and put them down – after all, 200 pounds is 200 pounds.

However, over the past year and a half my perspective on training has changed DRAMATICALLY.

14 months of adventure travel and no gym access will do that to ya!

These days, I can’t get enough of body weight exercises. I packed on 10 pounds of muscle while exercising outdoors in parks around the world, so I know how powerful this type of training can be.  I loved being able to wander into any town, track down a swing set/monkey bar/roof overhang and MacGuyver a workout while passersby would give me that “are you crazy?” look :)

You know who else loves body weight training?  Olympic gymnasts and Ninja Warrior all-stars.  These dudes and chicks look like gods and godesses, and they’re built almost purely through body weight training.  If you can get creative, there’s no limit to how strong and agile you can become when using your body.  On top of that, because you’re manipulating yourself, you’re preparing your body for the real world…functional training FTW!

There’s another added benefit to this body weight only park training:

Most of us spend most of our day inside, trapped at desks in dark buildings where we’re shielded from the sun like vampires.  With us halfway through Spring and Summer right around the corner (unless you’re upside down in the Southern Hemisphere), why not get out of the shadows and enjoy the sunshine, breeze, and strange looks from snot-nosed kids as you do pull ups on their monkey bars while screaming “FOR THE REBELLION!!!”

[note: If you happen to be a vampire and have to train indoors, it sucks to be you.  Yup. That pun just happened.]

Getting started

Whenever I get to a new town, the FIRST thing I do after getting settled is find a park for my “gym.”

If I can find a park with a bench and a pull up bar, swingset, or monkey bars, I know I have everything I need to complete a full workout that builds muscle and burns calories.  Although I have yet to find a kid or parent that really minds when exercising at a park (I make sure I’m not using anything they want and I’m respectful – the park really is for them), you might feel odd working out in a busy children’s playground or run into parents who understandably don’t want you monopolizing little Junior’s swingset.  If that’s true, try to work out first thing in the morning (before the kids and parents are awake) or super late at night (after they’ve gone home).  If the only playground you can find is at a school, during the day it should be wide open (except for recess) or late after school when the kids have gone home.

Yes, you will get funny looks from people walking by.  Who cares?  You’re bettering your life and they’re not.  You win :)

This is a workout that you can do every other day. If you get bored, mix in different exercises, with different reps and levels, every other day to challenge your muscles in different ways, but this is a great way to get started!  On your off days, try interval training or yoga!

Okay, ready?  LET’S GOOOOOOOO!

The Nerd Fitness Playground Workout


The Nerd Fitness Playground Workout Video

Here is your workout for the park!  

As you know, warming up before a workout is incredibly important.  Depending on your level of fitness, you might need to scale your warm up to work for you. If you don’t have time to warm up, you don’t have time to work out!  Jumping right into a workout with getting your body primed is the best way to get yourself injured, which blows.  We try to avoid that.

Alright! So, you’re already warmed up – let’s do the workout!  The goal is to complete this circuit 3 times.  If you can complete the prescribed reps and exercises with perfect form, it’s time to level up to a more difficult exercise.

  • If your primary goal is weight loss and conditioning: Complete the recommended reps for each exercise and then move immediately onto the next exercise.  You can break at the end of the circuit, but try to get through each full circuit without stopping!
  • If your goal is strength gain and mass building:  Do all three sets of each exercise before moving onto the next one.  Wait 60 seconds or less before doing the next set.  It’s important to continuously increase the difficulty of the exercise, don’t just keep doing more and more reps (this becomes muscular endurance and not strength/muscle building).

READY? Okay let’s do this!

Exercise A: Explosive Leg Work – 10 Reps

  • Level One: Alternating Step Ups (10 each leg) – Step with one leg, explode the other knee up towards the sky. Step back down, and switch legs.  If you can’t explode the other knee up yet, just come to a full standing position on the top of the bench – that’s more than okay!
  • Level Two: Bench Jumps (10 reps) – Jump as high as possible, landing as softly as possible with a mid-foot strike.  DO NOT JUMP DOWN – that’s how people blow out their achilles’ tendons.  Step down.  You’re welcome!

Exercise B: Push Exercise: 10 Reps

  • Level One: Elevated Push Ups – Use the back of a bench to do your push ups.  Keep your abs and butt tight and your elbows at your side.  If you need to do your push ups against a wall or a fence, that’s okay too.
  • Level Two: Lower Incline Push Ups – use the seat part of a bench for your push ups.
  • Level Three: Regular Push Ups – If you can complete 3 sets of 10, aim for 3 sets of 20.  If you can do that, make them harder by wearing a backpack or doing plyometric push ups (or any of these other variations).

Exercse C: Pull Exercise: 10 Reps

  • Level One: Swing Rows – Grab the chains of a swing, lean back, make your body tight and straight, and use your back and arm muscles to pull yourself up.
  • Level Two: Body Rows - Find a bar that’s low enough, the underside of a table, a set of ladder rungs, whatever!  Make your body into a tight plank, and use your arms to pull yourself up.  Your park might even have a bar at this perfect height.
  • Level Three: Pull Ups – Grab the bar with palms AWAY from you (pull up) or FACING you (chin up).  Engage your shoulders (pull your shoulder blades back and downward), keep your core tight, and pull your chest up towards the bar.  If these are too tough, do NEGATIVES – jump above the bar, and lower yourself slowly.

Exercise D: Legs: 8 Reps Each Leg

  • Level One: Assisted Lunges – Hold onto a sturdy support, like the back of a bench.  Take a very wide straddle stance so that when you bend your leg, your forward knee does not extend beyond your toes.  Drop your knee towards the ground, and then explode back up.  After doing all 8 reps, switch legs!
  • Level Two: Lunges – With your hands on your hips, step out with your right leg, and drop your left knee towards the ground.  Make sure you step out far enough so that your right knee is not extending beyond your toes.

Exercise E: Core: 10 Reps

  • Level One: Bent Leg Reverse Crunches – For ease of filming, I’m lying on a bench, but you can just as easily do these on the ground.  Life flat on your back with your hands at your sides and your legs bent at 90 degrees.  Flex your stomach and pull your legs up and your knees towards you.  Lower, and repeat.
  • Level Two: Straight Leg Reverse Crunches* – Depending on your flexibility, this might be very tough, so feel free to move up to level 3 if those are easier and work on flexibility until you can do these.  Lie flat on your back with your legs straight; engage your core, and bring your legs up until they are straight above you.  Lower them back down, and repeat the process.
  • Level Three: Hanging Knee Tucks – Hang from a bar, and flex your abs.  Use your core to pull your knees up into your chest.  Once you can do three sets of ten easily, it’s time to move onto more difficult exercises, like these shown here by Vic.

COOL DOWN AND STRETCH!

What I’m doing!

Sunset in Ecuador

All is well down here in Ecuador.  I took this picture last night from my patio with my iPhone – no effects, no post work.  Stupidly beautiful, I know.

As far as my own personal training goes, I’m doing a lot of gymnastics work in a routine designed by my buddy Jim over at BeastSkills.com – I’m sore in places I didn’t know existed, and building muscles I didn’t know existed either!  Most of my work revolves around things like handstand balancing, ring dips and muscle up training, planche work, pistol squats, and front and back levers.

I brought a set of Olympic Rings down with me (purchased at Fringesport.com, a great equipment company run by Nerd Fitness Rebel Peter), and honestly I don’t see myself ever traveling without them now…they’re just too much damn fun! 

My goals while down here are to pack some weight and muscle on through gymnastics three times a week and to improve my (currently nonexistent) flexibility through Yoga three times a week.  The park is a 2-minute walk from my house and good food and whole milk are relatively cheap down here; we’ll see what I can get done in my time here!

How else can I help?

Any questions about today’s workout or exercising in a park?  Note that each exercise only has two or three levels.  If you are more advanced, there are easily 10 levels for many body weight exercises that can create quite the challenging workout!  I cover some of the more advanced routines with more variety in the deluxe edition of the Rebel Strength Guide, but there’s no limit to what you can create by yourself.  Give it a try!

Any questions on finding a park in your area?  Concerns about exercising in public?

What else can I help you with today?

-Steve

NF reader seth on a bikeToday’s Rebel Hero: Seth H in Paradise, CA.  Seth is biking like a boss through California – wearing a helmet because he’s a smart nerd, wearing an epic beard because he’s an EPIC HERO.

While wearing his NF hoodie and biking, Seth unfortunately pedaled too quickly and got pulled over by a cop for speeding (95mph in a 20).  When the cop approached his bike, he noticed the NF insignia, replied “dude, you’re part of the Rebellion?”  They high fived, which caused a tectonic shift in the plates beneath California.  If there’s ever another earthquake in the Golden State, you’ll know it’s a result of Seth and his NF Hoodie.

Quick side note: okay, so this might not have happened, but Seth does look quite dapper, no?

So I haven’t done this in weeks, but I know there are like 500+ of you out there in NF hoodies, t-shirts, and tank tops!

Please send in your photos to [email protected] so we can get you up here on the blog!

###

Photo source: Swingset

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  • Renee Maxfield

    I like hanging on monkey bars with my legs, and pulling my upper-body up with my abs :) It’s sooooo hard on your abs, but careful not to get a head-rush :)

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  • RachyP

    This is fantastic, that you so much. I am incredibly unfit after 3 years of working long hours and having a baby ( who is now a toddler). After watching an article on the news last night about parents bing the least likely to exercise I decided i need a workout I can do with or without toddler as I have to seize the opportunity to leave the house!
    So yes, i will be doing this while a child is playing on the playground. My 3 year old.

  • Roderick Voordouw

    As a Personal Trainer and Human Movement Scientist, I too use these kind of exercises a lot. And the first line of this post is something I say often to my clients.

    Body weight exercises are a great way to get into shape and reach an allround fitness level. If you want some more ideas for working out, or see what works and what doesn’t check out: http://www.fitness-science.org

  • brad

    Bro you are living my dream. I’m proud of you for doing it. Life gets more difficult with a wife and dogs. But You’ve shown me that it can be done. I’m thinking of a Trek through Nepal and now I’m certain I can train for it. Wish your Workout above was printed in a list form.

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  • Mike tyson

    Inconceivable points. Sound arguments. Keep going the truly amazing work.play equipment

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  • Paula

    Big problem: sweaty hands = slippery hands = how to pull up/hang from bar ???!!!!?!?!

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  • Matt W

    I’m in Ecuador right now. I live next to a park so I’ve got that covered, but I’ve been looking for places to buy fitness equipment…specifically kettle bells seem really hard to find. Any tips?

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  • Leona james

    Your work is totally enthusiastic and informative.Stairmaster

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  • Nelson Fung

    cool. i’ve been lookin’ everywhere for this find of website for guide.
    Actually been doing some of the similar exercise myself.

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    Very informative…………..

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  • Xplosive

    I live in Berlin near Kreuzberg and looking forward to do chin ups and upper body training with bars. Does any body know if adults are not forbidden in childrens playgrounds in Berlin? I have seen some but German police is really “special’ when they see brown people alone in places like that at night or very early morning.

  • Micheal Clark

    While the admin of the web site is working, no question soon it will likely be famous, due to its feature blogs.Garcinia Cambogia

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  • Tony Langdon

    This looks pretty similar to what I have been doing recently, since I’ve been unable to access a gym. The toughest challenge in this part of the world is finding something to hang from for pull-ups, chin-ups, etc. I have had to improvise.

    Reading this article did reassure me that I am on the right track with this sort of workout. Luckily in this part of the world, midwinter outdoor workouts are possible, even in midwinter, if you can dodge the showers! :)

    Still looking forward to when I can add some gym work back into the mix. :)

  • Trent

    Great advice. Just finished a week long camping trip with the boy scouts and I immediately found a playground I could escape to and get in a good workout. It was a modified P90X workout. I’ll be leaving town again and plan on using this one.

  • http://www.themindofsteel.com/ Mind Of Steel

    I swapped my gym membership for park workouts. Not only is it free, it feels better to workout in the fresh air rather than a room full of sweaty people (I’m not saying gym’s are bad, I’m just suggesting you give this a try).

  • Rose E

    Hi,
    Just wanted to say that I stumbled across this website while trekking the perilous land of the world wide web and quite frankly, its awesome :)

  • Emma

    Would it be so bad for cities to incorporate adult, outdoor workout spaces, no kids allowed? I mean, obesity is rampant, and people seem to think that getting fit is gated by expensive and embarrassing gym memberships. Make a free public space where everyone can look stupid together and enjoy the sunshine! Imagine a street musician coming up to make some bucks and play some inspirational music! BRB writing my mayor…

  • Katia Monasterio

    Loving this workout! It does travel well – I found a little playground a few blocks from my house, behind a Buddhist temple! (Living in Japan). Quick question, though – when the bench jumps are feeling pretty comfortable, what’s the next step? I did step-ups, then stump jumps (shorter than the bench), and now bench jumps. Nothing higher than the bench that is safe/even the smallest bit feasible to try to jump onto in/near my park. Any ideas?