Monthly Archives: August 2012

Playground Series – Core Stability

When you train your core, whether at the playground or elsewhere, try to find exercises that challenge you from head to toe, with load or resistance from all angles. Be certain to properly engage your core muscles, and focus on proximal to distal movement as well as good body alignment. This kind of overall, integrated strength and stability should help you to move more efficiently and avoid issues like back pain.

Always remember to perform a progressive warm-up before training, and get medical approval before beginning a new fitness program, especially if you have a history of lower back pain or injury.

Hanging leg-raise – An excellent activity to work the front side of your body (flexors) is to hang from the monkeybars and raise your legs up in front of you. To do this safely and effectively, take an overhand grip, with your hands roughly shoulder-width apart. Don’t hang from anything that is too high, and be sure that the ground below you is clear. Once you’re suspended, engage your core stabilizers and slowly bring your knees toward your chest. Be sure to stay under control and avoid swinging or using any momentum as you draw your knees up as high as possible. It’s ok to allow your spine to flex as you lift your pelvis forward and upward. Pause at the top, then slowly lower your legs to the start position. To progressively increase the difficulty, raise your legs when they’re bent, extend them slightly at the top, then lower them in the longer position. Further progression will involve raising your legs when they’re straight. You can also raise them slightly to the right or left of center. Always maintain controlled movements and remember to engage your core muscles. Try performing 2-3 sets to fatigue, in good alignment and control.

Bridge with alternating legs – To train the muscles along the length of your spine and the backside of your pelvis and legs, find a level, elevated surface that will be comfortable for the back of your head and shoulders. Lay back, with the lower half of your body supported by your bent legs, with your feet flat on the ground. Ideally your body should be level and straight from your knee joints to your shoulders and ears. Place your fingertips on your abdomen, or on the front of your hip bones, so that you can feel if your pelvis drops or twists as you lift one foot from the ground. As you lift your left foot and extend the leg, think about keeping your knees side by side, and your hips level. If your left hip drops, the muscles in your right hip aren’t doing a good enough job of stabilizing. Perform 2-3 sets of 5 lifts per side.

Side plank – To work the muscles along the side of your body, try performing a side plank on the ground, or on an elevated surface, which should be slightly easier. Most people advance this exercise too quickly, and don’t pay enough attention to their overall spinal alignment and head position during this exercise, so be sure to keep your body long and neutral, without twisting or bending forward. Side planks can be done as a static hold, or you can add movement by sliding the hips up and down against the downward pull of gravity. They can also be made easier by bending your legs and keeping the knees on the ground. Another variation involves raising the top leg up and down off the lower leg, which will challenge your lateral hip muscles. Perform 2 or 3 30-second holds on each side.

Playground Workout – Upper Body

Playground pushups – I sometimes wonder if my readers are concerned that I’ve included pushups in a number of my columns in the past, but then I remember that although I’ve been training steadily for almost 30 years, I still perform pushups during many of my workouts. With so many variations of the basic pushup, this functional activity is easily one of the top all-time exercises. When doing pushups in the playground, it’s not difficult to find a surface that allows for the appropriate level of difficulty. Just remember that the higher your hands are above your feet, the easier the movement. For stronger people, or advanced exercisers, you can even place your feet on an elevated surface so that they are higher than your hands for increased difficulty. Always maintain controlled movements and remember to engage your core muscles so that your body remains level and doesn’t sag through the middle. Try performing 2-3 sets to fatigue, with excellent alignment and control.

Horizontal pull-ups – Many people are challenged to perform a single full-body chin-up, let alone complete enough to make it a worthwhile exercise. This is why I have a lot of my clients work with a variation I call the horizontal pull-up. Just like pushups, there are numerous different combinations and variations that allow you to modify the difficulty depending upon your level of fitness. The angle of your body, the length of your legs and the width of your grip will all determine how hard or easy the movement is for you. In the version shown, Lorna actually has her feet as high as her hands, which makes this a challenging exercise, but we’ve bent her legs so she can actually pull herself up. Experimenting with these variables will allow you to find the right location and position that provides sufficient challenge for you. Ideally we’re looking for a position that will allow you to perform 2-3 sets of approximately 12-15 repetitions.

Bench dips – Although pushups and pull-ups work the major muscles of the chest and back, they also require a contribution by the shoulders and arms. This is part of the reason they’re such great exercises. Another excellent exercise that targets the triceps muscles on the back of the upper arm, is the bench dip. You’ve likely seen this before, and maybe even tried it, but I’m always amazed at how effective this exercise really is. The next time you’re at the playground, find a bench or step that is comfortable for your hands. Sit with your hips at the very front edge of the bench and place the heels of your hands on the front edge of the bench. Supporting your bodyweight with your arms, slide your hips forward off the bench, and begin to lower your body by bending your elbows. Be sure to keep your head and chest up as you raise and lower your body by bending your elbows, and avoid straining your shoulders by going too low. Perform 2-3 sets of roughly 15 repetitions. You can increase the difficulty by straightening your legs or lifting one foot from the ground.

Playground Series – Lower body workout

As we are well into the summer holidays and the weather is a bit more consistent, it’s clear that people are spending a lot more time outside. This involves increased activity, which is a very good thing, but maybe you can step it up even more? Whether you’re walking the dog, or just keeping the kids away from the television, try to find a local park or school with a nice playground.

The great thing about playgrounds is that they make for excellent workout environments. The bars, benches, platforms and swings are perfect for exercising while you keep an eye on the kids. It’s also a natural way to expose children to the concept of regular exercise and functional fitness. By modeling healthy behavior you can positively influence their impressionable young minds. This can go a long way toward helping them to develop a positive attitude about exercise.

When you’re working out in a playground, it’s important to be aware of some of the basic principles of training, like making sure the environment is safe before you start exercising. This includes being aware of where your kids and other playground users are playing. The last thing you want is a 6 year old on a rope swing crashing into you while you’re doing a set of squats!

Click the below photos for details on the individual exercises.