15 Parental Exercise Hacks to Turn a Playground into a Gym

Taking your kids to the park or playground is great for the entire family. They get to run around and enjoy some of the best parts of being a little kid, playing. Caregivers can take advantage of this free time to connect with their partners, use it to network with other parents at the park, or even get a little relaxation time care of a much deserved cup of coffee or time to zone out, play games, read articles or text friends.

For those of us who have difficulty finding the time to fit in a workout, a trip to the park with the kids may be a great bet to get you moving a little more often. Whether you’re a regular gym rat, or just trying to fit something extra in to make your life a little more healthy, there a number of simple exercises you can try, all while supervising your little ones, may be the ticket to a fitter self.

If your kids play long enough, you can still enjoy a little coffee and zoning out too.

14 Balance Beam Warm Up

My kids love walking along narrow ledges and balance beams everywhere. If there are narrow raised platforms along a route there is probably at least 70 percent less complaints of, “Are we there yet?” or “Why is it taking so long?”

Get your blood pumping and yourself warmed up by practicing a little time along a balance beam, ledge, or the narrow wooden border of the playground. No raised surface? Simply draw a line on the cement with a piece of sidewalk chalk or imagine it as you balance with one foot in front of the other walking in a straight line.

When you’ve reached the end slowly repeat this backwards to your starting point, then repeat. Not only will this warm you up, it will also help you improve your balance.

13 From the Park Bench

On a crowded day at the playground, you probably don’t want to be the adult who Bogarts all of the most popular equipment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get started from the sidelines. All you need is a park bench. You can use the bench to complete three sets of 10 (or 15 or 20 depending on your fitness level) of triceps dips, push ups and step ups onto the bench itself.

In fact, you might find that the bench becomes you favorite exercise spot. Not only can you get in a good workout there, but you can also watch your little one while you tone your muscles. What could be better than that?

12 Monkey Bar Climb

Remember when you were little and climbing across the monkey bars didn’t fill your arms with fire and pain? Granted, you were probably carrying a little less weight, since you were a child, but your play time along the monkey bars was actually really good for your physical fitness.

By going across the monkey bars you’ll be working on your grip strength and your core along with your forearms, lats, deltoids (shoulders), biceps, abs and oblique muscles.

It’s no wonder that challenges like the Tough Mudder have included some version of the monkey bars in their obstacle course races. Just a couple of times across the bars each park visit can help improve your strength.

11 Swings

If your kids are old enough to play on the swings without you pushing (or are tackling other playground activities) consider swinging yourself. Using the swing set can help condition your joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments, and give you a full body workout in a short amount of time.

Every hour of swinging can burn up to 200 calories, plus you can get your children to swing alongside you to see who can get the highest. These little contests are a great work out for you, and fun for your child, it's a win-win.

10 Swing for Abs

While swings are a great way to work out in a more conventional manner, there are also a number of strength training exercises you can complete using the swings to help prop you and provide balance. You can complete over 7 ab exercises on a swing, including swing planks, a reverse crunch, and oblique twists (to find out how click here).

9 Slide Master

You can use a self-standing slide like a stair master, but with the added bonus of a fun ride down. The taller and steeper the steps the better the workout. Head up and down the stairs five times before rewarding yourself with a slide down, then repeat three more times before letting the other kids take a whirl.

8 Slide Lunges

You know how you repeatedly warn your own children about the dangers of hanging out at the bottom of a slide? This exercise may not set the best example, so best to try it in a fairly empty playground.

Stand at the bottom of the slide, facing away, with your hands on your hips. Place your left foot on the bottom of the slide, then bend your right knee until your right thigh is near parallel to the ground, then return to your starting position by pressing down through your right heel. Repeat 10-15 times before you switch sides, and remember watch for little kids who want to use the slide!


Many play structures have metal bridges atop their imaginary castles. In this exercise you’ll grab the side rails of the bridge slightly in front of you while you stand on the walkway with your feet together. “Jump” forward as you lift your legs out in front of you (around hip height), hold for 2 seconds, and repeat 10 times, do three sets of 10.

7 Pull-ups

Virtually every playground has a spot where you can do pull-ups. Stand with your chin either at or above the pull-up bar and grip the bar underhand (with your palms facing you) and your arms bent. Lower your body by extending your arms slowly, then repeat.

Too tall for the equipment? Bend your legs. Start out with three sets of three to five reps and increase as you build your strength.

6 Sprint Drills

Pick two pieces of playground equipment that are about six yards apart from each other, that’s just under 20 feet, and sprint back and forth for 30 to 60 seconds to really get your heart pumping. For a very cardio based workout complete six to 10 sets.

Otherwise try this three to five times and consider peppering the sprints between other strength training sets.

5 Seesaw Push-up hold

You’ll need a partner for this core-strengthening exercise and you will probably want to avoid playgrounds with wood chips on the ground.

Each choose a side of the seesaw and face away from it. Assume the push-up position with your toes on the seat of the seesaw and your hands on the ground. Use your core to keep your bodies (and the seesaw) straight. See how long you can both manage the burn!

4 Jump Rope

There’s a reason why boxers jump rope, it's super effective, especially if you’re crunched for time. Just 10 minutes of jump rope can burn 125 calories. It is said that a high intensity ten minute session of jump rope can be the equivalent of a half hour of jogging. Jump rope is also excellent for increasing your bone density and muscle endurance.

3 Swing Squat

Pull the swing way back (as if you were about to push a child in the swing) and hold your arms out straight. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and lower the body (bending your knees) to complete a squat. Repeat for three sets of ten and eventually build up to sets of 15 to 20.

2 Play Catch

Your workout doesn’t need to be solo and can include some important parental bonding time. Playing catch with your child can burn up to 200 calories per hour. A 150 pound person playing Frisbee for just 20 minutes can burn up to 70 calories.

Casual kicking of a soccer ball, passing it back and forth can burn over 9 calories per minute for a 155 pound participant. For those who want to get their heart rates racing a little more consider a game of tag or a couple of laps around the track or field.

1 Life is About the Exercise Journey

Consider walking, rollerblading, running or biking to the local park with your children. This increases everyone’s fitness and starts your workout before you even arrive. Remember your actions are the best possible example for your children in terms of physical activity and fitness. Little steps mean a lot, even if it’s just a few pull-ups before you sip on that well-earned latte.

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