Sure, you might get a few strange looks, but you’ll also get a great full-body workout without needing to shell out for a gym membership. That seems like a fair trade to me!
Besides, some of those strange looks will actually be from folks who are ‘mirin your cool, creative workout.
Here are five moves you can do using nothing more than monkey bars, a swing, and a little imagination.
1. Monkey Bar Climb
3 times across and back, slowly and without using momentum
Most of us have done this one as kids, but you might be surprised how challenging it can be to swing and climb your way across a monkey bar ladder now that you’re a full-sized adult. The amount of core and grip strength required to fluidly make your way across those bars might elude you if you haven’t tried it since childhood.
You may need to use some momentum at first; this is fine. With practice, you’ll get better at going across, gain more control, and get stricter about swaying. Once you get the feel for moving forward, work on moving backward across the monkey bars.
When you were a kid most monkey bars were about the same, but today’s playgrounds have different setups to pose unique challenges. One of my favorites is the arched bars seen above, which add an extra degree of difficulty. Monkey bars that include rings rather than bars are also increasingly common.
2. Parallel and Straight Bar Dip
3 sets of 12 reps
If your park has a pair of parallel bars, you can use them to do dips, one of the best exercises for your chest, shoulders, and triceps. A full range of motion will give you the most benefits so make sure you go all the way up and down on each rep. Remember to brace your trunk and lean forward slightly on the way down in order to keep your torso stable.
If you don’t have access to parallel bars, you can do dips on top of a straight bar. This tends to require a bit more strength, so you can also use it as a progression if you’ve plateaued on parallel bar dips.
If you have dreams of doing a straight bar muscle-up, getting familiar with these is a must.
3. Pull-ups on Everything
3 sets of 8 reps
It’s no secret that the basic pull-up is one of the best upper-body exercises out there. But playgrounds also offer a wealth of ways to progress that basic pull-up with a range of grips, surfaces, and heights.
Almost any playground will have at least one high bar to practice pull-ups on. You can also use lower bars or kiddie-sized gymnastic rings to practice bodyweight rows, a.k.a. Australian pull-ups.
If you can’t find a bar that’s the right height, you might be able to find some other object for practicing pull-ups. Any surface you can get a good grip on is fair game: the chains of a swing, a ledge, a tree branch, or the horizontal bar on a swing set for commando pull-ups.
4. Swing Set Knee-Tuck
3 sets of 15 reps
Suspension training is all the rage these days, and for good reason. Knee-tucks performed on a suspension trainer require a unique type of balance and stability, making them more challenging than many of the standard floor exercises frequently used to target the abdominals. What most people don’t realize is that many of the moves you can do with high-priced suspension training straps can also be done for free on a simple swing set.
To perform a swing set knee-tuck, place your toes or the tops of your feet on the seat of the swing with your hands on the ground in front of you. From there, lift your hips and carefully pull your knees toward your chest, bringing the swing forward with you. Focus on keeping your entire body engaged as you slowly return to the start position.
5. Swing Set Split Squat
3 sets of 15 reps (per leg)
This move applies the same concept of using a swing in the place of a stability trainer in order to work your legs and glutes. Stand with your back facing the swing and place your foot on top of it. Like the swing set knee-tuck, you can be on the tips of your toes or the top of your foot.
Once you’ve found your footing, place your hands on your hips and lower yourself down into a split squat position, allowing your back leg to drift back slightly. Next, return to the start position and repeat.
Switch legs on alternating sets, making sure to hit both sides evenly. Make sure your front foot stays totally flat through the whole range of motion.