It was over 100 degrees at 8 AM and I was surrounded by cornfields. My toddler was eager to play and I wanted to get in a workout. Traveling full-time with my wife and our 2 year old in a 180 sq/ft camper has some challenges, and after stunning hikes and gorgeous trail runs in the Badlands we found ourselves in Marion, SD. Population 800. An adorable free campground with water and electric hook ups made the stop worthwhile, and so did cooling off at the community pool, but it didn’t open for five more hours. In the meantime, there was a toddler to entertain and a mom eager to squeeze in a workout. But there was no way I was going to run through those cornfields pushing 30lbs full of wiggly toddler in a jogging stroller. Not in that heat!
I couldn’t help but notice that the only shady spot in town was the playground. With benches and climbing equipment, I knew it could become the perfect place for a creative workout that would be an ideal challenge for me and a fun morning for my active child. The next time you’re traveling—with or without kids—find a playground and test out these moves for a great workout on the go.
Begin with a light stretch and get your heart rate up by jogging or playing chase with your child. Then do this Playground Workout Circuit three times.
Exercise 1: Plyometric Jumps
Find a bench or set of stairs. Stand with your feet hip width apart and jump up onto the bench or step. Step down and repeat 10 times.
Exercise 2: Duck Walks
Somewhere on the playground there is likely a tunnel or mini house that is the perfect height for small children to run through. Bending at the knees, squat so that you’re the same height as a toddler and waddle your way through each tunnel. Repeat 10 times.
Exercise 3: Monkey Bar Madness
Easiest: Go back and forth across the monkey bars by placing your right hand on a bar and joining your left hand on the same bar so that both hands touch each bar. Pause for 10 seconds and repeat 5 times.
Harder: Go back and forth across the monkey bars, but alternate which hand touches each bar. Pause for 10 seconds and repeat 5 times.
Hardest: Go back and forth across the monkey bars by kipping your body slightly to propel both hands to leave each bar at the same time and land on the next bar at the same time. Pause for 10 seconds and repeat 5 times.
Exercise 4: Seesaw Balance
Stand on one end of the seesaw and slowly walk to the center. Find your balance with your feet hip width apart. Keeping your knees in line with your ankles, drop your bottom as though you’re sitting in a chair and squat, engaging your core to keep your balance. No seesaw? No problem! Almost every playground has some kind of balancing equipment, so adapt as necessary. Repeat 10 times.
Exercise 5: Cartwheel Contest
Can’t do a cartwheel? Just try and that effort will still engage your core, lats, and inner thighs, even if you look a little silly in the process!
Do 10 cartwheels: Hinging at the hips, place both hands on one side of one foot. In a fluid motion, place all your weight on your hands as you kick your feet over the side, making your body look like the wheel of a cart.
Do 10 forward rolls: With feet shoulder width apart, squat like a frog. Tuck your chin to your chest, place both hands on the ground in front of your feet, and roll forward, engaging your core to land on your feet.
Exercise 6: Climbing
Locate any kind of climbing structure: ladder, pole, children’s rock wall. Simply climb the structure 10 times as fast as you can.
Exercise 7: Wibble-Wobble Sprints
This was my child’s favorite by far! Locate at least 10 large objects relatively close together on or around the playground. In Marion, the playground was “fenced” by large posts about 3 feet apart. Many playgrounds have large rocks like these. Or you can “wibble-wobble” in between swings and the swing posts. Sprint through these pillars quickly by running forward in between them and then backward. Bonus points if your child is chasing you! Repeat 10 times.
Exercise 8: Tricep Dips
Sit on a bench and place your hands on the bench shoulder width apart. Slide your bottom just off the seat, bend your elbows 90 degrees, and lower yourself toward the ground with your elbows pointing behind you. Straighten your arms to raise your body back to the start position. Repeat 10 times.
Exercise 9: Playground Obstacle Course
This is the most creative and fun of all the circuits. Start on one side of the playground and try to climb/jump/run across the entire structure without letting your feet touch the ground. Repeat 5 times, trying to get faster each time.
After taking a minute break, repeat the entire circuit. Then take one more minute break and repeat it all a third time.
I’ll be honest. My first playground plyometric workout was interrupted a few times by a cute kiddo who wanted to be pushed on the swing, chased on the rope bridge, or caught after letting go of the monkey bars. By the end of the morning, though, I had a great workout that targeted most of my muscle groups and got my heart rate up. Plus, I had a fun time playing with my child as we jumped, raced, and climbed together.
Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber holds a Ph.D. in Art and Religion and is author of seven books that address the intersections among gender/sexuality, the arts, and religion, along with numerous fun articles about women’s issues, travel, and feminist fitness. She is a part-time professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, a professional artist, and the founder of the Holy Women Icons Project. She was a professional dancer for a decade and now finds embodied joy by teaching yoga and running distance races. After fifteen years of service to the academy and church, she and her wife decided to make a drastic change. They quit their jobs, sold their house, bought a camper, and hit the road for a year of volunteer travel with their toddler. Along the way, they discovered a new way of living simply, meaningfully, and sustainably. Now, they divide their time between traveling throughout the continental United States in their camper and creating an intersectionally ecofeminist retreat center in their tiny house on the Big Island of Hawaii. For more on Angela’s work, check outwww.angelayarber.com, and for more on her family’s wild adventures, check out www.searchingforsustenance.