The Playground Workout

Oliver was no more than six months old when I took him to his first playground. He sat like a sack of potatoes in the baby swing and eventually cracked a little smile for me. He rode in my lap down the smallest slide, his silent awe contrasted against my own staged squeal of excitement. I couldn’t wait for my baby to grow up and make full use of all the colorful equipment around him.

The toddler years were an interesting combination of playground emotions: worry, pride, discouragement, celebration … and I’m sure Oliver had his own feelings on the matter.

Preschool was the emergence of true playground growth, and by the end of kindergarten, the phrase “I don’t need you” preceded almost every new skill Oliver mastered. Suddenly, my role on the playground had evolved. I was no longer guiding, coaching, protecting … I was going to have to choose another role: observer or playmate.

As an American Ninja Warrior (in training), sitting on the bench just wasn’t going to cut it for me. So, Oliver and I started doing ninja together on every playground we could find. He would set “courses” for me and I would attempt as many of the “obstacles” as I could. It turns out what a six-year-old boy imagines is plausible use of playground equipment far supersedes actual human ability.

Eventually, it dawned on me that we weren’t just spending quality time together: I was actually getting stronger. These were true workouts and the options were endless. It was never boring, never rote, never the same. It was always fun, always challenging, always interesting.

And so, the Playground Workout was born. A way for moms to spend time with their kids and get a solid workout in. (Multi-tasking at its finest!) A way to keep in shape without finding childcare or finding yourself on the same treadmill at the gym week after week. And a reason to go out in search of new parks and new playgrounds. It’s sort of addictive.  

Spice up a traditional plank by interacting with something (bells, a tic-tac-toe board, etc.), alternating arms while you hold the plank position.

I’ve put together 5 tips below that can help you design your own playground workout, regardless of fitness level or time constraints.

Involve Your Child! Invite your young child to attempt their own version of a workout alongside you. But be ready to snort your way through most of your exercises as you stifle giggles. Have you ever watched a three-year-old try to do a push-up? Mine looked more like a worm attempting to … well, to do the worm. Or ask an older child to be your coach. Have them create challenges for you and then do your best to meet them! Fair warning: Kid coaches are TOUGH trainers!

Think Traditional with a Twist! Start by brainstorming a list of very traditional exercises and how you can spice each one of them up by incorporating playground equipment. Is there a ledge you could use for box jumps? Can you use the same ledge for dips, keeping your heels on the ground straight in front of you? Try a modified version of a wall push-up by using the edges of the slide as your wall and stopping every two or three push-ups to move further down the incline, making the body weight in your arms a little heavier each time.

Don’t be afraid to try something totally different than normal. Try traversing low bars on the underside for a serious full body workout!

Get Creative! Once you’ve exhausted your inventory of traditional exercises, start thinking outside the box. Balance is an awesome way to engage your core when your arms and legs need a break. Try balancing on the edge of the slide at the bottom, holding a standing position as long as you can on one or both feet. When that gets easy, try walking up a few steps, keeping on the edge only. Think about how you can use equipment in ways other than intended. (This is one of the common characteristics you’ll find in most of us crazy ninjas!) Hang from monkey bars, repeatedly curling your knees up to your chest or holding them straight out in front of you in an L-sit. Talk about an intense ab workout! Or, get in a plank position with your feet on a swing and curl your legs in toward you, bringing the swing with them and holding the position for a few seconds before returning to the starting position.

Be Safe! There are endless options available with a playground workout, but they aren’t all safe. Just because you can think it doesn’t mean you should do it! If there is anything you get an uneasy feeling about, just skip it and move on. It’s not worth the injury! Seriously. Stop and picture packing up all your water bottles, snacks, sunscreen, keys, phone, and sweaty children with a sprained ankle. It’s not a pretty sight.

Don’t be afraid to look a little out of place, a little uncoordinated, a little crazy. Just have fun with it!

Have Fun! That’s the whole point of this, for both you and for your child. Remember that this started as multi-tasking: Working out while getting some quality time in with your child. Don’t forget the quality time part. Laugh together, try new things together. And let loose a little. Don’t be afraid to look a little out of place, a little uncoordinated, a little crazy. Just have fun with it and get lost in the feeling of being a kid again!

If you’d like to see a few video clips of actual playground exercises in action, check out my latest playground workout here (on Instagram) or here (on Facebook).



Amber Dawkins
Amber loves jellybeans, morning snuggles, and new adventures. Personality tests peg her as 93% extroverted. She loves to write, but most of the time, you’ll find her behind her camera lens. Amber left her teaching position in 2016 to turn her passion into a full time photography career. She now spends time photographing homes for real estate agents, updating headshots, freelancing for local magazines, and creating branding imagery for businesses by capturing their spaces, products, people, and processes. She also does portrait sessions for families, children, and high school seniors. Amber recently got married in a small pandemic friendly wedding. As mama to one and stepmama to four, she thrives on the happy chaos of a large, blended family. Amber lives with both Cystic Fibrosis and CF Related Diabetes and thanks God daily for His blessings and the medical advances that continue to keep her as healthy as possible.