Part 3 – No Gym, No Problem: The Trend Toward Park Workouts
In our previous two articles in the No Gym, No Problem series we talked about creative and fun ways you can exercise and stay fit both at work and at home. In this third and final installment of the series we will cover the one remaining location, other than the gym, where you can obtain a motivating and productive workout–a park!
Recently there has been an increasing trend in body-weight exercises, with many videos posted online of people in amazing physical condition working out at parks, and for a number of good reasons. First, all you will need for this type of workout is your own body and a bar or tree branch to hang from. In essence, this mode of workout returns us to our primal physiological means of transportation–brachiation, arm swinging from branch to branch (or bar to bar).
Often we can look to nature as the best teacher as it has not been adulterated by the frequent misleading influences of man’s greed. Imagine the improvement of mankind’s health if we exchanged our mostly sedentary lives and processed food diets for the physical activity and whole foods diet of animals in the wild. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain forms of cancer and many other diseases that plague us would drastically diminish and we would see more people living in good health to an age we were meant to attain and enjoy.
Now pack a good post-workout snack and follow me outdoors into the sunshine for some vitamin D and a refreshing workout!
A Blast From The Past
Ideally, if you don’t live too far from a neighborhood park, you can ride your bike or jog to the park so that you are warmed up by the time you arrive. Parks will vary with the type and amount of equipment available, but almost all will have a swing set, play equipment or tree that will provide you with a bar or branch to hang from. If you are lucky, your park may even have parallel bars and/or monkey bars. Little did you know when you were a child having fun on the playground that you were actually exercising on some of the most highly effective exercise equipment available to this day!
Likewise, most of us can remember assembling on the playground for calisthenics (push-ups, pull-ups, mountain climbers, cherry picker , etc.) Earlier in my weightlifting training I used to think back on these exercises and think, “What a waste of time, these exercises are not nearly as effective for building stronger bodies as barbell and dumbbell exercises.” Now, after 30 years’ experience in various training methods including, martial arts, body-building, power-lifting, and yoga, I have come full circle in realizing the true value of basic calisthenic exercises.
Calisthenics, such as push-ups and pull-ups, are not only excellent compound exercises (working multiple-muscle groups at once) but also strengthen the stabilizing muscles of your core which translates into more practical day-to-day functional strength than that obtained by barbells. Moreover, body-weight exercises are safer and easier on the joints than heavy weight training.
Rather than take time here to go over the step by step performance of basic exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, etc, I will refer you to the second article in this series if you need a refresher on how to perform these exercises, and proceed with some sample programs of how to put these exercises together for both beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.
Sample Park Workout Programs: Beginner, Intermediate & Advanced
Beginner Park Workout Routine
If you are just starting out, this program will get your whole body prepared to go to the next level. Using circuit training you will alternate two lower-body and two upper-body exercises, resting no more than 2 minutes between exercises, and complete 3-4 rounds of the circuit. You should aim to complete the entire workout in 40 minutes or less.
Using a park/picnic table bench or stairs, perform 20 step ups with each leg. Be sure to find a high enough platform that will challenge you, but also be sure that it is not too high or unstable. This compound exercise will work all the muscles of the legs.
Next, find a bar or branch you can safely hang from and perform as many pull ups as you can. (When you can reach 10 reps you are ready to move on to the intermediate program.) If you are currently not able to do a pull up you can bring a towel with you and wrap it around a pole or branch and do towel rows; this allows you to pull less of your body-weight until you can build up enough strength to do full hanging pull ups. Pull ups are one of the best upper-body exercises you can do; they strengthen the back, shoulders and biceps like no other fancy equipment can.
Forward/ Reverse Walking Lunges
Now back to legs, find a clear path you can perform 20 forward walking lunges and then reverse and do 20 backwards walking lunges. In addition to working all the muscles of the legs this exercise will also improve balance and coordination, an excellent functional strength movement.
Finishing out the circuit, you will drop down and do as many push ups as you can. If you cannot perform a standard push up, you can build up to them progressively by starting at an incline in which you place your hands up on a higher surface, thereby lessening the amount of body-weight you have to move. After you can do 10 reps at this height you then find a lower surface to put your hands up on, and so forth, until you are able to do them level with the ground. Eventually you can build up to advanced push ups where you will elevate your feet, increasing the amount of body-weight you push. Like pull ups, push ups are an extremely effective upper body exercise, and they compliment pull ups perfectly by strengthening the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
Intermediate Park Workout Routine
Once the beginner program is no longer a suitable challenge for you, try this intermediate circuit. As before you will alternate lower and upper-body exercises, but this time you will try to shorten your rest between exercises to no more than 90 seconds, and complete 3-4 rounds of the circuit. You should complete the entire workout in 40 minutes or less.
Bulgarian Split Squats
This exercise is like doing static lunges but with your rear foot resting on an elevated surface thus allowing for a deeper range of motion and placing more weight on the working leg. With control, lower yourself down until the knee of your rear elevated leg just touches the ground and then push up through the heel of your forward leg. Do 15-20 reps on each leg.
Burpee Pull Up
Now that you are able to do at least 10 standard pull ups and push ups you are ready to combine them in this challenging combo exercise. Position yourself under a bar or branch that you can do a pull up on. Now drop to the ground to do a push up and then jump up and do a pull up, this constitutes one rep. Do 10 – 15 reps.
One -Legged or Pistol Squats
At first you may want to perform this exercise with a bench behind you so you can go down to a level that you can safely come back up from using just one leg. Be very careful with these, making sure that you only go down as far as you can safely come back up without your knee buckling in.Eventually you will be able to work up to a full pistol squat where you will sit all the way down to the back of your planted foot while extending your raised leg out in front of you. D0 8-10 reps on each leg. Done correctly these are one of the best leg exercises you can do to not only strengthen all the muscles of the leg, but also build up strength and stability in your knee and ankle joints.
This is another exercise you may need to slowly build up to, but once mastered will convey great strength to the upper-body. Find a wall or vertical surface that you can push yourself up into a handstand position while resting your feet against the wall. At first you may have trouble just holding this position, but eventually your nervous system will adapt and you will begin to feel more stable. Try to stay in this position for 10-40 seconds, remembering to breathe normally. Eventually, once you have built enough strength with these static holds, you can progress to the advanced program where you will begin to do handstand push ups.
Advanced Park Workout Routine
If you have been training for at least a year or have progressed through the above levels you may be ready for this advanced program. This is also a circuit training format in which you will work the entire body, but you will be using the most challenging exercises available for each muscle group . Rest no more than 90 seconds between exercises and you will complete 3-4 rounds of the circuit in under 40 minutes.
Pistol Squats/ Sprints
At this level you should be able to safely complete 10 full pistol squats with good form. After you complete 10 pistol squats with each leg, immediately run a full on sprint for 50 yds.
Muscle ups are the defining exercise of peak upper-body strength. At first you may need to swing your legs to develop enough momentum to pull yourself up and over the pull up bar and then press yourself into a straight arm lock out, but eventually you will be able to perform these in strict fashion using pure strength with no momentum. Try to work up to 10 reps.
Hanging Leg Raises
This exercise will target your midsection more effectively than any abdominal machine you can buy. Hanging from a bar or branch, keep your legs straight out in front of you and, without momentum, bring your feet up to touch the bar, then slowly lower back down. Try to keep from swinging and concentrate on using only your midsection to raise your legs up. Do 10 strict reps.
Handstand Push Ups
As with muscle ups, handstand push ups require incredible upper-body strength. At first you may need to keep your feet up against a wall throughout the set, but eventually you will build up the strength and balance to do these free-standing. Try to complete 10 reps.
The Bottom Line
- To save you money by showing that it is not necessary to pay for gym memberships and/or expensive exercise equipment, as you already have everything you need to obtain optimal health.
- To save you time by showing how a productive workout can be done at work, home and outdoors, not just the business hours of the gym.
- To keep you motivated by showing you the many ways you can be creative and actually have fun with your workouts, thereby increasing the chances that you will remain consistent and obtain your fitness goals.
Now take these ideas and build on them, be creative and turn your fitness program into something you look forward to doing!