No gym, no problem: How to use a NYC playground as a workout center

For many of us, myself included, a gym membership or yoga subscription is a luxury we simply cannot afford. During the winter months I attempted to stay in shape by following along with YouTube videos, hosted by overly enthusiastic workout gurus who love to tell me that I’m a “rockstar”. In the warmer months however, the outdoors are my playground and I mean that quite literally. Walking and running are great for cardio, but for more of an all-round workout I hit up my local free gym AKA the children’s playground at the end of my street in Bushwick. I’ve been doing this three times a week for the last couple of weeks and I have noticed some marked improvements in my muscle definition and stamina. Don’t let the kiddies have all the fun, follow my simple playground workout to see real results without paying a penny.

Some notes:

– Try to avoid peak children hours. The after school hours of 2.30pm – 5pm are the busiest and best avoided. There can also be a toddler play hour at around 10.30am – 12pm. The best times I have found are early morning, straight after lunch and most evenings.
– Try not to look creepy. If there are children about, explain to any concerned parents that you will be over in the corner doing some pull-ups, but if they ask you to leave, respect their decision.

Here is the workout. I try to repeat the circuit three times, but if you can manage more, I would encourage you to go for it.

1. Knee raise

Hang from the monkey bars, making sure to pull down your lats and keep your shoulders engaged. Lift your knees to your chest and lower them again. Try to avoid using momentum. 10 reps.





2. Rows

Step up onto the bars and hang in an engaged plank position. Pull up squeezing your shoulder blades together. 10 reps.





3. Knee hang ab crunch

Channel your inner seven-year-old and hang from your knees from the top bar. To feel secure, tuck your feet under the neighboring bar. Use your abs to crunch up. Try not to swing and use momentum, leave it all the to the core. 10 reps.





4. Push ups

Hold onto the lower bars and get into a plank position. Lower yourself down and push up, maintaining the plank. I keep my elbows tucked in here to use my triceps, but you can let your elbows splay out to work the chest. 10 reps (I have to do 5 then take a break before attempting the second set).





5. Step ups

Work that booty. Place your foot on the rings (the higher the foot the harder the work) and step up. Alternate legs. 15 reps per leg.





6. Tricep dips

Head to the bench and hold onto the edge creating a plank position. Lower yourself down, keeping your elbows tight into your body and push back up. 15 reps.





7. Squat jumps

Find an area with something you can jump over. Start in a squat and jump over the area, trying to push off from both legs. Land in a squat. Turn around and repeat. 5 reps.







More advanced moves:

8. Straight arm pull-ups

Hang from straight arms and pull-up until your chin is above the bar. These are so damn hard. I can usually manage five at the most. Reps – whatever you can manage without crying. Also, if you can’t do a pull-up yet, but want to learn how, try jumping up into the pull-up position and then slowly lower yourself down. This will begin to build the muscles needed to eventually master the pull-up.





9. Straddle inversion

Start like the pull-up above, but as you pull up with your arms, lift and straddle the legs. At the top, try to stack your hips above your shoulders. As you lower down, do so with control and feel those abs burn. 5 reps.





Do this circuit three times then use the bars to stretch.

10. Stretch

Tuck your foot into the bar behind you and bend the front free. You should feel a stretch in your quad and hip flexor. Alternate legs. Hold each side for 20 seconds.




Turn to face the centre of the monkey bars. Put your foot on whichever bar is suited to your flexibility level and stretch your hamstring and hips. Alternate legs and hold for 20 seconds per side.


And breathe! Don’t forget to stay hydrated, rest when you need to and always be friendly to your fellow gym mates.



All photos by Ruthie Darling

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This post has been updated and was originally published in 2017.

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