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Playground workout

Jungle gyms, monkey bars, slides can double as exercise equipment
Published 11:30 am, Tuesday, April 30, 2013
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As a kid, you most likely got your exercise from the hundreds of hours spent horsing around on the playground.

Even if you were unaware of the health benefits, swinging from the monkey bars, running up and down the ramp and climbing the stairs to the slide all added up to a full body workout.

As adults, most of our time at the park is spent on a bench with friends. But, for active moms, the playground can be used as a gym.

We met with Chelsea Barraco, certified personal trainer at LittleMinx Fitness in Albany, N.Y., who showed us how to turn your kids' playtime into a strength training workout. She showed us some core exercises that are easy to grasp and only take about a half an hour of your day. Barraco said each of these exercises should be repeated 12 times for three separate sets. She believes that these exercises can be achieved in almost any outdoor play area. "It's about being able to adapt to your environment," she said.

Hanging leg raise: This move calls for a set of monkey bars and some upper body strength. Despite its name, the exercise focuses on the arm and abdominal muscles. Hang both arms on either side of the monkey bars. Raise both legs to a 90-degree angle and lower them down again.

Swinging workout: For this core workout, sit on the swing and lift legs in front of you so that your body is making a V. Lean back and cross your ankles alternately.

Step into fitness: Barraco said you can work your glutes, legs and core by stepping up and down on those sets of small steps that appear on some playgrounds. Rotate between your legs and push through the heel each time. Make sure to keep your heel down while doing this.

Raising the bar: Use the double bars -- which look a little like parallel bars and are featured on some playgrounds -- as a way to work the triceps. Stand between the bars with one in front and another behind you. Rest both hands on the bar behind you and lift both legs so that the back part of one knee rests on the bar in front of you. Lift up using both your arms, then slowly descend again. If you feel the burn in your triceps, you are doing it correctly.

Plie squat: For this move, which resembles part of a ballerina's warmup, find a bar that is low to the ground, such as a ladder that kids would use to climb up. Adjust both feet so they are turned outward. Squat down as low as comfortable, using the ladder as a balance, but do not lean forward or backward.

Modified pushup: For this move -- which, again uses the double bars -- place both hands on the bar in front of you, as if you are doing a pushup on the ground. Make sure your body is at a 45-degree angle. Push upward, extending both arms out and then back in again.

Have a seat: Position yourself behind the swing. Grab hold of the chains about a quarter of the way above the seat. Lean back on the heels and pull up using the arms. Continue to alternate between leaning back and pulling up forward.

Swing squat: No one is a fan of squats. However, they can be more pleasant when using a swing as a guide. Squat down and place both forearms on the swing. Lean forward with the heels off the ground. Shoot upward using the legs. Make sure you are at a 45-degree angle by keeping your back level with the rest of your body.

Pike: Work the core using this swing set drill. To achieve the perfect pike stance, place the top of the feet on the swing and place both hands on the ground in a pushup position. Move your feet forward toward your face so that your hips are straight up in the air. Then move the legs back to the pushup position. Make sure to squeeze the core muscles each time you do this.

Dive-bomber pushup: For this drill, Barraco combines downward dog and upward cobra (both yoga positions). Get into downward dog position and then push through, leaving toes pointed on the ground until you are in cobra, never letting the stomach hit the ground.

Albany Times Union intern Caroline Murray is a senior at The College of Saint Rose.