Sunday, July 5, 2009

Celebrate Your Independence!

Reading the popular fitness rags, I've noticed a trend of both "training on a budget" features as well as a push toward home exercise equipment. Interesting that with the so-called downturn in the economy, The Wall Street Journal reports the home exercise equipment business sales are increased, as well as fitness DVDs. People no longer wish to pay big money to join gyms not maintain memberships yet still they grasp the value in keeping up their fitness regimens. In an article I read in Scientific American, money isn't even the prime indicator of happiness; those who'd created a high level of physical health and fitness for themselves were 30% happier than the mean.

Well, the best gyms are plentiful and free, and what I propose is going sans equipment, using the all-access gym already conveniently located in your neighborhood. You've probably walked by this gym countless times without giving a second thought. It's always open--never closes--and no contracts required. What is this place? It's the friendly neighborhood playground of Anytown, USA. But not confined to the USA! I've seen beautiful outdoor playgrounds in Germany, Austria and I'll never forget the idyllic Akuyeryi, Iceland where, working out at 11 PM it was still daylight.

In a playground there's almost always some type of pipe or pole enabling various pulls and with a little imagination you can get yourself a whole-body workout. Here are a few examples of things I've done:

  • Incline Push-Ups with my feet on top of a slide
  • Neutral Grip Chin-Ups on a monkey bar
  • Handstand Push-Ups with feet balanced on the swing set support
  • Alternating Pistols using the swing set support
  • Hand Walking a horizontal pipe on the swing set cross pole
  • Glute-Ham Raise with feet beneath the slide
  • Pike-Up with the feet on a swing seat
  • Parallel Bar Dip atop a horizontal ladder
  • Hanging Leg Raise using the top support of a baby swing
  • Incline Sit-Up on a see-saw name a few.

The limit, as ever, is your imagination. Next year, I'll be presenting a seminar on outdoor, natural training with my friend Dominik Fleischl, who (like myself) specializes in these things.

To give an example of what can be done with very little, this past 4th of July weekend, the ol' Coach (and his teen protege) went on a vacation (from their quasi-vacation lifestyle) to beautiful Oceanside Harbor Beach, Oceanside CA.

On day one, we rose with the seagulls and took a morning constitutional about the grounds. The walk took us to a jetty made up of boulders of all shapes and angles. Taking great advantage of a barefoot-training opportunity, we hop-scotched from rock to rock out the the end. Later in the day was a barefoot run down the wide, sandy shoreline, all the while playing dodge-the-munchkins. The beach was extremely crowded, effectively a dynamic obstacle course between kids, dogs, old ladies, fast moving waves and intermittent stony footing. Interesting that despite the debris continually washing up, we never once experienced any insult to the feet. It's amazing how,
when relied upon, the foot will find the correct placement. It was all dodging, darting and jumping--both forward and laterally--and occasionally sprinting with the waves, not to mention the resistance offered the ankles, calves and thigh muscles by the soft sand. The run was followed with a pleasant recovery walk, ocean bathing and a post-workout shake, followed an hour later by a sumptuous sit-down meal in the van dining hall. (All right, it was a day-old a rotisserie chicken of which I consumed meat, skin and bones!)

Later, as the sun descended in the sky, the moon taking his place, we took off again, this time on the Brompton folding bikes, for a light, post-prandial ride. Light movement like this is extremely settling to the digestion without overworking the system. It's also simply a fun way to tour the harbor area without a motor vehicle.

So, here we got more than enough cardio without ever stepping on a treadmill, elliptical nor stationary bike. We got ample fresh air and sunshine while developing our athleticism, coordination and grace, all the while getting a great workout--something you can't do on gym machines.

Day two has the coach arising once more at the dawn's early light in order to beat the hot dog-eating hordes. Since my thighs were trashed from running in the surf-n-sand yesterday,
I'm due for an upper-body pulling workout and there's a nifty outdoor beach playground just nearby. As the sun approaches its zenith (so the munchkins will be driven off the equipment), so I approach the overhead bar. Since I've been working on ladders and the A-B-C program, I haven't done straight sets of Pull-Ups in some time, thus I decided to test my pulling prowess...

The bar I selected,
being ~2-1/2" thick, was altogether less-than-ideal. It also had some strangely shaped handles welded to it. The painted surface was old and rusted--not slick--which afforded me some good grip purchase. I'm proud to say I performed 20 dead-hang/no kipping/throat-over-the-bar Pull-Up reps.

I am proud of this effort. At 56, this puts me in the 99.9 percentile for upper body pulling power.

Even though my arms were trashed, for the next 20 minutes I performed alternating sets of a variety of Push-Ups and Pulls.

I finished the workout with Elephant Walks, Hanging Leg Raise, and Horizontal Hand-Walking on the overhead pole.

(I'm compelled to mention that I'm unsatisfied with my technique in the hand walk--I can see a hesitation in the movement--but I injured my shoulders some months ago playing jiu-jitsu and they are still in the last stages of recovery.)

These were further finished with three static-contraction exercises:

Side Elbow Plank (2 min each side)
Isometric Crocodile (2 min)

By the end, my whole body was shaking and my muscles were pumped up to the max, thrilling the gallery of MILF onlookers...

Here's the workout breakdown:

  1. Strict, Military-Style Dead-Hang Pull-Up on a thick bar (all-out max set)
  2. Dive-Bomber Push-Up
  3. Parallel-Grip Chin-Up on the horizontal ladder
  4. Iranian Twisting Push-Up
  5. Chin-Up
  6. Scorpion Push-Up
  7. Feet-Elevated Body Weight Row
  8. Elephant Walk-Out w/ push-up
  9. Hand Walk on horizontal pole
  10. Close Grip Hanging Leg Raise
  11. Side Elbow Plank (L/R)
  12. Crocodile Pose (low push-up position)

This is an excellent upper-body workout which served to balance yesterday's sand run. The rest of the day will be spent with a low-intensity walk on the beach and a swim in the sheltered harbor. None of these things cost me a dime, other than the parking fees, and I enjoyed a workout
superior to anything I could get in a gym.

If I were to add a lower-body component to the above, I'd have done alternating sets of Single-Leg Calf-Raise and Pistols (with or without support), finishing with Back Extension and/or Glute-Ham Raise.

Here's to independence!

In Strength & Health,


Charles Long said...

Nice workout. Outdoors like that is the only way to do it.

Steve Maxwell said...

I agree, Charles: Outdoors IS the way to go! - Steve

Kit Laughlin said...

Maaaate: this is exactly what I have been doing for years when I am away from the Monkey Gym (I travel a lot for teaching, like you).

Children's playgrounds and outdoor barbeque areas have long been favourites—anywhere I can hang, pipe walk, climb, table jump, and so on.

To that I add hill sprints and some stretching in between; you can make any kind of workout to suit, and vary it from all-aerobic to all anaerobic, as you wish.

BTW, that Elephant walk (but done from knees first, for Beginners, and only going out as far as you can maintain the desired spinal alignment) is how we start core training with our students, to show then what using the lower abs, internal obliques and TA really *feels* like.

Once they master the Walk-out (as we call it) off the knees, then the Big Brother version (off the feet, as you show) can be done). Some of our guys can go completely flat, then return, from that position. I am sure you can, too, but the sand you were working on would prevent that (it slides away).

Great work, great video.

Cheers, Kit

Caestus said...

Did you really eat the bones?

bendorf said...

Hi Steve,

Your many posts about the joy of moving in the out of doors have an underground connection, a resonance, with the internal movements of our spirit. One facilitates the other. And both are part of the whole.

Here's Gary Snyder in The Practice of the Wild:

“Our bodies are wild. The involuntary quick turn of the head at a shout, the vertigo at looking off a precipice, the heart-in-the-throat in a moment of danger, the catch of the breath, the quiet moments relaxing, staring, reflecting – all universal responses of this mammal body. (…) The depths of mind, the unconscious, are our inner wilderness areas, and that is where a bobcat is right now.”

Sincere Hogan said...

Good stuff, Steve. Outdoors is my gym of choice, anytime. I love the "play"ground, not only for the freedom of choice via the available equipment, but also the energy you get from being around children.

You are reminded that being able to move freely is fun. "Work"-ing out is for adults. Playing is for kids and the young at heart. Since such is the case, I don't ever want to grow up :-)

Dominik Feischl said...

absolutely great post, absolutely great performance coach.

20 strict pull-ups - that is a BIG mark!



Wild Geese said...

The look in the eye of some of my clients when I instruct them to meet me at a playground is priceless. The look afterwards is even better!

Love the Elephant. I often subject my guys to it at the end of a session.
"ok back up to the wall, and we'll stretch the hamstrings", the experienced guys usually raise an eyebrow at this point. "Reach down and touch the toes, now walk the hands as far forward as possible, good, hold, walk the feet up to the hands"
Across the room and back again.

Laura LeClair said...

Great Blog! I noticed the way you've been leaning with your training- more bodyweight and using the existing environment. I have been following some other trainer types (Erwin LeCorre) who have embraced a similar philosophy. I can't wait to see what you have planned!

Laura, RI

Sheila Cassidy said...

Impressive. A fun place to work out. The monkey bars seemed easy when I was a kid. At 52 they can be challenging!!
Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

Do you get much in the way of trouble from other people with their kids while you're working out? I always figure people are going to think I'm a loon or worse for being there exercising.


Steve Maxwell said...

Hi Kit. Your Monkey Gym sounds fantastic. I'll get over there yet and visit.-Steve

Steve Maxwell said...

Yes Caestus, I eat the cartilage and ends of the chicken bones plus suck the marrow. I chew up the spine and small bones. All the ingredients for connective tissue regeneration are in the animals bones. Think of it as supplements for your skeletal tissue.

Steve Maxwell said...

Thanks for the wonderful insight John. Staying connected to our animal nature is one of the keys to health and vitality.

Steve Maxwell said...

Your right of course, Sincere Hogan. the loss of ones capacity for play makes one prematurely old. Working out should be like joyful play. In that regard, who wants to 'grow up' and act like the typical, stodgy, fat adult sitting and merely watching.

Steve Maxwell said...

Thanks Dominick. The ABC workout really helped, as you said it would. Good stuff.

Steve Maxwell said...

Hi Wild Geese. I agree that working out at the play ground is the "bomb'.

Steve Maxwell said...

Hi Laura. Erwan is a great guy. We've been corresponding and look for some collaborative efforts in the near future. Great minds think alike! By the way, he is single and looking.

Steve Maxwell said...

Hi Sheila, it seems to me that these fat little kids find the monkey bars challenging as well. Perhaps if more of us seasoned play ground aficionados keep up our shenanigans on the play ground equipment, we may inspire the sedentary toward greater effort and joy.

Fitness Consultants said...

Really long post - but ALL interesting. I especially liked the pictures. If I lived where you did I would workout at the beach & playparks too.

Alex said...

Hey Steve

this is a great outdoor workout. great selection of exercises, thanks for posting

Jennifer said...

Great advice! I've never thought about using my neighborhood playground as a place to workout but this is definitely a great idea and sounds like a fun way to workout if you don't have a gym pass.

Soma said...

Thank you for sharing these tips. Unfortunately, I'm still nursing an injured ankle and is still medicating. Hope to get better around next week and try out some of the lighter exercises you mentioned here

Ian said...


I just found your blog.

Thank you for the inspiration, my friend!

Working out like this is just TOO much fun. Running around a playground, trying odd variations of pullups, pushups, back bridges, squats, etc. is just a blast, plain and simple.

Before you know it, you have given yourself an incredible workout.

Add in to the mix a 200 pound sandbag that costs around $20 to make, and you're good to go!

As a side note, your nomadic lifestyle in the Dodge/MB Sprinter is something I have been thinking of doing for some time. It looks like you are making it work pretty well.

Thanks again!


Tom Moore said...

Im glad to see that someone else realizes what planks can do for their core muscles. I have been doing them for 2 years and i know how hard they are and for you do be able to hold it for two mins requires strength.

Great post and exercises I also like running stairs and and interval training on ellipticals.