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
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:
- Strict, Military-Style Dead-Hang Pull-Up on a thick bar (all-out max set)
- Dive-Bomber Push-Up
- Parallel-Grip Chin-Up on the horizontal ladder
- Iranian Twisting Push-Up
- Scorpion Push-Up
- Feet-Elevated Body Weight Row
- Elephant Walk-Out w/ push-up
- Hand Walk on horizontal pole
- Close Grip Hanging Leg Raise
- Side Elbow Plank (L/R)
- 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,