We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.
— George Bernard ShawAlright, mamas: How many times have you gone to the playground to exercise yourself since my last post? Hopefully you’ve experimented with many of the activities I discussed in March and are ready to try more new exercises and ultimately build a more comprehensive regimen to keep you fit. Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?
The first playground post focused on strengthening exercises for the upper body; however, just like we are educating the whole person in our homeschools, we must address the whole body when it comes to physical health. We can’t merely focus on one part of our body, or one aspect of fitness, and expect to call ourselves healthy. Rather, we must address all body parts and all components of fitness to obtain optimal health.
Focusing on strength without addressing flexibility or endurance, for example, can create more problems than benefits — especially if exercises are approached without maintaining optimal alignment.
If you are going to do these exercises, it is critical that you focus on alignment to avoid injury. Here’s how:
- Keep the lower leg perpendicular to the ground.
- Think of the movement as lowering down rather than moving forward.
- Keep the knee on your forward bending leg from extending in front of your toes.
1. Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian Split Squat is a wonderful leg toning exercise, but is not appropriate for everybody. In particular, people who have hip flexor tightness will not be able to prop their leg behind them on a raised height without significantly altering the shape of their spine, which makes it vulnerable to injury.
Simply performing this exercise with both feet on the ground is a marvelous way to focus on form and continue to get a great lower body workout. In that case it would be called a Stationary Lunge. Experiment with the various heights available to you upon which to rest your back leg as you attempt this exercise the next time you visit the playground.
2. Uneven Split Squat with Leg Raise
The Uneven Split Squat with Leg Raise (optional) is another excellent means of addressing lower body strength — and flexibility, which is a bonus. Modifications can include performing this on a platform of a lower height and performing the split squat without the leg lift component.
Your trunk/body should remain upright and not lean to the side as you lift the opposite leg. To target the hip abductors (i.e., outer thigh) with this move it is only necessary to lift the leg to a moderate height. If you have to lean sideways, then you are no longer isolating the movement to your hip abductors and are therefore not getting the targeted effect of the exercise.
3. Weighted Lunge
Lunges are another outstanding means of increasing leg strength while dynamically addressing flexibility. Performing the stationary lunge with your body weight alone is excellent, but you can also hold your baby or toddler in your arms or in a sling to provide additional weight for more of a challenge.
Keep the movement slow and controlled rather than the pace you see demonstrated in this video:
Traditional squats are an excellent lower body strengthening exercise, and can be done with or without holding a young child to add variety to the applied load. Be mindful, though, that you should keep a relatively upright trunk as you squat down. You will necessarily demonstrate some forward movement of your trunk, but leaning too far forward as you squat indicates that you are lacking range of motion in either ankles or knees (or both!) and are making up for it by creating too much movement in your hips, so pay attention to your form.
5. Swing Squat
You will be able to maintain a more upright trunk and target your lower body in a different manner by performing a squat while holding on to a swing as shown the video below. By shifting your weight towards your heels, this variation of the squat targets the hamstrings more effectively than do traditionally performed squats as demonstrated in exercise #4 above.
6. Swing Crunch
The Swing Crunch addresses upper body strength and stabilization while your abdominal musculature and hip flexors perform the crunch part of the movement. It is essential to maintain proper alignment with this exercise, though, and it may not be appropriate for your current stage of fitness. There is no shame in that!
Don’t push yourself to do this if your body isn’t ready. The woman performing the movement in the video below demonstrates it beautifully.
7. Swing Pike
The Swing Pike also targets upper body strength and stabilization along with a different emphasis on the abdominals and less involvement of the hip flexors. In this video you can see it performed with a push up in between pikes for an extra challenge.
8. Ab Wheels
This is an outstanding exercise that mandates stabilization of your shoulder blades and arms while targeting your entire core. Just be certain to keep your head in line with the rest of your spine. The person demonstrating on the video lets her head drop too low for my approval. 😉
As with any form of activity, please do not subscribe to the “no pain, no gain” theory of exercise. It is critical that you learn to distinguish between discomfort, which indicates that your muscles are working in a new manner, and actual pain, which is your body’s way of telling you that you are doing something wrong. This is essential in order to avoid injury and truly optimize health, which is what we’re after, right?
Next time we’ll wrap up this series by discussing exercises that can improve your flexibility and also ways to incorporate a cardiovascular element into your playground workouts.
And now for this month’s fitness challenge:
- Since you’ve already been going to the playground with your kids at least once a week since my first article posted, ramp that up to twice each week.
- Add in one new leg strengthening exercise and one new core exercise to your current routine during the first week.
- Continue to add in one new exercise each consecutive week
Until next time — go forth and get moving!