[dropcap]H[/dropcap]as spring sprung yet in your neck of the woods? With warmer weather approaching — or arrived, as the case may be — families will be spending more time out of doors and playgrounds will be filled with laughter and joy as children flock there to run and climb and play rollicking games with friends. This is a perfect opportunity for mom to incorporate some more movement into her life in the form of purposeful activity to improve her strength, flexibility, balance and endurance. In this post I will share some more ideas to hopefully inspire you to turn things up a notch and get moving more.
But first, let’s see what our own Charlotte Mason has to say on this matter:
I make a point, says a judicious mother, of sending my children out, weather permitting, for an hour in the winter, and two hours a day in the summer months. That is well; but it is not enough. In the first place, do not send them; if it is anyway possible, take them; for, although the children should be left much to themselves, there is a great deal to be done and a great deal to be prevented during these long hours in the open air. (Vol. 1, p. 43 — emphasis mine)
Okay, so Charlotte Mason isn’t specifically telling us to exercise at the playground in this quote — but she does encourage us to get outdoors along with our children, and that is the point I wish to make. Too often we embrace good weather as an opportunity for our children ito get out of doors and burn off their energy, yet we neglect our own need to be refreshed by the “open air.” I’m going to take that a step further and advise you not to miss the opportunity to add some extra movement into your day by physically playing with — or alongside — your children out of doors as well.
If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents. (Vol 3, pp. 33-34)
I included the entire quote for context, but the point I wish to emphasize is “Let the mother go out to play!” The other activities Charlotte Mason names are absolutely life giving and refreshing, but I posit that a mom taking a break in order to exercise is doubly refreshing. Why not try it and see?
“Because I don’t have access to a gym.”
Pish posh. Why spend money on a gym membership when you have free access to the equipment at the playground? By using your own body weight you have the ability to engage in a well-rounded workout that addresses all of the components of fitness. In this post we will focus on activities that address that address upper body strength and endurance, while next month’s post will emphasize lower body and abdominal strengthening ideas.
The number one activity I triple dog dare you to try is to use the monkey bars. Don’t be intimidated — you don’t have to swing across them (unless you can and desire to do so). The mere act of hanging — or attempting to hang — has great benefits! It increases range of motion (how often do you lift your arms directly overhead in the course of your day? That’s what I thought. As a result, those muscles are tight and are contributing to postural changes that alter your alignment in a way that is. Not. Good.) Additionally, it increases upper body strength and bone density. When you have increased strength you can do more with greater ease, and having increased bone density is of great value should you slip and fall onto an outstretched arm. No broken wrists for you! Katy Bowman, as usual, has some amazing ideas for how to progress your abilities in this area as shown in this post:
For more of an “exercise” feel added to this idea you can perform modified pull-ups using the gym equipment, as shown here. Note: the further in front of your shoulders you place your feet the more parallel you will become to the ground and the more challenging this exercise will be.
There are many good ideas in this post, but the ones I want to highlight and discuss are as follows:
The Balance Beam Walk — try it forward and backwards, as suggested at the link. Lateral stepping along the beam is another excellent activity, as it addresses lateral hip strength as well as balance. You can also try crawling on the beam forward and backwards. Not only will this activity challenge your balance but it also activates your core in an effort to enhance balance.
The Bench Push-Up — performing it as shown here is actually pretty challenging. You can modify it even further by performing it with your hands placed on a higher surface – such as a step or other flat platform on the playground equipment. The more vertical your body is the less difficult the push-up will be and the more you can focus on proper form, which is important to ensure that you are targeting the proper muscles and not losing key alignment elements. For example, your lower back should not sway/arch, but should remain in neutral alignment throughout the movement. Additionally, your armsshould not be placed as they are in this picture; rather, your elbows should remain close by your sides with the creases of your elbow “pits” directed forwards while your fingers also point straight ahead. I suggest performing these push-ups on a relatively high surface, as performing them with legs extended as shown here nearly always leads people to lose a neutral spine position, which leads to pain and injury over time.
The Modified Chin Up — using your legs to assist you in performing the movement is a great preparation for the modified pull-ups discussed above, and the reverse push up mentioned below.
The Reverse Push Up (i.e., Pull Up) — another option for the modified pull-up discussed above.
Tricep Dips — By shifting the alignment of your arms during push-ups to that described above (ie arms closely by sides vs. outspread as shown in the picture) you are already targeting your triceps, but some people enjoy a little extra work targeting their “wings.” If that’s the case, then this one is for youJ. However, don’t mimic exactly what you see in this photo, please, as it could lead to injury. Most of us won’t have sufficient strength to support our entire body weight with a dip, which is essentially what you are doing if you perform this with your legs fully extended as shown. Instead, bend your knees (as shown in this picture) to minimize the weight you have to press up and down. It is important not to lower too far down with this movement, as tight shoulders can wreak havoc on your rotator cuff muscles if you do. Be certain that your body stays close to the chair/step that you are using as well: if your trunk drifts forward while your arms reach back this increases the negative strain on your rotator cuff musculature in particular and can lead to injury. Try to feel your back brush up and down against the step as youperform the exercise to make sure you’re keeping the right position. Finally, many of us lack the flexibility in our shoulders to perform this exercise safely. If you experience tightness in the chest and shoulders I encourage you to skip this one altogether. The damage to your rotator cuff that may result isn’t worth it.
There were many exercises described in the referenced post that I chose not to recommend because of safety concerns, and still others that I will address in next month’s post. I had hoped to make this a comprehensive total body workout by addressing other component parts (i.e., lower body, flexibility, cardio and abdominal exercises) but this post is already getting long, so that will have to wait for a Part 2. Stay tuned!
One more word of advice: don’t overdo it. It’s easy to get overzealous and try to do All. The. Things. Please don’t — especially if you’re not used to exercising. The last thing you want to do is end up being so sore that you eschew the idea of ever exercising again. Rather, try just a few repetitions of one or two new activities at a time and see how your body responds before you increase your repetitions or tack on a new movement to try. (Notice I said OR– not AND. Slow and steady, my friend. If you add on too much at a time and end up hurting, you can’t determine what it was that caused the problem. If you limit it to one or two movements you can problem solve much more easily.
And now for this month’s fitness challenge:
- Go to the playground with your kids at least once a week during the month of April.
- If you aren’t accustomed to regular exercise, then just try one new movement from this post a week.
- If you’re a regular exerciser, then try completing a circuit based on some of the movements showcased in this post to change things up a bit.
Finally, I challenge you to follow the lead of our beloved Anne when she said:
Well, one can’t get over the habit of being a little girl all at once…
Anne of Avonlea, L.M. Montgomery
In other words — get thee to a playground! But don’t just stand by and watch — join in on the fun!
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