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The Playground Workout

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Movement is more than what you do in the gym. It’s about living an active life. So get outside and play with your kids. Free play has become an overlooked commodity, somewhat deemed to be a waste of time for youngsters to engage in, but it’s the essence of physical fitness for kids. It’s good for you, too. You’ll strengthen your body—and your relationships.


  • Free play breeds a lifelong love of physical activity for kids.
  • Play is a socialization tool—it teaches kids the importance of teamwork, fair play and healthy competition.
  • Play promotes family fitness, values and togetherness.
  • Play can challenge your body in new and functional ways and help you recover from the repetitive stress of doing similar running or gym-based workouts.

Brian Grasso is the founder and CEO of the International Youth Conditioning Association. Learn more at iyca.org.

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Kids play shouldn't be confused with a workout. In the sense that it's physically demanding for you, it's a workout; but for kids, it's all about having fun, and it doesn't need to be complicated. It doesn't require any equipment or specific plans, just creativity. Here are some ideas to help you establish new games, obstacle courses, and fun circuits.

Sample Circuit at the Park

Jog or walk briskly to a nearby tree

  1. Work together as a family to help each other climb to the first branch (one at a time)
  2. Run or walk briskly to the nearest park bench
  3. Perform 15 step-ups
  4. Perform 8 dips off the end of the bench
  5. Run or walk briskly to the swing set. Swing 30 times has high and hard as you can
  6. Run or walk briskly to the slide. Take turns walking up the slide, then down the stairs. Repeat 10 times.
  7. Take a 2 minute break and repeat twice more from the top

Sample Games of Tag

  • 1-Leg - Everyone hops around on one leg
  • Freeze - Once tagged, you stop until a partner touches you and makes you 'free' again
  • Monkey/Frog - Everyone jumps around like a monkey or frog -- both the person who is 'it' as well as those not 'it'

Sample Backyard Games

With younger kids, you can also play games like Capture the Flag or Simon Says. Ever play Simon Says when Simon is calling out instructions very quickly and they include things like running to a specific spot, jumping and squatting down? It's fun and physically demanding. When in doubt, just remember that young children need to engage in primal patterns of movement in order to grow up to be healthy and functional young adults. Create circuits that include these patterns:

  • Crawl
  • Climb
  • Run
  • Jump/Skip
  • Throw/Kick

Tags: Home, Outdoor Recreation, Youth Fitness, Family, Leisure Time

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