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Park Bench Fitness—5 Strength-Building Moves

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Once the weather turns nice, you’d probably rather be getting your exercise outdoors in the fresh air than cooped up indoors. Running, biking and walking all are great outdoor ways to get aerobic exercise—but what about strength training when you don’t have weights or machines handy?

No problem. If you have a park nearby, you can tone your muscles using a picnic table or a park bench, your own body weight—and these five strength-building moves, recommended by Maurice Williams, MS, CSCS, NASM-Master Trainer and owner of Move Well Fitness, Bethesda, Maryland.

FRONT PLANK ON A BENCH

The plank is a great all-round move to strengthen your body’s core muscles. Why wait until you get home? Try this the next time you’re taking a walk or a run in your neighborhood park.

How to do it: Start by placing the palms of your hands flat on the seat of a picnic bench or park bench, shoulder-width apart. Keeping your arms straight and shoulders directly above your hands, walk your feet back from the bench until your body is fully extended. Keep your head, neck, back and hips all in a straight line. Hold this position for six to 20 seconds. Rest and repeat nine times, working up to doing two to three sets of 10.

Alternate move: Reduce stress on your shoulders by leaning on your forearms instead of your hands.

Watch this move.


SIDE PLANK ON A BENCH

While the side plank is harder to do than the front plank, the benefits are worth it, since the exercise is so good at strengthening not just your core and gluteal (butt) muscles but also the obliques on the sides of your torso.

 How to do it: Turn so that your left side faces a picnic or park bench. Place the palm of your left hand on the seat of the bench and, keeping your left arm straight and left shoulder directly above your left hand, walk your feet to the right, away from the bench, until your body is fully extended. You will be resting on your left hand and the side of your left foot. For stability, place your right foot directly in front of your left foot. You can rest your right arm along your right side or extend it straight up. Your shoulders, hips, knees and left foot should all be in a straight line. Hold this side plank for six to 20 seconds. Then switch and do the move on your right side. Rest and repeat nine times on both sides…working up to doing two to three sets of 10.

Alternative move: An easier version that also reduces stress on your shoulder is to lean on your forearm on the bench instead of your hand.

Watch this move.


PUSH-UPS AGAINST THE BACK OF A BENCH

The venerable push-up needs no introduction. You can also do this using a picnic table.

How to do it: Stand facing the back of a park bench. Place your palms on the top edge, a little more than shoulder-width apart, and walk your feet back as far as you can. Then, keeping your arms perpendicular to your body, your shoulders directly over your hands and your back completely straight, bend your elbows to slowly lower your chest toward the edge of the table until your elbows form 90-degree angles. Return to starting position by pushing your body away from the bench until your arms are extended again. Start with 10, and work your way up to doing 20.

Watch this move.


SQUATS OVER THE BENCH

The squat is a great lower-body strengthening exercise. Use a park bench to gauge just how far to bend.

 How to do it: Stand about four inches in front of a bench with your back to it, feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your head in line with your spine, bend your knees while raising your arms straight out in front of you to shoulder level as you slowly lower your butt to just tap the bench. Straighten your legs and lower your arms to return to starting position. Throughout the move, keep your weight evenly over both feet and do not let your knees extend beyond your toes. Do 10 to 15 squats, working up to two to three sets of 10 or 15.

Watch this move.


STEP-UPS ON THE BENCH

This exercise is great for leg strength—and it’s aerobic, too.

How to do it: Stand facing a bench, and place your right foot on the seat. Press through your right foot as you step up onto the bench, bringing up your left foot to place it on the bench next to the right. Now, standing on your left foot, lower your right foot to the ground…and then lower your left foot to the ground, too. Keep the whole movement smooth and controlled. Repeat a total of 12 times starting with the right foot…then do 12 starting with the left foot. Work up to two to three sets of 12 with each leg.

Watch this move.

 Now that you know what to do, you’ll never look at a park bench the same way again! Looking for more outdoor fitness inspiration? See Bottom Line’s article, Swings for Grown-Ups: Multigenerational Fitness Parks Are the Latest Trend.

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Source: Maurice Williams, MS, CSCS, NASM-Master Trainer and owner of Move Well Fitness, Bethesda, Maryland.

Note: Images are courtesy of TrekFit: Outdoor Fitness Solutions, based in Quebec, Canada. You can find more park bench exercises on their site. Date: March 31, 2016 Publication: Health Insider