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Pilates Workouts You Can Do at the Playground

You just need the park bench you’re already sitting on.

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You don’t need fancy equipment, a pricey fitness studio membership, or even a free hour to yourself to do Pilates. A park bench is all you need to get long and lean. The next time your kids are playing, try these four basics from Heather Farquhar, a personal trainer and dance, barre, and Pilates instructor in Rochester, New York. As you get stronger, add on the extra challenges.

1. Plank

Stand behind the bench. Place both hands shoulder-width apart on top of the back rest. Walk your feet back until your body is a straight line from your heels to the top of your head. Focus on lifting your belly button to the spine, so that there’s no arch in your spine. Hold for one minute.

Add an extra challenge!

• Chest push-up: Bend your elbows outward, lowering your chest to the top of the back rest. Push back up to starting position. Do five to 10 reps.

• Triceps push-up: Bend your elbows inward, so that they brush the sides of your body as you lower your chest to the top of the back rest. Push back up to starting position, and complete five to 10 reps.

• Front leg pull-hold plank: Lift your right leg off the ground. Pulse for 15 seconds, lifting and lowering it by a few inches. Then switch sides.

2. Side Plank

Stand with your side to the back of the bench. Place one hand on top of the back rest. Walk your feet away from the bench so your body is a straight line. Reach your top arm above your head. Lift your bottom hip so it doesn’t drop toward the bench, keeping your top hip stacked directly above it. Hold for one minute. Switch sides.

Add an extra challenge!

• Twist: Reach your top arm beneath the side of the body that’s closest to the bench, twisting your upper body. Your gaze should follow that hand. Slowly extend back to starting position. Do five to 10 reps, then switch sides.

• Top-leg pulse: Plant your bottom foot firmly on the ground. Slowly lift and lower your top foot by a few inches for 15 seconds. Switch sides.

• Bottom-leg pulse: Plant your top foot firmly on the ground. Slowly lift and lower your bottom foot for a few inches for 15 seconds. Then switch sides.

3. Squats 

Stand facing away from the seat of the park bench. Place your hands on your hips or reach them in front of you at shoulder-height. Bend your knees and sit backward toward the bench. Lean your upper body in front of you to hinge forward, sending your hips and butt backward. Lift your belly toward the spine. Lower down, tapping the bench with your butt. Press back up to standing. Repeat five to 10 times.

Add an extra challenge!

• Low-squat pulse: In the squat position, pulse up and down a few inches for 15 seconds. Keep your heels planted, abs lifted, and back long.

• Speed variations: Switch up how quickly you squat and stand: Squat down to a count of three, and then stand to a count of one. Then squat to a count of one, and stand to a count of three. That’s one rep. Keep alternating until you complete five to 10 reps.

4. Leg Pull

Sit on the bench. Place your hands beside your hips with your fingers pointing forward. Walk your feet away from the bench and lift your butt off the bench. Keep your arms stretched, spine long, and knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Extend your right leg. Lift it a few inches off the ground and lower it back down. Repeat with your left leg. That’s one rep. Do five to 10 reps.

Add an extra challenge!

• Diagonal hold: Walk both legs out so your body is a long diagonal. Keep your hips lifted and heels planted. Hold for one minute.

• Diagonal leg lifts: In the diagonal hold position above, lift and lower your right leg by a few inches. Repeat on the left side to complete one rep. Do five to 10 reps.