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How to HACK your local free outdoor park gym

Let’s face it. A lot of the exercise machines in public parks are, well, a bit lame.

Fancy doing some furious peddling on an exercise bike that isn’t quite your size? Nope, me neither.

Luckily, there is a way to get a killer workout by thinking outside of the box.

The first step is a mindset change. You need to tell yourself that 80% of these machines are for warmup and mobility. Don’t spend hours pumping away at the rubbish chest press thing – you will get more resistance from a normal push up. Ski cross machine? Warm up. Weird side-to-side leg machine? Warm up. Back and forward leg machine? Surprisingly good warm up. Etcetera.

That leaves the other 20%. This is where the real work happens:

Challenge yourself on the pull-up bar

If your local park has a pull-up bar, or better still some callisthenics apparatus, you are laughing. You can use them for pull ups obviously. For the more advanced, you could try muscle ups. If you struggle to do one of these, don’t worry, you are with 99.9% of the population. Instead try jumping as hard as you can to get yourself above the bar. Then do some front dips. Try not to look smug.

Reclaim the hanging leg-raise machine

A few knee raises is okay; a bit of ab work never hurt anyone. But it seems like an extravagant use of powder-coated metal for such a limiting piece of equipment. Enter the tricep dip, doubling the value of this piece of apparatus. Simply grab on to the bar/pad and do some dips.

Use one limb instead of two

The resistance on many outdoor machines is generated by gravity. It is then rendered useless via a series of levers, offering as much resistance as a dandelion in a hurricane.

Not very useful.

I have found that doing a leg extension with one leg makes this machine more worthwhile. You may need to hold the seat for stability. Obviously do not attempt this if you have dodgy knees.

Similarly, the rowing machine can be attempted one handed, giving a decent amount of resistance.

This approach may not work with all machines. You may find yourself falling off one side if you are not too careful – you have been warned.

Weigh it down with a bag

Bring a bag, load it full of sand / haribos / whatever and hook it onto the seat of your chosen machine for some additional resistance.

If you are brave, you could always wear a weighted vest to the park. In fact, you could make a game out of how many odd looks you get.

OWN the lat pull down machine

There is a way to use this as an effective, if unconventional, tricep pull-down exercise. Clean shoes only please:
1. Stand on seat facing inwards
2. Grab hold of the handles
3. Push down and slowly release up
4. Try not to fall off
5. Avoid the gaze of fellow outdoor gym goers at all times.

Plyometric jumps

You don’t need an overpriced plywood box for plyometric jumps. There are many objects you can use for jumping up and down, if that is your thing. For example:
* Park bench
* Balance bar
* Seats

Throw in some floor work

If the weather if good or you don’t mind getting a bit dirty, why not mix it all up with a few HIIT moves? Use the park bench for press ups and tricep dips, or just do your favourite body weight exercises. The list is endless.

Run to and from the park

Try bookending your workout with a run to and from the park. If you live nearby, sprint.

There you have it.

There are plenty of free outdoor gym areas, often situated in parks near playgrounds. Here are some links that show the locations of the most common free outdoor fitness areas:


Outdoor gym company:

Do you make the most of your local outdoor gym?

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