Bored of the gym, but still want to get fit and stay healthy? Shreeja Ravindranathan and Abi Jackson say it’s time to take fitness back to the playground
Revisit your childhood to get fit.
Remember how much fun you had playing chase as a youngster, or mastering those skipping rope routines during school lunch breaks? As well as being memorable, childhood activities got our blood pumping and stretched our limbs too – keeping us fit under the guise of play time. So if you’ve got gym fatigue, or you’re sick of fitness fads, why not go back to the basics by revisiting these playground favourites as an adult and have fun getting fit once more.
As a youngster, being able to swing along all the monkey bars in the park was cause for celebration. Recapture the joy of the monkey gym as a grownup and gain improved strength in the process. Check out Dubai-based fitness centre OP Integrated Lifestyle Centre (the OP stands for Olympic Playground) in JLT for its monkey bars that are reminiscent of playground climbing frames, but with a focus on suspension, oscillation and stretching.
“Brachiation, the action of moving by swinging your arms, is natural to apes,” says Matt Coe, founder of OP Lifestyle. “As humans share their anatomical make-up, the movement for traversing monkey bars is natural to us too, and makes for a great workout.” Toned arms, stronger shoulders and defined pectorals are also a benefit, he says.
“Monkey bar exercises cause the body to become more ‘connected’ and improve upper-body mobility and strengthen your core and midsection,” Matt adds. An added plus is the relief and greater joint mobility it can bring to those with shoulder impingement. “The hanging motion opens up the shoulder capsule and creates a huge amount of neural activity (boosts the mind).”
It’s not just mindless monkey business – technique has an upper hand, Matt emphasises: “People think that an efficient way is to literally swing your body as much as you can to get across monkey bars; it’s actually the opposite. You should try to limit the amount of movement in the midsection to efficiently flow from bar to bar.”
SKIP TO IT
The humble skipping rope – a simple invention but one that certainly kept us entertained for hours as schoolkids – is also a favourite with boxers, as rope-skipping builds up fitness and stamina fast. “Skipping ropes will quickly raise your pulse,” says London-based
‘Integrate hula-hooping with skipping, burpees, push-ups, and lunges to get better results’
personal trainer and health coach Mollie Millington (www.ptmollie.com), “and work on your motor skills and coordination. You can also build up muscles in your legs by trying to jump higher on each skip.” However, if you’re a beginner, go easy. “If you’re quite unfit, definitely build up to it. Exercise should be fun, so if you feel like you’re about to collapse, you are doing too much and might put yourself off.
“Start by setting a timer for five minutes and see how many times you can skip without having to start over, or try out a few different methods – with a hop, without a hop, skipping forward, on one foot, bringing the rope around twice on a single skip. See how you feel when the timer goes off. If you’re smiley (and a bit sweaty) go for another five minutes,” Mollie says.
Another bonus is that skipping is so versatile. “It’s a very efficient warm-up, a convenient exercise to take travelling, a fun game, and a way to work on speed and balance,” notes Mollie. It’s a speedy calorie-burner too. “Keeping in mind that the more intense the workout the more calories you will burn, a woman who weighs 60kg will burn between 120-200 calories just by rope-skipping for 15 minutes.”
Good old-fashioned tag had us dashing around outdoors, our hearts racing. This stop-start type of childhood activity also has health benefits for adults, says Emma Phillips, a personal trainer at Regime in Dubai (www.regime.ae).
“A great adult equivalent is incorporating fartlek training into your runs,” she says. “Fartlek is a Swedish term meaning speed play. It involves varying the pace throughout your runs, adding short bursts of sprints followed by slow recovery jogs in between. But always start off with a warmup of five to 10 minutes easy jog and some light stretches.”
Technique is essential too, says Chris Ward of Fitness First UK – Dubai branches (www.fitnessfirstme.com). “Sprinting isn’t about either having a longer stride or a higher leg turnover – it’s a combination of both, so stay tall, use the upper body and try to drive quickly through each stride, and land with the ball of your foot (not your heel!), just underneath your body so as not to ‘reach’ too far.”
Since sprinting is a form of anaerobic exercise – an activity intense enough to trigger lactic acid formation as your body’s demand for oxygen exceeds its supply – it causes fatigue and muscle ache. “Hence sprint training in your workouts can help push up your lactate threshold over time, which means it will help build up stamina and overall body strength as well as boost metabolism and aid fat loss,” says Emma.
Top marks if you managed to master the hula hoop, but even if you didn’t, chances are you still had fun trying. Dust off the hoop again now and along with some good giggles, you’’ll also get a toned core and bum. “The hula hoop mainly focuses on the hips and midsection,” says Matt. “The hula hoop’s action demands the core remain tight while the hips move thus strengthening muscles on the stomach and lower back. Weighted hoops available these days actually make the movement easier as compared to regular hoops.
“The beauty of hula-hooping is that it is low impact and you can’t do it after reaching a certain point of fatigue. Thus the likelihood of overstraining and resultant injury is less. It is also great to do in a group, promotes fun and laughter, and can be done at any time and by people of any age.”
For starters, hooping for about 10 minutes a day is a great way to get your body conditioned. “Once you’re more confident,” says Matt, “integrate hula-hooping with skipping, burpees, mountain climbers, push-ups, lunges etc. in your workout for better results.”
LEAPS AND BOUNCE
Growing up, a trampoline in your backyard (or your friend’s house) always had you jumping for joy. The good news is that hours of springing up and down comes with the added bonus of improving overall muscle tone and posture. And Nasa agrees.
“According to a study by Nasa, 10 minutes on the trampoline is a better cardiovascular workout than 33 minutes of running,” says Greg Campbell, experience manager at free-jumping centre Bounce in Dubai, the fun adventure sports concept from Australia that takes place in a warehouse in Al Quoz full of more than 80 interconnected trampolines (www.bounce.ae).
Trampolining, says Greg, or Rebounding, as it is also known in fitness circles, has proved to be a hugely popular alternative to a dull gym or gruelling boot camp, which is why Bounce is introducing Bounce Fit classes from Tuesday. “The classes offer a structured exercise regime of one-hour (including warm-up and down) that’s supercharged with all the benefits of free-jumping. Where regular trampolining for 45 minutes burns 250 calories, Bounce Fit will be much more intense, and will burn around 500 calories.
“It’s a high-intensity cardio exercise that burns calories and blasts your core while being easy on your bones and joints, as the trampoline bed absorbs the majority of the impact,” Greg adds. “What’s better is, trampolining not only lifts your heart rate but also your spirits, as it releases endorphins, which can help to make you feel good and combat stress and anxiety.”
Youmay not have tried it since you were eight, but hula-hooping your way to the perfect body is still as much fun