Child’s play

Once limited to the playground, now the games we played as chil­dren are shak­ing up our work­outs and bring­ing the fun fac­tor back to fit­ness. Dig out your hula hoop…


If you thought the days of playground cops and rob­bers, mon­key-bar races and hop­scotch were gone, think again. Af­ter the re­cent crescendo in pun­ish­ing HIIT classes – where the onus is on do­ing as much as is hu­manly (and painfully) pos­si­ble in a short amount of time – rep count­ing and run-un­til-you’re-sick ses­sions on tread­mills, we’re be­gin­ning to re­think the way we ap­proach ex­er­cise. And we’re do­ing it with ‘play’ in mind.

Yep, it’s back to the old-school fit­ness of our youth. While pre­vi­ously we would have done ev­ery­thing in our power to es­cape dou­ble PE (‘that time of the month’ be­ing a pop­u­lar ex­cuse), now we’re do­ing it what­ever the weather and all in the name of fun.

‘Noth­ing lights up the brain like play,’ says Dr Stu­art Brown, a pi­o­neer in re­search on play, in his 2008 Ted Talk, which has been viewed nearly two mil­lion times. ‘If you’re hav­ing a bad day, jump up and down, wig­gle around and you’re go­ing to feel bet­ter.’ And he’s right. Stud­ies have long shown that en­joy­ment plays a fun­da­men­tal role in our abil­ity to stick to an ex­er­cise rou­tine so, the more you en­joy it, the more con­sis­tently you will work out and, sub­se­quently, the fit­ter you’ll get. ‘In the old days it was about work­ing out as a pun­ish­ment for eat­ing too much, rather than some­thing you could en­joy do­ing,’ says founder of Frame, Joan Mur­phy. ‘Now we know the best work­out for you is the one you ac­tu­ally turn up to, choos­ing some­thing you en­joy is key.’

The old adage that we don’t stop play­ing be­cause we grow old but, rather, we grow old be­cause we stop play­ing, couldn’t be more true. And in our mod­ern, time-poor world, it’s never been more im­por­tant for us to im­merse our­selves in fit­ness that’s as much fun and so­cial as it is good for us. 


One of the UK’S most prom­i­nent adoptees of fit­ness for fun is Char­lotte Roach, founder of fit­ness club Rab­ble, whose tagline is ‘stop ex­er­cis­ing, start play­ing’. Af­ter a se­ri­ous amount of train­ing as a pro­fes­sional ath­lete (and Olympic hope­ful), where it was all about the re­sults, Char­lotte re­turned to ‘nor­mal’ ex­er­cise – and Rab­ble was born. ‘I went to the gym and no­ticed that it was a to­tal chore for ev­ery­one in­volved,’ she says, adding that she couldn’t mo­ti­vate her­self to go as she didn’t need to achieve the re­sults any more.

Rab­ble (from £14 per game, joinrab­ of­fers users a se­lec­tion of ‘classes’ that take playground fun to new lev­els. ‘ Think old school kids’ games, like Bri­tish bull­dog, dodge­ball or cap­ture the flag,’ says Char­lotte. ‘Nets­ket­ball is an­other favourite – a cross be­tween netball and bas­ket­ball. We never play tra­di­tional sports.’ So far, so fun, but what age range does this work­out at­tract? The av­er­age age, she says, is 29 but they have women and men up to and over 55 too. And, no mat­ter what your age, you can burn up to 1,000 calo­ries and get fit with­out even re­al­is­ing it.

Part of the beauty of the club is the com­mu­nity it fos­ters. ‘Peo­ple now move around a lot for work and com­mu­ni­ties seem to be shrink­ing,’ says Char­lotte. ‘ With this, you can tap into a sense of com­mu­nity when it suits you,’ she says of the fact that many peo­ple can’t com­mit to the prac­tice and games for reg­u­lar team sports. ‘ We want to make this ac­ces­si­ble so that even if you haven’t played netball for 10 years, you can just join in.’

Mem­ber­ship pro­grammes like Movegb (from £5.99 per week, na­tion­wide) and Class­pass (from £35 per month) are also a great no-com­mit­ment way to try dif­fer­ent classes. They of­fer ev­ery­thing from Rab­ble to trapeze and cir­cus-in­spired ses­sions, all un­der a pay-monthly mem­ber­ship.


There’s a real body ben­e­fit to run­ning around and play­ing like a child, too. ‘At no time in our lives are we at a higher level of func­tional fit­ness than when we are chil­dren,’ says Jake Lawrence from Lon­don train­ing gym F45. ‘All the play­ing, sports and bound­ing around meant our bod­ies weren’t marred by sit­ting at a desk for 10 hours or crouched over our phones, both of which lead to in­ac­tive mus­cles and poor

pos­ture.’ At F45 they utilise the ac­tiv­i­ties we used to do with­out a sec­ond thought: hop­scotch, bear crawls, skip­ping and jump­ing. Ex­er­cises like these get lots of dif­fer­ent mus­cles work­ing and chal­lenge the way our bod­ies move from day to day.

One of Chelsea-based su­per-gym KXU’S best-loved classes is The GAMES, which was orig­i­nally go­ing to be called ‘Playground’, says trainer Anna-maria Ron­nqvist. ‘ We wanted to cre­ate some­thing that re­minded peo­ple of the fun they had as chil­dren, a time when play­ing with your friends in the park, an ad­ven­ture playground or just run­ning around in the street was the high­light of your day and kept you fit and strong.’ These el­e­ments of child­hood play man­i­fest them­selves as tug-of-war, fire­man car­ries, mon­key bars and flip­ping a 160kg tyre over. So yes, it’s play, but no, it isn’t easy and will push ‘play­ers’ to their lim­its.

Anna-maria also notes the ‘friendly com­pet­i­tive­ness’ makes peo­ple more likely to come back. ‘ When we work to­gether and have fun, we’ll keep do­ing it. Ev­ery­one leaves with a smile on their face and if you can get fit, strong and feel more body con­fi­dent, you’re on to a win­ner.’

There are the classes that focus solely on spe­cific playground ac­tiv­i­ties. Re­mem­ber hula hoops? Re­port­edly loved by Michelle Obama, hula-hoop­ing classes are all the rage thanks to their abil­ity to get hips swerv­ing in ways we never knew ex­isted. Take Hu­lafit, which uses weighted hoops for an ex­tra chal­lenge in its aer­o­bic work­out or Hula Dance at Vir­gin Ac­tive, which prom­ises to burn up to 350 calo­ries per class (not that you’ll be count­ing), make you laugh and tone your core.

Hoops are also used in the clos­est thing we adults will get to a climb­ing frame: ae­rial fit­ness, dur­ing which you per­form a se­quence of moves on – and around – a sus­pended hoop. ‘As an adult, you be­come really con­scious of whether you’re do­ing ev­ery­thing right, but ae­rial al­lows you to hang up­side down, let loose, and feel like a kid again,’ says Gym­box in­struc­tor Hat­tie Grover, who favours the ‘hock hang’, where you hang off the hoop from the back of your knees – a real con­fi­dence booster.

Skip­ping is an­other old favourite, but while the old ver­sion in­volved one rope, two friends twirling it from ei­ther side and count­less peo­ple jump­ing in, the adult ver­sion is sim­pler but no less chal­leng­ing. Gym­box’s Whiplash class, for one, makes skip­ping the sole focus and is a great all-over body work­out that also im­proves co­or­di­na­tion and bal­ance. Add to the equa­tion that an hour of rope skip­ping can burn 1,300 calo­ries and you’ve got your­self one of the best work­outs.


Was there any bet­ter feel­ing than know­ing your best friend had a tram­po­line in their gar­den? Def­i­nitely not. Un­be­known to us, that tram­po­line was an in­sane work­out; a 2012 study by NASA found that 10 min­utes of bounc­ing on a tram­po­line gives a bet­ter car­dio­vas­cu­lar work­out than 33 min­utes of run­ning. ‘ Tram­polin­ing doesn’t put any added pres­sure on joints,’ adds Joan Mur­phy, whose Re­bound­ing class at Frame caters to all fit­ness lev­els and ages. ‘It also ac­ti­vates lym­phatic cir­cu­la­tion, help­ing to cleanse the body from im­pu­ri­ties and im­prove the im­mune sys­tem ef­fi­ciency.’


Whether you loved or hated the coloured bibs, for most of us netball has be­come a thing of the past. That is un­til re­cently, when a whole host of us be­gan the pil­grim­age back to the sport. ‘I wanted to get my­self a hobby out­side of work, have some fun and get fit in the process,’ says Lucy, a 25-year-old prop­erty sur­veyor, who started play­ing netball weekly last year. It’s a sim­i­lar story for 46-year-old Han­nah. ‘As an adult, it’s rare to get out of your com­fort zone, but I’ve really en­joyed get­ting bet­ter at some­thing I pre­vi­ously did very badly.’ She trains weekly and plays in a fort­nightly league. Laura Francis, a per­sonal trainer at Mor­timer House and keen netball player, points out that it’s per­fect for im­proved agility and stamina, while the spin turns, pivot jumps and in­ter­cep­tions ‘work the body ply­o­met­ri­cally’ (mus­cles con­stantly ex­pand and con­tract) and in a much more dy­namic way than a HIIT ses­sion.

There’s also the team spirit, which is rare to find out­side of work nowa­days. ‘ The team mo­ti­vate each other and en­joy­ment can feel con­ta­gious,’ says Dr Josephine Perry, a sports psy­chol­ogy con­sul­tant at Per­for­mance in Mind. ‘Other peo­ple can help us work harder or at least make the ef­forts feel eas­ier.’ Re­search has found that you are much more likely to stick to a goal and to fol­low an ex­er­cise regime if you have other peo­ple to train with. And you can for­get the or­ange seg­ments post-match, and ex­pect to go out and so­cialise in­stead. 

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