Training on the Cheap: The Playground

Table of contents for Training on the Cheap

  1. Training on the Cheap: The Playground

Physical conditioning in Kung Fu (功夫) often consists of stationary and transitional exercises that are designed to isolate a particular muscle or group of muscles. This kind of training will help you get fit but will not create large bulky muscle. Instead this type of training yields very dense wiry muscle that can deliver explosive power. The nature of the exercise is such that the practitioner’s own body weight provides more than enough resistance when it is targeted against a specific muscle group. For this reason stance work can feel awkward and uncomfortable at first. The nice thing is that since you are using your own body weight as resistance, you do not need to belong to a health club to work out and there is no need to purchase expensive exercise equipment to assist in your training. This means that the amount of space necessary for training is relatively small for stationary exercises and only slightly more for transitional exercises. This series, “Training on the Cheap”, will explore some very cost effective ways to provide and utilize easy to acquire equipment to help in your training. Since free is the cheapest price of all we will begin the series by looking at one of the greatest places to train, the playground.

The Playground

Many playgrounds exist that are often devoid of any other presence which make them an easily accessible outdoor workout area. They provide a wide range of equipment that can be helpful in doing various exercises. For common stance work like the horse stance (Ma Bu 馬步) or cat stance (Miao Bu 貓步), one only needs a small expanse of open ground. Many other exercises can be performed utilizing the playground equipment available.

The monkey bars are one of the most versatile pieces of playground equipment. They can be used in their traditional capacity for hand over hand moving exercises but can also be put to other uses. One of the easiest to do would be pull ups. Doing pull ups or chin ups isolates the muscles in the biceps and back. You can hang from one bar near one end of the monkey bars and do pull ups. For a more difficult variation you may also turn sideways and skip a bar or two in between depending on their distance from each other to create a wider grip making the exercise more difficult. You can also pull yourself up through the bars if they are wide enough and work on doing dips. Dips are great exercises for the triceps performed by lowering yourself through the bars so that your arms bend at the elbow to form a 90º angle and then pushing back up. For either of the above exercises you can always increase the difficulty by also working the abdominal muscles. Both the dips and pull ups can be practiced while holding the legs straight out from the waist forming an ‘L’ shape with the body. Another exercise that can be performed on the monkey bars is sit ups. By hooking the legs over the bars you can hang from your knees upside down. Then you can sit all the way up. Hanging like this provides a full 180º range of movement to work the abdominal muscles. You may also do inverted sit ups while hanging upside down from the monkey bars. Instead of sitting up towards you arch your back as far as possible. This exercise strengthens the longissimus dorsi muscles as well as helps to increase flexibility in the back. These above exercises are great for strengthening the upper body.

The balance beam is another excellent piece of equipment for training Kung FuFu. Practicing stationary stances on top of the balance beam increases their difficulty. You may also practice transitional drills on the balance beam to increase the stability of your foot work as well as your leg dexterity. Practicing kicks or chain kicking drills from the balance beam will definitely increase your your balance and foot work as well as your surefootedness. You can also utilize the balance beam while doing push ups. By placing your feet up on the balance beam during push ups you create an incline with your body. This places more of your body weight into your shoulders increasing the difficulty of the push up. Depending on the height of the balance beam you may be able to work on your jumping ability. Practice jumping up onto the balance beam and back off to the ground. First with two legs then practice with each leg individually. You may also jump back and forth over the balance beam quickly to practice pulling the knees up. These exercises will help strengthen the calf muscles. Another good exercise for the calf muscles is calf raises. These can be done on the balance beam by letting your heels hang off of the balance beam. Let your heels dip below the plane of the balance beam and then raise up onto your tip toes, raising your heels as high as you can and then lower them back to the starting position. After a while this will really make your calf muscles burn and will ultimately increase your jumping ability.

The rings are an excellent place to work on strengthening the back and shoulders. Many of the exercises are more difficult because the rings themselves are not fixed. This means that it engages many of the smaller supporting muscles to add a degree of stability to your body during the exercise. Doing dips or pull ups on the rings are excellent for the triceps and the shoulder and back respectively. For additional difficulty one can also engage the abdominals by holding the legs straight out in an ‘L’ shape while performing exercises.

Climbing ropes are one of the best pieces of exercise equipment. They can be very versatile in working many parts of the arm and also training the grip and muscles of the forearm. Aside from climbing up and down the rope using only your hands there are several exercises that can be done if there are several climbing ropes next to each other. One such exercise is to use two of them and climb up using only your hands with one hand on each rope. This can be made more difficult if you engage the abdominal muscles as in previous exercises by holding your legs out straight in an ‘L’ shape. You can also work on climbing laterally by using your hands to climb up to a certain height from the ground and then reach out moving from one rope to the next as you work your way to the other side. The more ropes next to each other the better for this exercise.

Playground equipment is not the only thing that can be leveraged for training purposes. Picnic tables also offer a few options for good exercises. The seating and table parts of the picnic table offer two distinct elevations that can be used for several exercises. Push ups with the feet elevated on either the seats or table part help increase the amount of weight going into the shoulders as the elevation increases. Picnic tables are also good for doing jumping exercises. If the table is sturdy enough one can practice jumping up onto the seat with two legs. Jumping from the toes without using the knees will engage the calf muscles and increase your springing ability. When you can do this effectively with two legs then attempt it with only one leg again only jumping from the toes. Eventually work up to two legs and finally one leg on the table part itself. This will give you the ability to jump with explosive power utilizing just the calf muscles and jumping off of the toes.

Playgrounds provide lots of equipment that can be leveraged to help you get the most out of your Kung Fu training. All areas of the body can be strengthened through various exercises that utilize the equipment available. The only draw backs to training at a public park are that other people may be around, some practitioners prefer to train in private to avoid distractions, and also that training in outdoors in general is dependent on the weather. It is also important to realize that some equipment is quite sturdy and other equipment may be made only for smaller children. For safety make sure that the exercise you are doing is appropriate for the equipment you are using and that it can support your weight before you begin the exercise. While there are some minor drawbacks to training at the playground, the price of free is hard to beat. If you do not have the luxury of a training facility or have to make a decent commute to get to your training facility, training at a near by playground may provide a more cost effective alternative.


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