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Last weekend I was at the park on a walk with my husband, my inlaws, and their dog. Eric commented that he didn’t understand why they put a bar right in the middle of the park bench. I pointed out that it was probably to make the bench more accessible for people who are unable to stand up without assistance–they could use it like a handlebar to help themselves stand. I then made a joke and told everyone that this is why they should do squats! Except I wasn’t really joking. Even if you don’t like to work out, there is no denying that basic movements like squats and pushups can make you more capable of functioning in your day-to-day life, especially as you get older. And if you happen to be a fitness junkie, you can give yourself a really great workout using only your body weight and a park bench! Here are the easiest ways to get started.

This is the most basic variation. Stand with your back to the bench and step your feet about shoulder width distance apart. Slowly sit down into the bench by hinging at your hips. The push down into both feet to stand back up. Engage your glutes and core, and be mindful of your knees. Track them over the center of your foot rather than letting them knock in.

If you feel like you need more of a challenge, you can do the same exercise as a single leg squat. Just stand on one leg and repeat the motion. Single leg squats have the added benefit of working your balance, and are a great prep for pistol squats. It’s even more challenging to keep your knees stable in this position, so stay focused on alignment and move slowly. (I’m still working on this too!) Or put your other foot back down on the ground to stand up again (this concentric portion of the exercise is the hardest part).

Now that we’ve mastered the lower body, let’s talk pushups. Pushups are such a simple and effective way to build upper body strength, but I meet so many people who struggle with them. You don’t need to be a super ripped dude to do these from a full plank, but they do take practice. A park bench is a great way to decrease the resistance until you get strong enough to do them with good form on the ground. The steeper the incline of your body, the easier it will be. Just place your hands shoulder width distance apart (or a little wider for a different variation), and come into a plank position with your hands on the bench. Lead with your chest and slowly lower it to the bench. Press back up and repeat. Keep your core tight and your body in a straight line all the way down, and all the way up.

If your workout doesn’t feel complete without the rush of endorphins that come from cardio, you can use the bench for that too. Try step ups up on the bench (be sure to alternate legs). Make sure that the bench isn’t slippery, watch your step, and go as fast as you feel safe going.

If you are more experienced with this sort of thing and want to try something a little more explosive and plyometric, you can try box jumps. Bend your knees, watch where you are going and jump up on to the bench with two feet. Land with bent knees and stabilize yourself before jumping back down. Watch your step (or jump), and don’t do these if you are too fatigued or if it’s wet outside. It’s easy to miss the bench or slip off if you aren’t careful. Proceed with caution and have fun!

I sometimes like to do both of these tabata style (20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest for 8 rounds), or you can just set a number of reps you’d like to do. (A countdown from 10 is always a no-brainer.)

Make this a part of your routine by throwing some of these exercises in on days when you just don’t have much time to be active.  Or if you want to create a full circuit training workout, pick a number of reps and rotate through a few of these exercises for 3 or 4 rounds. If you are lucky like me and have a lovely scenic park to work out in, you can split up each group of sets with a lap (walk, bike, or run) around the lake.  Let me know how it goes, or if you need clarification on any of these exercises!

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