I never realized how much the weather truly impacts my mood and daily experience until I lived in Ireland. I had only lived in places with dramatically different four seasons up until this point, but had often wondered what it would be like to be somewhere with a relatively consistent climate. Now I know. Thankfully, there have been many days of fabulous fall weather lately, and I have been busy trying to take advantage of it before the rainy winter season sets in. Lots of walks with Coco (who absolutely refuses to walk in the rain or bitter cold) and lots of time in the park admiring the vibrant leaves. In honor of the autumn and the few sunny days we may have left here, I am sharing a simple outdoor lower body exercise option – a Park Bench Barre Workout!
You don’t need any equipment other than a bench (or another stable support at home or outdoors – the back of a couch or a countertop will work too) and I am sticking with a similar approach as the Hotel Power Half Hour Barre workout which is easy to do/remember even on your own, because it uses only the same six movements/changes for each different position repeated over and over.
First a couple of terms:
- Tuck: Pull your abs in and up, reaching crown of the head to the ceiling and tailbone down to floor – this engages your core and protects your low back
- Pulse: Tiny movement down to target the specific muscle group, try to stay in isometric contraction and minimize lifting or big movements.
Next a couple of tips:
- This is a quick workout that will take approximately 20 minutes from warm up to cool down stretching. If you want to make it shorter, pick and choose the sections accordingly.
- Keep things simple! This is a repeat workout which doesn’t overcomplicate things. You will do the same movements/reps in each position so you don’t have to think so much about what comes next.
- Each set consists of 6 changes and you should shoot for about 30 seconds for each change. To make it easier than counting or thinking about the time, you can use an interval stopwatch timer on your phone or watch. I like the app “Seconds”
- Challenge yourself to sink a little lower, lift your heels or leg higher and work in your most challenging position. You are working in isometric contraction, so the range of movement is small and you might (SHOULD) start to feel your muscles shake as they fatigue.
The Warm Up:
- 30 Seconds. Start with your feet hip distance apart and parallel with your arms extended overhead and draw the knees to your chest, pull your abdominals in and back and lifting the crown of your head up to the ceiling to lengthen your spine. Make sure to lift from your ribs nice and tall, but keep the shoulders dropped away from your ears.
- 30 Seconds. Continue lifting the knees, with the arms up overhead but add a pulldown to your sides, leading with your elbows. Reach all the way up to the sky, keeping your shoulders low and then pull down strongly, squeezing your upper back and shoulder blades together behind you.
As promised, this is an easy one to do on your own because it is the same six different changes for 30 seconds each every time, you only change your body positioning. For each position outlined, do the following:
- 30 Seconds. Start by lowering your body down for about two seconds and lifting up for two seconds while keeping heels lifted and knees bent at all times. Think about 4-6 inch range of movement.
- 30 Seconds. Cut that movement in half, lowering only down about 1 inch and then back up 1 inch. The movement is super small, but working in the small range will keep the muscles working hard.
- 30 Seconds. Hold yourself at your low point and tuck your hips forward and release back to neutral spine. Shoulders and back do not change shape, you simply pull your abs in tighter and very slightly release, make sure you are working with your heels high and seat low to keep the muscles under pressure.
- 30 Seconds. Keep tucking, but start to alternate side-to-side. Your goal is to draw the abs in and back and take your hip more forward on the front diagonal as opposed to directly out to the side.
- 30 Seconds. Bring your body back center and hold the deep bend in your knees, but close and open the legs from the top of your thigh to your knee. You will be in a knock-kneed position with your top of your legs squeezing in super tightly and your feet still apart.
- 30 Seconds. Hold the legs zipped up in the knock-kneed position and the deep bend in your knees and pulse down, trying to keep the range small and limiting any lifting up.
Set One in Parallel – Tops of Thighs: Stand with your feet hip distance apart, parallel to the back of the bench (or other surface). Take the hand nearest to the bench long and use it just for balance rather than sinking or pressing down or in too much. Rise to your toes and then take a bend in your knees, keeping the heels lifted. Shoulder are relaxed down and abdominals pull in so your hips are neutral. Think of the top of your head reaching to the sky and tailbone dragging you down to the ground.
Set Two in First Position/Narrow V – Inner/Outer Thighs: Stand parallel to the bench/support with your heels together and toes apart in a narrow V. Rise onto your toes and glue the heels back together tightly (keep them pressing together the whole time to protect your knees and deepen the work for your inner and outer thighs). Keeping the heels high, take a deep bend in the knees. Shoulders are relaxed down and abdominals pull in so your hips are neutral. Think the top of your head reaching to sky and tailbone dragging you down to the ground.
Set Three in Wide Second – Inner/Outer Thighs: Stand parallel to bench/support with your feet in a nice wide position with your heels turned in towards each other and toes turned out. You want to try to turn out from the hip rather than the foot and ankle and your knees should track over your 2nd and 3rd toes. Rise to your toes and then take a bend in your knees, keeping the heels lifted. Shoulder are relaxed down and abdominals pull in so your hips are neutral. Think of the top of your head reaching to the sky and tailbone dragging you down to the ground.
Set Four in Chair – Tops of Thighs: Stand facing your bench/support with your feet in parallel about hip distance apart. Walk your feet in close to the bench, rise onto your highest tip toes and hold onto the back, pulling off with straight arms. Keep your arms straight and bend your knees, pushing your seat out back behind you like you are sitting in a chair. You want nice 90 degree angles with your knees tracking right over your toes, your seat right in line with your knees, and your back long and flat with your shoulders right over your hips. It should feel “fiery” in the top of your thighs almost immediately. Shoulder are relaxed down and abdominals pull in so your hips are neutral. Think of the top of your head reaching to the sky and tailbone dragging you down to the ground.
Set Five in Waterski – Tops of Thighs: Stand facing your bench/support with your feet in parallel about hip distance apart. Walk your feet in very close to (or even slightly under) the bench, rise onto your highest tip toes and hold onto the back, pulling off with straight arms. Keep your arms straight and bend your knees, pushing your hips up towards the top of the bench like you are waterskiing. You want a long diagonal line from your shoulders down to your knees with your knees pushing forward and hips up. It can be hard to keep your hips tucked, but do pull in with your abdominals and try to eliminate any arch in your low back. Again, it should feel “fiery” in the top of your thighs almost immediately. Shoulder are relaxed down and away from your ears, pulling off the bench strongly to hinge back completely.
Set Six Step Ups – Lower Body Combo: Stand facing the seat side of the bench (or a set of stairs) with one foot planted firmly on the seat, knee tracking right over your ankle, don’t allow it to push forward throughout the exercise. Squeeze through your seat and press into the lifted foot to slowly raise your back foot off the ground to float. Push through the lifted leg until straight and leave the lower leg straight, pointing strong through the toe. Carefully, bend your lifted leg knee and lower yourself back down to starting position. Keep going, slow and controlled, for 30 seconds and then switch sides.
Upper Body/Core Finisher
Pushups/Planks: You can make these exercises easier/more manageable by using the higher/side back of the bench or a bit more challenging by using the lower seat side of the bench.
- 90 Seconds (just let the timer go off three times). Take your hands about shoulder width apart with a soft bend in your elbow. Come onto your toes and walk your feet out back behind you until your body is on a long diagonal position from the top of your head down to your heels. Pull your abdominals and core tight to hold the position without gripping in your low back and keep your hips low. Start with a static hold for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, add a tuck of your hips strong through the center of your body. For the next 15 seconds, shift your right hand to the center open up into a side plank – pressing your hips up to the sky through your right side of your waist and hold. For the last 15 seconds, do the same on your left side.
- Pushups x10 Take your hands about shoulder width apart onto the bench and then come onto your toes and walk your feet out back behind you until your body is on a long diagonal position from the top of your head down to your heels. Pull your core tight to hold that position as you lower and lift yourself by bending your arms, keep your collarbones open wide, shoulders back and down and you take your entire body down with you as you move rather than leaving your hips and thighs too high.
Triceps Dips: 60 Seconds (just let the timer go off twice). Sit on the bench and place your hands to either side of your hips with finger tips facing forward. Walk your legs out straight, lifting your seat off the bench, but still close to it. You don’t want to be so close to the bench that you scrape your back, but you don’t want to be too far out or you will put additional strain on your wrists and shoulders. Slowly bend your arms to lower your seat towards the ground and then press all way back to the top. Keep the movement slow and controlled, repeating for 30 – 60 seconds.
Cool Down: Make sure you stretch everything well – arms, legs, and core! And maybe take a lap around the park for good measure!