Vintage Pacific NW: We’re revisiting some of our favorite stories from some of our favorite former magazine contributors. Check back each week for timeless classics focusing on food, fitness, gardening and more.

Originally published July 3, 2015
By Nicole Tsong, former Fit for Life writer

I KNEW PARKS had amenities to help with a workout, but when I was told to do a bench squat press with a picnic table, I was happy I had creative professionals to come up with the good ideas. 

I prefer to be outside in the summer, including when I work out. I wanted to know what was possible, and I recruited two friends, Mike Bailey and Mariko Johnston, who conveniently are experienced trainers with FiterU. 

We met at Bellevue Downtown Park, which has a lovely walking path. We mostly focused on park benches and picnic tables. If your park doesn’t have those options, there are lots of online videos to give you creative ideas on how best to use your park for your workout. 

I hoped to get on the monkey bars, but kids co-opted them. We chose the stairs and warmed up by running up them sideways. Mike told me to pump my arms, and Mariko encouraged me to keep moving the entire time. I also did some king kongs, planting my hands on the stairs ahead and hopping up with both feet wide. 


Once warm, we moved into circuit training, starting with partner work. One of us held a plank to work our core while the other did high steps. We also did some resistance partner work, with one person holding on to a band and the other person spinning away for rotations; you also can loop your band onto a railing and do this on your own. 

It was harder staying stable when we held side planks on one hand. I held a band in my free hand, and Mike pulled the other end for shoulder and core strengthening. I fell over onto the grass a few times. 

The picnic table was even more exciting. First, there were the bench squat presses. Mike picked up the end of a picnic table, and I got underneath it to squat and then explode through the legs and press the table at a diagonal angle forward. Mike swore the table was light. Maybe for him. 

The picnic bench was helpful for elevated push-ups. I did push-ups with my feet on the bench. It ramps up the intensity, especially when your trainers keep reminding you to lift your hips more and press into your toes. 

Squats with one foot on the picnic bench behind you makes lunges more challenging. We also did box jumps on the picnic bench, which you could easily do on any park bench. Mike jumped onto the table, which he estimated was about 30 inches. I did not feel so bold and stuck with the lower bench. 

I was not in love with getting under a railing, grabbing hold and doing rows, but that’s mostly because I dislike any version of pullups. 


We did more partner work, including wheelbarrows; Mike got into a plank, and I held his feet while he ran across the grass on his hands. We modified it for me with partner shoves; Mike leaned back, and I pushed him forward 10 times. That one made me sweat. 

The workout ended with more king-kong leaps up the stairs. 

For the circuit training, we did 10 reps of each activity, did all the exercises, then repeated. I was impressed by what you can do with tools as simple as a picnic bench, railing and resistance band. You can do even more if you have a jungle gym at your disposal, with rings and parallel bars. 

But you don’t even need that much. There’s no reason to go to the gym in the summer; make your local park your fitness playground.