The Play-Based Workout


For many adults, play and exercise are diametrically opposed. For a workout to “count,” they might say, it must be arduous — straining you to the point of exhaustion in order to help you reach your fitness goals.

Play, on the other hand, is the literal embodiment of fun. Undeniably valuable for kids, sure — but little more than a distraction from the serious job of getting fit for adults. If a workout veers too close to play, too close to the throw-caution-to-the-wind fun we experienced as children, some might ask whether it’s a workout at all.

These beliefs couldn’t be further from a primal truth that kids know subconsciously and too many of us adults have long forgotten: Fun fosters fitness.

“Joyful movement emphasizes finding pleasure in the way we move our bodies,” says Jasmine de LaCruz, AFAA, NASM, an all-ages personal trainer and content creator for Life Time’s Kids Studio classes. “It is well known that physical activity provides many mental and physical health benefits, and by focusing on movement we enjoy, we are more likely to move our bodies regularly.”

Incorporating play into a workout routine doesn’t diminish the positive effects of exercise, just as making a workout extra long and grueling doesn’t make it more effective.

“Many of us have been taught that exercise is about punishment. But exercise can also be a celebration of what our bodies can do,” says de LaCruz. “It’s time to break the stigma that every workout session requires a ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality.”

If anything, the activities that many might dismiss as child’s play — hopping, jumping, and skipping, to name a few — build key elements of fitness, such as strength, mobility, and especially cardio.

De LaCruz designed the following workout as an invitation to rediscover what play looks like. Each circuit combines two body-weight strength moves with a play-inspired cardio activity of your choice. (For ideas, see “Joyful Cardio” futher down.)

To boost the joy factor even more, try this workout outside with your favorite music in the background, perhaps with a workout buddy.

The Workout

  1. Begin with a full-body warm-up. (Find our favorite at
  2. Then choose a circuit, set a timer for 30 to 60 seconds, and perform the first strength exercise (A) in the circuit.
  3. Reset the timer, again for 30 to 60 seconds, and perform the second strength exercise (B).
  4. To finish the circuit, reset the timer once more — this time for two minutes — and perform a joyful cardio activity of your choice (C). Feel free to change your activity at any time during the cardio interval.
  5. Perform two or three rounds of the circuit, resting for 30 seconds between rounds. If you do more than one circuit, rest for a full minute between each.

A note on the strength exer­cises: The “A” moves in each circuit are lower-body exer­cises. The “B” moves are plank variations that challenge your upper-body and core muscles. To pregress the B moves, elevate your hands on a firm surface, such as a bench or box.

Circuit 1 Circuit 2
  1. Alternating Reverse Lunge With Kick
  2. Pushup
  3. Joyful Cardio
  1. Squat With Alternating Toe Position
  2. Plank-Up
  3. Joyful Cardio
Circuit 3 Circuit 4
  1. Cossack Lunge
  2. Plank With Shoulder Tap
  3. Joyful Cardio
  1. Marching Glute Bridge
  2. Cross-Body Mountain Climber
  3. Joyful Cardio


The Workout

Joyful Cardio

The following list is far from exhaustive but offers a variety of options for plugging play into your workout. And the best part of all? There are no hard-and-fast rules.

Feel free to choose one movement for the entire workout, try a different movement for each circuit, switch moves for each round of a circuit, or even switch moves randomly in the middle of a circuit. If you start the workout loving jump rope and later find yourself dreading another round of it, don’t hesitate to try something new. If you love something that’s not on the list, go for it!

Just remember: You’ll know you’ve made a good choice if it feels good and you’re having fun.


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