The city (in conjunction with Equinox, and Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield) offers more than 150 free fitness classes per week—such as Zumba, boot camp, yoga and kickboxing—in parks and rec centers, via its Shape Up NYC series (visit nyc.gov/parks for details). We visited Macombs Dam Park (River Ave between 157th and 161st Sts, Bronx) and asked one of the program’s recreational supervisors, Ryan Treasure, to demonstrate a workout plan appropriate for any fitness level.
RECOMMENDED: Find the best NYC fitness classes and gyms
For beginners, Treasure recommends running, stretching and jumping rope, then adding a routine like a bleacher sequence. But don’t push yourself too hard: You’ll burn out and give up before you see results. Use the other sets of exercises—including step-ups and jump-ups, sit-ups and push-ups, and power-band moves—to mix things up, and after three or four weeks, start to combine different actions to keep building strength and stamina.
What you’ll need: A jump rope, a yoga mat and a power band (also known as a resistance band, approximately $30, available from sports stores)
Treasure starts with a mile run, doing four laps around the track. If you’re a newbie, he suggests alternating between jogging and speed-walking every eighth of a mile. Try to keep your hands loose at about waist level—that’ll help focus your energy on the actual running. Pro trip: Land on the midsole of your foot, never the heel—the latter is inefficient and may lead to injuries.
After your run, be sure to loosen the muscles you plan to use in later exercises. For instance, Treasure recommends focusing on your quads, calves and hamstrings before hitting the bleachers. To do this, find a fence that’s about waist-high; then, facing it and standing a leg’s length away, put one heel on top of the fence. Reach out to the toes of that foot, holding the stretch where you feel the tension. Next, get closer to the fence and swing out your leg to the 3 o’clock position; rest the inside of your foot on the fence and reach out to it. Finally, stand about two feet from a wall, facing it and putting one hand on it at a point a foot higher than your head. Lift your heels and shift your weight to your toes, go back to flat and repeat this movement. Treasure performs each stretch for 30 seconds, but he’ll up those to a minute if his body is feeling tighter than usual.
Unlike playground rope-skipping, the movements in Treasure’s grown-up version are more deliberate: You should lightly flip your wrists to swing the rope, and hop just high enough for the cord to pass under your sneakers. Go for 30 to 60 seconds depending on your ability, then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat five to ten times.
Start by running up one side of a staircase, then go carefully (especially if it’s raining) and slowly (to limit the impact on your knees) down the other. Repeat that sequence ten times.
Sit on a bench as if watching a game and grip the front of the ledge with both hands. Lean back a little and raise your knees to your chest, then lower them. Repeat 15 to 30 times. Beginners should aim for between 10 and 20 repetitions.
Lie down so your back is resting on the bench and grab the sides at a point just above your head. Keeping your knees straight and legs together, bring your feet up to the 12 o’clock position, then lower them back down to the bench. Repeat 15 to 30 times, or 10 to 20 times if you’re just starting out.
Step-ups and jump-ups
Locate a flat, elevated surface where the highest point is just lower than your knee and can support you jumping on it. Lift your right knee up, plant your right foot on the platform, shift your weight to that right leg, bring up your left leg and plant it on the surface, step back to the ground with your right foot, and follow with your left. That’s a step-up. Do between three and five sets of 20 to 25. To work your abs, throw your hands in the air as you step up (like a football ref: “The field goal is good!”).
To perform a jump-up, bring both feet up to the platform at the same time. Then turn around so you’re facing the way you’re jumping, and jump down, bending your knees as you land so they can absorb the shock. Repeat ten times, take a breather, then try again, performing two to three reps in total.
Sit-ups and push-ups
Put your yoga mat in front of a rail you can hook your feet under, or use one of the park system’s lounge-chair-like metal seats designed for push-ups and sit-ups (a list of locations with fitness equipment can be found at nycgovparks.org/facilities/fitnessequipment). Do 15 to 20 sit-ups, never letting your back touch the ground on the way down, then break for 30 seconds. Repeat this until you’ve completed five sets.
Then try five sets of 15 to 20 push-ups, with 30-second breaks in between. Keep your arms shoulder width apart, make sure to bend at the elbows, keep your head up and your back straight.
Stairs and hills
Find the biggest hill in the park and walk to the top. Jog down, touch the bottom of the hill with your hand, and run as hard as you can back to the top. Repeat this a total of three to six times.
Find a set of stairs in the park. As with the hill, Treasure suggests “going down slow, coming up fast,” while pumping your arms for momentum. You should reach the summit of a ten-step staircase six to ten times. If you can’t find stairs, do another set of hill run-ups—or vice versa.
Front and back raises
Fold the band and hold it taut above your head, so that your arms form a Y shape. Stretch your arms out to the side—but keep them straight!—bringing the band either in front of or behind your head until they’re horizontal, and then raise them again into the starting position. Do three to four sets of 10 to 15 reps.
Extend your arms straight ahead at shoulder height, then move your arms so that they’re straight out to the sides and the band is touching your chest. Return to the original position and perform three to four sets of 12 to 15 reps.
Stand on the band with your feet six inches apart. Hold the band ear-high, with your arms shaped like Ls, your palms facing out and the band coming up from behind your arms. Extend your arms up until they’re close to locked. Return to first position. Do three to four sets of 10 to 20 reps.
Adopt the same position as you did with the shoulder press—stand on the band with your feet six inches apart—but this time bend your knees until you’re in a crouched position, then go back up. Do three to four sets of 12 to 25 reps. “Go as low as you can, bring it up slow,” Treasure advises.
With your legs spread shoulder-width apart, step on the band’s folded end with your right foot. Grip the band with your right hand with your arm extended and palm out. Curl the handle up using your bicep and bring it back down to rest. Do three to four sets of 12 to 15 reps, then do the same again on the other side.
Standing with your legs shoulder-width apart, hold the ends of the band in each hand, letting the middle touch the ground. Step on the middle of the band with your right foot Raise your right arm up to the side, keeping it straight and your palm facing forward, to head level. Return to the starting position and complete 8 to 12 reps three to four times. Repeat with the left arm.