little boy crawling across playground steppers

The 10 Best Playground Equipment Pieces for Building Upper-Body Strength

You might not look at a playground and think of it as a place where you can build muscle, but sometimes, that’s exactly the case. Children and adults can use different pieces of equipment to work out and improve their physical fitness and overall health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites physical inactivity as a cause for energy imbalances and increasing the risk for a variety of health problems, like cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, cancers, low bone density, and insulin resistance. Cardio is great, but whole-body fitness is essential to staying healthy.

Whether you want to help children learn the joys of exercise or are looking to explore fitness options without a gym membership, we can help. Let’s take a look at upper body strength and how you can use outdoor fitness equipment to pump some metaphorical iron.


The CDC recommends children between the ages of six and 17 get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. The CDC breaks down its exercise recommendations into three parts:

  1. Aerobic exercise
  2. Muscle-strengthening
  3. Bone-strengthening

The CDC suggests children participate in muscle-strengthening activities at least three times a week as part of their 60 minutes of daily exercise. Those exercises can include strength-training activities focusing on the upper body. While exercise has multiple benefits, such as helping kids perform better in school and helping them manage their weight, there are several specific benefits to building upper body strength on the playground:

  • It improves overall health: Strength training of any kind can contribute to a person’s overall health. Exercises such as pushups or pullups can help kids maintain a healthy weight and avoid childhood obesity — a problem that affects over 14 million American children and adolescents today. Strength training can also help kids maintain healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
  • It boosts bone strength: Along with recommending muscle strengthening exercises three days a week, the CDC suggests children perform bone-strengthening exercises at least three times weekly. The bones grow fastest during childhood and adolescence. Anything a child can do to help give their bones a boost when they’re young can help reduce the risk of bone loss later in life. Plus, strong bones help kids avoid injuries. Bone boosting exercises for the upper body include climbing and playing tennis.
  • It improves coordination: Many activities that help kids build upper body strength can also help them develop their gross and fine motor skills. Climbing or moving across the monkey bars, for example, can increase kids’ coordination. Improved coordination can help kids perform better in sports and in everyday tasks.
  • It improves posture: Strengthening upper back and shoulder muscles can help kids maintain better posture. A Chinese study found that nearly two-thirds of children and adolescents have incorrect posture, and this problem can follow kids into adulthood. Improper posture can put undue strain on muscles, joints, ligaments, and bones. For a growing child, maintaining a healthy posture is crucial since it can help their spine develop properly.
  • It boosts athleticism: Upper body strength is a positive thing for all kids, but for kids who are involved in sports, it can be especially beneficial. Actions like throwing a football, swinging a baseball bat, or swimming across the pool all require upper body strength. If a kid is struggling with any of these activities, they may benefit greatly from time spent exercising their upper body muscles at the playground.
  • It raises self-confidence: When kids have good upper body strength, they tend to feel better about themselves. Exercise helps people feel good and more confident. A child who’s spent time building up their strength will be able to throw a ball further or faster than a child who hasn’t, which can mean that they are more likely to want to show off their skills. That self-esteem boost can filter into other areas of a child’s life, helping them feel more self-assured in the classroom or social situations.

Adults can enjoy similar benefits when they build their upper body strength, making these exercises a great activity for parents and kids to do together on the playground.


Kids and adults can exercise pretty much anywhere, from inside their homes to at the local gym. The great outdoors also provides an excellent setting for physical conditioning and strength training. In several ways, an outdoor or playground workout can be preferable to one at the gym or home. Here are a few benefits of exercising outdoors:

  • It increases sun exposure: A bit of sunshine does the body good. It raises serotonin levels, which can help improve sleep quality and mood. Your body also needs sunlight to make vitamin D, a nutrient essential to many functions.
  • It’s more social: Your child is more likely to meet and make friends when they play outdoors or on the playground than if they stayed inside to exercise. The same is true for adults.
  • It provides a change of scenery: When playing or exercising outdoors, you can enjoy beautiful sunsets or sunrises, watch the leaves change color, and gaze at the ever-changing clouds. There’s more mental stimulation when you’re outdoors compared to inside.
  • It provides a breath of fresh air: Outdoor exercise offers a much-need breath of fresh air. Indoor air can be stale or recirculated. Outdoors, the wind is always moving the air around. Surprisingly, outdoor air might have fewer pollutants compared to indoor air.

Playground and Fitness Equipment That Provides Great Upper Body Exercises for Kids and Adults

You can sometimes find adult exercise areas that are offset from children’s playgrounds, but many strength-training pieces of equipment are present for the kids, as well. Typically, you’ll see them at lower heights to accommodate little ones, but the equipment is still very similar. People of all ages can improve their strength with fitness equipment — just make sure it’s built for your age group to avoid injury. Here are some of our favorite playground components for building upper-body strength.

If you’re looking for upper body exercise on the playground, here’s our list. Dive into more details below:

  1. Monkey Bars
  2. Benches
  3. Parallel Bars
  4. Rock Walls
  5. Vertical Ladders and Arch Ladders
  6. Pull-Up Bars
  7. Cargo Nets
  8. Dome Climbers
  9. Quad Climbers
  10. Challenge Ladders

1. Monkey Bars

Monkey bars are one of the most versatile pieces of equipment on a playground. You might remember this common piece of equipment from your childhood, with elevated bars spaced equally apart for you to grab and swing across. These days, there are also wider adult versions, as well. Monkey bars let you use your own weight in many ways and target different muscle groups.

Monkey bars test your grip strength, but you can also use them to work on flexibility by utilizing the space in between them. They offer many exercises similar to a push-up bar or parallel bars.

2. Benches

It’s not exactly a piece of playground equipment, but benches are common amenities around playgrounds and public parks. Many park benches offer a tall enough structure to help with different workouts to gain muscle and tone up. Find a bench with some room in front of it, and you can do exercises like push-ups and tricep dips.

3. Parallel Bars

Parallel bars are powerhouses when it comes to fueling upper-body workouts. As the name would imply, these are a set of bars that run alongside each other, roughly shoulder-width apart, and reach about waist height. They’re excellent for strength training and available at different heights as playground pieces for children and fitness equipment for adults. Kids can push themselves with their own body weight and swing across, and adults can use them to support a wide variety of workouts.

Parallel bars may be simple, but they provide a space for a wide array of exercises. Using their body weight, adults can do exercises like parallel bar dips and L-sit pendulums.

children climbing rock wall

4. Rock Walls

Rock walls are, arguably, one of the more fun approaches to upper-body workouts. While not as common as some of the other pieces of equipment, you can still find simple rock walls on many playgrounds. Our child-sized versions are shorter than typical rock walls and have extra padding underneath, focusing on horizontal movement.

On the wall, you’ll see plastic perches for your hands and feet to help you move across the surface. Rock walls offer an exceptional full-body workout but are especially good for arm strength. Best of all? Kids are often too busy having fun to realize how much work they’re putting into it.

5. Vertical Ladders and Arch Ladders

Vertical ladders are wide ladders that you can use for climbing and other exercises, like L-sits. Arch ladders are similar but have a slight curve to them. Climbing the ladder in repetitions is an excellent way to work your upper body and core. As for L-sits, you simply need to stand with your back to the ladder, grip a rung above you with your palms facing out and lift yourself up, sticking your legs straight out in front of you. This is good for your arms and core.

6. Pull-Up Bars

Pullups are a type of compound exercise, meaning they work multiple muscle groups. Pull-up bars are available in both adult and kid-size versions. The child-size version has a bar lower to the ground while the bar on the adult version is higher, making it more challenging to pull up.

7. Cargo Net

Climbing a cargo net is good for building upper body strength. Kids and adults need to lift their own body weight to get up the net. Getting to the top of the net without slipping through one of the openings also requires good hand-eye coordination.

8. Dome Climbers

Swirling and geometric patterns mean double the fun and double the effort! There are a number of ways to climb on these and build arm strength, from climbing over the top to really using your arms to climb underneath. For a major challenge, do the entire thing from bottom to top while upside down. Talk about an arm workout!

9. Quad Climbers

Quad climbers take your traditional climbing wall and give it a twist… literally! This will not only build arm strength but also help with balance. You can also use your arms to climb from one section to the other.

10. Challenge Ladders

Similar to vertical ladders and arch ladders above, challenge ladders are all about the arm strength. Challenge ladders are a bit wider than monkey bars and give you freedom to get creative with how you use them, giving room for a number of different possibilities for acrobatic movement.


Before you jump right into your playground workout routine, it’s always best to get warmed up.

Warm up benefits include:

  1. Improves your overall body temperature
  2. Helps you mentally prepare
  3. Reduces the risk of injury
  4. Increases your flexibility
  5. Helps you have a better workout experience

Here are five warm ups you can do to get around for your upper body playground routine.

Push Ups

Push ups are one of the gold standards for fitness warm ups. The great thing is that you can do them anywhere there’s a flat piece of space where you can lay down and get started. The key to doing these well for a warm up is to remember that the goal is to get you warmed up, not to tire yourself out. Do just enough to get started, you don’t need to set any world records just yet.

Pull Ups

Pull ups are often what people of all ages first attempt to do when on a playground. The concept is simple, grab the monkey bars or any other overhead bar and pull yourself up. To lower the difficulty, start with a bar that you can reach from the ground and let your feet do a bit of the lifting until your upper body strength can lift you the entire way.

Hanging Knees to Elbows

This is a slightly more advanced warm up, but adds a little more fun to your routine. Start by hanging from the monkey bars or overhead bar. Then pull yourself up and lift your knees so they reach your elbows. You’ll need to pull on the bar a bit to allow this to happen. If you can’t quite reach your knees to elbows, you may need to build up a little more upper body strength through other playground activities. If you do get it, hold it for a second or two and then slowly lower yourself down.

Upper-Body Exercises for Kids Powered by Playgrounds

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Whether you’re trying to reach a lifting goal, maintain physical fitness, or get your child more active, look no further than the playground. With everything from the monkey bars to park benches serving as useful pieces of fitness equipment, you can work plenty of different muscle groups and target your goals without heading to an expensive, crowded gym. Enjoy the great outdoors while toning muscles and staying in shape.

Here at Little Tikes Commercial, we recognize the importance of physical fitness at all ages, which is why we’ve created several pieces of equipment specifically for kids and adults to exercise with. If you see one on a playground, give it a go or encourage your children to try! But remember, before engaging in exercises or beginning any exercise program, it is important to consult a physician about your current state of health and any problems that could arise during your selected form of exercise.

If you develop playgrounds, take a look at our catalog to find essential playground equipment for kids or to learn more about building an exercise area for adult workouts at your playgrounds.