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Urbanized Exercise

Thirty ways to turn the city into your own personal gym.

Alex Ho, personal trainer and endurance athlete, runs Andy Goldsworthy's Wood Line in the Presidio. 

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Jenn Pattee, owner of Basic Training boot camp and an ultramarathon runner, works out on structures next to the Exploratorium.

(2 of 5) 

Greg Bianchi, owner of Bianchi Fitness and a track coach, conquering Twin Peaks.

(3 of 5) 

Personal trainer and competitiver grappler Carey Rockland scales the mokey bars at St. Mary's Playground.

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VyAyr Fitness owner and Iron Man competitor Kristi Dowler powering up at East Beach. 

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Stairways to hell: Gaining power is literally an uphill battle.
Where: Filbert Street Steps, Lyon Street Steps, South Side of Divisadero, Joaquin Miller Park

13. Downhill Dog  (Suffer Meter: 1 out of 4, Cakewalk): Hills can juice up an outdoor yoga session by adding a cardio challenge. Use them as a makeshift prop: If your hamstrings are tight, sit facing downhill, the incline serving instead of a rolled blanket, as you do a seated forward bend. You’ll find other props on your ascent, like a short wall at the Summit park on Russian Hill, where you can use the Transamerica Pyramid as a focal point instead of a candle. The city noise helps you put a good yoga lesson into practice: acceptance of things outside of your control.    —Laurie Sleep, Hiking Yoga

14. Stepdancing (Suffer Meter: 2 out of 4, Workin' It): Dominate concrete stairs for more than just a calf-killer. Go up one set of stairs, like those on Lyon Street, in as many variations as you can think of—crossovers will work your hips, bunny hops your core; or crawl or wheel- barrow your way up for serious biceps power. —Sandra Possing, Basic Training

15. Eight-Minute Quads (Suffer Meter: 3 out of 4, Ass-Kicker): This move is called the Waterfall: Stand at the top of a set of stairs with your weight on your heels, take one step down, sit down, then stand up—and repeat. It sounds simple, but it’s a sneaker, working the glutes, quads, and abs—which are essential for lasting strength as opposed to short-lived explosive power. To make it tougher, add a 12-pound kettlebell (or sub it out with a nearby rock) and hold it in front of your sternum. The Filbert Street steps offer bay views and the chance of finding a rock if you need one. —Brandon Irvin, owner, Urban Fitness

16. Crocodile Crawl (Suffer Meter: 2 out of 4, Workin' It): Don’t underestimate the number of ways that you can climb a hill. The crocodile walk works many muscles beyond the ones in your legs: Get in plank position and move your right knee laterally to touch your elbow; then do a push-up. Repeat on the other side, moving forward as you go, as if you’re stalking prey. The steeper the hill, the greater the workout. Go-getters can try Bernal Hill. —Pattee

17. Stair Ninjas (Suffer Meter: 3 out of 4, Ass-Kicker): For a sadistic workout, do a different exercise on each set of Liberty Hill’s six staircases. Some people have a love-hate relationship with the inchworm, but it’s worth the burn for back and hamstring flexibility and core strength. Do it up a short set of stairs by hinging at the waist and walking your hands out to push-up position while keeping your legs straight, then walking your feet in toward your hands. Repeat. If you’re in it for a ball-buster, bear-crawl up the next set. —Greg Bianchi, owner, Bianchi Fitness


Reclaim recess: Playgrounds make the best obstacle courses.
Where: Helen Diller Playground, Julius Kahn Playground, San Pablo Park

19. Slide Ride (Suffer Meter: 4, Beast Mode) Playgrounds provide unpredictable and dynamic urban workouts. Going down a slide might be fun, but climbing up one in a crab crawl is straight-up brutal. So is lying facedown and climbing using only arm strength by clutching the handrail, being sure to engage your shoulders and activate your back muscles. Once you’ve mastered the individual playground elements at a place like St. Mary’s Playground in Bernal Heights, turn the entire park into an obstacle course, army-crawling to get from station to station. —Carey Rockland, Personal Trainer

20. Spiderman Scramble (Suffer Meter: 2 out of 4, Workin' It): You should be able to rule all the primal movements—squatting, crawling, climbing—a challenge in our modern world, which isn’t designed for them. Playgrounds provide a solution. For climbing, scaling the spiderweb nets is actually crazy hard as an adult because you’re heavier. A good one to start with is at the new Waterfront Playground at Sue Bierman Park. Just gripping the rope ignites muscles, increasing grip strength, and pulling yourself up a wobbly net is great for your forearms— which, if you’re a desk jockey like most San Franciscans, are weak. —Morales

21. Tarzan Hang (Suffer Meter: 3 out of 4, Ass-Kicker): If you haven't used a playground since you were a kid, start with the monkey bar evolution at a place like Julius Kahn Playground in the Presidio. First, hang for one minute to build up grip strength. When that becomes easy, progress to hanging knee raises. Eventually, use the monkey bars as you did when you were a kid—swinging from bar to bar builds back and shoulder strength—or do jump pull-ups, or even crawl on top of the bars for an extra challenge. —Bianchi

22. Swinging Suspensions (Suffer Meter: 2 out of 4, Workin' It): Don’t want to drag a TRX band through the city? You can rig a swing for an ad lib suspension workout, using your body as the weight. To do a pike, an intense core exercise, place your ankles in the swing seat and your palms on the ground in push-up position, then pull your hips up into down-dog. Moscone Park is a good choice. Using playground equipment lets adults get playful and brings them back to childhood recess, but don’t interfere with the real kids’ playtime—go before or after hours, or bring the little ones. —Possing

23. Springboard Jumps  (Suffer Meter: 1 out of 4, Cakewalk): Many playgrounds (Helen Diller and Lafayette, to name a couple) have installed Crayola-colored padding on the ground, which gives adults a cushy surface for floor work like leg lifts and crunches. Use it for anything that you’d typically use a mat for— push-ups, or forearm plank, or exercises where hips or bones touch the ground. It’s also bouncy—which is great for explosive movements like burpies. —Possing

24. Tunnel Torpedoes (Suffer Meter: 3 out of 4, Ass-Kicker) Do a military crawl through a tunnel for a full-body exercise. You don’t have to do it for long to feel its effects—it will work your shoulders, back, legs, and core. It’s a great agility exercise because most people aren’t used to moving on the ground— moving in unfamiliar ways improves overall movement skills. Find a tunnel that’s substantially longer than your body, like at Potrero Playground. Lying facedown, place your forearms on the ground and keep your body in a line. With your toes curled under, gripping the floor, use your legs and elbows alternately to draw yourself forward through the tunnel until you reach the end. —Rockland

Page three: Kicking up sand.