The Lost Art of Adult Play

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I’m currently in the Barossa Valley with my wife.

There’s not a chance in hell I’m writing a blog post this week. Thankfully regular contributor, Shane McLean, was a champion and took it upon himself to pinch write for me.

Thanks Shane!

The Lost Art of (Adult) Play

When you were a kid, (I assume) you were a blur of movement.

One moment you’re tugging on your dads leg and the next moment you’re chasing the dog (or cat, sorry Tony) throughout the house, tearing shit up while your father is trying to figure out how you moved so quick.

Like the flash baby.


There was no stopping you.

Then age, responsibilities, jobs, kids, bills and a mortgage took care of all that. With more adult time there comes less play time because you have to grow up sometime, correct?

Well some of us do and some of us don’t.

I’ll leave it to you to determine where you are on the kid scale.

However, now to keep up your lean machine look, you hit the gym and do squats, presses, pulls and curls so you can keep up with the younger generation, to feel less like an old fart and more like a superhero, crushing everything in your path.

However, trying to recapture your childhood through exercise is fine but acting like a one (or Flash Gordon) is okay frowned upon.

So please keep your tantrums under control.

You cannot have desserts before your main meal.

Whoops, I’m projecting. Let me get back on track.

During your early childhood, you discovered what you were capable of and what you get away with through playing.

But What is Play?

Play is an activity done for its own sake, with no real goal in mind and play is characterized by flexibility (making up stuff as you go along), and the positive effect it often has on the person playing (smiling, laughing, and having fun.) (1)

The exact role of play in learning is often debated and opinion tends to exaggerate the evidence for the essential role of play.

However, other evidence suggests the important benefits of play and its contribution to learning. (2)

What Has This Got to Do With You?

 How does play benefit you now, the adult trying to shed fat and crush PR’S in the gym?

Firstly, it gives you a welcome break from the barbell. When you get wrapped up with the weight on the bar and have the blinkers on, other things like moving in different directions and a little thing called cardiovascular exercise gets neglected.

When ‘playing’ you may discover your weaker points that are holding you back.

Secondly, it may help you through a plateau and improve your co-ordination.

When you were a child, you engaged in locomotor (exercise) play, which involves physical activity to support the training of your muscles for strength, endurance, and skill.

Think of the local school or park playground and all the fun you had on the swings and monkey bars.

Back then, play was the neural and muscular basis of your physical co-ordination and physical growth. And going back to ‘play’ may help you break through your sticking points and make exercise more enjoyable. (3)

And when things are enjoyable, you’re more likely to do them.

Who’s up for crushing their goals with a smile on their face?

If you answered yes, start inserting these ‘play’ drills into your routine (or separately on off days) because the gym is the one place where nobody cares if you act like a child.

Because they’re all too busy taking Instagram selfies.

1. Reaction Ball Drills


And who doesn’t like playing with balls?

The beauty of the reaction ball is movement without thinking. See the ball, go get the ball. And before you know it you’ve performed squats, hinges and dozens of lunges without realizing it.

Furthermore, training hand-eye co-ordination never goes astray.

And with so much of your program planned, it’s great to add a little chaos and uncertainty to it.

2. Agility Ladder Drills


Some coaches’ poo-poo on the agility ladder while other coaches over emphasize it with athletes trying to get them faster.

However, there is plenty of middle ground and they’re another tool in the toolbox.

But for the regular joe, who’s looking for a little variety, a fun way to get the heart rate up and to raise a sweat while improving their co-ordination, these drills are perfect.

The agility ladder will help you learn a wide array of different movement patterns without you even realizing it because you’ll be having too much fun.

3. Friendly Competition

Exercising with a partner is shown to increase exercise adherence. Use these fun drills will a friend and you’ll be sweating and smiling in no time.

4. Stability Ball Wrestle

You and your partner will be too busy trying to knock each other off-balance, and not realizing that you’re working on your ankle stability/mobility, balance and core stability.

Set Up – Put one foot on top the ball making sure your knee is bent 90 degrees. Your partner puts the opposite foot on the ball, directly across from you

Rules – Both people are trying to knock the other one-off balance by rolling the ball aggressively with their feet.

This exercise can be done either as warm-up, for 30 seconds or so on each foot or you can turn this into a full-blown friendly competition. Every time some loses his/her balance it results in a point for the opponent. First to 5 or 10 points wins.

5. The Boxer

This exercise with work on your power, muscular endurance and hand-to-eye co-ordination. You’ll be too busy hitting your partner’s hands to realize any of this.

Set Up – Use a resistance band with handles looped round a solid anchor point. Bring hands to shoulder level and keep the resistance band tight.  Your partner puts hands up, open palms facing forward and away from the face.

Rules- Hit the open palm (with a clinched fist), one hand at a time. Your partner can change his/her hand position up, down or left and right to increase the challenge.

Do this for time (30 seconds) and record the amount of hits, and then your partner can try to beat it. Winner takes all, baby.

Wrapping Up

Exercise doesn’t always have to be a grind. Taking a slight break to think and play like a child is reinvigorating and a welcome break from the barbell.

And because you’re an adult now, you can have dessert before dinner.

Knock yourself out.

About the Author

Shane “Balance Guy” McLean, is an A.C.E Certified Personal Trainer working deep in the heart of Louisiana with the gators.


  1. Learning Through Play PETER K SMITH, BA, PhD ANTHONY PELLEGRINI, PhD Goldsmiths, University of London, UNITED KINGDOM University of Minnesota, USA
  2. Smith PK. Children’s play and its role in early development: A re-evaluation of the ‘Play Ethos’. In: Pellegrini AD, ed. Psychological Bases for Early education. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.; 1988: 207-226.
  3. Byers JA, Walker C. Refining the motor training hypothesis for the evolution of play. American Naturalist 1995;146(1):25-40

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