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Feature Article - September 2017

Taking It OUTSIDE!

Outdoor Fitness Areas to Get Everyone Moving

By Rick Dandes


Setting Up the Equipment

There are many things to consider when setting up equipment, whether along a traditional path-style fitness course or in cluster zones that mimic a small gym. First is the landscape, said Brent Dunseith, vice president, sales, of a furnishings and outdoor equipment manufacturer, based in Princeton, Ontario, Canada. "Whether it is going to be on a soft surface or a hard surface is key. Our equipment, for example, is made so that it can be directly buried into a soft surface or it can be surface-mounted onto a hard surface, like a concrete pad."

Another thing to consider when setting up equipment, Dunseith said, "is the makeup of the user group." Understand that demographics are always going to change with time. Still, try to build for who your users will be now. Is it young people looking for lots of exercise because that is the community this trail or station might be in? Or is it more of a senior population? They might want more mobility type equipment, like an exercise bike with very low resistance. A user might get on an exercise bike and keep his or her knees loose, but you are not really working your muscle group, whereas in an area with a younger population, groups might want something more rigorous. Machines with adjustable resistance will help your exercise area appeal to more age groups.

When Carson works with people, "and I ask the initial questions about what they are looking to do, one of the main questions is, who are you catering to?" he said. Who is going to use the equipment? That is a very important question. Because there is such a large variety of outdoor equipment available, some of which is not appropriate for children.

Carson said he's been in the industry for almost 13 years, and until 2015, there were no real standards for outdoor fitness equipment and accessories. "

"The outdoor fitness craze started about 10 years ago," he said. "And when it began we found that a lot of people were asking for regulations. There were no regulations. So, what we did until 2015 is we looked at the playground industry and copied their regulations. Because that was the closest thing to outdoor equipment that we had to look at."

In 2015, the first standard for outdoor equipment was introduced by ASTM, the Standard Specification for Unsupervised Public Use Outdoor Fitness Equipment. (See sidebar for more information on this new standard.)

That standard refers to equipment for people over the age of 13 in unsupervised situations, Carson said. "It tells us what equipment is safe for children, talks about fall heights, and different age groups.

"As for demographics, if you tell me you want to put outdoor equipment for a school population, we're going to suggest equipment that is appropriate for that group of users. And that would be equipment with no moveable parts, no complicated instruction, low to the ground, no pinch points. It would be equipment that would allow children to safely get exercise and not hurt themselves or hurt other people by not being able to read the instructional details that come with the equipment."

It is important to read up on the AS™ standards prior to beginning your outdoor fitness project, Marler added, agreeing with Carson. Spacing requirements and surfacing recommendations are all part of these standards. When selecting your outdoor fitness products, partner with a company that is up to date on these standards, as well as other best practices, gleaned through plenty of experience with a range of clients.

Surface Considerations

Surface issues go hand-in-hand with who will be using the equipment. What we are seeing, Dunseith said, is that the best place for outdoor equipment is on an existing concrete pad. Or, you can pour a new concrete pad for your equipment.

"We see people repurposing tennis courts, basketball courts, and then installing equipment right on top of that," he said. "Consider equipment that is intended to be surface-mounted because when you look at that AS™ regulation they talk about fall heights.

"In outdoor exercise equipment consider products that are very low to the ground. Basically it would be like sitting in a standard chair and so rubber or soft surfaces are not really important underneath those products where there is really no fall height."

Accessibility

Accessible products are important to incorporate somewhere in a fitness area, Marler said. "There are so many product options out there that are compatible with mobility devices. However, when designing a park that is truly accessible to users of all abilities there are several key things to keep in mind, other than product selection. These include surfacing, routes of travel and means of parking, all of which are equally important to providing accessibility to users."

There are two ways to look at accessibility, Dunseith explained further. "We look at it as wheelchair accessibility, and if we install equipment in a fashion that someone in a wheelchair or someone that needs some kind of assistance can physically get to without any tripping hazards, if they can roll up to it or get to it and use it, then that piece of equipment is considered accessible."

The other way of looking at accessibility is usability by wheelchair users. Look to install equipment specifically designed for wheelchair users.