inPERSPECTIVE / OUTDOOR FITNESS: Promoting Healthy Lifestyles


Incorporating outdoor fitness equipment into park and playground designs is a great way to increase usage, entice kids and adults to be active, and improve the health of the entire community.

We all know regular exercise is a key component to a healthy lifestyle, but outdoor exercise has added benefits. Studies have found that exercising outdoors (compared to indoor exercise) may contribute to increased energy as well as reduced anger, tension and depression. Because outdoor exercise equipment doesn't require a gym membership, all community members receive the opportunity to build a personal exercise program and improve their health.

Extreme Fitness

Extreme fitness is gaining popularity because of current TV shows, and park and playground planners are showing an increased interest in bringing obstacle-course-style fitness environments to their communities. Creating custom high-intensity strength training courses encourage kids, teens and adults to get and stay fit.

Obstacle courses can be designed for teens and adults, or for kids ages 5 to 12, to deliver exciting fitness challenges in community parks, schools and neighborhood gathering areas. Obstacles for 5- to 12-year-olds provide the right amount of challenge to build physical and mental agility, while obstacles designed for teens and adults invite friendly competition. Communities can choose from predesigned courses or create a customized course to challenge upper- and lower-body strength, coordination as well as problem-solving skills.

Traditional Equipment


In addition to these extreme fitness environments, traditional outdoor fitness equipment remains popular in communities. Outdoor fitness equipment is designed to target core fitness areas such as muscle strength, cardiovascular health, and balance and flexibility. Park planners can include a wide variety of stations that focus on all of these areas, focus on just one or two core fitness areas, or mix and match among them.

There are a variety of ways to position this type of equipment. A popular design is the traditional "path style" fitness course in which stations are placed along walking or running paths. Another design idea is to create fitness clusters, which mimic small gyms. The fitness clusters create opportunities for group workout activities and small fitness classes with local trainers. These types of clusters often include shade structures overhead to help keep the area protected from the sun. A third design option is to create an outdoor fitness environment adjacent to the playground to encourage parents to exercise while supervising their kids play.

Choosing Equipment

When planning an outdoor fitness environment, it's best to gather feedback from potential users to understand if they would prefer extreme obstacle courses or more traditional equipment positioned for group or solo fitness programs. Keep in mind these four considerations when purchasing outdoor fitness equipment:

>> Create an inclusive environment. Welcome kids, teens and adults of all abilities to work out together with fitness equipment that is accessible and easily understood by first-time users.

>> Meet the needs of all fitness levels. Look for outdoor fitness equipment that will challenge users where they're at in their fitness journey—whether that's beginner, advanced or somewhere in between.

>> Offer a variety of workouts. Provide equipment that targets various fitness areas such as muscle strength, cardiovascular health and balance and flexibility.

>> Design to fit your environment. Consider where your outdoor fitness equipment will get the most use—near the playground or a ballfield, along a walking trail or at a community center—and make sure the equipment's size and aesthetic will fit the surrounding environment.

Other Considerations


To best accommodate the users of your outdoor fitness environment, it's important to provide additional amenities. It's a good idea to integrate shade structures into the design of the space in order to keep users protected from the heat and UV rays while they work out. Additionally, bike racks, seating, and trash and recycling receptacles are all options to consider.

Help encourage healthy lifestyles among community members by creating outdoor fitness environments that promote physical activity for all ages. No matter what style of design you choose for your outdoor fitness environment—obstacle course or more traditional fitness equipment—community members of all ages and fitness levels will have the opportunity to improve their health. RM



Randy Watermiller is the vice president of product development at Landscape Structures Inc., a Delano, Minn.-based manufacturer of commercial playground equipment for parks and schools. For more information, visit


Randy Watermiller