Guest Column - May 2012
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Take It Outside
Bringing Indoor Fitness Outdoors

By Tom Casey

Will It Last?

It's difficult to imagine that bringing indoor fitness equipment outside wouldn't bring with it a slew of maintenance issues, and rightly so. The issue of equipment functionality and longevity is first on the minds of potential customers and users alike. While outdoor fitness equipment has proven itself in a variety of climates internationally throughout Asia and Europe over the past 10 years, it is still a relatively new premise to many in North America.

Using similar design elements and materials found on other outdoor recreation equipment, such as playgrounds and bicycles, today's outdoor fitness equipment can be found standing up to climate conditions as hot as Arizona and as cold as Alaska. From a durability standpoint, just as with playground and court equipment, manufacturers have been required to take into design consideration not only the daily use of the equipment, but also mis-use (vandalism), as the equipment is usually located outside in unsupervised areas.

Like any recreation equipment purchase, there is a wide range of quality levels and price points. Customers should research not only the supplier's ability, but more importantly their history of testing, quality control and addressing problems in the field.

Coexisting With Indoor Fitness

"I just built a multi-million-dollar dues-paying community rec center, and we have several private health clubs in the area. Why in the world would I want to offer free community fitness?"

Although fully appreciating the premise of "first time fitness" and doing something genuinely good for the community at large, that comment from a tenured municipal recreation professional is echoed by many when first considering outdoor fitness equipment.

While at first glance indoor fitness centers and outdoor fitness zones might seem at odds, they actually work in perfect harmony and help promote fitness activities in general. In addition to stark differences in adjustability, electronics, etc., found on indoor equipment vs. the more general functionality found on similar outdoor equipment, a key consideration is that the people using outdoor equipment are usually not the same people visiting indoor fitness centers. Promoting elements such as muscle-strengthening vs. muscle-building, and flexibility vs. toning, today's outdoor fitness equipment serves to introduce people to exercise and can actually act as a gateway to indoor fitness.

Economics & Applications

With today's economic realities finding many recreation project purchases being put on the back burner, and outdoor fitness clusters typically costing less than $15,000, customers can provide huge community impact for a fraction of the cost of many outdoor amenity projects.

Public customers such as parks, municipalities and other tax-supported entities have the additional bonus of tapping into an ocean of public and private grants and funding sources that deal specifically with promoting health and wellness. The relatively small project price allows placement of several fitness clusters throughout any given town, providing free fitness to an entire community.

Residents of housing authorities, challenged with socio-economic realities, rarely have the resources or time to visit indoor facilities. These residents especially appreciate the wellness benefits of outdoor fitness equipment. Even the smallest of fitness clusters placed in a common area provide health benefits, serve as multi-generational healthy lifestyle examples, and bring the community together through fun and light exercise.

Corporations understand that healthy employees are happier and more productive. Even companies with indoor fitness centers are limited to the reality of less than 10 percent of their employees actually using the facility, and default to simply suggesting employees put on their sneakers and walk at lunchtime. Taking just a couple of minutes to loosen tense muscles while burning stress, outdoor equipment attracts more users, and sends employees back to work relaxed and energized.

Other private customers such as apartment/housing developments and hotels/resorts with indoor fitness facilities know that the more engaging their amenities, the more attractive their property and the more revenue they can generate.