Guest Column - March 2015
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The Outdoor Gym: Benefits & Best Practices

By Allison Abel

A gym has the potential to serve nearly everyone in the community, but care must be taken to ensure each potential user has something in it for them. In the past, fitness trails and outdoor gyms utilized a par course style of equipment, consisting solely of static machines on which users could perform pull-ups, dips and pushups, and climb ropes and poles. However, the advancement of technology has given birth to a largely sedentary lifestyle, and those suffering from its effects are unable to perform such exercises. For those at entry to intermediate fitness levels, the equipment selection should incorporate less challenging exercises. Body-weight leverage resistance equipment is perfect for these users. More recently, the market has seen the introduction of adjustable units, which allow the user to vary the resistance for an experience that's tailored to individual needs.

Beyond fitness level considerations, project planners should also take into account the users' ages and potential disabilities. By incorporating low-impact exercises and units designed to increase flexibility, balance, agility and range of motion, planners can make the gym more appealing to seniors. Adding equipment designed for maximum accessibility will allow wheelchair users to exercise alongside the rest of the community.

Finally, the equipment should be placed in a visible area with high traffic. A fitness zone near a community center or parking lot will be more frequently used than one in a far-off corner of a park, and will minimize the excuse of a lack of accessibility.

By following best practices and designing the outdoor gym to fit the specific needs of the community, planners can ensure that the gym does not become just another park amenity, but something that has a positive effect on the wellness of the entire community as a whole.

Allison Abel is a staff member at Greenfields Outdoor Fitness, an Orange County, Calif.-based manufacturer of outdoor fitness equipment for parks, schools and the military. For more information, visit