Feature Article - September 2016
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Building Healthier Communities

The Ins and Outs of Outdoor Fitness Areas

By Dave Ramont


Take the Challenge

For those who prefer their workout to have a more playful or competitive twist, manufacturers have recently introduced a new take on the classic obstacle course. These challenge and obstacle courses are a perfect choice for multigenerational fitness as family and friends can compete against one another, testing their speed and agility.

Challenge and obstacle courses are a perfect choice for multigenerational fitness as family and friends can compete against one another, testing their speed and agility.

Wiechmann said that the fastest growing segment of outdoor recreation is obstacle courses, mud runs and adventure races. Therefore, challenge courses are popular because the obstacles look like events that people have seen on television, and timing systems make it easy for them to see how well they performed. Plus, an app is available that makes it fun to compare their time with their friends.

"We see friends and family members arrive at a challenge course and stay for hours, running the course or the 40-yard dash, trying to improve upon their time or challenging one another over and over again. And we see the same groups of people coming back day after day, week after week. It truly is a place where people of all fitness levels and ages meet, compete and repeat," he explained.

Often, challenge courses are installed in an area with other outdoor fitness equipment or close to playgrounds. Different models are available depending on available space and the age of users, whether 13 and up or younger kids ages 5 to 12.

Wiechmann said that elementary schools like the courses because they provide an exciting way for kids to be active outdoors. And at middle schools or K-8 schools, they provide a fun outdoor activity for older students who have outgrown traditional playgrounds. "Some of our school customers use the course as part of their sports or physical education training," he added.

Play 60 is the National Football League's campaign to encourage kids to be active for at least 60 minutes a day to reverse the trend of childhood obesity. And some NFL teams are using challenge courses as part of their Play 60 efforts in their respective communities. In Charlotte, N.C., the Carolina Panthers have been part of four of these projects—one at Hornet's Nest Park and three at local schools. In Richmond, Va., the Washington Redskins added a course to Redskins Park and another at a local school.

Keeping Up With Upkeep

So what about maintenance—how does outdoor fitness equipment hold up once it's installed, and how much upkeep is required?

Wiechmann said his company's outdoor fitness and obstacle course products are durable and weather-resistant, requiring routine maintenance based on use, which includes bolt tightening and surfacing inspections. The bearings are self-lubricating.

Outdoor fitness and obstacle course products are durable and weather-resistant, requiring routine maintenance based on use.

Mendelsohn added that his company's outdoor fitness products require little to no maintenance at all.

Down in Florida, Grimes said that the manufacturer left them with a toolkit and touch-up paint, and has replaced any items broken due to misuse without cost or hassle. Beyond that, she said upkeep has been minimal. "Paint wears off of the bars where hands hold on to them. Rust will appear in small spots, steel wool and touch-up paint takes care of it. Once in a while a hand grip needs to be replaced. The equipment in general needs to be lubed monthly and we pressure-clean the slab and equipment monthly. The equipment is very sturdy and holds up well to heavy usage."

She said the only problem has been children misusing the equipment and playing on it as if it were a playground. The manufacturer recommends users be 14 or older, and signs are posted. But kids still play on the equipment, even as their parents watch, and so park personnel have to remain consistent in enforcing the age limit.

Curran has also seen this problem, with adults occasionally complaining that they want to work out but kids are playing on the equipment. Other than that, he also said the machines have held up very well. "We do have some repairs—usually that's from somebody who doesn't use it correctly—but it's been very limited in the sense of how much use it gets. We've been real happy with it." Being in Illinois, Curran also pointed out that he sees patrons using the equipment in winter, as long as it's not covered in snow. "They might go there for 15 or 20 minutes before they go into their jog."