Feature Article - September 2017
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Taking It OUTSIDE!

Outdoor Fitness Areas to Get Everyone Moving

By Rick Dandes

Fitness trails that combine outdoor workout equipment with walking or jogging are nothing new. But over the past few years, park designers and manufacturers have worked together to develop innovative ways to optimize the experience of outdoor exercise within a park setting for all demographics: from aging baby boomers to busy gen Xers, active millennials and gen-Z—also known as post millennials.

How do you create an environment that motivates people to exercise at a time when more and more folks lead sedentary lives, spending their days seated in front of a computer monitor? "That is the key," said Sam Mendelsohn, CEO of a leading provider of outdoor fitness equipment, based in Orange County, Calif. "Regardless of the budget, regardless of the available space, within the given parameters, what can you do to drive people of all ages and all abilities so that they'll spend more time exercising in a park?" he asks.

Some of the latest trends that have developed in setting up your outdoor fitness equipment address that question.

"I'm seeing two trends now," said Bruce Carson, co-director of sales, at a Grover Beach, Calif., equipment manufacturer. "The two are either exercise trails or fitness zones.

"When people do trails," Carson added, "they stagger equipment along the way, usually a quarter of a mile to several miles long. The shorter trails, in my opinion, are better because people have the opportunity to get outside. They go to their park, get their cardiovascular exercise in their warmup, when they're walking or running from station to station. We see people place equipment for users to stop and do strength training or flexibility and stretching exercises."

It's a win-win situation, Carson said. Municipalities don't have to buy expensive cardiovascular equipment like ellipticals or rowing machines. Users get a free workout in beautiful outdoor settings.

The other trend, which is equally popular, is creating an outdoor gym setting or fitness zones using several pieces of equipment, including cardiovascular equipment. This "pod" becomes an area where people can congregate, just like going to an indoor gym, but in an outdoor setting.

Mendelsohn has taken the idea of a fitness zone and put his own unique twist to the concept. "Even when you build a fitness trail," he said, "my philosophy is to create clusters of multiple units that offer multiple events in one footprint that allow people of all abilities to spend more time exercising. That is the bottom line. If you have an environment that offers low impact type of exercise and then you offer something more intermediate and something more challenging, you'll find people of all ages and all abilities exercising. And we recommend that the fitness pods will have at least three pieces of equipment, where at least two people can exercise independently or with each other, offering a great deal for the community in that particular spot."

Mendelsohn suggested creating a large pad close to a parking lot. "Closer to the trail head, closer to the community center," he said. "Locate the cluster somewhere that is highly visible and easy to access for people of all abilities, especially people in wheelchairs. If you put it next to a parking lot," he said, "a wheelchair-bound user can just park the car and go in and exercise. Same thing with an able-bodied person. You just come in and park the car and go use it."

The idea of spreading units along the trail to motivate people to use when they're running doesn't work, in Mendelsohn's opinion. "If you are a runner, you are not going to stop every 400 feet to exercise. You just keep on running. If you are a person that needs motivation to exercise because you are overweight, putting stations 400 feet away from each other might be a challenge. You need to keep it simple. Keep it closer to the parking lot, so you can park your car and go exercise."

As you consider all the elements, Mendelsohn advised, keep in mind that you need to offer something for people who are extremely fit and like to run on the trail. They might use the equipment either at the beginning, before they start running to warm up and stretch, or at the end.

Programming Trends Can Motivate Users

Another way to motivate people to exercise could lie in programming ideas, suggested Scott Roschi, creative director of a Delano, Minn.-based equipment manufacturer. Yes, he said, "Traditional outdoor fitness environments—stations positioned near trails or clustered near playgrounds—continue to be a popular feature for many communities. However, with the popularity of the TV show 'American Ninja Warrior,' we have seen an increased interest in obstacle course-style fitness environments. The great thing about these types of designs is that they are truly multigenerational—welcoming tweens to adults—and encourage the whole community to stay active in a fun way."

Outdoor fitness has always been a common form of exercise but every day you hear something new and upcoming to make your outdoor fitness experience even better.

Outdoor fitness has always been a common form of exercise, added Mimi Marler, marketing manager for a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based equipment manufacturer, "but every day you hear something new and upcoming to make your outdoor fitness experience even better. A common trend we are seeing a lot of is fitness 'boot camps.' These are great ways to have a core group of people to keep you motivated and pushing yourselves. Recently we have noticed more and more of these taking place in outdoor fitness parks, as trainers come up with new and exciting ways to use the equipment for a new and fresh experience at each class."

Other trends Marler has seen popping up are challenge courses and timed pieces. "Everything is more fun when you throw in a little friendly competition," she said.