Feature Article - September 2018
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Everyone's Gym

Outdoor Fitness Reaches All Ages, Abilities

By Joseph Bush


If the budget allows, recreation organizations can have everything for everyone. Abel's company offers a complete outdoor gym that encompasses every type of exercise unit and can accommodate 83 users on 49 units. Abel said the ideal situation is to have every type of equipment laid out in a way to encourage user interaction.

"For those looking to establish a workout routine, having a social environment in which to exercise enhances motivation and commitment," she said. "Therefore, if the space is available, clusters of fitness equipment are preferable to individual stations. To maximize usage of an outdoor fitness area, it's important to locate the equipment in an area with high visibility, such as next to a parking lot, community center or trailhead."

Abel has tips for promotion as well.

"A well-publicized grand opening is key," she said. "Holding classes at an outdoor fitness area will help establish the habit of fitness among members of the community, who will likely continue to use the equipment after formal instruction has ended. Various entities installing fitness equipment have utilized various methods of generating awareness and increasing usage of their outdoor gyms—including featuring the gyms on their websites with links to video demos of each unit, passing out fitness guides at grand openings of the gyms, making them the centerpieces of community fitness challenges and more."

Shannon Descant, former program director of Move Bunkie Forward, an initiative to improve the health and well-being of the residents of Bunkie, La., coordinated the planning and procurement of outdoor fitness equipment from a Red Bud, Ill.-based manufacturer.

"This is our first experience with outdoor fitness equipment and we love it!" Descant said.

After Bunkie won a Healthy Behaviors Program Grant from The Rapides Foundation in 2014 to provide the community with opportunities, education, and resources to improve the health and quality of life of its residents, Descant took charge of the goal to increase opportunities for physical activity.

She chose to focus on creating an outdoor fitness park adjacent to a walking track, and has tips for communities considering outdoor fitness areas and equipment:

  • When planning to buy outdoor fitness equipment, take into consideration the space available, whether or not to group pieces together or to spread them out along some type of pathway, and the type of surfacing choice to install. "We used the poured-in-place rubber and thought this was a turnkey project, but then realized we were responsible for a concrete slab on which the rubber was to sit on," Descant said. "This added additional cost that was not planned for."
  • Programming can vary. People can use the equipment individually on their own time, or group sessions can take place in which the equipment can act as an exercise station or stations. "We see it being used both ways," Descant said. "We have also located the equipment adjacent to a walking track, which creates another level of training for people using the track for walking or running."
  • With regard to surfacing, do considerable research about prepping the area prior to surfacing installation. "Take into consideration who will have access to the area and make sure the equipment is easy to use, easy to understand, and possibly located in an area with a fitness or exercise goal already established," she said. "The addition of the equipment will create a new excitement."

The manufacturer that provided fitness equipment for Apex, N.C., expands on what a company can offer in the realm of outdoor fitness equipment with a mobile app for each of its systems. Available at no cost, the apps show three different levels of fitness for each component and give users instructional videos, 360-degree virtual tours and images of each component. The apps also offer users the ability to log workouts, time themselves and work toward goals.

Brian Johnson, chief marketing officer for the Fond du Lac, Wis.-based manufacturer, said there are many options for outdoor fitness that fit into a variety of budgets. For an entry-level budget, there are activities such as the company's twist on parallel bars, or a series of steps at different heights that challenge dynamic fitness and agility. Both of these can be used for a variety of exercises and are extremely versatile, Johnson said.

For a mid-level budget, customers can add pieces that create an obstacle course feel. "This will add an interesting element of fitness and keep some of the pieces with a lower cost that are extremely functional," Johnson said.

Finally, there's a full course plus turf and a 25-yard dash. That state-of-the-art setup is where the outdoor fitness equipment sector is headed, Johnson said.

"I think we are starting to see the future take shape," he said. "With the obesity epidemic at top of mind with a variety of national programs, it's on people's minds to get everyone moving and outdoors. We also thought about adolescents and how they are really too old, in most cases, for the playground and are looking for ways to engage maybe outside of, in addition to, or as part of organized activities.

Holding classes at an outdoor fitness area will help establish the habit of fitness among members of the community, who will likely continue to use the equipment after formal instruction has ended.

"Communities are looking to attract and retain residents and businesses and have realized the value outdoor spaces bring. Having a robust offering of activities and programming supports a healthy community, which ultimately leads to increased engagement."

Johnson said the addition of digital technology to all fitness activities not only enhances individual experiences, it can help build connections.

"I see apps as a way to form a community without actually living near one another," he said. "For example, being able to compete with others who have the same goals as you on a digital platform is something we see happening and continuing into the future."