Feature Article - September 2018
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Everyone's Gym

Outdoor Fitness Reaches All Ages, Abilities

By Joseph Bush

AnneMarie Spencer, corporate vice president of marketing for a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based company that offers a wide-ranging family of brands focused on play and recreation products and services, said that what happens before choosing a space and an equipment company is very important.

"These spaces can be configured to meet any budget, and with the wealth of options available, the most important thing is to meet with the community, discover their goals for the space, understand who the users might be, then take the available budget and design an environment that meets these criteria," Spencer said.

She said that because user groups are as diverse as the range of outdoor adult fitness equipment, understanding the priorities of the former can help inform choices for the latter, and ensure that an outdoor adult fitness area is meaningful. Spencer said outdoor fitness spaces see the highest use when users have a range of reasons to be there.

"By adding active elements so that athletes are engaged, alongside casual trainers, parents, the active aging population, deconditioned users and even families, you can ensure the space will get the highest use possible," Spencer said.

The huge popularity of obstacle course racing—think Tough Mudder and Spartan Race—is definitely influencing the choices for outdoor fitness, Spencer said. These courses can often be used by the whole family, so encouraging multigenerational fitness opportunities becomes an advantage, and a great motivation for families seeking ways to spend more active time together.

"Well-designed obstacle courses offer several options for traversing each obstacle, so the user can experience the course in a manner suited to their confidence and ability," Spencer said. "Another popular trend is bringing portable equipment to the outdoor adult fitness park. Having moveable equipment like ropes, sandbags, free weights and bands available for use can provide additional ways to use the space, offer a wider range of exercise possibilities, and can help facilitate classes, especially when the number of class participants exceeds the amount of available equipment."

Spencer said this use of portable fitness tools can be achieved by having set times of day when moveable equipment is available, or by allowing users to check out the equipment from a staffed facility on the property. Many pieces of outdoor equipment provide methods for attaching ropes, rings, suspension training apparatus and other devices that, as per current AS™ standards for fitness equipment cannot be a permanent fixture of outdoor fitness equipment.

By applying principles of universal design, operators can help ensure that their outdoor adult fitness areas are usable by all people to the greatest extent possible, Spencer explained.

"There is equipment specifically adapted to meet the needs of users of mobility devices, so they are able to comfortably reach and use the equipment," Spencer said. "Including it in the design can increase usability of your space and its appeal to everyone.

"Remember that inclusion should apply to the entire environment, so thinking about surfacing, routes of travel, restrooms and convenient parking that is easily accessible are equally important to ensure that people can move about safely and comfortably in the outdoor fitness environment."

One of the keys to attracting usage of outdoor fitness areas, Spencer said, is making sure the community knows they are free to use, and making sure they are easy to access. The fitness area should easily connect to streets, parking and sidewalks, and provide bicycle or other non-motorized means and universal accessibility for people using mobility devices, she said.

"Be sure to consider site amenities like benches and trash disposal in the overall plan," Spencer said. "The fitness park should ideally connect to transit facilities, pathway networks and established pedestrian traffic. Community connectivity to other meaningful destinations, such as neighborhoods and urban centers, is also desirable."