Feature Article - September 2022
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Fitness al Fresco

Ideas for Adding—or Expanding—Outdoor Exercise Opportunities

By Emily Tipping

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There are a number of crucial considerations that will help define the scope of your outdoor fitness area. Begin at the beginning, with your space and your community.

First off, you need to assess your space, Abel said. "Beyond the simple question of how large an area is available, consider what else is nearby and who frequents this area already," she said.

For example, at a park in Florida, a gym was installed next to tennis courts used by a wheelchair tennis league. "In designing the outdoor fitness area, the planners made sure to include plenty of wheelchair-accessible equipment," Abel said. "Many of the units were dual-user—that is, they accommodated someone in a wheelchair on one side and an able-bodied person on the other side, making the area highly inclusive. In addition, the gym also featured functional fitness equipment to cater to advanced users."

Your users are another essential element to take stock of, and Roschi said you should begin by connecting with your local community to find out just who they are—and what they're looking for. "Speak with personal trainers who are looking for alternatives to working out and options to use with their clients. Connect with other fitness groups—find groups on Facebook in local parks, etc.—and ask what types of fitness people are interested in," he said. "There are more options in outdoor fitness equipment today than ever before so connecting with potential users will provide the best idea of the right style of fitness to provide."

Just as important as considering your current users, you should think about who will use the space in the future. Walker said it's important to create "a space that meets the immediate need, but allows space and budget to expand over time as needs change" (more on how to expand your existing fitness area coming up!). He added, "The Mayo Clinic describes five essential elements of a well-rounded workout: aerobic fitness, muscle fitness, core fitness, balance, and flexibility. Plan a space that provides all five elements to ensure everyone gets a balanced exercise experience."

Walker added that if you're just getting started with outdoor fitness, it's good to take it slowly. "If you have a walking path or trail through a park or green space, add a few outdoor fitness products at the trailhead," he said. "Over time, you can install additional products along the trail to encourage people to add more exercise to their walk."

Walker and Devine's parent company has developed an outdoor fitness design guide incorporating research from leading experts to help plan outdoor fitness spaces. "This is an excellent tool, which walks you through the entire process, from advocating for an outdoor fitness park to promoting it after completion and everything in between, including the benefits, best practices when it comes to design and case studies from outdoor fitness spaces."

Lisiecki offered a list of special considerations to take into account as you determine how best to use your space to make sure it can accommodate everyone comfortably while offering challenge at the same time:

  • Age range of users.
  • Inclusivity. "Creating a space that is both accessible and equitable means everyone will be able to find the best of themselves through fitness," Lisiecki said.
  • Progression, to allow people to continue to use the area as their skill level improves.
  • Instruction. "Exercising with proper form is important for safety and results," she said. "Having instructions via video or on an app allows people to see how to use the equipment and what levels are available to them."
  • Capacity. How many people do you want to accommodate at once?
  • Budget. Available space, and how best to use it to meet objectives. Amenities to enhance comfort, such as restrooms, picnic areas and shade.
  • Location. Is it easy to access? Is it adjacent to other play or recreation spaces?
  • Parking.
  • Visibility. "How will people know about this space? Can they see it from a street? A neighborhood? Signs?"

"There is a lot of room for creativity in the design process," Abel said. "Our company just opened a new gym that featured a shade design created just for that park. You can also play into a parks' theme—we've seen equipment installed over a concrete pad designed to look like a soccer ball to dovetail with the main feature at that particular park."