Feature Article - September 2022
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Fitness al Fresco

Ideas for Adding—or Expanding—Outdoor Exercise Opportunities

By Emily Tipping


Expand Your Options

If you already have an outdoor fitness space, your work might not yet be complete. Are there ways to expand your offerings to meet the needs of even more users? How can you adapt to ever-changing fitness trends?

"We have seen trends such as mud runs, obstacle races, CrossFit and parkour courses popping up all over the world," Devine said. "Outdoor equipment today often mimics what a user can find in an indoor gym. People want to be challenged, they want to try something new and different, not only for themselves, but also something to do with friends and their community members. Outdoor programs help trainers and users alike offer the ability to try something new and avoid burnout from the same routine."

Before taking on the latest trends, however, you should take a step back and consider the demographics of your current users, according to Abel. "This will help determine what needs to be added," she said. "If the gym generally sees users at the beginning fitness levels, consider adding functional fitness equipment, an obstacle course or a ninja course to serve athletes and park visitors at advanced fitness levels. If the outdoor fitness area primarily consists of static equipment, such as pull-up bars and dip stations, adding equipment that is accommodating to those not able to perform the more challenging exercisers will make the area more well-rounded and inviting to all."

Lisiecki agreed. "Adding in equipment that complements your existing equipment but provides a different exercise experience is a great way to add new life to an existing space," she said. "Events that draw people in for adventure and challenge will attract a new buzz in the community."

Other ideas? Roschi suggested adding instructional QR signage covering how to use the equipment, as well as encouraging personal trainers to offer classes in your fitness area to help build a community of new users. Walker recommended the addition of shade, whether through trees or freestanding shade structures, to keep the fitness area "cooler and more comfortable."

Don't forget to promote your space. Walker said that people can't use something they don't know about. Sharing photos on social media channels and working with local media are a couple of ways to get the word out.

"Finally," he added, "consider expanding outdoor fitness spaces to other areas of your campus or community. The closer and more accessible outdoor fitness spaces are, the more likely they will be used."

Maximize Your Reach

How can you ensure you're reaching everyone in your community who would like to access outdoor fitness opportunities? Begin at the beginning, and ask.

"Creating a well-rounded fitness zone starts with knowing the needs of the community," Abel said. "Outdoor gyms can be designed to be accessible and inclusive to all groups, including beginners, advanced users, seniors and people in wheelchairs. This is a great goal to strive for and can be achieved through mixing and matching equipment that best suits each group."

Walker agreed that it's crucial to consider the people using the space. "Before you design or commit to any design, talk to the community members," he said. "Hold town hall meetings. Set up polls on social media. Find out what is needed so you can meet the need."

"For beginners and seniors, include units that use a proportion of body weight for resistance, as well as resistance-free apparatuses," Abel added. "These types of units are inviting and intuitive to use, and serve as a great entry point to the fitness area, helping users gain confidence to progress to more challenging exercises. Resistance-free machines are excellent for seniors as they help them increase their range of motion and recover some of their lost agility. For more advanced users, functional fitness equipment can provide exciting challenges."

You can customize a functional fitness rig with a wide variety of options, she explained, helping to create a space tailored to your exact needs.

"Next, outdoor fitness equipment created for individuals in wheelchairs can make a gym truly inclusive," Abel added. "It gives the option to those with mobility impairments to exercise alongside their able-bodied friends and family members.

"Finally, obstacle courses and ninja courses provide more rigorous adventurous options to get the blood pumping. These courses offer many fun, challenging features such as climbing nets, rotating pull-up bars and cheese walls."

Walker broke down three important user groups to consider: active, aging adults, who need fitness products that provide therapeutic support and enhance balance and flexibility; younger adults and families, where an obstacle course might encourage fun, friendly competition; and those requiring accessible inclusive equipment.

"Some communities use a combination of all three to accommodate the most people possible," Walker said. "We've also seen many fitness spaces installed adjacent to playgrounds so parents and children can be active at the same time."

Ultimately, Lisiecki said, "Adding an outdoor fitness component is an effective way to get kids, families and community members moving together outdoors. It's a draw for people to get out and discover other amenities and a way for communities to attract residents, businesses and even events and tourists."

"I think we are just at the tip of a much bigger explosion in outdoor fitness spaces," Devine concluded. "As we see more people move to outdoor workouts, equipment providers are going to have to evolve with the trends and needs of communities of all shapes and sizes. I think we will see a lot of indoor gyms open outdoor spaces and communities expanding their offering for all ages and walks of life. Programming will continue to be a huge need to help people be the best they can be." RM