Outdoor Gyms for Grown-Ups

Fresh-air fitness parks will add playtime to your next workout.

August 2016

What began as a pre-Olympics national fitness campaign in China has found its way across the globe, and now outdoor fitness gyms are popping up in parks and playgrounds around the U.S. Also known as fitness stations, zones or parks, these well-equipped spaces are designed to give adults a fresh-air option for play and exercise.

Outdoor workout appeal

Most outdoor gyms are free to residents, making fitness more affordable and accessible, not to mention more fun! Strolling to a nearby park to work out under the sun may be much more appealing than paying a gym membership and sweating it out indoors. For parents of school-age kids, it can make working out fit into the family schedule—just bring the kids along to play in an adjacent park or playground. Students, retirees and anyone on a tight budget will appreciate the financial perks; little more than a pair of sneakers is required. No matter your specific reason for choosing an outdoor gym, the benefits are varied: free access, fresh air, improved physical health and a community of fellow gym-goers.

What to expect at an outdoor gym

Don’t imagine elaborate apparatus—these outdoor fitness parks are anything but intimidating. Likewise, don’t expect a few sparse, splintering wooden structures like those from the fitness trails that were popular in the 1970s and ’80s. Picture a combination of standard playground fare and simplified, all-weather versions of standard gym equipment: pull-up bars, balance beams, sit-up stations, climbing walls and more. Some even have stationary bikes and elliptical machines for cardio, or movable strength-training equipment for exercises like leg curls and chest presses. 

Where to work out outdoors

As with many cultural trends, major urban regions have been the first to offer these outdoor gyms to the public. But the movement is spreading to smaller cities and suburban neighborhoods alike. Visit your local government’s department of parks and recreation website to find out what may be available near your home. Some manufacturers and communities also list directories online to help people locate an outdoor gym nearby. Check out resources like PlayCore and Calisthenics for their locations, and get ready to get moving.