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Outdoor Gyms: What Are They & Do They Work? (Updated 2019)

Wondering what all the fuss is about surrounding outdoor gyms? Or maybe you've already tried one out and you want to know whether or not it could work as an all-out exercise routine to get you into shape... (you have to admit, they're pretty fun as well as being free!). 

We’re not saying that exercising outside is anything new – people have been using parks to practice football or go for their daily run for years – but outdoor gyms in parks are the new craze, and we're here to explain why. 

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Outdoor Gyms: what are they?

So, what do we mean when we talk about an outdoor gym? In essence, these are pieces of equipment that you might find in a normal fitness centre that has been adapted for permanent outdoor use. That means they are sturdy and durable to any kind of weather.

Just like at a normal gym there is a real range of equipment that can be used, but most outdoor gyms will at least include some weight machines, maybe bars to hang from, specially adapted step-master type equipment and a variety of lower limb exercisers. The equipment in an outdoor gym tends to be cemented firmly into the ground and built on tarmac foundations.

In their study on OFE (outdoor fitness equipment), W-H Chow, A.J. Owen and L-G Wu state:

OFE are exercise machines that mimic those found in traditional indoor gyms and rehabilitation clinics. OFE typically provide free access for the general public to exercise in outdoor settings such as parks, community plazas, or schools. 

This is a simple yet effective way to sum up outdoor gyms/equipment, and you can check out the entire study if you're interested in learning more about the impact that these gyms have! 

Generally, these outdoor fitness park’s are funded by the government. That could mean a central government in a low-income area or more commonly the local council. Residents have fought battles to get this type of equipment into their community, calling for public health spending to be sequestered off to this area.

Advocates of outdoor exercise say these gyms make getting fit easier while also making it more accessible to all kinds of residents, encouraging good long-term heart health and cholesterol levels. Many are used by young people who would not be able to afford a regular gym membership.

Where are Outdoor Gyms? 

outdoor fitness gyms in the uk

Credit: Fresh Air Fitness website 

So, whether you're a keen exerciser looking for something new to try out, or you're just getting into fitness and you're wondering whether outdoor gyms are a good option for you, you're going to need to know where your closest one is! 

The best thing to do is using an online mapping service for your local area to find out the answer to 'where are outdoor gyms?'. As you can see in the image above, Fresh Air Fitness has a good amount of outdoor gyms in parks scattered across the UK...

Many of the gyms are registered along with their exact geographical location. You could also try looking at your local council web pages to see whether they have found any additional information. Some sites will include a full list of all the free to use outdoor fitness parks available in that area! 

For some examples, here's the best websites for finding outdoor gyms in the UK:

The other way to find your nearest outdoor gym is to simply ask around your community of personal trainers and fitness professionals. They will probably use these sites regularly and should be able to point you in the right direction.

Indeed, if you exercise in local parks yourself you may very well stumble across them while out for a jog. Most are located in central parks and recreational centres to make them easy for lots of people to get to.

Outdoor Exercises: Why and how

Now we’ve covered the 'what' and 'where' aspects of outdoor gyms, it’s important to question 'why'? Why is outdoor exercise important? Why might you use outdoor fitness parks?

Whether you're already keen on exercise or you're looking to use them as a new attempt to get into fitness, here are our top five reasons for using outdoor gyms! 

The Top Five Advantages of Using Outdoor Fitness Equipment

Outdoor gyms save money

The costs of accessing gym equipment can really drain your income, so the advantage of using either an outdoor gym or an outdoor fitness park is the cost-saving. This type of equipment is specifically designed to be free for anyone to use – including those training clients! (So if you're interested in becoming a Personal Trainer, you'll be glad to know that you don't necessarily have to spend money on gym membership yourself!). 

In their academic study named: Understanding Outdoor Gyms in Public Open Spaces: A Systematic Review and Integrative Synthesis of Qualitative and Quantitative Evidence, J.L.C. Lee, Lo T.L.T. and Ho R.T.H write:

The theme of being affordable was found in two studies. OG is a free facility for the public. A participant in one study expressed that she and her family could not afford a paid gym and the OG was her only opportunity to receive resistance training.

This highlights just how beneficial outdoor gyms are to the community in general, not only personal trainers! However, you could use them as part of an outdoor fitness session with clients also, especially if you're aiding someone WITH marathon training in the park. You could jump on the equipment with them as part of their warm-up, or get some free resistance training into the routine! 

Outdoor fitness makes you feel great

outdoor gyms in the uk

Another reason to do some outdoor fitness is that it makes you feel great. Whether you are training other people or working on your own tight abs, the fact is that a little fresh air and some greenery can make a big difference to your workout. Indeed, it can make you more motivated to train while also providing you with re-invigoration.

There’s nothing like working up a sweat in the park, beating hands-down the sweaty bunkers of many an inner-city gym.

Try going just after dawn or during twilight for some motivating backdrops and beautiful scenery while you work out, too!

Outdoor gyms have good quality equipment

Because exercising outside is cheaper it does not mean it offers less quality. Outdoor gyms in parks are put in by the local council and designed to be used by lots of people and, most importantly, to be sustainable.

They're great for bodyweight and HIIT workouts, which are actually some of the most effective workouts for losing weight and getting lean. Check out our beginner's guide to calisthenics here for more info on bodyweight training! 

You can rest assured that outdoor gyms are great for getting in shape, and have the potential to have the same effect as indoor gyms can in terms of your overall health and fitness.

They aren't a gimmick, as they are stocked with high-quality equipment that is enough on its own to push you to your limits. If doing HIIT workouts and circuit training at home can be effective, then imagine how much more effective they can be when done on an outdoor fitness park stocked with resistance machines! 

Outdoor fitness parks are easily accessible for many clients

If you're a qualified PT looking to hold sessions in outdoor fitness parks, chances are you'll have no issue finding clients that want to train this way in your local area (especially since there are so many outdoor gyms in the UK!). 

Many clients we see have a pretty up and down history when it comes to exercise. Some have tried to get fit in the past with attempts ending in failure.

As such, a good proportion of clients will probably have negative associations with gyms. And that’s why taking them to a place outside, where they can get used to the equipment without those associations kicking in, is a very wise decision. It avoids the smell and ambience that they might find stressful!

We’ve had many clients coming to us feeling embarrassed about starting out training. Quite often they’d prefer to be somewhere without the high concentration of super buff bodies – at least until they feel a little bit more comfortable.

Outdoor exercises: Great advertising

Last, but by no means least, outdoor fitness parks can be great advertising for you and your business. By definition, you’re going to reach not only more people but a wider range of clientele when you are outside.

When training people in the gym, the other people who see you are already into exercise, whereas when you’re out and about with a client, people that are keen to get fitter but haven’t found the motivation yet, are more likely to see you.

Maximise this effect by wearing branded work-out gear, making sure your name and contact details are easily visible. That way you are both working and marketing yourself and are likely to pick up a good few new clients.

So, you want to work out in an outdoor gym, what kind of routine should you then use? There are lots of different ways to use this kind of resource to your advantage – something that largely depends on the particular pieces available to you. However, here are a few suggestions for great workout routines to help you get started.

A quick but effective outdoor routine

Try doing the following ten times each. Remember to take a short break in between each one and stretch out properly before and after. Then repeat the set. Do it twice for beginners, three times for clients who are more experienced and four times for an experienced pro.

Remember though: always be careful about injuries, never do more than is safe, adapt your activities to how your client feels at the time and if in any doubt, check with a qualified medical professional before undertaking any new exercise regime. So here it goes:

  1. Lunge
  2. Press-ups
  3. Bunny hop your way over a low-positioned beam
  4. Foot to bar leg raises
  5. Chin-up
  6. Squat

Try this out for a great, full-body muscle work-out and see how you find it. Outdoor fitness parks are endlessly customisable to how you want to use them, so once you have tried it out you can develop your own workout using the equipment available in your area and tailored exactly to your own or your client’s fitness goal.

outdoor fitness park image

Using an Outdoor Fitness Park: Key Etiquette Tips

It is worth ending with a word on outdoor fitness park etiquette. It is also important to treat the equipment with as much respect as you would in your normal gym. Be sure to bring a sweat towel with you to wipe down the weight machines or cross-trainer. Avoid scratching and breaking, and report any unsafe or broken equipment to the local authority.

Personal trainers are used to handling gym equipment. They will easily adapt to using the fun options available in local parks. It’s free and especially in summer months can be a lot of fun to work out outside. Try these great public resources and see the benefits it could bring to your training.

References:

  1. Chow, H.-W.; Mowen, A.J.; Wu, G.-L. Who Is Using Outdoor Fitness Equipment and How? The Case of Xihu Park. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, p1. 
  2. Lee, J.L.C.; Lo, T.L.T.; Ho, R.T.H. Understanding Outdoor Gyms in Public Open Spaces: A Systematic Review and Integrative Synthesis of Qualitative and Quantitative Evidence. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, p8.

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Written by Luke Hughes

CEO and Co-Founder

Luke is the CEO and Co-Founder of OriGym. Holding a first-class degree in Sport and Exercise and an MSc in Sport and Nutrition, he is also qualified as a Level 4 Personal Trainer with various specialist credentials covering the entire spectrum of health, fitness and business. Luke has contributed to a variety of major industry publications, including Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, Metro, Cosmopolitan, The Mirror, The Sun, The Standard and more.