Outdoor fitness equipment is not new, but it has definitely evolved over the past decade making outdoor training more safe, functional and fun!

The first style of outdoor equipment to hit the parks looked strikingly similar to indoor equipment. Stations including chest press and leg extensions had moving parts that allowed users to lift a portion of their body weight. This style makes it easy to identify and use, however, doesn't offer options to adjust for your height or the amount of resistance.

More recent designs have adopted the training trends of functional exercise and body weight resistance. These outdoor gyms can be deceiving. At first glance, it may look like more monkey bars for the kids. They are, however, specifically designed with materials, dimensions and layout to optimize space and function. They offer endless options for exercises that can be adapted for any fitness level or height. Resistance can be modified and progressed using gravity and lever length. The bars are also functional and accessible for wheelchairs.

We visited Lake Wabukayne in Mississauga which is an amazing example of a simple but incredibly functional outdoor training space. This park is equipped with a system from TrekFit, a Canadian company that is breaking new ground in this area and have systems set up throughout North America.

The following are just some of the functions and features these new fit in the park systems include:

  • ergonomics - designed to accommodate a broad range of user heights
  • resistance options - varied heights of bars and platforms allow users to vary resistance with lever lengths and gravity
  • instruction panels - because the exercises aren't as obvious, instruction panels outline a sampling of exercises for all fitness levels
  • QR codes - if you have your smartphone with you, you can scan the QR codes on the instruction panels for exercises and information
  • mobile app - Trekfit has a mobile app that helps you find your closest park with equipment plus training programs based on your fitness level and goals
  • ground cover
  • aesthetics - the overall design of these spaces is targeted to appeal and support ages ranging from teens to older adults including colour and layout
  • accessibility - this park features ground cover that made it accessible for wheelchairs

Even when you feel inspired, it can be tough to figure out just WHAT to do. Here are a few tips to creating a quick and easy workout:

  • warm up - start with a few minutes of brisk walking, climb a hill or find a spot to do some steps ups; the objective is to elevate your heart rate moderately and move all your major muscles and joints
  • timing or tens - do each exercise for a set time of 20, 30 or 40 seconds or choose a consistent number like 10 or 20
  • simple circuits - choose 4-6 exercises; complete one set of each, rest for 60-90 seconds and then repeat 2-3 times
  • cardio bursts - create a cardio circuit by adding in 30-60 second intervals doing step ups, lateral leaps, hill runs, skipping or jogging on the spot
  • alternate upper/lower - this will help you get a balanced total body workout; for example, push-ups then squats, triceps dips then lunges
  • push/pull - this is a great way to make sure you balance muscle groups; for example push-ups then pull ups, lunges then glute drops
  • progressive overload - the height of the bars and your lever length varies the angle and how much of your body weight your pushing or pulling; for example, start push-ups on a higher bar and gradually work toward a lower bar;
  • cool down - when you workout outside, the heat can add to stress and your heart rate; take the time to ease out of your workout
  • stretch - even though you're not pumping iron, make sure you stretch all the major muscles you've worked; hold stretches for 20-30 seconds for best benefits for flexibility

Bar systems are also part of a global trend with calisthenics training. One of the founders with this were the "Bartendaz" who rose to fame with their feature on Oprah highlighting the work they were doing in Harlem getting kids off the street and instilling positive qualities and habits of healthy living - mentally and physically.

You can now see calisthenics training all over youtube with insane demonstrations of strength, agility and flexibility. They even have international competitions! Here are a few examples to view but NOT necessarily to try at home or at your local park:

For more moderate options you can start with, visit www.libbynorris.com. We'll be posting park circuits and exercises you can do on outdoor equipment, playground equipment or simply on a park bench or in your back yard.

If you have a specific question we'd love to hear from you. We also have a quick survey to find out your biggest challenges to help plan workouts and support for our new challenge starting September 2015.