Outdoor Fitness Investments are Booming

Trends Reveal Outdoor Fitness Facilities are Here to Stay

During the summertime it seems like everyone wants to be outdoors, and they want to take their fitness routines with them. For many that means biking, running, hiking, swimming and the host of other summer options that come to mind, but for a growing number of enthusiasts it literally means having an outdoor fitness center, equipment and all, to use outside.  Facilities who offer indoor fitness experiences are heading outdoors too, joining numerous municipal recreation organizations making investments in outdoor fitness options that are growing in popularity every day.

It’s a whole new way of thinking for property managers, as available green spaces are no longer just places for attractive landscaping. Facility managers, architects and developers are finding that investing in outdoor fitness (beyond the playground) is paying off in a big way, bringing community members outdoors and engaging them in new ways.

Expand your space

Many might assume that outdoor fitness is mainly the realm of parks and rec departments, but not so. Anyone with green space to spare (or even green space to reallocate) can get in to outdoor fitness.

Studies find that people who take their fitness routines outdoors exercise longer and more often, reaping benefits from varying their routines with outdoor fitness options. And those options aren’t limited to the traditional biking, running, walking variety any more. With lifestyles becoming more sedentary, many savvy community leaders, urban planners, property managers and city officials are providing new and varied ways for people to engage in healthy fitness options, and to get up and get moving thanks to the fitness options available to them. With fitness facilities being a key amenity to attracting tenants in the hospitality, multi-family and student housing markets, competitive-minded “hotels, resorts, country clubs and multi-family housing companies can use an outdoor gym as an amenity that gives them an extra edge in the marketplace.”

Having an outdoor space available for fitness is one thing, but knowing what equipment to put in those outdoor fitness spaces presents an entirely different challenge. Outdoor fitness equipment has advanced tremendously to include more sophisticated machines to work on strength and agility, including many new options beyond the adult versions of playground equipment. Using advanced outdoor versions of seated rowers and leg curl machines, outdoor fitness routines have really changed to include a “gym without a roof” type of experience. Plus, the equipment is extremely durable and made of weather-resistant materials so that outdoor fitness options are a year-round consideration for fitness-forward communities. An added bonus for obstacle course enthusiasts or boot camp participants: more people than you think like to work out in the elements (i.e. mud, rain, etc.) to really test themselves!

According to BeaverFit USA, the market is changing. “As progressive companies are looking to enhance their corporate wellness programs, our outdoor rigs and Performance Lockers are more in demand, as companies can easily add more fitness options without having to go through the expense of adding a new fitness facility,” says Lyndsey Taylor, Account Manager with BeaverFit USA.

The capital expenditure for outdoor fitness equipment can be a fraction of what indoor fitness options cost. In fairness, the technology and sophistication present in advanced indoor fitness equipment is far superior to outdoor fitness equipment options, but even with simple outdoor options the return on investment is worthwhile for the facilities who pursue it.

Parks and rec industry pundits endorse the concept whole-heartedly. “The fantastic advantage of adding an outdoor gym to a park is that it really does not require much in the way of a capital expenditure. There is no building. There is no staff. There are no amenities such as showers required (if a park-goer wants to cool off, they can always jump in a pond).You can literally create an outdoor gym today complete with heavy-duty machines and bars that allow visitors to do push-ups, chest presses, chin-ups, balance exercises, lat pull-downs, leg extensions, back extensions, stationary bicycling, leg presses, cardio-walking and even hand cycling. Mother Nature provides the roof. These outdoor exercise equipment machines are made of rust-resistant steel than can endure the weather. And hardy machines bolted into the ground stayed around for a long time and deter vandals. Add outdoor fitness equipment to a park and yes, they will come.”

A wide variety of communities are experiencing the benefits that outdoor fitness areas bring to usually small footprints of green space, at an affordable price that many find surprising.

Increase your appeal

“For reasons similar to the corporate market, universities and student communities are looking for creative ways to differentiate themselves to prospective students and offering unique outdoor and indoor fitness options has been one of their tactics,” admits Taylor. “Our core business is with the US military, but over the past year our business has expanded towards the commercial market as outdoor fitness solutions become more and more popular. Our products retain their military quality and durability, but we’ve developed a more streamlined, less industrial aesthetic.”

People want the option of bringing the great outdoors into their fitness routine. As fitness options are a top draw that tenants look for in where they choose to live, expanding those options to include outdoor fitness areas is compelling to potential lease signers. No matter the demographic or the level of fitness interest, people like having a wider variety of fitness options – even if they don’t use them.

Creating an outdoor fitness space at the University of Texas-Dallas meant creating a fresh, lively and vibrant area for a younger student population, and it took some collaboration and enthusiasm from the leadership to bring it to life. Communities are always trying to think of ways of pulling people together and create the sense of belonging and family. This outdoor space is going to draw-in multiple users at a time and give the residents an active and engaging place to be together.

The outdoor fitness space was the second phase of a two-phase project. “It was always a consideration to have an outdoor space as there was a garage door leading from the indoor fitness area outside,” said Beall. “Phase One was small, indoor only and very compact, but the team realized the high demand for more, and decided to really step up the enthusiasm with the Phase Two fitness amenities.  The complete vision of how it would be put together took some collaboration across the ownership, the construction team and us, and we made it all work beautifully.”

The University worked to handle the details, working with the dimensions of the space and what products would fit, how concrete padding needed to be used, what fencing and construction requirements might be necessary, etc. “We put our heads together to find the best tailored solution and luckily didn’t run into too many complications along the way,” Beall admits. The project came in on time and on budget.

BeaverFit is a growing brand in the outdoor fitness arena, but they’re not the only name in the game. With the increasing options for outdoor equipment, there are competitive alternatives for properties that want to distinguish themselves with innovative outdoor fitness choices. “It’s not limited to play companies any more, either — fitness equipment manufacturers such as Life Fitness are applying their know-how to the outdoor world…What started out as one or two companies specializing in adult exercise equipment or having a single line, has turned into pretty much every play equipment manufacturer and some other firms doing outdoor fitness equipment. It’s evolving into new designs and new lines seemingly every day.”

Invest in your community

Studies show that exercising outside is more beneficial. It’s calming to work out in the natural world, where you’re free to move without walls. Plus, those who exercise outside spend more time exercising and do it more often than those with a strictly indoor fitness routine. Communities of all kinds are becoming more wellness-aware, and it’s showing in how we work, live and play every day.

Wellness thinking is also evident in our surroundings. Urban landscapes are becoming greener where they can, and encompassing the natural world into more daily routines is becoming a lifestyle standard. It’s only natural, pardon the pun, that this evolution also includes fitness. Properties of all kinds, serving all populations, are turning their appreciation and integration of natural spaces and their passion for fitness into new assets for community members to use and enjoy. After all, creating outdoor fitness spaces is more authentic and attractive to both younger and older demographics than a perfectly landscaped flower garden. Outdoor fitness investments are more community-oriented and have the benefit of giving back to the community, whereas the flower garden is aesthetically pleasing but somewhat limited beyond that. Outdoor fitness options are more utilitarian, more useful and functional, and fast becoming favorite community gathering places.

“Perhaps the biggest factor aiding the growth of outdoor fitness areas is a nationwide investment in fitness.” And that nationwide investment is powerfully evident at the local level. From local companies and employee fitness initiatives, to municipal parks and recreation organizations, the call to action is everywhere. “If you want to attract more people to your parks, give them more reasons to go there – such as increased conditioning, greater core strength and an alternative to jogging, especially for those with weak knees. Sure, this heavy-duty, outdoor gym equipment comes with a higher cost than indoor equipment. But it’s worth the investment when you measure participation from a satisfied public. Find sponsors to help defray the cost. Those sponsors could be local banks, health food stores, sporting goods stores, doctors, weight-loss clinics or personal trainers. This strategy keeps a community healthy, keeps them out of the hospital or doctor’s office and keeps insurance rates down.”

You’ll notice that even the language has changed, as the outdoor fitness evolution is just about play time. This is serious business. “Exercise equipment companies have longed to evolve beyond the playground stereotype to support the trend to get outdoors, and it seems like they’re finally gaining ground. Communities are recognizing the benefits and many are getting serious about putting in durable equipment to serve their populations. ‘If outdoor activity encourages more activity, then it is a good thing,’ says Jacqueline Kerr, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, who led a study of older adults that found outdoor exercising lasted longer and helped reluctant or inconsistent exercisers become more active. ‘Despite the fitness industry boom,’ she continues, ‘we are not seeing changes in national physical activity levels, so gyms are not the answer.’ ”

As a result of the increasing popularity of outdoor fitness, EcoFit is seeing much more interest in outdoor fitness options, and integrating an outdoor fitness gym with indoor fitness facilities has become a larger part of their design and equipment consultant role. “Outdoor fitness is certainly becoming a top priority for many customers,” concluded Beall.  “Some don’t have enough space inside and it makes sense to offer something outside; people love fresh air and the workout trend is certainly much more functional today.  Older outdoor equipment rarely included accessories and was more independent but today’s options are so versatile. Working small group trainings or boot camps with today’s rigs and accessories is so much easier and storage options are growing as well.  Innovative combinations really bring individuals together, and outdoor fitness is becoming more well-rounded and customized to fit each client’s need.   We work closely to learn the demographics, the vision, and the goals in advance of fully planning each detail. That’s how we work through implementation and come full circle in the final product.”