Bringing the gym outdoors


New equipment available at Lions Park

The area is a sea of orange athletic vests. The little monkeys – also known as the horde of day-care children – climb, hang and swing from the various metal pieces on the new outdoor fitness equipment at Lions Park.

Three girls, not more than seven years old, effortlessly perform perfect chin-ups on the pull-up dip station. My turn is next.

I pull myself up a mere inch. My upper body strength is dismal. I continue to struggle even when Krystle Johner, a personal trainer from Servus Credit Union Place, grabs my feet and gives me a boost.

An audience of primary schoolers is watching me, perhaps confused by my lack of physical prowess.

This is one of many encounters at the new outdoor gym on a sunny Thursday afternoon. Lions Park is bustling and everyone is surprised by the existence of this new equipment, watching curiously as Johner puts me through a full body circuit.

The installation of the outdoor gym was finished in mid-May. There are four “pods” of equipment that are intended for exercises that improve balance, strength, flexibility and cardiovascular health.

Johner starts me off with a quick two-minute jog to warm up. Then we make our way to the hand bike, which gets the rotator cuffs loosened up, she says.

Metal wheels full of holes – also known as tai chi wheels – are up next. Place your palms on each and try moving them in the same direction, then the opposite direction. The idea is based on a common movement in tai chi called “wave hands like clouds” to improve balance, flexibility and co-ordination.

Low impact

These exercises are incredibly low impact and are great for seniors as well as for people that are rehabilitating injuries, says Johner, who is also in charge of mind, body and special populations programs at Servus Place.

Johner leads me through several more exercises on equipment that most people would recognize from an indoor gym. The Air Skier, for example, simulates cross-country skiing and is very similar to an elliptical machine.

The Double Hip Swing at the next station simulates walking or jogging. It uses isolated muscle movement in the legs and hips to improve cardio and core strength, and is less jarring on the joints than running on pavement or a treadmill, Johner adds.

Unlike regular gym equipment, the arm press and leg press do not have weights attached, but instead rely on you pushing your own body weight. Body weight exercises such as pushups, pull-ups and tricep dips can be performed on several of the other metal contraptions.

To make the workout harder, Johner instructs me to do even more body-weight exercises in between the stations – including squats, lunges and burpees. She suggests sprinting up the park’s small hill for an added challenge.

We finish off the circuit with sit-ups and leg lifts at the torso bench, as well as dynamic stretching.

There are a multitude of exercises and modifications that can be done on each piece of equipment, says Johner.

“The real challenge is using your imagination.”

Each station has a QR code with an online link to instructional videos on how to use the equipment.

Servus Place will also be doing a summer series on different exercises that people can do at the outdoor gym and in the park, which will be posted on Facebook and Twitter, adds Johner.

Outdoor gyms – also known as adult playgrounds – have surged in popularity in North America over the last two decades. The intention is to promote physical activity in parks and social interaction, especially amongst seniors.

The equipment at Lions Park cost between $60,000 and $65,000, all of which was fundraised by the St. Albert Host Lions Club.


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