Outdoor Workout Trends and History

Outdoor exercise has become increasingly more common over the past 3 years. Outdoor workouts have also become more effective and, in some cases, necessary. The Covid pandemic may have initiated or exacerbated the prevalence of outdoor workouts, but the trend was already on the rise before 2020. NASM (2022) lists outdoor workouts as one of the main trends in the fitness industry, especially if the “outdoor activities…have a social element to them”.

Facilities like CAMP 1 Health Club and Wellness Center created outdoor workout areas to help promote socialization as well as physical activity. Bailey et al. published findings in the ACSM Health and Fitness Journal (2019) that suggest that “grassy fields, picnic tables, and playgrounds may attract visitors, but the inclusion of outdoor gyms and fitness equipment is more likely to invite vigorous forms of physical activity.” Community support is a major factor in developing lasting habits as well, only a bonus to developing proper, functional outdoor exercise areas.


Design for Outdoor Workouts

Designing an outdoor gym, or an outdoor training area makes sense from both a logistical perspective as well as a general wellness perspective. Facilities of all types can make efficient use of underutilized or otherwise unused space. CAMP 1, a 20,000-square-foot Health Club and Wellness Center in Northern California made use of the areas between the multiple parts of their property by not only designing and building outdoor functional training areas but by installing roll-up doors that created a continuous flow throughout all the areas in their facility.

Ming Kuo Ph.D. of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studies and regularly presents her findings on the health benefits of “vitamin N”, in this case, the “N” stands for Nature. Kuo suggests that green spaces, trees, plants, grass, and fresh air, our highly correlated with better health. Ecosystem structures are a natural addition to any outdoor space that will inspire and encourage movement. Designing spaces for outdoor fitness would only further enhance what are already very healthy activities.


Health Benefits of the Outdoors

Kuo’s research is further supported by quite a large body of literature on the direct benefits of being outdoors, as well as the physical and mental health benefits provided by simply having an office with a window view of nature. Gladwell et al. (2012) found that images of nature can “increase parasympathetic activity” and “reduce sympathetic nervous activity” while Berto (2005) found that an individual can regain focus and attention. Plants and trees provide direct effects, like producing Phytoncides, or essential oils, which humans inhale, and help to produce more beneficial white blood cells.

If you are considering an outdoor space at your facility, the answer is in the research! Designing a functional, well-thought-out outdoor training area will not only make great use of under-utilized space, but also develops community and camaraderie, and promotes lifelong beneficial fitness habits.