Workout in the park

Too intimidated to exercise in a gym? Then take it outside, suggests Trevor Zahara.

Your workout, that is. And the fitness-minded entrepreneur knows just the place: Lions Park in St. Albert.

That’s where his company, Peak Play Environments, has installed a new outdoor fitness circuit — complete with everything from an elliptical trainer and leg press to a chest press and pull-up station. “The gym environment, with the mirrors and very specific equipment, that can be intimidating to someone who maybe is shaped more like a pear,” Zahara, 51, tells Keeping Fit during a recent interview.

But fitness equipment in a park? That’s a different story, according to Zahara. “When people first decide to make a difference with their physical fitness, they go for a walk,” he explains. “And to have these fitness pieces beside a path that they happen to be walking by, people are a lot more apt to get on them and do a little bit of exercise.”

The Lions Park fitness circuit features 13 pieces of equipment that target balance, strength, flexibility and cardio.

And fitness newbies needn’t fret. Each workout station contains a QR code that can be scanned with a smartphone to access an online video showing exactly how to perform the exercise.

Perhaps best of all, there’s no charge to use the equipment. It was financed through “funding grants and various fundraisers held by the St. Albert Host Lions Club,” states a press release issued by the City of St. Albert.

St. Albert-based Peak Play had presented the concept to the Lions Club and city after completing a playground project in Lions Park three years ago, says Zahara.

“They mulled it over and decided to go for it,” he adds. The equipment was ordered late last summer from Minnesota company Xccent Fitness.

Peak Play did the base work in the fall. “Once the snow cleared and the frost came out, we started putting the equipment in,” notes Zahara.

Of course, St. Albert isn’t the first Canadian city to offer outdoor fitness equipment to its citizens. And it certainly won’t be the last. Outdoor fitness circuits have been popping up around the country in recent years.

Peak Play’s first installation was in Taylor, B.C. Zahara recalls the interest among parents in the small town just southeast of Fort St. John. “We were building a playground and the first thing we put up was the fitness equipment and when kids would come with their parents to check out what was being built on the playground site, parents would get on the air stride or the leg press and they would do a few reps while their kids were asking questions about the playground,” he says. “And then the first section of the playground was built and people would bring their kids to play on that section while we were finishing the rest of the playground, and the parents typically got on the fitness equipment. They didn’t just sit on a bench and watch.”

The outdoor fitness equipment is designed to be operational year-round — even through an Alberta winter. “Depending on the snow cover, the equipment can still be used in the winter,” Zahara adds. “We do have warm spells. The snow might be piled too deep to use the air strider or the elliptical, but the chin-up bars and some of the stretch opportunities, I’m sure they’ll still be used.”

Zahara himself prefers the great outdoors to gyms — whether it’s running adventure races, climbing mountains or going whitewater canoeing. And although he confesses to having no formal fitness training, he’s no slouch. “I recently ran 30 km over a 2,200-foot mountain in an ultramarathon, so I do know a little bit about fitness,” he says. Zahara has also been known to work up a sweat in various regular playgrounds around St. Albert — 32 of which were installed by the company he started in 1992.

“When I go for a run, quite often I’m checking out my old installations. Or I’m checking out my competition,” he admits, noting he often stops for a workout. “I use the monkey bars for chin-ups, and I jump up and down on the decks — sort of use it as a cross-training opportunity.” Indoors or outdoors, Zahara knows it’s imperative to move on a regular basis. “Physical, mental and emotional wellness, it doesn’t come by accident,” he says. “If we pay attention to being well, we will be well.”

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