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Outdoor Fitness

Reprinted from PN January 2018

This unique and accessible fitness equipment lets people who use wheelchairs take their workouts outdoors.

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The new year is here and many people are trying to stick to their resolutions and goals around fitness and improving their overall physical health. However, gym memberships can be expensive and finding one with accessible equipment can be tough. When the weather is nice, heading outside for a roll in the park is a free alternative. Some parks even feature outdoor exercise equipment, but those machines aren’t typically made for people who use a wheelchair. Greenfields Outdoor Fitness has fixed that problem by creating a line of Americans with Disabilites Act-compliant outdoor exercise equipment. An outdoor fitness equipment manufacturer, Greenfields designed a Signature Accessible line that has revolutionized the ability for everyone to exercise for free outside.

Making Fitness Inclusive

A source of inspiration for the Signature Accessible line came from the 2011 East Bay Regional Park Health Festival in Oakland, Calif. Greenfields’ team members, including CEO Sam Mendelsohn, saw a wheelchair user transfer onto exercise units in order to work out next to his able-bodied friends and family members. This event, along with Greenfields’ dedication to inclusion and “Promoting Wellness and Fighting Obesity One Community at a Time,” led to the creation of the Signature Accessible line.  

“ ‘Promoting Wellness and Fighting Obesity One Community at Time’ is more than just our slogan — it embodies everything about Greenfields and its mission to help communities,” says Mendelsohn. “Once government agencies and foundations nationwide started to embrace the concept of outdoor fitness, it was apparent that we had to revolutionize the way people conceive this amenity. Being the single recreational amenity which caters to the largest demographics, it was important for us to make it as inclusive as possible.”

The Signature Accessible line was unveiled to the public in October 2012 at Azalea Park in St. Petersburg, Fla. The line consists of nine units that target the biceps, triceps, shoulders, chest, back and core. Units are composed of two-person stations, with one side designed for able-bodied individuals and the other for individuals who use wheelchairs. Participants with a variety of abilities and fitness levels can simultaneously complete such strengthening exercises as the vertical press, chest press, lat pulldown, butterfly and reverse fly. The line also features a handcycle to make sure individuals with disabilities can easily incorporate cardio into their workouts as well.

“The first step was to convert our extremely popular body-leverage systems to accommodate both the able and the disabled, thus maintaining the social nature of our outdoor fitness gyms,” Mendelsohn says. “Designing and manufacturing fitness equipment for outdoor gyms has its challenges, even more so with accessible designs, as additional considerations must be included such as turning radius, ease of access and even a caretaker scenario. The goal is to create environments which will cater to as many users as possible (as in one size fit most, but not all).”

Today, Greenfields’ Signature Accessible units can be found worldwide, including at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, senior centers, rehabilitation centers, schools and public parks.

Not Feeling Isolated


An avid user of the line’s equipment found in parks is spokeswoman and decorated U.S. Paralympian Jennifer French. French sustained a C6/7 spinal-cord injury in a 1998 snowboarding accident. She won a sailing silver medal at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London and became the first woman with a disability to be named the Rolex Yachtwoman of the Year that same year. Working out at Azalea Park near her home in St. Petersburg lets French combine her love of the outdoors with a sense of community and inclusion. 

“I don’t feel isolated and can be part of my open park like everyone else,” French says. “When I go to the outdoor gym near me, there is always someone else there exercising and the age ranges are wide, from teens to seniors. Finding an accessible gym is tough and many times not available. It is free, fun and outdoors.”

The Signature Accessible line is designed to target reverse muscles to help users prevent injury. French notes that her typical routine for using this equipment concentrates on reaching muscle groups that aren’t regularly worked by wheelchair use. While the Signature Accessible line is specifically built for those with disabilities, other Greenfields outdoor equipment can also be utilized by wheelchair users who can transfer.

“I like to do a circuit and rotate around the equipment, then do some cardio around the park,” French says. “It is a great way to exercise various muscles. I typically do extra reps on the reverse butterfly and the lat pulldown since these target muscles opposite of what I typically use to propel my wheelchair.”

A “Funout”

In her role as the line’s spokeswoman, French helps consult others and provides expertise on how the units should be designed and ultimately set up for the best possible experience for exercisers with wheelchairs. She actively seeks input from other wheelchair users to incorporate into her suggestions. Greenfields also directly takes input from exercisers with disabilities — particularly on where and how the equipment is set up.  

“I get the pleasure of giving input and suggestions but also get to talk with others to listen to their suggestions, too,” French says. “When it comes to designing and configuring accessible outdoor gyms, they take input on equipment placement, site selection and surfacing.”

French enjoys the social aspects of using the equipment at public parks and easily working out alongside able-bodied companions. This element of inclusion makes exercise more fun and engaging, which helps motivate her to stick with her fitness regimens. For anyone looking to become more physically active, French recommends working out at an outdoor gym or other outdoor location with equipment. French also suggests reframing how you think of exercise, as more of a fun, social experience instead of a chore in order to keep up motivation. Exercising outdoors with accessible equipment can help individuals with disabilities achieve fitness goals while having fun and being a part of the community. 

“The nice things about the outdoor gyms is that they are inclusive, so a wheelchair user can exercise alongside an able-bodied person,” French says. “Exercising with other people really helps to keep you motivated to keep coming back. Workout sounds like work. Think of it as a ‘funout.’ Exercise needs to be fun, otherwise it is too easy to lose interest. If you have never exercised before, it might be good to check with your physician or physical therapist. Start the routine slowly and build yourself up. Set yourself a goal and a plan to slowly increase your routine.”

To see if the Signature Accessible line is available in your area or for more information, visit gfoutdoorfitness.com/media-coverage.

Amanda Laverman is a freelance writer and regular contributor to PN living in Urbandale, Iowa. 

 

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