Outdoor fitness tracks provide a retro-cool route to strength and endurance
By Mike Grudowski The first time I visited an outdoor fitness course in my adopted hometown in Southern California, I came upon a forlorn sight. The course resembled many that started popping up in parks a quarter-century ago, harking back to an epoch of striped knee-high tube socks and Adidas Superstars. It consisted of a dozen or so simple wood-and-metal exercise stations strung out along a dirt jogging path; most people call them "Parcourses," although that's actually just the most common brand name among several for outdoor fitness-trail apparatuses. This particular one had seen its glory days around the first term of the Reagan administration and was in desperate need of rehab. The instruction signs were battered and worn beyond legibility. The body-curl bench was as weathered and splintered as driftwood. The leg-raise signpost was charred, as if someone had tried to torch it (rage against the exercise machine!). And the wooden platforms intended for step-ups were now mossy and crawling with hundreds of orange-and-black-striped beetles. Give the insects credit: They were the only living souls I saw actually using the equipment.
Too bad, because the course's low-tech calisthenic stations and mile and a half of track were refreshingly free of the sensory static that health clubs specialize in. No banks of nattering televisions, no waiting for some Spandexed troglodyte to finish grunting out his supersets so you could squeeze in a few reps. Instead, here was a strikingly simple, nostalgic alternative: free, convenient, and, best of all, outdoors—that much closer to the cycling, hiking, paddling, and climbing I was conditioning for in the first place.