Playgrounds starting to grow up

By Kyle Rich

Playgrounds are no longer just for kids. An innovative trend utilizing playground equipment has adults maintaining their fitness in a

new way.

At first glance adult playgrounds may look like child’s play, however, their purpose is much different. They are free-to-use, steel-reinforced stations that can target and strengthen abs, quadriceps, biceps and other muscles just as effectively as gym equipment. Users can also supplement a bike ride or run with a full-body outdoor workout.

“The whole concept is based on a free place to go exercise,” said Bruce Carson, co-director of sales at TriActive America, a Grover Beach, California company that makes adult playground equipment. “Most people don’t have a gym membership or somewhere to go exercise, so we’re opening up to a majority of the population, giving them a free place to go work out.”

Like many other activities enjoyed domestically, the concept originated overseas. Adult fitness equipment can be found in public parks in China, and fitness trails started in Europe were designed as a free way to work the entire body. Both have laid the foundation for the adult playgrounds emerging in the U.S.

Jim Sargen, owner of TriActive America, was on vacation in China when he saw an adult playground and decided to bring the trend back to U.S. soil.

“The Chinese government passed a law saying that all public parks needed to have exercise equipment because they were trying to get their entire country healthy,” Carson said. “[Sargen] was just amazed how popular the equipment was, and how well recieved it was.”

More and more adult playgrounds are popping up across major U.S. cities. After one such playground was praised in the Bronx, park officials announced plans to bring dozens more to New York City. San Antonio has rapidly added adult playground equipment to public parks, and Los Angeles has 30 parks, with more on the way, according to the New York Times. However, Chicago has largely ignored this growing trend.

“As the Chicago Park District looked at trends in fitness, we saw a rise in outdoor fitness in 2009,” said Marta Juaniza, assistant press secretary for the CPD. “However, at this time, there are no plans in our budget to add [adult playground equipment].”

While children’s playgrounds can be costly, it’s actually cheaper to produce the equipment for adults.

“It’s a fundamentally different type of product,” said Ian Proud, research manager for Playworld Systems, in Louisburg PA. “The play experience outside can take an entire class of children up to 40, 60, 100 children at a time, whereas the adult play equipment is taking up to 20 at the most.”

Cost is an even bigger issue for local governments because of the current economy.

“Parks and recreation aren’t getting as much equipment as they used to,” Carson said. “But it’s going to explode; it’s going to continue to expand. It won’t be as huge as China because they are federally funded and government mandated, but here in the states, people have to come up with money for the equipment.”

While the money may not always be there, the demand for the equipment will be, Proud said.

“As long as we have this pandemic of ill health, local governments will feel required to address it,” Proud said.