Par Course Exercise Outdoor Fitness for Everyone

Laura Williams, M.S.Ed.
Par course trail

If you were to see a sign proclaiming, "Par Course Exercise: Outdoor Fitness for Everyone!" you'd probably wonder, "What in the world is par course exercise?" You've probably seen par course equipment before. Maybe you've even used it without realizing what it was called. Lined along hike and bike trails and parks around American stand solitary fitness stations, cumulatively referred to as par courses. These courses are designed to enable you to take your fitness routine from inside the gym to out in the park. Unfortunately, they don't receive nearly the amount of attention that they should.

Par Course Exercise: Outdoor Fitness for Everyone

The beautiful thing about par course exercise equipment is that it truly is designed for everyone. Par courses are almost always located on public property, making them easily accessible and free for users. Cities, hospitals and recreation centers that install par course systems usually set them up in one of three ways:

  • As a full-body exercise circuit with 15 pieces of equipment separated into eight separate stations located along a trail
  • As an "outdoor gym" with all of the equipment located within a single area
  • As a shorter circuit with the 15 pieces of equipment separated into four separate stations located along a trail or within a park

Equipment

Par course exercise equipment includes strength training, plyometric and stretching stations. You can expect to find some of the following pieces of equipment on a par course:

  • Achilles Stretch
  • Sit-and-Reach
  • Leg Stretch
  • Hamstring Stretch
  • Thigh Stretch
  • Trunk Stretch
  • Vault Bar
  • Sit-up
  • Push-up
  • Chin-up
  • Knee Lift
  • Body Curl
  • Log Hop
  • Bench Dip
  • Bench Curl

Par course equipment is built with two concepts in mind: 1) blend into the outdoor environment, 2) keep it simple. Many par courses are made of wood with metal posts in green, tan or brown colors. Some of the equipment, like the chin-up bar, has a fairly self-explanatory purpose, but because of the simplicity of the equipment, you the purpose of every station isn't immediately self-evident. Because of this, each par course station comes with an illustrated graphic panel that shows you how to use the equipment.

Newer Systems

While traditional par course exercise equipment is fairly simply and standard, more playground and fitness companies are coming up with new options for outdoor fitness equipment. The newer options include stations that mimic indoor exercise equipment, like leg presses, elliptical trainers, chest presses, lat pulls and back extensions. Unlike indoor equipment, you don't have the option to increase the resistance of the movement by selecting a greater weight, so you have to perform more repetitions to reach muscle exhaustion.

Putting It to Use

Whether you're young or old, fit or out of shape, you can use par course equipment to enhance your exercise routine. The equipment typically uses your own body weight for resistance, so you don't have to worry about adding or removing weight. If you can access a par course on a circuit, follow the trail and stop at each exercise station, performing the exercise in the way that it's described on the instruction panel. After you finish the exercise, continue your walk or jog. By the end of the circuit you can either choose to perform the whole circuit a second time, or you can call it quits for the day. You'll know that you achieved a full-body workout incorporating cardio, strength training and stretching. Even if your par course isn't on a circuit, you can create a circuit out of the equipment provided. Perform an exercise on one of the stations for a minute, then walk or jog around the park for a minute, then return to the par course and do the next station for a minute. By the end of your routine you'll have gotten your heart rate up while incorporating strength and flexibility into your routine. So the next time you see a sign that says, "Par Course Exercise: Outdoor Fitness for Everyone," you'll know exactly what it means.

Par Course Exercise Outdoor Fitness for Everyone