How To Use The Equipment On Outdoor Fitness Trails

If you've ventured out looking for fitness trails for the Lifehacker Fitness Challenge, you may have noticed some mysterious unlabelled equipment. What are you supposed to do with this bar near the ground? This slanted bench? Here are your answers.

Photo: Beth Skwarecki

Fitness trails are different everywhere, so I'll show you some of the stations at my local circa-1985 Fit-Trail (at North Park near Pittsburgh, PA). This is not an exhaustive list, but it might give you some ideas if your local trail is missing some of its signs.

Nothings and Vertical Posts

Some stations may have a sign (or, they once had a sign) but no equipment. They might ask you to do one of the following:

  • Touch your toes.
  • Bend slightly forward at the waist, and rotate your torso to the side, back and other side (either continuously or pausing at each position).
  • Star jumps.
  • Hop and kick your leg out to the side, touching your foot, then repeat with the other leg (once you get the rhythm it's like a very vigorous version of jogging in place).

If there's a pole or post, you might do one of the following:

  • Lean against it while bending one knee to stretch your calf.
  • Hold it for balance while stepping up on a nearby, shorter post.
  • Grab handles near the bottom of the post while doing a lunge.
  • Lean your back against it and do a wall sit.

Bars and Handles

I promise these are not all for pull-ups. (But, chances are, at least one of them is.)

  • Bars high above the ground: Pull-ups or chin-ups. Pro tip if you can't do pull-ups: Squat down and jump as high as you can, grabbing the bar on the way up. It's a cheat, but a worthwhile cheat that helps you get a good workout instead of just walking on by.
  • Another use for high bars: Hang from them while curling your legs up toward your chest.
  • Monkey bars: Climb across them hand-to-hand, if you can.
  • Rings high above the ground: They could be for pull-ups, or they could be for a full-body stretch where you just hang from them and swing. Aaaah.
  • Parallel bars at chest height: "Walk" across them on your hands, or do dips.
  • Bars low to the ground: Push-ups.

Bench-like Objects

  • Low bench: Sit on it and touch your toes.
  • Slanted bench with handles at the top: Hold the handles and reverse-curl your legs above your head. (This feels like the kind of thing that probably isn't good for your back.)
  • Bench with a low bar next to it: Sit on the bench, tuck your feet under the bar and lean back. Then do sit-ups.
  • Bench with a short post next to it: Sit on the bench with your feet on either side of the post. Raise your legs and clap your feet together over the post.

Lumber in Odd Configurations

  • Beam on the ground: Balance beam.
  • Zigzag beams on the ground: Either a balance beam (for extra fun, do it forward and backward) or a thing to jump over, zigzagging in multiple hops.
  • Slanted beam high in the air: Jump and try to touch as high as you can.
  • Slanted beam at knee/hip height: Put your hand on the beam and jump over with both legs at the same time.

If you found a piece of equipment that isn't on this list, try Philip Harrison's Instagram, which is full of instruction signs from parcourses. Or post it below and we'll scratch our heads together!


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