Outdoor Fitness Equipment : How NOT to Waste Your Tax Dollars

A few years ago, I wrote about the benefits of municipal governments installing public fitness equipment in public parks.

By eliminating the cost and improving the accessibility to exercise equipment, public fitness parks are increasing activity levels in communities around the world.

Which is good, because a physically active community is a healthy community, and a healthy community spends less  on health care, misses fewer days of work, earns more money, pays more taxes, etc…

Outdoor Fitness Equipment - Uneven Bars

It’s a win:win.

Or at least it should be.

The Problem is that city bureaucrats have no idea how to design an effective outdoor fitness park. So, they rely on the salespeople from the equipment suppliers to tell them what they need.

And fitness equipment salespeople are in the business of making money.

And that’s fine for them, but not so good for the city’s coffers.

So, as a public service, I thought I would compare & contrast two different pieces of outdoor fitness equipment. A set of Uneven Bars (very old-school) and a Combo Lat Pulldown / Chest Press Machine.

Feel free to email this article to your local city councilor as a reminder of how you prefer to see your tax dollars spent.

Uneven Bars

Cost: $1200  + shipping/taxes/installation


  • Chin Up
  • Pull Up
  • Chest Press / Push Up
  • Lat Row
  • Tricep Dip
  • 2 Leg Squat
  • 1 Leg Squat
  • Hanging Leg Raises
  • Hanging Windshield Wipers
  • Handstand Push Ups
  • Bicep Curls
  • Plank / Bridge
  • Calf Raises
  • Balance training
  • Wide variety of Flexibility / Stretching Exercises
  • Wide variety of Strength Band Exercises
  • Wide variety of Suspension Trainer Exercises
  • Lower Price
  • Less Maintenance
  • Wider variety of exercises
  • Greater range of exercise intensities
  • Reduced chance of breakdown
  • Longer lifecycle
  • Less “sexy” than Lat Pull / Chest Press teeter totter machine
  • Would require an instruction board for all the different exercises

outdoor fitness equipment - lat pull chest press

Lat Pull – Chest Press Combo Machine

Cost: $3450 + shipping/taxes/installation


  • Chest Press
  • Lat Pulldown
  • Some strength band exercises (vertical pole attachment only)
  • More fun looking than a set of boring old  Chin Up bars
  • Beginners love the simplicity of single purpose exercise machines
  • Less than body-weight resistance good for beginners
  • Exercise instruction chart comes included
  • Higher Price
  • Bearing maintenance cost
  • More complex design = greater chance of breakdown = more downtime = crappy fitness park
  • Reduced exercise options
  • Less effective for more advanced trainees
  • Shorter lifecycle = costs even more money to replace
Fancy-schmancy exercise equipment looks better in a photo-op than a set of uneven bars. And we all know how much politicians love photo-ops.
But…it’s your tax dollars. Let them know how you want to see them spent.

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  1. Here I thought that all city park exercise equipment was designed to be perfectly useful. I see now, that it is expensive, and those choosing said equipment are NOT familiar with needs of trainers.
    I suppose though, that ANY exercise is good?

  2. See I understand your point that the Uneven bars are less expensive and they do offer many exercises. The problem with this equipment is do you really see a senior who is 55 or older doing those exercises? Why should the equipment be designed for only a certain percentage of the population? Having equipment that is “sexy”, like you say, is inviting and make people want to use it because its fun. I can tell you one thing we have two parks in my city with fitness equipment. One park with static equipment like the uneven bars and another one with moving pieces that are dynamic. One of them is always packed with people of all age groups and fitness levels all exercising together and one is usually deserted will the odd person with their shirt off working out. I will let you make the decision which one is which.

  3. As long as people are getting exercise, I couldn’t care less about the type of equipment. It’s not just seniors who like single purpose exercise equipment. Go to any health club and you will see people bypassing chin-up bars to use a selectorized pull-down machine.

    The machines are easier & less scary for newbies.

    My ideal fitness park would have a mix of newbie friendly machines, playground equipment for kids and a selection of bars & steps for the more athletic citizens. That way, everybody gets to play.

    Right now, park equipment is devoted to kids & seniors.

  4. I have carefully read your article and comments.
    Your reply to Dean’s comments (that are totally accurate) are proving that you are hypocrite and don’t understand the brilliant common sense behind these Sexy units. Your suggestion that beams and bars are better is wrong and has failed in the past. For many years municipalities have installed the ParticiParks (Parallel bars, chin-up bars etc…) to engage those who don’t have the self discipline. They believed that free access to fitness will be enough. Their investment went down the drain because they made the same mistake you did. You wrote this article and opinions based on your fitness experience (trainer and an active person), which represent about 10% of the population. The only people that used these ParticiParks were those who were active in the first place. These parks did not engage anyone else. As mentioned, your kind of people represent 10% of the population, the other 90% will not use your trainer services nor your beams and bars solution, and therefore any investment in static units and beams and bars will be a waste of tax dollars.
    Municipalities have realized that they need to provide Sexy solutions to those who are not active in order to engage them to be active. These sexy solutions are working and are a very well spent tax dollars not just in Canada but all over the world.
    Your agreement with Dean’s comments just proves that your article title was wrong, misleading and aggressive. You have no stats to claim that these sexy units are waste of tax dollars which lead me to believe that you are not a professional writer and you didn’t investigate this issue to support your claims. Have you called any municipality and asked them if these sexy units work for them? I’m sure you didn’t. Blaming these companies’ sales reps of misleading their clients in order to make a sale is wrong, un-respectful and unprofessional.
    The bottom line Mr. Trainer is that you may be a good trainer and you should leave your skills in the Gym. Your effort to be a responsible blogger is disgraceful for this industry.

  5. @Guy

    In response to your comments, it seems that we are discussing two different topics.

    When I say that “uneven bar” style fitness equipment is superior to the single-use “Lat Pull – Chest Press Combo Machine” style of fitness equipment, I am referring to it’s effectiveness as a piece of fitness equipment. In these terms, the uneven bars are far superior in terms of overall cost and cost per exercise.

    If you want to discuss cost as a function of usage, that is a related but completely different subject.

    And as I responded to Dean, I can understand how an inexperienced and fearful public would prefer to use the single purpose machines to the uneven bars.

    Their lack of knowledge & fear of injury probably would likely drive them toward the single purpose machines.

    However, I have to dispute your claim that “these sexy solutions are working and are a very well spent tax dollars not just in Canada but all over the world”.

    Installing this equipment in public parks doesn’t guarantee that they will be used. The community activists that I have spoken with (prior and since this article) also advocate that communities implement ongoing education & motivation campaigns to encourage people to use the parks. In fact, when asked, they ALL agreed that simply placing any outdoor fitness equipment in a public park is a recipe for failure.

    Access to equipment is just one piece of the puzzle. Education and motivation are necessary.

    To that end, some communities have organized free group sessions with personal trainers, others have created sign boards describing all of the different exercises that can be performed. Neighborhood exercise clubs have been created. Some of those clubs have also hired personal trainers to facilitate their education.

    On a related note, I wanted to address your concern over my lack of statistics

    “You have no stats to claim that these sexy units are waste of tax dollars which lead me to believe that you are not a professional writer and you didn’t investigate this issue to support your claims”.

    Ignoring the fact that you didn’t present any stats to disprove my theory, I decided to conduct a little informal study of my own – not double-blind, but it’s the best I could do for $200.

    I arranged with one of my neighbors to have their kids and some friends stake out a Toronto park that is equipped with both kinds of fitness equipment. Over the course of two days (between 9-12 and 4-8 pm – July 10-12), the kids staked out the park and counted the number of people using the fitness equipment, noted which pieces of equipment they used and ran up and asked them why they did or didn’t use a particular piece of equipment.

    All this for $200 and a big pile of granola bars, water bottles & popsicles – their Mom drove a hard bargain.

    After the 2 days, the kids reported that:

    1. Very few people used the equipment – either kind
    2. The people who used only the single-purpose equipment were primarily (around 75%) older adult walkers who performed one set out of curiosity and moved on after satisfying that curiosity…or kids goofing around.
    3. The people who used the chin-up bars spent the most time and effort on the exercise equipment. These people were obviously more athletic and also did numerous other bodyweight exercises in the park
    4. Around 1/3 of the “athletes” didn’t use the single purpose machines claiming that they were ineffective for their level of fitness.
    5. Of the 2/3 of athletes that did use the single-purpose equipment, 1/2 used it to satisfy their curiosity while the other half enjoyed using it.

    Based on my little survey, both kinds of fitness equipment are underutilized.

    Note – I have collected more data and am thinking of writing a follow-up post. Thanks for the inspiration.

  6. Well put argument!! based in the uk i absolutely agree that this type of outdoor equipment is money wasted (our money at that) and more emphasis needs to be put on educating the importance of health, fitness & wellbeing.
    We have recently had an outdoor fitness facility installed in our local town and….behold…it is extremely under used??!! Probably because people do not know how to use correctly or have no desire to perform any kind of exercise in full public view.

  7. I agree with DR 100%– most people at the gym are comfortable with the single purpose exercise machines and some cardio. The lat-pull/chest-press machine was probably an easier sell for the parks due to popularity and familiarity. Everyone forgot functionality.

    I’d also like to add that for people who want personal training but simply can’t afford it at the gym, plenty of trainers offer private and group training outside of whatever gym employs them (usually on the hush-hush, but alas…). For people who go this route, a trip to the uneven bars at the park can be an amazing workout. This style of equipment is also far more useful for any outdoor boot-camp style training programs. For those who are motivated to learn how to exercise more effectively, a trip to the park’s uneven bars with friends and maybe a fitness expert (or printouts from this or one of a million other online resources) provide a great opportunity. If a group of people is seen working out 3 times a week on uneven bars, I bet it’ll encourage others to join, do it themselves, or form their own little group.

    The argument you are all having is the same as the argument for good, fresh, affordable, organic produce. We can most certainly and fairly blame certain private and public forces when it comes to production and distribution of some very unhealthy food. And no, it’s not enough that cheap organic food is available, we need to encourage consumers to seek farmers markets, CSAs, etc. and we need to call out the people who compete with quality food choices so they can turn a profit.

  8. Once again you proved a lack of professionalism. Again you draw your conclusion from insignificant and un-thoughtful experiment. The result of a $200 experiment worth $200 not anything more than that. And yes, it is not professional to conduct a survey only after you publish an article. Usually, it goes the other way around.

    With all the respect for the kids and their mothers any stats that you concluded from your survey is inaccurate and again misleading and only in order to justify your irresponsible claims in the first place.
    I will not go into explaining why your survey is wrong but you simply can’t send few kids to one park for a course of 2 days, record the usage and believe it represent an average. There are more than 250 fitness parks installed in Canada, thousands in the US and dozens of thousands worldwide. They all located in different locations such as in-town, in the woods, near sport fields etc… and each one will have different usages by different age groups. Hundreds of recreation professionals in Canada and thousands around the world came to the opposite conclusion than yours because I guess they are totally stupid and you are that smart.

    Again, my friend (or not) you have the right to compare un-even bars to a single purpose sexy unit and decide that one is better or more useful than the other however to use an aggressive title for such article with the conclusion that it is a waste of tax dollar as you did is un-professional.

    And as far as professional survey, here is one that cost much more than $200 and conducted by professionals. And here is a tip for you about how to find such valuable information and stats before you write your next article: Go to Google and search, it won’t cost you a dime, and for sure, you will find better and more accurate information than the one you collected yourself.

    Fort MacMurray, AB – Our outdoor fitness park is a big hit! 110 people were recently surveyed who live nearby the largest outdoor fitness park in North America situated in Wood Buffalo, Alberta.
    Greater than half of the community love their GreenGym!
    • 72% of community members have taken time to get active outdoors by using the Fitness Park
    • 72% are satisfied to very satisfied with the attractiveness of the Fitness equipment
    • 65% are satisfied to very satisfied with the usefulness of the Fitness equipment
    • 75% are satisfied to very satisfied with the safety of the equipment
    • 63% are recommending that the community add more Fitness equipment

  9. I wan’t surprised when three different outdoor fitness equipment suppliers emailed me about this article.
    I wasn’t surprised when they asked me to remove this article due to “inaccuracies”
    I wasn’t surprised when they refused to offer their counter position in the form of an article or a comment.

    And I wasn’t surprised when a “Guy” showed up with a pile of “facts” and “proof” to help dispel me of my misconceptions.

    Unfortunately, “Guy” choice of “facts” have led me to question his impartiality.

    Especially when we consider that his references of “proof” come from a survey conducted by and for the company that manufactured the fitness equipment.

    As a result, it is my “opinion” that Guy is not interested in an honest discussion about the benefits of different types of outdoor fitness equipment.

    It is also my “opinion” that Guy may have a financial incentive to defend the merits of single use outdoor fitness equipment like the ones manufactured by Green Gym for the fine people of Wood Buffalo, Alberta.

  10. In fact, ourdoor exercising equipment is pretty popular in Asia. You could easily find them in the neigbors in countries such as Singapore or Malaysia.

    It’s a good idea to install more of these facilities in US & Canada given the fact that the weather condition is much suited for outdoor activities.

    Publisher, DukanDietRecipesX.com

  11. 2011 October

    I agree with Jay. Outdoor exercise equipments (especially wheel type circular) are very popular for seniors in Macau, Shanghai, and other major parks in China.

    Heck, I was so impressed with the equipment that I monopolized the turning wheels for my impromptu Tai Chi and BaGua movements for 2 hours.

  12. Outdoor fitness equipment is a big hit in the U.S. We need to start seeing it used as part of daily routines though. Were still an indoor workout culture until further notice.
    JoGo Equipment manufactures outdoor fitness equipment in the U.S., if you need information about safety, materials or pricing.
    Check us out at on the web http://www.jogoequipment.com or @jogoequipment 

  13. I live in Fort McMurray and bike/run along the trail the “fitness park” is beside. The stuff is garbage. I’ve only ever seen some teens goofing around on it. Kids will get more exercise from a regular playground and for someone who wants to replace the expensive indoor gym, it’s absolutely useless. What the supposed surveys would reveal is that community members think it’s nice that the city put in effort to make an outdoor fitness park and that it does look nice and they checked it out. However, none find it all that useful and they do need not only more, but BETTER fitness equipment. Something someone could cease using the gym and pursue physical fitness of that like the barstars and Frank Madrono. I would never take someone to Fort McMurrays outdoor fitness park to train them or give them exercise. Guy knows nothing about fitness and a healthy lifestyle if he defends that crap. The reason why rugged (practical) bar equipment doesn’t always see great success is because they don’t give guidance to the community on how to use them and the benefits of it. It would be like dropping an airplane on my doorstep and expecting me to go out and start flying planes. These single use machines are like putting a fake airplane on your step and telling you that you’re flying a plane just because you’re sitting in it. I’m A Fort McMurray resident saying the park built was a huge waste of tax payers money.

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