F ive seconds from my front door, in the shadow of some bold but architecturally bonkers social housing, there is a park gym, and I’ll ca...
Five seconds from my front door, in the shadow of some bold but architecturally bonkers social housing, there is a park gym, and I’ll call this type one: outdoor equipment that is modelled on indoor equipment – simplified, weather-proof and, of course, never electronic.
Then, in a local park, there’s type two: equipment that’s been around since Carry On films; lateral beams about a foot high, that you can tricep dip from; head-height bars for pull-ups.
I always thought the function of both was municipal rather than athletic: you could send children there when they were too old for a playground but still getting on your nerves. But I’m way behind the curve on this; they’re often full. Still, what are people actually doing?
Type one is the most difficult to fathom; typically, there’ll be a cross-trainer, a shoulder press, a lat pull-down machine, and mine has a leg extender. There’s rarely anything for your abs, as nothing beats the plank, which requires only character. You cannot alter the weight or the resistance on the cross-trainer. And in truly democratic style, they’re all set at pretty low loads. Sometimes, if I’m feeling pathetic, the lat pull-down poses a mild challenge, but the cross-trainer no challenge at all; and for anyone with serious shoulders, the best way to get a decent workout would be to try and pull one of these contraptions out of the ground and sell it. On the cross-trainer, I’m simply swinging my legs backwards and forwards; it’s like relearning how to walk during convalescence. This is not to say these are pointless; they’re great for flexibility, and a good way-point in a longer, mainly cardio workout. I use it for warm up and cool down, and go for a run in between. I’m being boosterish because it’s nice to show appreciation when the council erects a brightly coloured thing.
Type two, meanwhile, is lower tech (almost all wood, the odd bit of pipe) but much more useful. They’re designed along calisthenic lines – for you to use your own body weight against yourself. Tricep dips and push-ups on the low beam are particularly satisfying – all the joy of exercising outdoors, but none of the mud all over yourself. The pull-ups are too macho for my blood.
Talking of the masculinist sensibility, there is a military convention of the pyramid workout, which is much easier to stick to when there’s equipment to suggest a basic set of activities: run 25 metres, do two push-ups, run another 24, do four, run another 25, do eight, and so on. Otherwise you’re left having to do burpees and bear crawls in front of people who are innocently walking their dogs, which is embarrassing for everyone, even the dog.
They’re so good – especially in a decent-sized park where you can also run, and particularly if you’ve tailored a workout before you arrive rather than making it up as you go along – that it’s getting to the point when they’re always busy. I say that like it’s a good thing. I’d rather have them to myself.
What I learned
You can do a pull-up, you just don’t know it yet. Stand on a box under a bar and do a flexed-arm hang: like a pull-up, only you’re an inch off the box. Do this many times. It’s like Kung Fu Panda – you’ll get there.