Earlier this morning, a leaflet landed in my corridor. It was the council promoting its gyms, asking me why I don’t commit to being active at one of them. My reply is, Our Parks. If you haven’t heard about them, it’s because they are very new but quickly expanding thanks to the enthusiasm of the people involved. In short, it’s qualified instructors holding free-to-attend classes in a variety of disciplines in parks or other spaces in collaboration with local authorities. And here are my 10 reasons why you should join or lobby your council to collaborate with them, in no particular order.
Number 1: Fitness advertising is always focused on how important it is that everybody engages in it. These instructors are qualified, can ask for a lot of money for their time and yet decide to join an initiative that is run by one person on donations and in partnership with local authorities, which charge us a lot in council tax but somehow manage to always be underfunded, instead of keeping that weekly hour for another class at a fancy studio. Basically they walk the talk, if fitness is so important then it should be accessible to all.
This relates to number 2: Whenever you raise the concern that gyms and classes cost money, people tell you to run or go for walks, or do exercises from a book or an online video. Many of them are from good, qualified people. I occasionally use them too, but I wouldn’t dare if I hadn’t been a gymnast with a coach when young. I still prefer to have someone I can trust to keep an eye on me and my form. If you haven’t become familiar with what can hurt you, you could do more harm than good by exercising by yourself. Professionals train supervised for a reason, and they still injure themselves, so why would you go solo when you can have someone to keep an eye on your movements and give you advice and all of that for free?
Number 3: A friend once told me that she didn’t like classes because she was too embarrassed to be with other people, but, unless you go at a time when absolutely nobody is in the gym, even by using the machines on your own you are under people’s eyes and, in my experience, those who are around the gym looking down on people around them are the fitness-obsessed prigs who are more likely to check you out than people in a group are. I’ve overheard comments in gyms made by these enthusiasts grouping in between sessions. With classes, you don’t have the luxury of hanging around an entire afternoon, and if someone is talking behind your back with others over coffee at the end you’ll never know. I think it unlikely though, the group is doing stuff at the same time so they don’t really see what other people are doing in the same way, and with free classes, you are likely to find people who are there just for fun since they don’t have to really feel strongly about fitness because they don’t have to invest money in it. Just for fun tends not to breed judgemental attitudes.
Number 4: All sizes and shapes and colours turn up and tone up. If you don’t believe me, just check their Instagram. There are family classes too! As I said already, free classes mean that people who show up are not just fitness freaks whose profile is made of fitspo quotes that are often borderline pro-ana, pictures of their bodies and paleo diet that tend to get on my nerves, and can be intimidating for whoever falls short of their ideal (everyone else).
Number 5: Our Parks organise socials in pubs. They are as much about physical well being as they are about mental one, and unless you are an extreme introvert whose energy is drained by socialising that’s a group of likeminded people meeting somewhere that doesn’t sell only organic pressed juices. Isn’t it great?
Number 6: They have classes every day, at times going from early morning to after work. Just because they are free it doesn’t mean they only offer you one choice that doesn’t work with your schedule.
Number 7: Times, however, are set, so you can join the same class every week or spice up your life trying different disciplines. I’m doing yoga indoors but I will try something different when the weather is better. Arthritis doesn’t work well with damp weather, I’m afraid, but the next couple of points are for those whose joints are well enough.
Number 8: Exercising in the park when there is nice weather is awesome. We spend already too much time indoors working and living. Soak in a bit of vitamin D.
Number 9: Exercising outdoors in winter has the additional benefit of more calories being burnt, as long as you dress properly and warm up so you don’t injure yourself. This goes back to the being supervised bit, a qualified instructor will never let you skip the warm-up.
Number 10: Saturday classes + brunch make an amazing combo for a new thing to do with your friends. It’s also a chance to show off your sporty outfits to a broader audience, and that Instagram picture of yourself will be an act of good that helps to promote fitness for all.