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Designing a Fitness Circuit

Date Published: Feb, 14 2014
Why a Fitness Circuit?

Generally, when we're approached by customers who wish to purchase or design a play structure, their main goal is to get kids outside and keep them safely entertained. What many don't realize is that a cleverly designed play structure can encourage children to push their physical limits and become more confident, fit and spatially aware. Fitness Circuits combine state of the art equipment with clever design strategies to encourage children to be physically fit. Fitness circuits are perfect for updating an existing playground with more challenging activities and make a great main structure in a new playground.

What is a Fitness Circuit?

The short answer is that a fitness circuit can be anything that you want it to be. You can create a dedicated, obstacle course style structure or you can implement fitness circuit design principles into a more traditional play structure. A lot will depend on what you envision, budgeting, who you're building the playground for and the space you have available. Circuits that allow side by side play or circuit races, are great for elementary schools and larger parks, while smaller playgrounds may want to have a few challenging climbers and overheads that encourage children to take on more difficult tasks. Unlike other play structures, fitness circuits don't focus on slides and platforms but rather on laying out individual elements in such a way that it encourages more stamina, greater strength and balance.

Improve Strength

Total body strength is the keystone of fitness and encouraging greater strength requires presenting children with a variety of climbers and overheads that challenge children at different fitness levels. Incorporating a variety of hand holds and objectives (climbing and pulling up onto a platform or climbing up and over to step onto a platform) work different muscle groups and require different levels of coordination. Because they allow children to use their hands and feet, climbers develop upper and lower body strength but are somewhat less taxing than other play equipment.

The most challenging strength building equipment on a playground will always be overhead climbers. Horizontal ladders and ring races challenge children to move across the structure using a swinging, right-left hand motion, while track riders and twisters encourage them to build momentum and glide, which helps children just learning to use this type of equipment build endurance and confidence.

Better Balance

The most obvious equipment for promoting balance is a traditional balance beam but contemporary playgrounds offer so much more. From spring loaded beams that bounce, to stepping stone style paths that move, balance play activities are more varied than ever before. Although these activities don't require as much upper body strength as climbers and overheads, they are still some of the most fun and challenging equipment on the playground.

Coordination and Endurance

Although fitness circuits can consist of one large structure or several pieces of equipment strung together, how the individual elements are laid out in relation to one another is what really determines how challenging the playground is. The key to creating a fun and engaging fitness circuit is planning transitions between obstacles. Your fitness circuit can be made more challenging by stringing similar activities together or less challenging by transitioning between dissimilar activities (e.g., upper body followed by lower body).

They type of transition between obstacles is another key element in design. When equipment transitions directly from one type of play to another or has a very short break, children are challenged to keep going, and to go back to the beginning if they stop. Structures that offer larger breaks between activities, either by using completely separate units or by separating activities with platforms allow for more break time in between. There is no right or wrong type of transition although the best playgrounds have both.

Children are naturally drawn to swinging, spinning and sliding so activities like spacewalks, cargo nets or fireman's poles are always popular. Placing more ‘fun' activities so that they transition into or from the more challenging activities will be enough to keep children striving to master the most challenging equipment.

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