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Dumbbells are a thing of the past – Calisthenics: the trendy street workout sport

By Bernhard Hoppe-Biermeyer und Stephan Heber


Calisthenics is a blend of endurance, power and general body control. It is impressive to watch and incredibly energy-sapping. The word calisthenics comes from the ancient Greek words kalos, which means "beauty", and sthenos, meaning "strength", and describes this hot new sport very well. One of the goals is to imbue the movement sequences of the power exercises with an element of beauty, which requires a certain basic level of muscle mass and sufficient power. This sport evolved in its current form at the turn of the 21st century in New York. Here parks were built within urban areas where people could perform a street workout without weights and dumbbells alongside the passing pedestrians. Now the German town of Delbrück has got in on the act.

Calisthenics is a young sport that clubs and towns and cities have yet to really discover. And this lack of formal organisation appears to be part of the attraction for enthusiasts. Calisthenics is different because it is performed off the beaten track. Training is done in public, with almost all discussions taking place via social networks. Most practitioners of calisthenics do not belong to a sports club. And the newcomer does not require equipment either. With a little improvisation the local children's playground becomes an exercise area. This was the exact situation in Delbrück, where a small group met on the playground in the primary school and trained on apparatus that were too small in every respect. Nonetheless more and more people between the ages of 14 and 35 came along, with the average age being around 20. First there were ten people, then twenty, and eventually there were several dozen regulars turning up to work out together. The relationship between the exercises and gymnastics is clear. But the better the young athletes performed the exercises, the more obvious the deficiencies of the improvised apparatus became.

The Delbrück residents Roman Wunder and Stephen Heber were involved from the outset and were soon seeking to improve the training facilities. The first port of call was Delbrück sports association, where their first task was to explain what calisthenics was. And they certainly did a great job of presenting their case. "The most important thing was that the group at no point gave the impression that calisthenics would be a short-lived trend. The goal was to create something for the long term. The project would probably never have gained momentum if they had given a different impression," recalls the president of the town's sports association, Bernhard Hoppe-Biermeyer.

The sports association brought DJK Delbrück, the town's largest sports club, on board, and together an application was submitted to the town council for the funding of a street workout park. A presentation of the idea and of the sport itself was made at a sitting of the town sports committee, whose members included knowledgeable local residents and municipal politicians. The presentation made such a positive impression that the project soon gathered momentum. Now local politicians and the town administration were also convinced that this could be a long-term project and a site was quickly found. The facility was to be built on a free plot of land at Delbrück's sports centre. Within a radius of 300 metres are facilities including a running track, a grass football pitch, a hard court (for basketball, handball and football), two triple-purpose sports halls, three beach volleyball courts, an indoor pool and the town's school complex.

With around 30,000 residents, the town of Delbrück, situated between Paderborn and Gütersloh in the east of the Westphalia region, is no sports metropolis with significant financial resources available from the council's budget or in the form of sponsorship. The town is best known across Germany for the DJK Delbrück volleyball team, which competes in the 2nd national league. The focus is on mass-participation sport. 40 per cent of the town's residents are members of one of its 30 sports clubs. Sport in Delbrück gets by without professional structures. Clubs and the sports association are run by volunteers. However, this does not affect the enthusiasm for and range of sports offered, in fact quite the contrary. In 2011 the German Olympic Association rated Delbrück Germany's most active town in its "Mission Olympic" competition.


The street workout park

The street workout park project took one year to complete, from application to construction. Athletes, the town sports association, clubs and the town council planned the park together and had to overcome a series of problems. At the start of the planning process, for example, there were no German manufacturers to call on as suppliers for a street workout park of this kind. Suppliers were found abroad but then the budget would only have been sufficient for a mini park. And after several discussions with the TÜV (Technical Inspection Service), plans to build a larger park independently were dropped. This was because the TÜV's requirements could not be satisfied independently – and it seemed too risky to build something that may not be approved further along the line.

In neighbouring Paderborn the Willebadessen-based company Playparc had supplied equipment and concepts for an outdoor fitness course in the Ahorn sports park that were not a million miles from what the project participants in Delbrück had planned. Playparc specialises in play and movement concepts for public facilities. After initial discussions the parties agreed to jointly develop a prototype for a calisthenics street workout park, which would then be built in Delbrück.

The Delbrück athletes defined the exercises they would like to do and provided guidance on the kind of equipment they would like to use. Based on their wishes Playparc built the prototypes for the street workout park. It quickly turned out that what the athletes were looking for was largely feasible and reasonable from a technological standpoint. And even after several weeks of hands-on experience with the park the Delbrück athletes wouldn't have changed it in any way.

Planning was completed quickly thanks to Playparc's experiences with the construction of their equipment and the Delbrück team's realistic requirements. Two or three meetings were sufficient to hammer out the final construction details and the contract was tendered. The client was the DJK Delbrück sports association. The land was made available by the town council.

The excavation work (excavated area: 10 x 10 metres, 0.4 metres deep plus holes for the foundations) was undertaken by the municipal parks department. Two parks department employees also assisted with the construction of the park and with the concreting of the posts. The town council also assumed the cost of the concrete. In addition, Roman Wunder and Stephen Heber themselves helped with all the construction work. This meant that even the smallest details could be taken into consideration. Even the course of the sun was factored in so that athletes are not dazzled whilst performing their exercises.

Since the park prototype was being erected in Delbrück, Playparc also provided two employees for the construction work. This is not usual practice and normally costs extra. Generally this type of facility is sold with erection instructions, screw adhesive (Loctite), the necessary tools (extra screw heads) etc. Local authority parks departments also build playgrounds independently using assembly instructions so the construction of a calisthenics facility shouldn't present too many problems either.

The DJK Delbrück organised the financing. The park itself cost around EUR 13,000 gross (including several extras such as benches and an additional bar). The town council paid for the concrete and also greenlighted a EUR 7,500 grant for the association. The DJK sought (and found) sponsors to cover the remaining funding.

The costs did not include fall protection. The purchase of fall protection tiles would have far exceeded the budget. A reasonable alternative was fall protection gravel, which was laid to a depth of forty centimetres on the 10 x 10 metre plot. This had three advantages: first, gravel offers effective fall protection. A local building materials dealer was found as a sponsor for the special material and the calisthenics group distributed the delivered gravel independently, thereby increasing the athletes' identification with the project. 


Photo: Playparc

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