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Calisthenics Parks – The renaissance of chin-up bars

by Paul Böhme


Some of us will remember the "fitness trails" created in the 1970s. Based on the so-called "keep fit" action, communities installed outdoor fitness studios open to the general public and located at the edge of town, in local recreation areas or city parks and woods.

These decentralised facilities often extended for several kilometres through the green belt with various fitness equipment installed at intervals along a jogging path. This equipment included, for example, horizontal ladders, chin-up bars and balancing blocks for exercise purposes.

The idea of motivating the city population to exercise was a good impulse, but over the years, these outdoor fitness studios became increasingly forgotten, the equipment began to deteriorate and disappeared.


Reasons for the failure

After an attempt to map and record still existing facilities of this kind in Germany, it can be determined that the failure of this sport trend was related to two main factors.

On the one hand the isolation. As nice as these facilities in natural surroundings are, in today' society, nobody has time anymore to travel for 45 minutes for 30 minutes of sporting activity. This is simply too much time expended for end users.

On the other hand, the topic of "decentralisation"; when people today undertake a sporting activity, they prefer to have everything at one location: The chin-up bar next to the bars and both directly next to the "abs" trainer. The fact that the exercise equipment on a fitness trail can be several hundred metres apart brings us back to the question of how much time can and will I invest in fitness. What could be the solution here?


Calisthenics an American invention

There are many myths about the origins of this sporting activity. It should be recorded that this sport can be understood as "modern gymnastics". Athletes work practically exclusively with their own body weight and the most well-known and popular basic exercises are chin-ups, dips, press ups and squats.

With the help of these exercises, athletes can form the basis for advanced, more spectacular exercises. The best known are probably the human flag and the planche. At an advanced level, these moves can be combined into a routine.


The scene

Calisthenics has enjoyed substantial growth over the last five years. Followers can be found in nearly every city and community who train together and form interest groups. The most active centres in Germany can be found in Berlin, Bremen, Wetzlar, Dusseldorf and Frankfurt.

Preferred communication media of the calisthenics scene are social media channels such as Facebook and Instagram. Training instructions posted on Youtube can in some cases reach more than 1 million clicks.


Calisthenics parks

The steadily growing scene means that cities and communities are required to provide facilities where young athletes have a starting point for this sport.

The construction of calisthenics parks provides an extended infrastructure for outdoor fitness sport. In short, these areas are open-air fitness studios in a central location and equipped with chin-up bars, hanging ladders, parallel bars and wall bars. They are impressive in their simplicity and are easily to use even for beginners as everyone knows what to do with wall bars or a horizontal ladder.

Major German cities such as Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg as well as other smaller towns like Delbrück, Verden and Villingen-Trossingen are leading with a good example and have successfully implemented first projects. Various other communities and cities have projects in the planning phase which can soon be implemented.


Added value for the population

Calisthenics parks have no opening hours or other limitations to access and are interesting for anyone who can swing on a pole; in particular children and older generations – a playground with unlimited room for development.

This means that Calisthenics parks are multi-generation meeting points where youngsters can learn from their elders and vice versa.


The right location

The right location is of essential significance for well frequented use. This means that public green parks in a central location with a correspondingly high utilisation rate can generally be considered suitable. These should be easily and quickly accessed by public transport.

If they are built in public parks, calisthenics facilities are also readily used by other leisure-time athletes for other sports such as freeletics (individual high-intensity workouts), runners and walkers.

It has been seen from experience that when stations are installed alongside sports facilities (football pitches, tennis courts, volleyball fields), they are often included by club and team members in their own exercise routines.


Possible design mistakes

Building a calisthenics park is not a quick and easy project. Experts and the local urban planning authorities should be consulted beforehand.

The correct height for the chin-up bars, the distance between parallel bars and the coating of the bars themselves are only one or two points which require great attention during planning and installation. Gravel, a tartan surface or sand as fall protection? These are questions which need to be clarified professionally and with the right people.

Nobody benefits from facilities which are useless from the start due to design mistakes.



Calisthenics parks are an advantage for any community. Good health improves self-confidence and well-being. Workouts make the population healthier, more agile and better prepared to face the challenges of daily life.

This kind of "fitness island", located at a central, freely accessible place with good public transport connections, work as multi-generation meeting points; especially as they have no opening limited hours or other limitations such as age or gender.

The sport calisthenics trend has generated a reactivation of the "keep-fit" movement, generates centralised fitness facilities in cities and makes them accessible to the population.

More information on this topic at: www.street-workout-nrw.de

Photo: Paul Böhme


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