Exercise in the fresh air

By Caroline Zollinger (specialist journalist, landscape architect, Plankton Media/Planungsbüro Wegmüller)

Exercise in the fresh air

The Grossabünt Outdoor Leisure Centre in Liechtenstein's Gamprin is now an attraction richer. The new activity trail with its versatile pieces of fitness equipment offers something for everyone. And because it is designed to be fun to use, it will encourage people to do something for their health.

An elderly man gingerly walks, one foot after the other, along a wooden balancing beam. His progress is at first hesitant until he gains more confidence, lets go of the handrail and manages to move to the end of the beam without needing additional support. Proud of his achievement, he turns round, determined to do the same thing in the opposite direction. Nearby a young mother is showing her son how to get the blue crank arms of the upper body ergometer spinning properly. Today is the official opening ceremony for the new activity trail and these people have come along to discover what is on offer. The trail, with its module concept, is part of the Grossabünt Outdoor Leisure Centre in Gamprin in the Principality of Liechtenstein that was initially established seven years ago. In addition to an artificial swimming lake, infrastructure buildings and an open air event area, visitors can find here a wide range of sports pitches and sports equipment. The site is connected by a footbridge with the neighbouring Rhine embankment system with its paths that are popular with walkers and cyclists, particularly at weekends. The Grossabünt site was originally designed by the Wegmüller planning office based in Klosters in Switzerland and it has been added to over the years. It gained the 'Rhine Pirates' themed playground in 2013 and shortly afterwards along came the new activity trail.

As landscape architect Daniel Wegmüller points out: "Everyone knows that exercise in the fresh air is good for your health. However, there need to be actual amenities such as this trail to make it easier for people to get involved and to encourage them to be active. In addition to attractions designed to be used by children and older individuals, there are concepts that specifically appeal to young people who are not members of sport clubs that are intended to also persuade these to take exercise." The local community of Gamprin-Bendern, with its 1657 residents, decided to enhance the site with a new feature that could be used by one and all, explains Kurt Berger, in charge of the civil engineering side of the project. "The exercises on offer can be adapted to individual capacities - irrespective of whether the user is young or old, in good or less good shape - and the equipment can be used by loners and groups," he adds. The new trail is not just there to provide somewhere to exercise; its designers hope it will become a place where people will encounter each other and social interaction will occur.

 

Keeping fit

The population in general is increasingly becoming aware of how important it is to keep fit, mobile and healthy even into old age. And helping people achieve this very objective is the purpose of the new activity trail. It offers fun for all generations and is not just suitable for those who take regular exercise but also for beginners. The emphasis here is not on running through a fixed programme of exercise but on the enjoyment of being active. While it has long been standard practice to provide fitness equipment in public spaces in Scandinavia and other parts of the world such as China, it is only recently that this trend has caught on here. In Switzerland, the first such amenities were constructed in the context of children's playgrounds but they were at first unpopular and hardly used. Time and PR effort were needed to make it clear to people that they now had these options for keeping themselves healthy in places to which they had free access. The concept was embraced rather more rapidly by institutions such as nursing homes and rehabilitation clinics that soon installed the equipment in their outdoor areas and integrated them in their care programmes. In addition, the notion of public exercise spaces has been promoted by the growing popularity of multi-generational playgrounds.

 

From exercise trail to open air fitness studio

"The activity trail in Gamprin ideally complements the existing site. It adds to the diversity, offers new features and is consonant with the philosophy of the attraction in general because it is suitable for everyone," points out Wegmüller. His team constructed the trail in collaboration with the organisation Playparc of Bad Driburg in Germany. The latter already has decades of experience in the playground and fitness sectors. The elements employed come from the Playparc '4Fcircle' system. Playparc developed this with the help of Oliver Seitz, a sports consultant, and over recent years has installed the equipment in various European countries. The term '4F' stands for the four 'Fs' - fit, free, fun and function. This innovative exercise concept was devised by Oliver Seitz while writing his degree thesis at the Technical University of Munich and conforms to the very latest findings in the field of exercise physiology. Seitz considers it to be a kind of "reimagining of the old exercise trail", the equipment and concept of which he believes are no longer in tune with current needs. In order to ensure that exercise becomes part of people's routine day-to-day activities, it is necessary to bring such trails to them, rather than the other way round. So, instead of constructing trails away from population centres in wooded areas, these facilities need to be where people congregate - in leisure and sports centres and in public parks. It is also important to ensure that the equipment can be used by everyone - "from 4-year-olds to 99-year-old pensioners". "We want to get everybody exercising - and I do mean everybody. The local football team, the fitness freak, Granny and her grandchild, dad and his daughter and Tom, Dick and Harry."

 

Modular concept

The equipment on the activity trail allows users to exercise various motor skills, such as coordination, strength, stamina and mobility, at levels appropriate to the individual's capacity. The equipment has been grouped in such a way that it can be used by individuals or groups training together. For Grossabünt, the team has put together three modules, each of which comprises several pieces of equipment and elements. They are positioned around the existing sports pitches where they are readily accessible.

 

Module 1 - coordination and dexterity

Equipment such as that in the 'balance and pedalo' section improves the sense of balance and coordination skills and allows users to exercise playfully.

Module 2 - strength and fitness

In the 'training zone', users are encouraged to undertake exercises that are not predefined in order to strengthen their torso and upper body muscles. Next to this is the 'all-round callisthenics' section, the perhaps most conspicuous part of the trail. This consists of a metal framework with bars and rods positioned at differing heights. This can be used for exercises that employ the person's own bodyweight.

Module 3 - stamina/mobility

The 'wave walker', 'hip swing' and 'upper body ergometer' together with a ground trampoline track help activate all the major muscle groups and promote flexibility, orthostatic stability (important in the elderly) and exercise the joints.

Prior to the construction of the activity trail, various pieces of exercise equipment and amenities were already present on the site, such as a slackline, trampoline belt, wobble beam, a small running track and even a long jump sand pit. These have now been incorporated in the activity trail. Additional grid lines have been added to the running track that surrounds the current sports pitches to enable runners to practice basic warm-up techniques.

 

What were the important factors during planning?

The equipment is both visually appealing and is very robustly constructed. It is easy to find out how to use them and the basic techniques are self-explanatory. At the same time, it was considered essential to provide instructions. Every activity trail needs a continuous signage system with clearly defined instructional images. Each individual module is briefly described together with the exercises that they can be used for. The colour yellow is used to indicate 'easy', green ' moderately difficult' and blue 'difficult'. This means that every user is made aware of whatever they feel they can realistically achieve. The equipment is designed in such a way that it can be used by individuals of different body sizes.

What needs to be taken into account when planning an activity trail? According to Daniel Wegmüller, the first thing to do is to consider the planning stipulations issued by the commissioning local authority. The intention should be to allow the site to be used for the purpose in question for at least ten years. The accessibility of the site is also of relevance. This means that there need to be parking spaces for cars while it should be possible to reach it by means of public transport, by bike or on foot. Assuming these requirements are met, it is then necessary to ensure that the design of the trail blends in with the surrounding landscape. Construction and maintenance must conform to the stipulations of the safety standards for playground equipment, outdoor fitness equipment and impact attenuation surfacing (EN 1176/1177 and 957). All the equipment installed on the Grossabünt site was scrutinised at the production plant by an independent inspector to ensure compliance with the safety standards and has been appropriately certified. The site operators have undertaken to subject equipment to regular safety checks.

 

PR for the local community

It can be helpful to make the local population aware of such amenities by means of the use of active promotional measures; these can take the form of organised events or the offer of appropriate introductory courses. When it comes to newly constructed projects, Oliver Seitz recommends using 'exercise disseminators' who will spread the concept and encourage other people to use the facility for exercise with the result that use of the trail for exercise becomes a natural, routine part of daily life. The new exercise attraction also contributes to the prestige of the local community as there are otherwise very few such amenities in the area. A project such as this can also be used to promote the location, as up-to-date and versatile infrastructure adds to its appeal. And in localities in which tourism represents an important factor, it represents an interesting extension of the summer activity attractions. One year after completion of the activity trail, Kurt Berger of Gamprin's building authority has nothing but praise for the project. It has been welcomed by the locals and is regularly and extensively used - and this even without specially organised events and introductory courses.

 

The Grossabünt site

The trail has been incorporated in the Grossabünt Outdoor Leisure Centre in Gamprin. The centre was constructed for the local population from 2009 to 2011 on a site known as the 'grüne Wiese' and extends to nearly 11 acres. The competition to design the site was held in 2006 and was won by Planungsbüro Wegmüller. At its core is the naturally cleaned swimming lake. Also on the site are various sports pitches and play equipment for children and young people, from a climbing pyramid to a boulder arrangement. There are a football pitch, a beach sport pitch, a hard court and a multi-sports field. Particular emphasis was placed on ecological aspects during planning. In addition to the intensively utilised zones, there are areas that are kept as natural as possible, with a brook, hedgerows, orchard and flower meadow providing a living green space. There are also a themed wood trail and a stone trail on which visitors can discover the trees and geology of Liechtenstein.

 

Additional information:

The project

Date of opening: 12 May 2017

Commissioned by: Gamprin-Bendern local authority, Principality of Liechtenstein

Cost (equipment, fall attenuation surfacing and modification work): CHF 220,000

Activity trail equipment: 4Fcircle, Playparc in consultation with Oliver Seitz

Planning and construction supervision: Planungsbüro Wegmüller, landscape architects, Klosters, Switzerland

Links: www.d-wegmueller.ch, www.grossabuent.li, www.playparc.de

The designers: The activity trail in the Grossabünt Outdoor Leisure Centre in Liechtenstein's Gamprin was designed by Planungsbüro Wegmüller based in Klosters in Switzerland. In addition to landscape architects, the team includes environmental and civil engineers. Planungsbüro Wegmüller plans and designs individual urban and rural leisure sites. It specialises in leisure and sport facility projects, particular those in popular tourist regions. It has been involved in the realisation of complex projects, such as artificial ice rinks, light athletics facilities and open air and natural swimming pools.

 

Image: Planungsbüro Wegmüller

 

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