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Solving the Wrong Problem: Denver Bans Group Workouts in Parks [Have you ever done a group fit class outside?]

Posted Jul 15 2013 1:09am

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 Not making a good case for yourselves, outdoor worker-outers!

“BOCK! Bockbockbock!!” During a recent visit to Denver’s central park, my 6-year-old son amused himself (and everyone else) by chasing the geese while yelling this, proving by our poor grasp of animal noises that we have clearly not spent enough time studying Old McDonald Had a Farm. While the kids amused themselves with the wildlife, the trees and the trashcans – anything other than the playground equipment because why would we play on that? – I watched a group of fit ladies lunge, push-up and high-knee it around the lake. It was a sweltering sunny day and I was impressed with both their dedication and military-like precision. After their lunch-hour workout was complete, the one at the head of the line called out, “Good job, ladies! Same time Friday!” and they disbanded.

“What a great idea!” I thought before proceeding to think no more of it. But apparently I should have taken a picture (creeper alert!) because the park workout has suddenly become an endangered species. In today’s edition of Solving The Wrong Problem we have a story out of my (new) home state of Colorado. This month the city of Denver rolled out a plan  to ban group workout s (of any size, per the sign!) in public spaces like parks. The reasoning is that there are so many fitness aficionados (in some areas of Colorado, the number of adults reporting more than 30 minutes of exercise per day tops 80%) that they overrun areas to the point where other people feel like they can’t use them.

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There’s a problem when the kiddos can’t swing because all the swings are taken by their moms doing wobbly planks. (A fan-freaking-tastic move, by the way.  You should totally try it.  Put your hands on a swing. Hold a plank. Prepare to ice your bruised ego when you can’t hold it longer than it takes your kid to drop trou and pee on his brother because they were “playing tree.” Not that that has ever happened to me. Nope.) Plus there can be the noise of shouting boot camp instructors, music players and repetitive counting that will drive you nuts in its inability to ever go past 20.  It’s bad enough you have to put up with other people in your space at the gym, but in a park you kind of expect people to let you enjoy nature in peace.

But isn’t this what public spaces are for, really? What’s the difference between a boot camp and a Ultimate Frisbee league? They both involve a lot of running, yelling and inappropriate man-shorts. Plus, there are plenty of obnoxious outdoor behaviors that have nothing to do with exercising: grilling, cigarette smoke, loud “makeout” sessions and out-of-control preschoolers on bikes, just to name a few. So while some people’s hobbies may include walking quietly around the lake or catching their toddler on the slide, others enjoy doing plyo jumps on the landscaping walls. It’s all good.

I’ll admit that having done many a park workout myself – both alone and  with my Gym Buddies  - I’m a bit biased. As long as people are considerate of each other and follow regular playground rules like sharing, taking turns, not fighting and not hocking loogies into the water fountain, I don’t see the problem. (Oh and while we’re talking playground etiquette, watch your own kids. I don’t want to have to kiss your kid’s boo boo because you stuck your earphones in and are running laps around the perimeter.)

But then there’s the money thing.

While most of the groups I’ve been a part of have been for free, apparently there is a booming outdoor-workout business where personal trainers and group fit instructors take their clients into the great outdoors to get their sweat (and sunburn) on. It’s a great way to get some fresh air. It’s also a great way to save a fortune on gym and equipment fees and licenses. Since the workouts generally take place on public property that means the trainers are making a profit while taxpayers pay to keep the grass the perfect height for push-ups (short enough to not be tickley but long enough to not be prickly!). Is it fair to make the public subsidize a fee-based Sunrise Yoga class? And does it matter if the class is something riskier like parkour or Crossfit rather than a mom-ercize stretch-n-stroll group?

Perhaps it just matters to whom the money is going. Is it only wrong if it’s run by a private individual? What about the similar community classes with the fees partly going back into the city coffers? And what about if it’s on federal land – do you have to pay taxes? And how much money are we talking, exactly? Apparently some people make enough doing these public workouts to make a living. The city of Denver, after thinking long and hard on this, decided they mostly want the for-profit programs out. People can “rent” public space and get a commercial license but according the Times article, the cost is so astronomical as to price any individual right out of the market. But as long as no money is exchanging hands or PayPals then you’re probably okay. Except where there are signs. Which is everywhere.

What do you think – should people be allowed to do group workouts in parks? Does it matter if it’s fee-based? have you ever participated in a group exercise class outdoors? Have you ever had a bad experience with someone else’s workout in a public space getting in your way?

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