Why are Trainers Causing a Stir by Using Public Parks and Beaches?
By Helen O’Neill
In the past few years personal trainers and group fitness instructors have often been in the media – but not always for good reasons. There has been some public outcry about the way that trainers utilise public areas, like parks and beaches, for individual or group training sessions. At first, this seems odd. Surely outdoors exercising should be encouraged in an age where we are only getting more unfit and unhealthy? However, arguments about public disturbance and the use of free areas for commercial gain have gained increasing attention.
Reasons against the use of public areas by fitness trainers
So what’s all the fuss about, you ask? Well, unfortunately not all fitness classes are small and quiet. There have been reports of classes with loud music early in the morning, participants utilising play equipment and benches, and damaging trees by tying ropes to them. Here are some of the reasons against outdoor fitness classes:
1. Reducing equal access. Following complaints from the public, some councils have decided that holding fitness sessions in public areas can reduce equal access by taking up too much space, or causing people to move away from the perceived disturbance. Park users may change their regular activities when large groups are present, opt to visit the park at a different time of the day, or even change parks altogether.
2. Right to quiet enjoyment. Members of the public have the right to quiet enjoyment of these areas, and some feel that shouting trainers and sweaty participants can make the spaces unenjoyable.
3. Damage. Councils have acknowledged that increased use of the spaces means that there is increased wear and tear of the public facilities. Fitness activities can also significantly impact nature such as grass, gardens, and sand dunes.
We have all seen signs like ‘keep off the grass’ to prevent damage. Other park rules can include no tree climbing, no bathing, and no playing of musical instruments or using rude language. Some say that banning or restricting exercise in parks is a simple extension or enforcement of these rules.
4. Private use, commercial gain. Another concern is that trainers can be seen to be exploiting a free, public space for commercial gains.
5. Public liability. Finally, there is a concern about public liability if trainers do not have adequate insurance.
Reasons for the use of public areas by fitness trainers
While there are some good reasons why outdoor fitness sessions cause public angst, surely people’s attempts to get fit and healthy shouldn’t be hindered? Here are some of the pros for supporting outdoor fitness classes:
1. Society needs more fitness, not less. Surely any form of exercise in our time-poor and increasingly overweight society should be encouraged? It seems logical that we should only encourage people to improve their quality of life through exercise.
2. Outdoor classes are more accessible. In many cases, outdoor group fitness classes are cheaper than a gym membership and other sports memberships. This makes them more financially viable for those who may not be able to afford a gym membership.
3. Equal rights and public freedoms. Those who support outdoor exercise argue that everyone pays council rates so they have the right to use the facilities too. And if parks and beaches are public areas for all to use, do councils have the right to say what people can and can’t do in them? Who should be able to determine what an appropriate use of a public space is? Many rules are clearly to protect the public from dangerous activities – such as climbing trees, flying model aeroplanes or playing golf. But there have been no reports of outdoors exercise classes injuring onlookers.
4. It’s already working. In an article by Ricky van der Zwan, an Associate Professor in Neuroscience at Southern Cross University, and Julie Tucker, Partner Facilitator at Southern Cross University, the pair argued that our current obesity epidemic demands a community approach to exercise. And with the number of people joining group fitness classes that are performed in public spaces, stopping their ability from doing this will only make the obesity levels worse.
What’s the answer here?
Many councils have brought in their own laws to regulate the use of public spaces by fitness trainers. Usually there is a fee to utilise the parks and strict laws to confine the exercisers to specific areas, such as away from pathways and significant areas like cemeteries, memorials and protected bushland. Regulation has its place so that park users can enjoy free use of parks in certain places and at certain times of the day.
The government is continuously trying to encourage the public to be more active, spend more time outdoors and become more involved in the community – and outdoors group exercise classes could be the answer.
Helen O’Neill is the National Communications Manager for the Australian Institute of Fitness. She has over eight years of experience in editorial and communications work in the fitness industry. Helen connects the Australian Institute of Fitness to its audience through fitness articles, blogs, social media and PR.