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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

BEIJING: Public exercise equipment

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Spacing correspondent Megan Hall is in Beijing this summer. Over the next few weeks, she will be sharing her observations of China’s capital as it prepares to welcome the world to the 2008 Olympic games in August.

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BEIJING — Beijing’s parks must be some of the busiest in the world. They range in size from small corners of housing complexes to large, immaculately landscaped gardens. At any hour of the day they are packed with groups playing Chinese chess or cards, or elderly people sitting while their birds sing in cages on nearby tree branches.

A reasonably new feature of many of these public spaces is public exercise equipment. As well used as the benches and ping-pong tables, brightly coloured manual machines huddle on the edges of many parks, each designed to provide a slight workout to a specific part of the body. Despite the lack of instructions, Beijingers seem to have learned how each machine works, and although Beijing’s parks seem to be used mostly by the elderly population, the machines attract all age groups.

Beijing Shining Star Sports Equipment claims to provide most of the exercise equipment in the capital and, like many companies in China providing for the home market, they are very proud of their products. Their website boasts that the equipment “brings a new lifestyle” and “enables people to do outdoor exercises while enjoying sunshine and fresh air”. According to some locals I spoke to, the installation of most of the equipment began in 2001 when the government began pouring money into the hutongs for general repairs and improvements. And although many elderly Beijingers already practice daily exercises that consist of yoga or tai chi, the machines seem to have worked their way into their health routines.

Although the equipment is not hooked up to a power source and doesn’t adjust to fit every person individually, it uses creative designs to simulate high-end exercise machines found in most private gyms. A manual treadmill, for instance, is made of dozens of hollow metal rods on an incline that spin when you step on them, allowing those who use it to run as they would on a motorized treadmill. The creative designs make for funny-looking equipment so that in clusters the equipment resembles an adult playground more than a room at the local fitness club. At any time of day, however, someone is invariably using them. Their popularity picks up drastically after the dinner hour at about seven o’clock. In many neighbourhoods, it’s not uncommon to see every piece of equipment being used as most people live just down the street from their local parks. For those who don’t, there is usually exercise equipment available on sections of local sidewalks.

Compared to private gyms that require memberships to join, this public fitness equipment provides the opportunity for physical activity that’s accessible to everyone while at the same time helping to animate Beijing’s urban landscape.



  1. If only we could think of a way to plaster ads on these, we could have them in Toronto too.

  2. Looks neat. I wonder if they have problems with people not wiping up after they finish…

  3. Very similar exercise equipment is all over the parks in South Korea as well.

  4. Wow, that’s such a fantastic idea!

    Besides the ad-factor, the other thing that would probably keep Toronto from doing the same thing is liability. The city will surely argue that they can’t provide the equipment, because if someone hurts themselves on it, the city would be liable.

    But Waterfront Toronto is having a public forum and site walk for the Lake Ontario Park project on Thursday and Sunday respectively. Someone should bring this up as a possibility.

  5. I’m pretty sure there’s some old “exercise equipment” along the waterfront in the Beaches, bars for doing chin-ups and stuff like that. No movable parts. I have a memory of this kind of stuff being slightly popular in the 80s. The school that my dad taught at in Orillia had an exercise course of sorts installed with different stations around the perimeter of the school yard (which was open to the public as well), though I don’t remembering it being overly popular.

  6. Megan be sure to check out the gaggles of Beijing seniors ballroom dancing in the morning. It’s really quite nice if you think about it… it’s low-impact exercise, it’s social and who doesn’t like to dance?

    Also, in some parks look out for men (usually it’s older men) practicing Chinese calligraphy on pavement with nothing more than brush and water. It might be more illuminating if you take someone who knows a bit about Chinese calligraphy. My dad was with me and he said that some of these guys are actually pretty good.

    Those were some of my observations from living there a couple of years back.

    As we say in Beijing… Kam Pei (that’s “Bottoms Up” or “Cheers”)

  7. There are some exercise stations scattered along the trails in High Park (for chin-ups, jumping, stretching, etc.) but I don’t think they are used very much. City Hall has somet similar Participaction-style signs around the upper exterior of the Rotunda but since that whole area is closed to the public, most people don’t even know they are there. You can peek at them from the Council Lounge or the hallway to the Wedding Chamber.

  8. Yeah we need more stuff like this in public! Forget the liability issues, just post a sign “use at your own risk” just like the rest of the world. If you hurt yourself on something like this its really nobody fault but your own!

  9. Yes, there’s still a “fitness trail” along the Beaches boardwalk, but no one ever really used it, except maybe to goof around on the rings and the bars for a bit. I’m not sure enough people in Toronto would be interested in this kind of thing to justify the cost, and anything with moving parts would have to be pretty robust or it would get vandalized pretty quickly.

    A treadmill by the boardwalk would be pretty funny, it’s the best place to run in the city if you get there before the crowds.

  10. There are some exercise stations in Centennial Park as well – like those mentioned by Duncan and Matt above. I think it would be terrific for Toronto to upgrade to better exercise machines in our parks. Maybe they can use some of the tax $ from cigarette sales towards something that will make people healthier. It would save health care dollars down the road. Just stick some “use at your own risk” stickers on them.

    Even adult sized versions of jungle gyms would provide terrific exercise and socializing opportunities.

  11. “There are some exercise stations scattered along the trails in High Park (for chin-ups, jumping, stretching, etc.) but I don’t think they are used very much.”

    The section of the waterfront trail that passes through the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station (around Coots Pond) has these too.

    They’re wildly unpopular.

  12. I remember the fitness trail in High Park being reasonably well used 10-15 years ago. At that time, if I recall properly it had at least 10 different exercise stations that you would jog between for circuit training. Since then, I believe some of the stations have been removed (liability?..) and others have simply fallen into disrepair. I’m not sure if the trail is even marked anymore.

    I strongly agree with the “use at your own risk” approach. If the City’s lawyers are too risk averse for this, the City should be lobbying the province to pass a specific law excluding municipal liability for fitness/play equipment in parks/playgrounds.

  13. Was the High Park trail funded by Participaction?

    Back in the 70’s-80’s Participaction built activity stations around a nature park in my hometown, Sault Ste. Marie. They probably did the same thing in many other communities. Unfortunately, they eventually fell into disrepair and most were removed. Sad, really.

  14. Go by Grange Park in the morning.. actually, go by at any time during the day. Adults use the seesaws and horses on springs as exercise equipment ALL day. If I had to guess, I’d say that they were Chinese people, but I’ve never asked them. There’s also a lot of groups of people doing Tai Chi (sometimes accompanied by music) and playing badminton sans net. I used to live by that park. I really miss it sometimes.

  15. Alright, so we’ve established that city parks and waterfront recreation areas in Toronto provide people with similar exercise/recreation options to the ones offered in Beijing, and people here don’t think they’re used that much.

    But maybe it’s the location of the equipment that’s the problem, rather than the equipment itself. If people have easy access to parks, boardwalks, beaches and trails that offer opportunities for a variety of recreation activities, then it doesn’t seem surprising that people aren’t interested in using this kind of equipment. It doesn’t help that those amenities are generally located in higher income neighbourhoods where exercise-equipment-interested residents probably already have gym memberships.

    However not everyone in Toronto is fortunate enough to have easy access to those amenities, and those same people often don’t have access to gym memberships either. This might be a way to provide some outdoor exercise options for people in those communities…

  16. Is anyone else dead curious about how all those different pieces of equipment are used?

  17. The ones we have/had (Beaches installations come best to my mind) are spaced WAY too far apart. I used to hit the gym a lot days gone by and I’ll tell you that people that work out aren’t interested in walking 10k in a “circuit” to get to all the equipment. It needs to be conveniently accessible.

    And maintained….for such a rich country we can’t even cut the damn grass. Then again, why bother trying….too many people seem to have this addictive need to vandalize and destroy everything.

  18. I actually traveled to bejing and saw all of those exercise machines. that are really neat and everyone uses them. I had to watch for a while for someone to get off. they are really awesome!

  19. America needs places like this. We have exercise tools in certain parks, but nothing this nice.

  20. Hello, following the same thread of thought, I wrote something on Spacing Montréal that relates to the use of public spaces for improvised exercise in Beijing, based on observations from my trip there last April:

    It happened at least three times that, as I was walking in the streets of Beijing, that I would see people kicking shuttlecocks, like we play footbag here in North America.

  21. this is a great idea, but it doesn’t seem possible that i could ever be implemented within western society,
    great post.

  22. Yep, I saw these all over the place when I visited Beijing 5 years ago. We tried to “complete” with this elderly man. He outstretched us, out pressed us, and out pushed us on any of the workout stations we used. It was pretty hilarious. He did not understand a thing we were saying, but he sured enjoyed showing off to us. My husband and I were in our early twenties at the time.

    At another plaza, we saw a middle age man in a suit, smoking, and doing the leg press while he was talking on his cellphone.

  23. This is a great idea, I live in San Francisco where there is many parks and not many have equipment specifically for exercise.

  24. This is post is great. On the social aspect, it’s amazing and impressive to me the way that exercise is traditionally valued in Chinese culture, equipment or no equipment. Spacing has written in the past on the way that tai chi groups in Toronto parks are such a mainstay–no equipment required. Can anyone comment on how this habit is acculturated?

  25. In the late 70’s, early 80’s Ontario (maybe other parts of Canada) installed these “Vita Parcours” trails in public parks as folks above have mentioned – mine was in Taylor Creek Park in the Don Valley, right below Stan Wadlow park (which used to be Cedarvale Park). Re: Ed’s post above, the exercise ‘stations’ were deliberately spaced widely apart so you could ‘do’ the station and jog/run to the next one. We used to do the course as part of gym class in ’77 or ’78.

  26. I think that’s just really cool!!!
    Except for one thing…
    WHY, sweet Jesus, do people need or even want treadmills in the park???

  27. Such equipment has been installed at elite areas of Ankara and Ä°stanbul also. The interesting thing is that, while Turkish people are not really that concerned with staying fit, i always see happy crowds around these…

    A very good idea..

  28. this is a great idea for any chinese people who want six pack abs. Great idea for america too.

  29. niiiiiiiiiiiiice

    it’s more about the people in the rest of the world; wish we had this outside, we seriously need it here.

  30. America would be a thinner place if these types of things were around. Well … maybe. Who knows if Americans would actually use them

  31. There’s a park in my town that has similar exercise equipment but I wish I saw it more often. Also while I was visiting France last year I saw similar stuff. I think it’s important to provide these public ways of exercise because some people can’t afford machines or gym memberships and also sometimes people need more than just running or crunches or exercise that can be performed without a machine. I think it’s a great idea and I wish America had more considering the weight epidemic.

  32. I swear these look like the machines they’ve been putting up in public parks in the new neighborhoods of Northern California……..ELK GROVE, CA

  33. We are OKSTAR INC, New York City, the US distribution office of the Beijing OKSTAR Sports Goods Co. LTD (CHINA). This product can now be purchased here in the US directly and contacted by anyone looking to place these types of Public Exercise Equipment in your area.

    We welcome anyone wishing to open an excercise park in their area and needs the product/s as seen above.

    Feel free to call or email me directly.
    Mr. M. Saia
    262- W. 38th Street Ste. 405
    New York, NY. 10018
    Tel: 212-786-9228
    Fax: 212-382-1811

  34. I see things similar to this all over parks in
    San Diego. I think we have things like these just not such an innovative design. Western culture can learn a lot from eastern culture and vice versa. Here is what we have A fitness trail consists of a path or course equipped with obstacles or stations distributed along its length for exercising the human body to promote good health. The course is designed to promote physical fitness training in the style attributed to Georges Hébert. In general, fitness trails can be natural or man made, located in areas such as forest, transportation rights-of-way, parks, or urban settings. Equipment exists to provide specific forms of physiological exercise, and can consist of natural features including climbable rocks, trees, and river embankments, or manufactured products (stepping posts, chin-up and climbing bars) designed to provide similar physical challenges. The degree of difficulty of a course is determined by terrain slope, trail surface (dirt, grass, gravel, etc), obstacle height (walls) or length (crawls) and other features. Urban par courses tend to be flat, to permit participation by the elderly, and to accommodate cyclists, runners, skaters and walking. The new concept of an outdoor gym, containing traditional gym equipment specifically designed for outdoor use, is also considered to be a development of the par course.

  35. Hi all

    This equipment is great and now available in Canada.
    In 2008 we installed 17 fitness parks from NL to BC and soon we hope to have few in Toronto.

    Visit our website and help us get the promotion.

    Best of all

  36. Nice. I believe monkey bars do the same thing for younger kids, but these types of exercise installations are great for the older population. The treadmill looks like a favorite.

  37. Beijing is great place for technology as well as sport. It also seems to me that shinning star have sufficient resources and equipments to cover local needs for exercise.