What started as a way to stay active during the pandemic has become the new trend in the fitness industry; outdoor fitness might be here to stay.
Working out outdoors is not your typical fad-driven trend that comes in hot but gets left in the cold. This time, this COVID trend is one that stuck with us, and it might be for all the better. According to research led by Penn State’s Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management, about half of all American adults currently take part in outdoor recreation at least every month since the pandemic, with approximately 20% being new to outdoor recreation during COVID.
Local businesses are even catching onto this trend, thus making it easier for Austinites to take part in outdoor exercise. Meanwhile Brewing Co., a local brewery in South Austin that opened during the pandemic, currently encourages outdoor activity by offering free fitness classes. Adrienne Rivers, Meanwhile’s onsite event manager, says they saw a need for safe outdoor activities and simply acted.
“Especially with our launch during the early days of COVID-19, we saw a need for people to get outside, socialize and move their bodies,” Rivers says.
In March 2021, Meanwhile teamed up with local fitness instructors and gyms to launch their outdoor fitness program, hosting workouts on their soccer field. Now, Austinites can enjoy yoga, dance cardio and HIIT events every week on Meanwhile’s campus, and then grab a beer after.
Swift Fit Events also took advantage of this opportunity to provide outdoor classes to Austinites. However, outdoor community fitness events were not what Swift Fit originally set out to do. Ackerley’s initial mission was to provide health and wellness activities at corporate events to help attendees beat burnout and feel refreshed after long hours sitting in conference panels. But the pandemic hit Swift Fit hard as all corporate events were shut down shortly after launching in January 2020.
As a way to give back to keep his community-driven mission alive, Ackerley and the team at Swift Fit began the community events, offering free fitness events at a variety of locations across Austin. And as the lockdown ended, corporate events returned, but the community events remained.
“We preach Texas wellness,” Ackerly says. “We are trying to get people together outside. We want to create unique wellness activities, showing off Austin and working Texas and Austin culture into our events.”
It’s no surprise that local businesses like Meanwhile and Swift Fit are encouraging outdoor fitness, especially when you consider its actual benefits. According to a study by the University of Georgia, exercising outdoors can help prevent illness, which was especially prized during the pandemic.
Of course, all forms of physical activity increase blood flow, improve immune and cognitive functions, and encourage weight loss; but exercising outdoors, specifically, benefits your mental health. Exposure to sunlight enhances the production of vitamin D, improving mood and decreasing anger and depression, and, according to an article published by Cleveland State University, being outside helps boost self-confidence.
Additionally, working out outdoors can help people avoid the financial burden of gym memberships. Local businesses like Meanwhile and Swift Fit recognize this by offering their outdoor classes for free.
“By offering these classes for free, we get many people who are reluctant to show up at gyms or who are worried about steep gym fees,” Ackerley says. “It’s just a relaxed way to get people involved in fitness and in the community, allowing people to go at their own pace and feel safe without the added pressure of the traditional gym model.”
Though being a part of an indoor gym or facility may be beneficial in the social aspect, as they naturally help cultivate community, the teams at Swift Fit and Meanwhile collaborate with Austin fitness instructors to create community-driven fitness events, turning 60- to 90-minute outdoor workouts into social events.
It’s clear the outdoor fitness trend is sticking around. As local businesses provide safe spaces to work out outside and citizens band together to stay motivated, open-air fitness benefits both the individual and community alike. Austin can feel reinvigorated with a wide variety of outdoor fitness programs to improve their overall health, mood and confidence.
“We are seeing the benefit of people getting out and having these new experiences without being put out by fees,” Ackerley says. “It’s uplifting to be around people seeking relief from their daily woes.”