Are Outdoor Gyms the Future of Fitness?

On October 3, Equinox opened their latest gym in New York City’s Hudson Yards. Traditionally, such an outpost would have been housed in a well-appointed building: Inside the upscale mall of Brookfield Place, a grand neo-Grecian building in NoHo, or a limestone expanse on the Upper East Side. Instead, this one lies beyond temporarily erected black walls on a vacant corner of 30th street and 10th avenue. In fact, it’s not enclosed in any sort of structure at all. Which is exactly the point.

Called “Equinox + In the Wild,” this gym is completely outdoors. Treadmills, ellipticals, and rowing and weight machines are all under a tent, as is a fitness studio. Bathrooms are in a well-equipped trailer, and the locker room is a sleek black lean-to. Hand sanitizer stations dot the turf-field grounds, as do instructional signs: “Give Each Other Some Room,” reads one. “Suit Up: Masks must be worn at all times except when actively working out,” reads another. This is Equinox’s second open-air iteration: Last month, their first “In the Wild” Club opened in Los Angeles.

And it’s quite possibly a concept that is here to stay. While the world slowly begins to re-open amid the COVID-19 pandemic, gyms, by and large, remain either closed or operating at severely reduced levels. (Especially in New York City: Indoors, they’re limited to 25 percent capacity indoors, and group classes aren’t allowed at all.) Sensibly so: An enclosed area where people are heavily breathing, expelling body fluids, and sharing equipment is ripe for viral spread. In fact, in South Korea, a coronavirus cluster was traced back to a fitness center). Yet people need to exercise; not just for their physical wellbeing, but their mental one: It’s proven to reduce anxiety and depression. So, how does society work out, well, how to workout?

Moving everything outside, like restaurants did, was the obvious answer. But that’s a relatively unexplored concept for the fitness industry and their consumers: Sure, restaurants face similar restrictions as gyms. The difference, however, is that many eateries already had the infrastructure, experience, and precedent to manage business outdoors. Plus, patrons are used to dining al fresco. Weightlifting al fresco? Not so much. So, while the name “In the Wild,” was a tongue-in-cheek reference to its location smack-dab in the middle of a concrete jungle, it also implies something else: a venturing into a relative unknown.

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