Published on July 16, 2023

The power of public spaces: Fitness beyond four walls

In our latest guest writer post, fitness columnist and personal trainer Paul Landini talks about training outdoors and shares some easy public space exercises.

Beyond fostering meaningful connections and contributing to our mental wellbeing, parks and other public spaces play a vital role in our physical wellbeing.


These vibrant settings become gateways to active living, inviting people of all ages to embrace healthier lifestyles.


Evergreen is inviting guest writers to share their perspectives on the value of community spaces, and how we can make these public places more welcoming. The series continues with Paul Landini. Paul is a Kitchener, Ontario-based personal trainer, health educator and fitness columnist with The Globe & Mail. He specializes in making fitness fun and accessible to all, regardless of their age, gender or abilities.


headshot Paul Landini


It may be a stretch to say that public spaces saved my life, but not by much. During challenging times, whenever the realities and responsibilities of adulthood pushed me uncomfortably close to the edge, public parks and communal places provided the solace I so desperately needed. And when the COVID-19 pandemic seemed poised to wipe-out my business, these same spaces saved my livelihood, too.


See, I’m a personal trainer. When gyms — along with just about every other business — were forced to close their doors thanks to the most urgent public health crisis in decades, I began to panic. My first thought: How can I continue to work with people when the entire world is locked inside their homes? And then there’s the simple reality of personal training being something of a luxury item, the kind of expense most people forgo when they’re faced with economic uncertainty.


So yes, panic ensued. But it didn’t last long.


Given that bodyweight training is my professional specialty, I knew I didn’t need on a fully-stocked gym to help folks enjoy a workout. What I needed was a clean, safe and easy-to-access training environment, a destination I could share in good conscience without having to worry about health risks. At the time I was living in Toronto, a city that is home to a deep network of thoughtfully designed playgrounds and calisthenics parks. The solution was (almost) literally in my own backyard.


This is why public spaces mean the world to me. Not only do they provide an invaluable lifeline that keeps me connected to my community, but I also love getting to see people shine in a new environment.


During nearly a decade that I’ve spent working with people in parks, I’ve thought a lot about the value of community spaces. Here are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned.


group on yoga matts outdoors in park


Instant community


As an independent trainer and freelance writer, when I’m not helping clients I spend most of my working day alone. This lifestyle can get lonesome, even for introverts like myself. Having easy access to bustling public parks helps me to feel connected to my community.


Many of the people I work with appreciate this hidden benefit too. Usually when we exercise it’s in parks that are in their immediate neighborhood. It’s not uncommon to find friends and neighbours making use of these same spaces; when these worlds come together, it can create a new dynamic in these relationships.



“Having easy access to bustling public parks helps me to feel connected to my community.”



Accessible to everyone


Your typical big box gym can be quite intimidating for the uninitiated. Even the most welcoming environment can trigger anxiety in those who feel insecure about their body, their ability, or their age. And while it’s true some public spaces can be just as bustling as a busy gym, the general atmosphere at playgrounds and outdoor parks tends to be less daunting.


Gym memberships also cost money. Along with your monthly dues, there are other potential costs to consider — from towel service and lockers, to registration and termination fees. All of those dollars and cents add up, making the idea of getting in shape financially untenable for many. Forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but accessing the great outdoors is (and hopefully always will be) free.


Meeting new people


Personal trainers are a dime a dozen. In order to distinguish yourself, you’ve got to stand out from the crowd. By working in public parks, I meet people I otherwise never would. Oftentimes passersby will see what we’re doing and stop to comment. Questions follow and contact information is exchanged.


Of course it helps if the exercises and training methods being used are a little bit unique. People tend to be more intrigued by exercises that require lots of open space to perform properly.


A public space workout


One of the reasons why I love bodyweight training (aka, calisthenics) so much is that you can make almost any public space your gym. All you need is a bench.


If you value fitness but have never felt comfortable inside a gym, I encourage you to explore the parks and public spaces that exist in your neighbourhood. To sweeten that proposition, I’ve put together the following strength-training routine.


Perform each exercise for 45-60 seconds before moving on to the next one (for single-limb exercises, it’s 45-60 seconds each side). Give yourself a quick 15-30 second break between exercises, and a full minute or two between rounds. Completing two rounds of the circuit with minimal rest is a good goal for beginners. If you’re more experienced, aim for four.


  1. Bench Push-Up: Three options here; choose the one that best suits your abilities.
  2. Modified Pistol Squat: Lower yourself to the bench slowly, making light contact at the bottom of the movement.
  3. Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat: Focus on balance; pause briefly at the bottom before standing tall. If this exercise proves to be too challenging, try the standard split squat instead, using the bench for extra support if needed.
  4. Hip Thrust: Two options, choose the one that best suits your abilities.
  5. Bench Dips: Don’t drop too low. At the bottom end of this movement, your elbows should be only slightly higher than your shoulders. You can make this exercise easier by bending your knees. This will reduce the amount of weight being moved, allowing for a greater range of motion.
  6. Bench Mountain Climber: Keep your shoulders over your hands; don’t let your hips sag low or shoot high.