General Recreation: ‘Pocket Gyms’ Enhance Outdoor Fitness Trails

The pocket gym set up in Shippensburg.
Image via General Recreation.
A pocket gym set up in Shippensburg.
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With the return of decent spring weather and ongoing concerns about COVID-19, outdoor recreation areas, particularly rail trails, continue to be a popular choice for people.

General Recreation, located in Newtown Square, has the expertise to help communities maximize the benefits of those trails.

Playground Consultant Steve Hemler has worked with places like Shippensburg Township to help meet demand for open-aired, social-distanced exercise options along the trail.

“Even before the pandemic, we observed that runners and cyclists would stretch out on the curbs along the rail trail’s parking area,” recalled Doris Asper, Shippensburg’s Assistant Manager of Parks. “We thought, what if we created dedicated space for folks to warm up, cool down and actually work out?”

The concept is similar to that of a pocket park, an urban green space used for small events, play, and lunch breaks.

Hemler envisioned a “pocket gym” that would offer a small grouping of exercise equipment at different points along a trail to enhance the recreation experience.

Asper and her team worked with Hemler to select a series of Landscape Structures’ HealthBeatⓇ exercise components. They were looking for equipment that would be durable, easy to clean, non-intimidating, and accessible to teens and adults with a range of exercise abilities.

“Working with Steve was a dream,” said Asper. “He never made us feel like we were imposing him with our questions. Steve was very responsive and followed up on everything.”

Hemler designed a circuit of exercise stations, including a mobility walk and stair; Tai Chi wheels; a jump touch; a stretch structure for upper body and core, dips and pull-ups; and assisted row and push-up components.

The fitness area was conveniently located by the north entrance of the park, parking lot and rail trailhead, with a pavilion and restrooms nearby.

“We’re impressed with the quality of the equipment. The golden color really makes it stand out, yet complements the natural environment,” shared Asper.  “In addition, the equipment is easy to sanitize.”

The installation included an order for several stationed hand sanitizers for key areas throughout the park, including one for the fitness area.

The “pocket gym” opened in October 2020 to an enthusiastic community.

“Immediately, our residents were using it,” said Asper. “We’re looking forward to additional enhancements, particularly ADA accessible projects, for the future.”

“It was fun to work with a community that’s forward-thinking and sensitive to its changing needs,” said Hemler.

In his experience, fitness stations integrate well not only into rural rail trails, but also urban trail systems, ball field complexes, or adjacent to playgrounds.

It’s an economical, safe, social-distanced exercise option. If residents are already visiting the trail, they can easily incorporate the HealthBeat circuit into their daily routine,” explained Hemler. “The community can receive the advantages of physical fitness without a budget-busting investment.”

To learn more about designing a community fitness trail, contact a local General Recreation Playground Consultant at 800-726-4793 or

Learn more about fitness areas at General Recreation.

Find out more about General Recreation.

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