Soon after arriving to the Bay Area, I noticed a large blue exercise station filled with people working out on the Marina Green in San Francisco. Every time I drove by it and saw people using it, I wondered what it was about. By chance, I met the man behind what he calls a Fitness Court, founder and director of the social enterprise National Fitness Campaign (NFC), Mitch Menaged. Mitch invited me to join him at the Fitness Court for a workout and to hear the story behind it.
Note: I have no vested interest in the NFC or anything associated with it. I was so impressed by the Fitness Court and the principles behind it I wanted to share them via a post. To date, the only updated Fitness Court available to the public is the one on the Marina Green.
The centerpiece of the Fitness Court is a "7 Movements in 7 Minutes" workout. I was skeptical that such a short workout could produce much benefit. I was proven wrong. Mitch took me through the most basic routine the Fitness Court offers (in total, it is comprised of seven exercise stations and 30 individual pieces of equipment). As we moved from station to station, I was surprised at how robust the workout was.
Mitch, an exercise enthusiast and real estate developer, came up with the idea for the Fitness Court in 1979. He wanted to create an outdoor workout space that provided a full body workout (muscular and cardio) using simple equipment and one's own body weight. In addition, he envisioned fitness courts in parks throughout the country that would provide a free workout to the public to help increase awareness of the importance of fitness and an easy way to achieve it.
The NFC effort to promote the first Fitness Court was a great success. Partnering with Wells Fargo, 4,000 Fitness Courts were installed in the U.S., Canada and Australia. (The original one is still standing about 50 yards away from the updated version.) The new Fitness Court takes advantage of the tremendous amount of research that has been done in the last 40+ years on optimal workouts. It is a progressive and variable 7-minute workout circuit that includes high intensity interval training and circuit training. The Fitness Court can benefit people in their 90s and people who are Olympic athletes. If you want to go for even greater health benefits, the circuit can be repeated one or two more times.
The 7 movements are: core, squat, push, lunge, pull, agility, and bend. Ideally done at the Fitness Court, most of these movements can be done without exercise equipment in other environments. Short videos on beginner, intermediate, and advanced routines are available on the NFC website as well as via an iPhone app.
As far as whether or not you can get significant health benefits after a 7 minute workout, Mitch told me:
You absolutely can improve your fitness, and I think improve your longevity, certainly improve your health, by committing 7 minutes a day to exercise. It really is amazing the difference between people and their health outcomes when you compare people who are sedentary and do nothing and people who do just a small amount of exercise. There is research that shows as little as 7 minutes a day actually does have a health impact.
What excites me about the concept is that we have an opportunity to take charge of our health. In order to do that, we've got to put things out in the public sector that allow people to come together and build community around this subject. What I am most excited about here at the Fitness Court is what role this platform can play in cities and in countries and in people's lives.
Good health is a precious gift. The fact that you can maintain it in a short amount of time with a few movements is another gift.
If you can't make it to the Marina Green to try out the Fitness Court, I encourage you to begin working with the 7 movements. If you would like to help bring a Fitness Court to your community, contact the NFC. And if you are planning on coming to San Francisco, make sure you make stopping by the Fitness Court part of your itinerary!