Exercise for free at an outdoor gym

There are several free outdoor gyms springing up across south London – so far we’ve seen outdoor gyms in Dulwich Park, Peckham Park and Burgess Park (I’m sure there are several more around local parks).

The outdoor gyms have been designed to provide low-impact training in an intuitive and easy way – plus you can get fresh air whilst outdoors. The spaces appear to appeal to individuals who normally struggle to find the time or money to attend a regular gym, and majority of users are new to exercise.

So if you’d like to save money this year and keep fit with just using your body weight alone, an outdoor gym is probably your best bet.

You can read a previous review about the Dulwich Park outdoor gym by Allison Tetreault below…

Dulwich Park

A beautiful view of Dulwich Park on the way to the fitness facilities.

It’s 15˚ Celcius outside. The sun beats down on a green landscape as dogs race, squirrels skitter, pigeons peck and ducks waddle. Children on scooters zip past, and mothers of babies in carriages gab as they walk briskly. This is the scene of Dulwich Park on a warm Tuesday afternoon.

One jogger pauses at a bench near the children’s playground to rest. After a few moments, he picks himself up again and ventures to  one of many green machines next to the walkway. He sits on the machine, lifts his arms, and begins doing chest presses.

Cross Trainer

The Cross Trainer Elliptical at Dulwich Park Gym.

Dulwich Park has offered a free, outdoor gym since 2010, when Dulwich Park Friends pitched the idea to Southwark’s Cleaner, Greener, Safer funding and received £20,000 for the endeavor. Thirteen pieces of equipment, including favorites such as the “Cross Trainer,” the “Self-Weighted Rower” and the “Seated Leg Press”, and lesser known machines such as the “Air Skier”, the “Triple Twister” and the “Single Rider”, now reside in the park across from the children’s playground. The gym is, for all intensive purpose, a playground for adults.

The gym is conveniently located, and – here’s the best part – it’s free. It’s a novel idea to offer free exercise to adults too busy to commit two hours to a gym. Two ladies, in fact, brought their babies to the park, and took turns working out as the other entertained the little ones.

“The gym is brilliant,” one woman said. “And I like being outside. It’s nice being in the fresh air.”

“If the weather’s nice, it’s good,” said the other. “It’s more of a summer thing.”

Working Out at Dulwich Park

Few of the many machines offered.

While the ladies’ review was 100% positive, exercisers must be aware that they are getting what they pay for. The machines are slightly dirty, and could benefit from a wiping down every so often – or a station nearby where those working out can wash their hands. There are no weights on the equipment; instead, you pull your own weight, as when using the “Pull Down Challenger.” There is no way to adjust height or length on the machines, so if you’re short, some, like the “Leg Press”, aren’t even worth doing. The machines tell you whether your workout is strength- or flexibility-related, but not what specific muscles you’re working out. Lastly, there’s no way to count calories (which you would usually do on an elliptical); instead, you count reps and swings.

There’s also the added weirdness of working out outside, in front of everyone. While many other people seemed perfectly comfortable, I couldn’t help but feel awkward. Especially when I imagined what people watching would say when they saw I couldn’t do a proper pull-up.

Pull Down Challenger

The “Pull Down Challenger” at Dulwich Park Gym

On the other hand, the thirteen machines are all safe and easy to use. On each piece of equipment are safety instructions and guidance for how to use it. My favorite was the Air Skier, where you used your waist to propel your body from side to side.

It’s obvious that Dulwich Park’s outdoor gym isn’t Fitness First. But for 0 pounds, it’s worth checking out. If you’re comfortable with working out in the open, if you find a bright enough day, and if you bring a hand sanitizer, then you may find that Dulwich Park’s outdoor gym is the perfect workout for you.

Entrances to Dulwich Park can be found on College Road, Dulwich Common, Court Lane and Dulwich Village SE21. Take the P4 bus to Dulwich Picture Gallery and the park will be at the left. Car and parking areas can be found at the park entrances. The fitness facilities are next to the children’s playground. To learn how to use the equipment there, read this PDF. 

About this article

Shapa Begum

About Shapa Begum

Hi, I’m Shapa Begum, Blog Editor. Born and raised in East Dulwich, I love what I do here at Dulwich OnView, I’m absolutely passionate about south London and reaching out to local communities – you can read about my favourite Dulwich spots on Time Out London and Completely London blog. My role goes beyond editing, I write, review, participate in conferences/events, attend local happenings and oversee the marketing. There’s no rest for the wicked! When not working, I love to read, write, visit museums and spend time with my loved ones.
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