Introduction: Urban Exercise Trail


So, you want to make an urban exercise trail? Awesome! We'll guide you through the process of designing and building a simple urban exercise trail that requires no specialized gym equipment, just bodyweight and dynamic movement. (And no need to touch the ground with your hands!)


Our concept was originally developed as the Tenderloin Exercise Trail (TLXT) as part of the Market Street Prototyping Festival held April 9-11, 2015 in San Francisco, CA.

We wanted to develop a concept that would benefit the Tenderloin, one of the densest neighborhoods in the United States with over 25,000 residents and San Francisco's highest concentration of children. With so many residents living in small, cramped apartments and very few parks and public open space, TLXT provides opportunities for play and recreation by using the wide sidewalks on Market Street as a simple fitness trail.

For more information about our concept, check out our Neighborland page here.


You can create an urban exercise trail in your neighborhood, too! Here's what you'll need:

- Exercise diagrams (so people know what to do)

- Trail maps (so people know where to go)

- Enthusiastic people (to enjoy all your hard work!)

- An open mind (sounds cliche, but this should project be an interactive, dynamic process informed by your context and community, with a little experimentation to see what works best)

These things are optional:

- Signage holders (to post the exercise diagrams)

- Paint or tape on the ground (as a guide for exercises)

Step 1: Choose Your Trail Location


Consider the following when choosing a location for your exercise trail:

- Open space: Is there enough room for people to exercise safely?

- Ownership: Is the space public or private? Do you have permissions and permits?

- Signage: Where will you post signage (exercise diagrams and trail maps)?

- People: Who will be using your trail? How will they get to it?

- Access: Can people get to the trail safely? Are there steps, ramps, hazards?

- Accessibility: Can people of all abilities, sizes, and ages engage with the trail?


You'll want to take photos and measurements of the area, and draw a simple diagram showing the perimeter and any obstacles or hazards, such as trees, fences, bike racks, fire hydrants, curbs, etc. This will help you design the rest of your project, including the exercises, trail map, and sign posts. You can also use Google Maps Street View.

Step 2: Create Your Exercise Diagrams


Make a list of exercises for your trail. Use the internet to research fun exercises, try them out with your friends, and be sure to choose basic exercises that don't require special equipment. We worked with fitness experts, disability fitness instructors, youth organizations, and local Tenderloin residents to test and select exercises that were scalable (meaning you can do 1 or 100, go easy or more intense, depending on your ability and preference), flexible (could be performed anywhere without special equipment or a specific location), comprehensive (provided a full-body workout when performed in a sequence), and dynamic (engaged muscles in functional movement not just static muscle isolation).

We included the following exercises in our prototype trail:

- Jumping Jacks

- Lunges

- Squats

- Box Steps (we used an actual box, but could easily be substituted for a curb, stair, or bench)

- Box Jumps (we used an actual box, but could easily be substituted for a curb, stair, or bench)

- Hopscotch (we used tape, but could also be applied with chalk or paint)

- Toe Taps

- Wall Sits (we actually used a tree, but could easily substitute any stable, vertical surface)

- Jump Drills

- High Five (to celebrate all your hard work!)


Okay, now you'll want to create simple diagrams showing each step of the exercise. We chose not to use text explanations in an effort to create universal access (language agnostic) but you might consider briefly describing each exercise.

For your diagrams, you could use:

- Hand drawn images (cheap and simple stick figures will work just fine!)

- Photographs (take pictures of your friends doing each exercise)

- Design software applications (we used Microsoft PowerPoint, which comes preinstalled on most PC computers)

REMINDER: Make sure to show each discrete step of the exercise. This will really help people interpret the exercise without a trainer

Step 3: Design Your Trail Map


Next you'll want to create a trail 'map' or informational flyer, poster, or other media to let people know about your exercise trail, where to find it, and how to interact with it. Consider your audience, the local community, language needs, cultural aspects, etc. Use a simple map of the area and highlight the locations of your exercise stations, along with local parks and other areas that encourage physical fitness, recreation, and play.

NOTE: For the Market Street Prototyping Festival, all of our exercise stations were located in one area on Market Street - not really a trail, but it made sense for our event. We chose to create an informational flyer the offered background on our project, a map of the Tenderloin neighborhood, and exercise diagrams. We designed the flyer as a DIY workout, so that festival participants could design their own exercise trail and workout. People loved it! We ended up printing and distributing over 1,000 flyers for people to take home and use on their own (since all of these exercises can be performed anywhere, with no equipment needed.

ANOTHER NOTE: The flyer images and PDF are attached.

Step 4: Design Your Sign Posts


We suggest that you consider your unique location, budget, needs, and design constraints in developing a signage strategy. We actually recommend asking retail owners to post the signage behind their storefront glass. This keeps the signs protected from damage and the elements, and allows you to easily change them out and move them around.

NOTE: Our sign posts were designed specifically for a three-day, intensive street festival with high foot traffic, rather than daily use. Also, the sign posts we made for the festival were the most labor- and cost- intensive part of our project. we've included our process for building them in the next few slides, but the sign posts are not the project itself, just one version of a signage display designed for a specific event.

Step 5: Buy Your Supplies


For the signs themselves, we had a local printer laminate printed copies of our exercise diagrams.

For our sign posts, we made simple structures from:

- Oriented Strand Board (OSB) - similar to plywood, but way cheaper

- Metal bracket stakes - could also use 2x2 wood or PVC pipe

- Hardware (bolts, wing nuts, washers)

We purchased these supplies at our local hardware store, along with duct tape (so much duct tape), safety supplies, tools, and other knick-knacks. And snacks. Mmm, snacks.

Step 6: Build Your Sign Posts


After you design your sign posts, you'll want to measure, mark, and cut each piece of OSB. Then you'll line up the metal bracket posts with the OSB sections and mark holes to drill. We used a chalk line marker (a simple but incredibly useful tool for marking straight lines) and brightly colored markers (to mark holes to drill).

Again, design your signage strategy based on your unique exercise trail. If you can post your signage behind glass in a local storefront, that makes your whole project much easier (and cheaper). Mmm, cheaper.

Step 7: Build Your Sign Posts (continued)


Once your OSB sections are cut and the holes are marked and drilled, you'll want to attach the metal bracket posts to the OSB sections using simple hardware. We used bolts, wing nuts, and washers, but screws or nails would also work.

Each sign post included two OSB base sections attached with hardware to a metal bracket post, to which we attached another OSB section for the actual signage.

Step 8: Install Your Exercise Trail


You'll need to transport your supplies and equipment to the exercise trail location. We used a small pickup truck, but a car or bike could also work depending on how far you need to travel and how much equipment you're transporting.


You'll want to unload all of your supplies, arrange them in their desired locations, and then apply the duct tape (otherwise it begins to wrinkle and peel). We used a classic hopscotch frame, a large 'X' for the jump drills, and smaller 'x' shapes to indicate where to place your feet. You could also use a footprint shape, dots, lines, or other playful icons. Then we connected each exercise station with a dotted line of duct tape, like a 'trail.'

NOTE: For the Market Street Prototyping Festival, we used 6'x4' black stall mats (like for horse stalls), cut in half to make two 3'x4' mats (for ease of transportation). These mats are used by training and weight lifting gyms, and provide cushion for safe physical activity such as jumping and running. For regular daily installation, we recommend applying your tape/chalk/decals/paint directly to the sidewalk (with appropriate permissions and permits, of course), because these stall mats would likely 'disappear' if left out permanently.

Step 9: The Fun Begins!


Okay, this is where things really get awesome. Your trail is ready for the masses! Watch and learn and laugh and play with your neighbors as they enjoy all your hard work!

Step 10: The Fun Continues!


We were blown away by how many people visited our project in just three days. We handed out over 1,000 flyers, and guess that about 2,000 people came by during that time. We loved having participants from age 1 to 92 (yes, really) and couldn't have guessed how many wonderful responses we received.

Step 11: And Even More Fun!


We had a blast over the three days of the Market Street Prototyping Festival, sharing childhood stories of hopscotch and cultural variations from around the world, getting winded from an intense session of squats, and letting folks design their own exercises on the fly.

Step 12: That's a Wrap!


Make sure you capture the awesome-ness by taking photos (ask first, of course), videos (also ask), and sharing on social media with your friends and neighbors. We bet folks will be begging for your exercise trail to become a permanent fixture on their streets.

NOTE: We donated, recycled, reused, repurposed, and composted everything from our project, except for the duct tape (if anyone knows a way to zero waste duct tape, please let us know!). We disassembled the sign posts, donated the wood and exercise equipment, recycled the metal posts, reused the hardware, repurposed the stall mats, and composted the paper we used. We strongly encourage you to consider the sustainability of your project, and limit your impact and waste by employing a cradle-to-cradle design approach.

Congratulations! You created an URBAN FITNESS TRAIL!

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