8 exhilarating (and free!) outdoor workout spots in L.A.
Of the many things the pandemic has forced Americans to rethink is the Western ritual of “going to the gym.” Driving to an indoor facility to grasp equipment and thrash about in stale air just isn’t what it used to be.
In its place: sunlight, oxygen and the electro-charged surface of the Earth. This shift, along with studies about the benefits of exercising outside, got us thinking:
Where are the best places in L.A. to breathe, move and sweat for free while absorbing a little Vitamin D? Which L.A. parks have exercise equipment? What are the best outdoor spots for doing squats and push-ups?
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We wanted to offer up more than hikes (though we have plenty of recommendations for those). And while the air is getting chillier, here in SoCal, the winter months are hardly an exercise deterrent. The only thing between you and an outdoor sweat-sesh is your front door.
Which exercises should you do at the following sites, you ask? Try one of each: a lower body push (a squat, lunge or jump), an upper body push (push-up, shoulder press, dip), an upper body pull (pull-up, row, curl) and a core movement (plank, crunch, twist). Perform as many as you can of each, for three rounds. Beginners should start slowly, adding on more reps as they build strength and endurance.
Anything is better than nothing. Movement is medicine. And remember: Cavorting outside is what our bodies are designed to do.
Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park
Its exercise area has dip bars, a trapeze rack with hanging gymnastics rings and a few simple machines that use bodyweight as resistance. I love the array of pull-up bars here, which allow those who are unable to do a pull-up (palms facing away from you) or chin-up (palms facing you) to place their feet on a nearby bar and do supine rows instead. If rows are too hard, a simple bar hang can improve strength, flexibility and spine and shoulder health. Bonus: There’s an obstacle course for kids that includes ropes and flexible ladders.
Covering 231 acres and filled with more than 300 bird species (and their accompanying soundtrack), the park grounds are a great place for a warm-up stroll before you get started.
Sand Dune Park
By which I mean: Don’t take this one on without a certain baseline level of fitness.
Using the dune isn’t free, but it’s close. Manhattan Beach residents pay $1, nonlocals pay $3 and everyone has to sign up first. It’s in a residential neighborhood, so respect posted signs and residents’ driveways when parking. When exercising, only play music when wearing headphones.
The sand pit at Muscle Beach Venice
Here, spread across the soft sand, is an assortment of sunlit steel apparatus where pushes, pulls and presses are all possible. There’s a balance beam and climbing ropes too. During hotter seasons, cool off with a dip in the ocean, which is just steps away.
Culver City Stairs (officially known as the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook)
The staircase is steep and each footfall varies in height (from three to 20 inches), so it’s hard to get into a climbing rhythm. I actually enjoy this unpredictability — it keeps me focused once my legs and lungs catch fire about a third of the way up. Beware of bringing your progeny: My 8- and 14-year-old daughters made it to the top, but not easily. Bring water and a camera, so you can celebrate your achievement with the sprawling City of Angels as your backdrop.
The adjacent playground has plenty of climbing options to keep kids busy, and there’s a big, grassy field that’s perfect for sprinting, Frisbee flinging or general frolicking. The park is steps away from the Pacific Ocean and from the recreation, retail and dining options at the Redondo Pier. On Thursdays between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., replenish your system with fresh fare from the Redondo Beach Certified Farmers Market.
Manhattan Beach Parcourse on the Strand
Bonus: This spot abuts Bruce’s Beach, a grassy slope that recently made history when government leaders returned the property to its rightful Black heirs. Take a moment to ponder the injustice and its reparations, then celebrate the latter with some sprints up the steep hill that defines the park (or hit the sand and do some sprint work there). Five sprints of 40 yards or so, with walking rest back to the start, is a good beginning.
Jackie Tatum / Harvard Recreation Center
The Pacific is the largest ocean on Earth (covering about a third of the planet’s surface) but you only need the 30 yards closest to shore. I like treading water for a few minutes after running or after exercising at one of the spots on this list.
Do not try swimming your first time out, even if you’re a confident pool swimmer. Start by treading water for five minutes in an area where your feet can touch the bottom. If that feels too easy, extend it to 10 minutes. Do not exercise to exhaustion. And always check in with the lifeguard first and give them a heads-up on your plans.
Yes, winter is wetsuit weather, but a few minutes without one is an unmatched refresher of body, mind and spirit.
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