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The Femail Face-off: Should working out in the park be banned?

When lockdown was announced, I mourned the closure of my local gym in Bath almost as much as I did my children’s school.

I used to go up to five times a week, and even though it put on amazing online classes, sweating it out in my living room while the kids climbed over me just wasn’t the same.

So the minute socially distanced meet-ups were allowed, I was one of the first in the park, thrilled to be able to work out alongside my pals. It was a turning point for me, mentally and physically, and I’m shocked to hear that those using parks to keep fit are being bad-mouthed by curtain-twitching neighbours.

In Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, residents have complained about fitness fanatics dominating public spaces, disturbing the peace and damaging trees and memorial benches with equipment. Not in my experience.

The park I use is small, but we are respectful and keep our distance. One resident complained about the beeps from my trainer’s timer, so they stopped using it. And we’ve not worked with trees or benches in any of the high-intensity interval training or weightlifting classes I’ve been to.

Since I started getting fit five years ago, I feel stronger and more energised — which is essential when you’re a mum to two small children.

How can people criticise those trying to keep fit during a global health crisis, when the extra pounds you carry really can be the difference between life and death?

Those using the great outdoors to run, cycle or train are the opposite of the Covidiots, who cram on to beaches and beauty spots, leaving litter and human waste. We only use the space for 45 minutes, unlike those settling in for a day of cider drinking and burger flipping on a disposable BBQ burning a hole in the grass.

And who would you rather look at — some fit men and women doing press-ups, or the beer belly of your typical Brit-abroad-but-now-staying-at-home sunbathing?

I know what I’d rather see. Our trainers are easy on the eye, and more than once I’ve spotted a couple of grannies walk off with a spring in their step after a glimpse of well-honed bicep.

Now more than ever we should be encouraging people to look after themselves, not shaming them for being active.

While I applaud the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme’s aim to get our economy going, I think there should be a similar initiative to get our nation moving. Government-subsidised fitness classes, with the motto Work Out to Help Out, would give the nation a chance to improve its mental and physical health, rather than stuff their faces on a budget.  

 

Most women will be aware that a sizeable minority of men believe not only that ‘a man’s home is his castle’, but that the wider world is his eternal stag weekend.

While anyone venturing into a city centre of an evening is prepared for what degenerate sights await them, the same isn’t true of parks, where people expect a measure of solace from the cut and thrust of urban life.

Since lockdown was announced, however, some thoughtless morons with more hench than sense have mistaken parks for a cross between an Outward Bound course and a giant spittoon. I call them the Physical Jerks.

Of course, there have always been those half-witted cyclists riding bikes built for mountain terrain on the pavements. Goodness knows why they wear helmets — there’s obviously nothing up there to protect.

While the allotted hour of exercise in lockdown led to many people buying dogs to walk, others preferred to let their raging narcissism off the leash. Some damaged trees by dangling from weight-training equipment, while others terrorised the aged by running up behind them and lobbing phlegm everywhere.

I can’t help but think it’s mostly a sexual thing — men who presumably aren’t getting much action like to throw their weight about in public to impress or intimidate women.

Once they might have been heavy-breathing telephone sex pests. Now, in the time of Covid, they’re shaking their sweat all over some poor girl who is simply trying to enjoy some peace and quiet in the park. So I was pleased to see that Southend Council has banned ‘bootcamps’ from its public spaces after ‘total idiots’ ran riot and caused damage during workouts, jumping on and off memorial benches in Leigh-on-Sea.

‘Bootcamps’ my eye — only serving soldiers need to be that fit, not men who spend most of their lives in front of computer screens.

If you can’t exercise outside without calling attention to yourself, maybe you should ask what’s missing in your life that means you need to be the physical equivalent of graffiti?

And before I’m accused of being a couch potato, envious of the fitness of others, I’ll overshare the news that I am a gym-goer who has managed to lose half a stone since lockdown ended.

The difference is that I’m civilised enough to keep my physical jerks indoors where they belong, rather than do them in the streets (and parks) and frighten the horses.

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