Looking to get fit? Get outside.
For people looking to get in shape this summer, more than one outdoor venue offers opportunities to work in the open air and a group setting.
At Railroad Park, there is Get Healthy on the Railroad, sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama. “Since 2011, we have sponsored free exercise classes at Railroad Park, five days a week, from March to October,” said Blue Cross spokeswoman Koko Mackin. “Get Healthy on the Railroad encourages individuals and families to be active, have fun and make healthy choices. If we all keep moving and participate in some form of exercise and eat healthier foods, we can help build a healthier Birmingham and a healthier Alabama.”
Five different types of exercise sessions are highlighted in the program – all starting at 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and lasting an hour. Classes include Crunk Fitness Mondays, Bootcamp Group Experience Tuesdays, Zumba Wednesdays, yoga Thursdays and Happy Feet Fridays. Both Crunk Fitness and Zumba usually are held under the 17th Street Pavilion, while the other classes take place on the spacious lawn between 16th and 17th Streets. No advance sign-up is necessary. Those attending are required only to fill out a class participation waiver.
“The response to Get Healthy on the Railroad has been phenomenal,” said Natasha Rogers, special events coordinator at Railroad Park. “Participants enjoy the class offerings and the atmosphere of Railroad Park. Over an eight-month period, Get Healthy on the Railroad provides free exercise classes to over 7,000 people.” To accommodate the demand residents have for such programs, Rogers foresees these events continuing. “People have enjoyed participating in exercise programs in the great outdoors for years,” she said. “As long as people continue to show an interest in the program, we look forward to hosting it for years to come.”
According to the Railroad Park website, “Crunk Fitness is a fun, high-energy, hip-hop dance workout for all levels. It involves a combination of basic aerobic movements and funky hip-hop dance moves, broken down so anyone can do it.” Jamme Morginn, the creator and founder of Crunk Fitness, is the instructor. She has been doing Crunk since 1999.
“I started off with a small class in my church basement here in Birmingham. The class got really popular, and I started teaching in gyms, dance schools, events…all kind of stuff. I ended up making Crunk Fitness workout DVDs. I still have those going,” Morginn said. “I had a Crunk Fitness TV show locally on NBC 13. I’m training instructors in a certification program. Now, I’m here in Railroad Park with these classes of more than 100 people on a regular basis. So, great things are happening,” she said.
From the time Railroad Park opened, Morginn viewed the area as an ideal spot for a fitness class. She contacted the park and found out there was mutual interest. “We did a test run the last quarter of the year, and it went well. So, we ended up getting the program sponsored and here it is today.
“The most beneficial thing about Crunk is that it’s a super effective workout, but it’s so much fun, Morginn said. “They [the participants] do the dance moves and they laugh and have fun. It’s simple enough for anybody to do it. If you’re advanced, you can put your own thing into the moves and make it more advanced. But the amazing thing is that you’re having so much fun, you forget you’re working out,” she said.
”I think it’s a great opportunity,” said Birmingham-area resident Ashley Denmark. “And the fact that it’s free, it’s a great opportunity for the public to get healthy, stay fit and stay in shape. I saw online that it was free, and I decided, ‘Why not try it?’”
Denmark’s sentiments were echoed by fellow Crunk-er Yasmin Felder. Originally from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, she said, “This would be very popular in Fort Lauderdale.” She remarked that back home, they don’t have free programs comparable to those at the park. “Mostly there, you have to pay to get into gym classes,” Felder said.
Thursday evenings, on an elevated part of Railroad Park dubbed “The Hillside,” yoga is the featured exercise. Drawing a crowd even on the day before a long July 4th weekend, the yoga class promises to help people unwind after the daily grind.
“The practice of yoga is beneficial for the participants because they are able to observe an increase in flexibility, strength and a quiet mind,” said Sanovia Muhammad, a retired registered nurse who has been teaching yoga for seven years. “I would hope that the participants get a good yoga flow for themselves that they will continue to practice, even when the program ends October 30.” She feels that by moving from an indoor studio to the outdoors, everyone is kept engaged.
“The participants love being outside. Even though it is hot most of the time,” she said, “there is usually a soft breeze to appreciate, and the sunset is amazing.” She hopes that similar programs will be offered around town. “I would love to see yoga classes in all of the parks around Birmingham as a way of life for communities to increase health and wellness. Yoga is a healing art and a journey of self-discovery,” she said.
During July, Aldridge Gardens in Hoover has also featured an outdoor fitness activity for visitors. The garden’s partner in this event is Jason Cerniglia, owner of Hoover Fitness, to put on his 21 Day Fat Blast program. “This program is very popular, especially in Hoover. I wanted to open Aldridge Gardens to new health, fitness and wellness programs,” said Tynette Lynch, chief executive officer of Aldridge Gardens. “We are hoping this [program] brings in new visitors and members to the gardens.”
Classes are offered every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, ending this week. Each session will start at 5:45 a.m. under the pavilion and last for 45 minutes. The cost was $89 for the three weeks of personal training.
“In the 21 Day Fat Blast, participants participate in Fat Blast group personal training classes three days per week, and in these classes we do different circuits of various exercises and usually work the body from head to toe,” said Cerniglia. “On the non-group training days, the participants have a workout to follow on their own.”
“We would love to have more of this type of class at Aldridge Gardens,” Lynch said. “I know for a fact these outdoor fitness programs are a new trend.”