Provision for your health in Switzerland's largest fitness club

Provision for your health in Switzerland's largest fitness club

As a firm feature of our enormous forests, it’s as much a part of Switzerland as cheese, watches or chocolate: the Zurich vitaparcours. What initially began as something for gymnasts with a high level of fitness has now become a free fitness club in the open air for everyone to enjoy – including Roman and Timo.

It’s now 50 years since Zurich opened its first vitaparcours. It was initially inspired by the men’s gymnastics club from Zurich Wollishofen. Back then, they made use of the natural obstacles in the forest to help keep themselves fit, using wood of all kinds to create different workout stations that over time caught the attention of non-athletes too. What’s more, the Vita insurance that existed at the time acted as sponsor, since it believed in the idea and promoted it actively. Now there are around 500 of these trails spread throughout the country.

Switzerland – a nation of athletes

Sport is quite the trend, as revealed by the study “Sport Schweiz 2014” carried out by the Federal Office of Sport (BASPO). Almost 70 percent of 15 to 74-year-olds now do some kind of sport at least once a week, while 50 percent even exercise several times a week. New trend sports like CrossFit and bootcamps are now trying to imitate what the Zurich vitaparcours has been fostering for more than 50 years: namely, variety and completeness. At the same time, it has managed to remain popular among many.

One of these is 58-year-old Roman from Degersheim. He underwent open heart surgery last year and was told it was basically his last chance of avoiding a heart attack. Fortunately, it all went well and now he feels better than ever. That’s partly thanks to the strict exercise plan he has to adhere to, into which he frequently incorporates the numerous Zurich vitaparcours in his area. The good thing is that the trails are open at any time and in any weather – they have no opening hours, are free of charge and compared to conventional fitness centers they aren’t too crowded.

The Swiss do love the forest

No buzzing devices, no clinking dumbbells, no loud music and no stale smells. Instead, there are birds singing, wind rustling in the trees and the fresh air of the great outdoors. The forest has a very special significance for Swiss people, and plays an important role in their leisure time. According to figures from the forest association “Arbeitsgemeinschaft für den Wald” (AfW), 13 percent of Swiss people use the forest on a daily basis in summer, while the monthly figure is almost 50 percent. And it’s no wonder. After all, the average time it takes them to get to the nearest forest is just 19 minutes.

People’s favorite forest activities include not only walking the dog, observing nature, jogging, walking or cycling, but also having a go at a Zurich vitaparcours. This is proven by the BASPO study, in which more than 50 percent of respondents said they visit the open-air fitness trails at least once a year. Twenty-five percent said several times a year. Thus, use of this infrastructure ranks higher than that of football pitches or tennis courts, woodchip running trails, ice rinks and even gyms.

Zurich vitaparcours – ideal for old and young alike

After all, the approximately 500 Zurich vitaparcours also offer a refreshing alternative thanks to their combination of sport and fun. Each course averages 2.3 kilometers long and incorporates an incline of around 60 meters – ideal for families with children, sports teams or sports enthusiasts in their later years. Along the way they will cover 15 stations with up to 43 exercises. One of the biggest enthusiasts is 24-year-old Timo. He is a passionate goalkeeper and the Zurich vitaparcours represents the ideal supplement to his training, since it requires not only agility and dexterity, but also strength and stamina.  

The generally 15 stations can be combined in various different ways and are marked by color. Blue represents stamina, yellow agility and dexterity and red strength. Over the years, the exercises have changed and are now designed in line with the knowledge of sports science, with the aim being to train the whole body and its various different muscle groups.

Sport is good for the body and mind. And Roman and Timo agree, but for them, the best thing is that at the Zurich vitaparcours they not only spend time together, but also do something good for their health.