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The Sidewalk Gym

Have you tried it yet?


The Sidewalk Gym

Have you tried it yet?


Have you ever walked past a Chinese playground and frowned at the sight of 90 year-olds engaging in various bizarre forms of exercise? Well, we certainly have. The Chinese playground appears to be more of a Zen haven than it is a jungle for raucous child play. Curious to find out more about these eccentric exercise machines, Caroline and I dethroned our office swizzle chairs and ventured out to a nearby sidewalk gym to grasp firsthand the effectiveness of this fitness regime.

Admittedly, we were initially quite apprehensive. Our aged partners-in-exercise maneuvered themselves around these unfamiliar devices with remarkable skill and grace, while we were left puzzled by the unintelligible directions offered on each machine.

But, beware. As the instructions on each machine proclaimed, in a peculiarly biblical style, “All responsibilities shall be borne on the violator himself.” And thou shalt suffer for thy sins.

The Stretcher


Plagued with heavy, ugly kankles? Cry no more. This stretching post works miracles “to wipe off the fatigue of the lower limbs” and stretch out those leg ligaments. With repeated use, you’ll soon be as pliable as a ballerina. Well, you’ll be on your way, at least. As the first machine in the long line of exercise contraptions, this iron getup is a good warm-up to start the blood flowing and work up the flexibility in the muscles.

Spandex leggings recommended.


The Qi Dispatcher


Man, I don’t know about you, but when my qi is all out of whack, nothing goes right. For years I have depended on coffee to tap into my energy waves, but now I’ve got a new addiction: the qi dispatcher. With only 5-10 reps rubbing my back on this contraption’s massage wheels, my channels receive a thorough dredging (like plumbing pipes), my qi flow is promptly “expedited” (via FedEx), and my immunity is “upgraded” (to VIP platinum gold level). That’s quite a deal for a minute’s worth of exercise each day.

In terms of the qi dispatcher toning the body or pumping up the heart rate, it’s not going to happen. This contraption serves best as a warm-up or cool-down massage.


The Iron Grid

Once again, as most of the exercise stations profess, training on this arched iron grid can dredge my channels. Great! Sounds like I’m in for a thorough cleansing of the crud that must be coursing through my system. I wonder what happens when it’s time to go to the toilet after these dredging exercises… Well, all I care about is the claim that I can “reduce abundant fat and proud flesh” by doing sit-ups and performing Superman lifts on this nifty metal recliner. However, I’m a little skeptical on the assertion that doing these exercises will “enhance (my) bravery”… I guess I’ve got to continue my abdominal workouts to find out.


The Joy Generator


Really, who cares about all the health claims of this leg pendulum? It’s a thriller! But if I had to talk about it in health terms, this swing feeds my qi like a sugar high—my body feels instantly energized and ready for action. Moreover, if I had “muscular dystrophy”, I can partake in a daily dose of the joy generator for relief. That lingering taste from the bitter gourd I could have eaten during lunch? Theoretically gone! My hypothetical difficulty urinating? No more. I’d be running smooth as a waterfall.

Although the joy generator is a true blast of good times, careful you don’t get too carried away… Lose your focus and you might go airborne.


Fist Pump Activator

Two knobs hang from a rope and I pull on them. There must be more to it, right? That’s the question that ran through my head as I inanely pumped my arms right, left, right, left. Is there a certain rhythm or a special password to use in order to access some sort of feeling from this apparatus other than confusion? Not even the machine guide is of much help. Okay, this fist pumping exercise is “applicable to ache of shoulder joints,” I get that enough. But applicable to “functional obstruction”? That sounds like something I don’t want. In fact, the medical definition of obstruction is “blockage of a bodily passageway, as the intestines.” What happened to the ever-popular dredging of the channels? Well, perhaps as a stand-in, repeated fist pumping apparently has the power to resist the “dated old hurt.” Again, not entirely sure what this is referring to but maybe it will counteract my functional obstruction.

Kind of a worthless contraption, the fist pumper, if you ask me. If you’re short on time, you might as well walk on…


The Twirler

Admittedly, Freddie and I strayed from the list of recommended uses on this wheel. So, you’ve been warned—proceed at your own risk, and don’t come crying to us if you dislocate your shoulders. If you’re up for the challenge, consider this wheel your swing dance partner. First place your hands at 10 and 2 o’clock, then go for it—spin! Duck! Careful you don’t decapitate yourself with your own arms. This move’s for the pros.

If you’d rather keep to the written formulas, that’s cool, too. Loosen upper your shoulder ligaments and strengthen your baldric muscles, whatever they are… Again, I’m lost in translation, as the definition of “baldric” is “a belt for a sword or other piece of equipment, worn over one shoulder and reaching down to the opposite hip.” C’est la vie. I’m purportedly dredging all six channels of my upper limbs, so that’s all the convincing I need.




Protector Buddy Bars


The illustrations for these parallel bars depict proper pushups and 90-degree leg lifts—your standard gymnastics moves. But then comes the image of a man sitting atop one of the bars where he does—what?! Is this little guy getting blown by a giant invisible fan?? I thought these exercise stands were supposed to be old person friendly, but what 80-year-old man would splay himself five feet above ground with nothing but the strength of his ankles to prevent him from sliding off and cracking his head open?! Kind of intimidating, I’m not going to lie.

To perform this elevated sit-up, according to the directions, you must support the body with two hands while sitting on one bar and hooking your feet to the opposite bar… Once you have assumed this position, “lift hands, slowly stretch back the body to form an anti-bow then exert speedy abdominal curl to original position.”

Good God. I think I’ll pass, thanks. I need at least a week on “the iron grid” to enhance my bravery before I try this stunt. Also, I forgot to bring along my “protector” to spot me, as the guide recommends. Freddie doesn’t count. He was too busy snapping pictures and I wouldn’t trust him any farther than I could throw him.

Anyway, these parallel bars are legit, especially for those with Jell-O for arm muscles and abs of pudding (yeah, that’s me).



The Foot Shover


I dominated this machine. I’ve always enjoyed leg exercises best because I actually have muscles in my lower limbs. There are no weights to hold this machine down, so if you have sturdy stems, you will fly on this apparatus. I could pump out a storm on this foot shover.

I’ve you’re suffering a hangover, leg presses might prove better than caffeine. According to the well-intentioned guide, with a couple sets of reps you can adjust the functions of the liver, guts, spleen, stomach and kidney. Adjusting how? You never know unless you try.



Core Strengthening Swivel

Shazam! You’ve been “stomached.”

Don’t worry, if it happens on this machine, getting stomached is a good thing. It means you’re developing some sexy ridges across your mid section. All you have to do is lean back. Lean back. Three sets of twenty reps each day and you can also reduce back and waist pain, ease a kidney deficiency and wipe out dizziness, fatigue and that nasty “tingle.” What a steal for such a simple exercise. What happens when you flip sides and take the swivel from the front? …


The cat-ball machine


Keen to make a fool of yourself by engaging in a game usually directed at cats? We have the thing for you! The cat-ball machine, with its unique “ball on a chain” technology, provides hours of fun. The objective? Simple! Jump up and try to touch the ball. Doing so will set off a satisfying tingle as the chain holding the ball moves, keeping you jumping and jumping and jumping! Well, you could hear my laughs of enjoyment from Xinjiang! Enjoy, my feline friend!

In all seriousness, however, this is a ludicrous form of exercise. Leaping into the air to touch a ball with neither improve neither your fitness nor, most likely, your love life.


The Disc Jockey


Any aspiring MC’s out there will enjoy this one. With twin wheels effectively simulating turntables, this machine will work on those forearms and biceps. What’s more, as quoted from the instructions, it even claims to “relax cerebral cortex nerve, restore consciousness, and prevent encepholamalacia.” As yet, we aren’t quite sure how it restores consciousness; perhaps this involves placing your unconscious friend on the turntables and operating it for them while they slowly come to. Good after a heavy night out, we think. As for encephalamalacia, we believe the links between spinning two wheels round and preventing degenerative brain diseases are quite unmistakable.

Regardless, twirling a couple of wheels round too easy for you? Let’s mix things up a bit. Level 1- Both clockwise. Level 2- Both anti-clockwise. Mastered those? Put your coordination to the ultimate test. Level 3- One clockwise, one anti-clockwise. Not so cocky now, huh?

In any case, David Guetta, watch out- I’m coming for ya.


Torture Machine 1


Indeed, as the title suggests, this machine does bear an uncanny resemblance to some medieval torture mechanism, with its bewildering concoction of hinges and pulleys. Well, when my “muscular dystrophy” gets me down, when all I can think about is my “sciatica”, when my “difficulty in motion” is holding me back, a few reps on the Torture Machine Number 1 and I’m ready for the day! Just sit in the chair, grip those handles, extend the forearms and get pumping, my hypochondriac friend. I felt a good burn on my biceps and my “pliability” went through the roof. Thanks, TM1!




Torture Machine 2


Coordination of your “gambrel” just not up to scratch? Same here. And what a pain it is. That’s why I gave the TM2 a quick run. And what rewards I reaped. The “obstacles to bending and stretching of limbs” just vanished! Good thing too. I was beginning to wonder whether I would make it back to the office.

Try lifting those legs up perpendicular to the chest get a six-pack that would make Bruce Lee look like he’s had a Big Mac too many.


The Super-Oldie


Given that these machines are targeted at old-people, we thought that chin-ups might be a stretch too far (no pun intended). Still, we waited for our hero OAP to appear, who might be able to pull him/herself up off the ground and astound us all. Sadly, that person never came. That didn’t stop us from persevering in the name of journalism. Despite a straightforward design, the Super-Oldie is still pretty effective for working on those abs and biceps too, depending on your technique. However, remember after each rep to return to a “pendulous position” as the instructions so aptly put it.

It also claimed to cure “ankylosis”, “periarthritis” and even the occasional spot of “tendovaginitis”. Who needs a physio when you have the Super-Oldie?


The Rambler


Ah yes, the golden oldie of our exercise machines. Our respect for this apparatus was such that we decided to use its real, given name. Indeed, the name suggests nature, adventure, care-free exercise, perfectly encapsulating the essence of this wonderful machine. Simply place a foot in each of the footholds, and swing your feet alternately, imitating a running movement. Beware, though, for the machine “has the function of consuming fat of the whole body.” And I only wanted to lose a few pounds…

The Rambler is, in any case, iconic throughout China. If there’s one exercise machine which you’ll see in any park, it’s this one. Well, I want to see it in English Parks too.


The Flo-Rida

So named because it’s likely to throw you into an impromptu performance of, “You spin my head right round” (I myself couldn’t resist, but Caroline demonstrates the technique perfectly here). This is a gem of an exercise machine. Hold on to the bars provided, and simply spin on the disc, stretching your waist and abdomen. For the real pros among us, push your balance to the limit and go one-footed. With effortless grace, I made those Chinese acrobats look like chronic drinkers.

Now, let’s see what the Flo-Rida can do for you- “Turning waist in large angle can release lumbar muscle, dredge channels and promote qi and blood to circle smoothly.” I personally don’t have much dredging to be done in my channels, but I can always do with better qi circulation, and so I shall be revisiting the Flo-Rida in the near future.



Bonny Rider


Despite the slightly suggestive thrusting motion involved in this exercise, Caroline and I had a blast on the Bonny Rider. We don’t know what’s with the strange name, but I sure had a “bonny” time “increasing the bending ability of wrist, elbow and coax.” Beware though, the Bonny Rider is somewhat redolent of a motorbike, and thus has the unfortunate side-effect of encouraging the “exercisee” to make a fool of themselves. It wasn’t long before Caroline descended into youthful immaturity, and proceeded to make “vroom vroom” sounds. How disappointing.





At first glance, spinning a wheel or yanking at knobs on a rope might seem like a poor excuse for exercise.  Whereas Westerners like to break a sweat or feel the burn, the traditional Chinese warn against vigorous exercise.  In fact, excessive perspiration is considered a damaging endeavor to one’s inner harmony.  Like the popular saying, 慢慢来 (mànmàn lái—take your time), you can maintain a healthy body by 慢慢锻炼 (mànmàn duànliàn—easy does it with the exercise).  I’ve never heard anyone say the latter phrase, so use it with caution.  But the difference is there.  The Chinese way of getting and staying fit is more about coaxing the body rather than forcing and abusing it.  Give the sidewalk gym a go; you might be surprised by the results.