efe-epaRio de Janeiro

The endless beaches of Rio de Janeiro are not only a magnet for tourists, but also a giant outdoor gym for thousands of "Cariocas" seeking both to keep fit and to show off the results of their exertions.

In a city known for its cult of the body and its love of sport, the local gym rats strut their stuff in the skimpy Speedos and thongs that as much a part of the national heritage as Ipanema and Copacabana.

Marcela Amaral, a physical education teacher, says that Rio's athletic outdoor lifestyle is due in part to a beautiful natural setting which invites people to come out and play.

An early-morning visitor to the beaches will always see people playing soccer, surfing and practicing yoga.

Lately, however, the beaches have become a venue for the kind of activities associated with conventional indoor gyms as a result of initiatives such as Rio Academia, sponsored by Mude, a private company, and the NGO Arte e Vida (Art and Life).

The venture has set up a well-equipped, 316-sq. meter (3,400-sq. foot) space on Ipanema beach where people can work out for free.

Some 18,000 people have enrolled in Rio Academia, which organizes activities seven days a week throughout the Southern Hemisphere summer, from November through February.

Amaral, an instructor for Rio Academia, told EFE that her classes for groups of 20 to 25 people are usually booked to capacity three days in advance, attracting men and women of all ages.

The program also offers classes in crossfit, beach volleyball, the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira, Tai Chi and HIIT (high-intensity interval training), among other disciplines.