It took me a couple weeks to figure out why I liked the F3 workout program. Not coincidentally, I’m guessing, that’s also how long it took me to recover from my back-to-back, 6 a.m. workouts.
I did the workouts for a story I wrote on the guys-only workout program appearing in today’s Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer. You can read specifics of the program there, or, come back to GetGoingNC.com tomorrow when the story will run in its entirety, with links.
In a nutshell: F3 — Fitness, Fellowship and Faith — is a boot-camp-style workout program conceived by two Charlotte guys — David Redding and Tim Whitmire — and launched on New Year’s Day 2011. The workouts are held six days a week, start between 5:30 and 6 a.m. and last 45 minutes (Saturday workouts start at 7 a.m. and last an hour). The workouts vary by day — some emphasizing core, some strength, some aerobics — are devised and lead by members of the group, and are 45 minutes of plain hard. They are also free.
On a recent Thursday morning I showed up at 5:55 a.m. at Roanoke Park, a small, linear park in Raleigh’s Five Points neighborhood. Shadowy figures emerged from the dark, some carrying medicine balls, some kettle bells. One guy wheeled a giant tractor tire in front of him. We circled up, loosened up, then the session’s leader, known as the “cue,” broke us up into groups of three and sent us off on a circuit of five stations, which we were to do as quickly and often as possible. My favorite: trying to heave a medicine ball over a 12-foot backstop to a fellow F3er on the other side — in the dark.
The next day we gathered at 6 a.m. at N.C State’s Centennial Campus for something called a “Ring Run.” As I quickly discovered, the run was interspersed with stops at “pain stations.” Run a quarter of a mile, drop and do dips and planks and wall sits and maybe some more dips. Then run another quarter of a mile to another pain station, maybe this one involving sprints. After a pain station toward the end, our cue announced, “OK, let’s take a break and run for a while.”
Saturday morning at Pullen Park was a weekly event that, I was told, epitomized the F3 approach: a brisk mile run followed by 100 pushups, 200 situps, 300 or a thousand squats … then another brisk mile run. I didn’t make it. More accurately: I wasn’t able to make it. In fact I’m still licking my wounds and may well one day be regaling my grandkids about the time I did two F3 workouts in a row!
And I liked it.
The exact reason became clear a couple days ago (about the time I was able to resume lifting my arms over my shoulders): F3 works the way society should.
Although F3 says the age of its typical member is 43, in both sessions I did the vast majority were in their 30s. Nearly all had been doing F3 for a while, some since it arrived in Raleigh in the spring. All were in good shape. Very good shape. Since one of the goals of F3 is to add members, that raised the obvious question: How do you accommodate newcomers who may not be — probably aren’t — in as good of shape.
The answer boiled down to this: F3 encourages its members to be the best they can be. That said, they also don’t want to leave anyone behind. Typically, a newcomer is introduced by an existing F3er. That F3er is expected to keep an eye on the newcomer, make sure he doesn’t slip too far behind. Also, if you can’t do, say, 15 reps of a given exercise, do what you can. But don’t completely slough off. If you can do five reps, spend the remaining time in the plank position. Not resting, but not killing it either. In short, push yourself, apply yourself, do what you can. Do that and you will not be left behind. We will be there for you.
That was the vibe I felt. There was the competition and ribbing common when guys get together and sweat. But there was also respect and support. Assuming the plank position wasn’t a sign of physical weakness, it was a sign of strong character.
For a lifelong planker with aspirations, it’s hard to imagine a better community.