They tiptoe out of the house before sunup and gather at neighborhood parks.
They refer to each other by nickname. They play hard in the dark and are done before most of us begin our day. They’re male, their average age is early 40s and most are professionals.
They are members of F3 Nation. On the surface, their good-natured taunting and competitiveness might suggest repressed frat boys for whom a night of culture is dinner at Hooters followed by “Hot Tub Time Machine” at the dollar theater.
They are anything but.
Their goal: Focus on fitness, fellowship and faith to help men become better leaders and accept more responsibility for taking care of their communities, says Charlotte lawyer Dave Redding, one of the co-founders of F3 Nation.
Founded in Charlotte on Jan. 1, 2011, it has since spread to Raleigh, Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix.
Just before dawn on a recent morning, men begin appearing out of the dark at tiny Roanoke Park, a clever use of otherwise unusable sliver of land in Raleigh’s Five Points neighborhood. Some carry medicine balls, some kettle bells. On is pushing an enormous tractor tire.
“Circle up!” yells Andrew Tripp precisely at 6 a.m., and with that 11 F3ers begin three minutes of warm-up exercises. Next they hit the morning’s five workout stations, which include tossing a medicine ball over a backstop, 20 jump-ups onto a park bench and suicide runs involving kettle bells.
“The workouts vary every day,” says Will Cobb of Raleigh. In Raleigh, for instance, there are boot camp-style workouts Wednesday and Saturday, a trail run Monday, a run/exercise routine Friday, a core workout Tuesday and Thursday’s strength workout, dubbed “Heavy Metal.”
The weekday workouts are 45 minutes, allowing participants to get home, shower and off to work on time. Each workout is led by a member of the group, called the Que. Membership is free.
The workouts are hard and would seem to especially challenging to a new recruit.
“We’ve struggled with this,” acknowledges Joel Maher, a software developer and Thursday regular. Basically, newcomers are encouraged to do what they can, but not injure themselves. If you can’t do 10 reps, do five.
“What got me hooked,” says Maher, a competitive stair runner when he’s not F3ing, “was that there’s no guy with a clipboard telling you what to do. They guy who’s leading the workout is doing it with you.”
Redding and Tim Whitmire were members of a similar Charlotte workout group when they got the idea for F3. That group got to about 25 guys and decided it didn’t want to grow. Redding and Whitmire decided to tweak the model to include fellowship and faith. They saw the fellowship angle as especially important.
“I think a lot of us are lonelier than we realized,” says Whitmire of post-college men. “A lot of us are getting our social needs met for the first time since college.” Whitmire, head of business development for BlackArch Partners investment bank, is a former Observer reporter.
The fellowship angle taps a key component of successful women-only workout groups: You’re more likely to shrug off lethargy and attend a workout if other people are expecting you.
To further that goal, each F3 workout is followed up on the group’s Web site with a “Backblast,” a recap of the workout including who attended and noteworthy antics. Each workout concludes with the Circle of Trust, in which members may be asked to share something about themselves.
The fellowship F also extends to F3’s goal of advancing leadership among its ranks. For one, all F3 members are encouraged to lead a workout.
“Some of these guys may have people under them at work, but they still have someone who’s over them,” says Whitmire. “This is possibly the first time they’re a leader of something.”
That plays into the role of the F3 Foundation, which aims to get members active in the community. For instance, 20 F3 members serve as coaches for Let Me Run, a nonprofit dedicated to building character in boys through running (Girls on the Run is the female equivalent), and F3 has teamed with a local elementary school to provide after-school mentoring to boys who may not have a father figure in their lives.
So far, Redding, who is 48, and Whitmire, 42, have found that F3 appeals to men who are around 43 years old, are married, have kids, and have “a fairly responsible and complicated job.”
They don’t keep tabs on members, but a one-week review of activity in September showed that 1,150 men participated in F3 workouts systemwide.
The “faith” element of F3 is a nondenominational, “big picture” type of faith. According to the F3 website, “We have found that men, having gotten right with their own bodies and each other, just naturally start seeking an understanding of the unseen but felt that makes it all possible. Each F3 Group is free to express that search in the way that fits the composition of its members. All we ask is that no man is excluded on the basis of his beliefs.”
Idealism drives the overall F3 mission, but founders Redding and Whitmire stress that the group’s foundation is built on the frequently used F3 acronym CSAUP: Completely Stupid And Utterly Pointless.
“The more completely stupid and utterly pointless an event is,” says Whitmire, “the more the guys like it.”
Joe Miller writes about health, fitness and the outdoors in North Carolina. Read his blog at GetGoingNC.com.