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A workout tribe for city dwellers

The November Project, a no-fee grassroots workout group that meets early in the morning, has spread from its home city of Boston to other locations like San Diego, Denver, and even Canada.

By Monitor correspondent / January 7, 2014

Graham (r.) at workout.

Ann Hermes/Staff

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It’s drizzling, cold, and dark. Yet in one Boston neighborhood there’s a steady stream of people in workout gear braving the weather to congregate at the top of the aptly named Summit Avenue – and it’s not even 6:15 a.m.

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The group forms a bouncing huddle at the behest of the leader, Brogan Graham. He directs everyone to introduce themselves to three people with an embrace: “We don’t shake hands here. Here, we hug.”

There isn’t an unsmiling face in the crowd. And with that, “the tribe” – anyone who shows up – is set to get in the day’s workout before most people push the snooze button. This is the November Project. It’s a grass-roots fitness community (with no membership fee) that meets three times a week outdoors year-round for killer hill repeats, stadium climbs, and calisthenics at various surprise locations around the city.

“We’re realizing this could challenge a lot of people’s opinion of modern-day fitness,” says Mr. Graham of the experience.

It started two years ago in Boston as a way for Graham and cofounder Bojan Mandaric to motivate each other to exercise, rain or shine, the same way their college crew team motivated them to push their limits. They started inviting people to their free workouts via social media sites, gradually attracting hundreds of members and launching a movement beyond Boston – inspiring thousands of people to stay in shape and make new friends while doing so.

Already, new tribes with self-stenciled November Project gear have popped up in Washington, D.C.; San Diego; Madison, Wis.; Denver; San Francisco; and even Edmonton, Alberta, with more groups in the making.

It’s a formula that gyms and health advocates have been trying to get right for years, says Walt Thompson, a professor of kinesiology (mechanics of body movement) at Georgia State University. The real motivator to get people working out is peer support, he says. As fitness gyms chase the latest craze with high-tech gadgets and specialized staff, the November Project is decidedly low-tech with no gym, weights, or locker rooms. Just a lot of friendly faces.

At the end of her workout, before the final hugs and the group photo taken at each meet-up, Boston resident Laura Sweet agrees that the experience, despite the cold and dark and being among a hundred strangers, is fun. “It reminds me of how I felt when I was back in high school, running cross-country on a team,” she says. “It’s not a menacing or intimidating group; it’s just encouraging.”

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