Physical activity has always been an integral part of how communities come together. From the Tarahumara tribe’s “raraji” running parties to backyard football, from kids on the playground to the athletes in the Olympics – we connect with each other through sport, physical activity, and recreation.
For many of us, these activities become a part of how we identify ourselves. “I’m a (insert any team) fan.” “I do yoga.” “I’m a climber.” “I lift weights.” “I play soccer.” Through this self-identification, we attach ourselves to a larger group of people with similar interests.
Have you even just met someone, but find out that they happen to play the same sport as you, or are a fan of the same team? Chances are, you immediately felt a sense of affinity with that person. You have common ground. You’ve made a connection. In essence, you’re a part of the same family.
Maybe it’s for this sense of community/family that small gyms like CrossFit and Curves have exploded over the past 10 years, or why cardio/yoga/pilates classes at major gym chains continue to fill-up, day-in and day-out. We need to be a part of a larger community. We need it for the motivation, the inspiration, and the personal-connections it provides. At some point, being fit for the sake of being fit isn’t enough. We need more.
So where does FreeFit ‘fit’ in to all of that? What role should community play in personal fitness? How can FreeFit provide that for its participants? These are the questions I ask myself as I prepare for my journey home to the states and envision how this program can evolve, and what I hope it will become.
Individual vs. Communal
FreeFit is by its very nature both individualistic and communal. As an online resource,people consume information, but don’t necessarily interact with it or with each other. They are given a framework to work with, but how they use it is up to them. On the other hand, by sharing our stories and our passion for fitness, we are a part of a larger community of those searching to improve their health.
FreeFit was created to provide a framework that enables people to take control of their own health, and to enrich their lives as easily as possible. To that end, many of FreeFit’s elements empower the individual: movements, workouts, recipes, and motivational tools that can be implemented at low-cost (time and money), with nothing but yourself: body and brain. You don’t need to belong to a gym. The program is almost infinitely modifiable to suit your needs. AND you can make changes anywhere, anytime, without drastically cutting into the time you spend with the people you love. The idea is to free YOU to lead the life you want.
There are some community undertones to the program as well. A pillar of the Free to Move philosophy is to ENJOY your fitness outside of working out, and to encourage you to spend time with your friends and family. This speaks to the importance I believe family and community has for our overall quality of life, but leaves it up to the individual to go out and make these connections on their own.
So, the question then becomes, how can FreeFit better provide for the communal needs of the individual?
My first reaction was to develop on online forum around FreeFit, much like Steve Kamb has created over at Nerd Fitness or Mark Sission has with the MDA Forums: a place where people on similar paths can come together and share information and experiences with one another. However, the more I thought about it, the more I felt that it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.
Is there room to develop on online community around FreeFit? Sure. If nothing, the explosion of social media and the millions of ways that people connect to each other through the internet is proof of that. But, isn’t there something to be said for having a physical presence in a local community? For connecting with people face-to-face? I believe so.
It was then that I was struck with this realization. While FreeFit is and always will be a free online resource for people to utilize, it may be that the best way for me to create a community is through a local “gym” – the very place that I encourage people to view as unnecessary.
But before you cry foul, let me explain what kind of “gym” I envision, and what it would provide to both the local community and the individual trainee.
Part I: ENJOYment
As I mentioned before, a key part of the FreeFit philosophy is the ENJOYment of our health and fitness. There are literally thousands of avenues for this, from mountain climbing to gardening – and that’s what makes it so exciting.
However, sometimes it’s a little more difficult, and a LOT LESS FUN to get started on a new hobby (or enjoy an old one) on your own. A FreeFit gym could organize local events to encourage everyone (not just ‘gym members’) in the community to come together for fun and recreation. Flag football games, giant obstacle courses, Primal Picnics in the local park, group hikes, social dance classes, or for the totally insane, a Tough Mudder team (see below) – anything is game.
Unlike in your standard Globo-Gym, the focus is on FUN rather than WORK or CALORIES BURNED (i.e. beating the pulp out of yourself.) There are no penalties for taking breaks, and you can share the experience with your friends/family.
In this way, a FreeFit ‘gym’ becomes a community center enabling people to make connections with each other, start like-minded group activities, and try something new!
Part II: New Skillz
Eventually, you are going to want to learn to do something you don’t already know how to do. It’s a part of the insatiable curiosity of man: the desire to learn. And once you start to re-learn how to move your body in a functional way, MOVEMENTs will be no different.
While not everyone may be ready to add some sick Beast Skills to their arsenal quite yet, for beginners and experts alike, getting some tips on any of your movements (Fundamental, Transitional, Advanced) can be immensely helpful. Luckily, there are a TON of online communities waiting to help. If you can get in touch with your favorite fitness guru (#RobbWolf), it might make your day. Post a question on a CrossFit forum about improving your squat form, and you’re sure to get several responses within the day. Subscribe to the CrossFit Journal (#best$25everspent) and you’ll have access to hundreds of papers and videos by fitness experts on how to improve your training.
Taking that information and applying it on your own, however, is a completely different situation. It’s great to know what your body should do, but trying to coach and analyze yourself is MUCH less effective than having a good coach on site – especially when learning a new skill. A FreeFit gym could provide skill acquisition courses for any ability level to improve and broaden your movement arsenal. Finally, it could serve as a place for people of different backgrounds and experience levels to come together and share their know-how in a hands-on environment.
Part III: And Now For Something Completely Different
One of the principles that FreeFit was born out of was minimalism: doing a lot with a little. That’s why the entire Free to Move program can be completed without any equipment at all. And if you spend a little bit on some gymnastics rings or a kettle-bell, you open up advanced training methods that will keep you busy for years. However, there are simply some pieces of equipment that aren’t practical for the individual.
I see FreeFit as an alternative kind of gym which can provide folks with the equipment and set-up that just isn’t feasible at home for most people. A place where the individual could mix-up their training and use some new equipment. I can see it now: a couple of power-racks against the far-wall, a variety of rings and ropes hanging from the ceiling, sleds, Atlas Stones and 300 lb tires lining the floor, and a ‘creative space’ in the middle where you can put your new-found functional fitness to the test in a less controlled (and therefore more real) environment. (#NinjaWarrior) Heck, we could even take things outside along the lines of MovNat (#loveit). I’m drooling just thinking about the possibilities.
Part IV: Coaching, Programming, and Accountability
The final, important service that a FreeFit gym could provide is coaching, programming, and accountability for the individual. Each situation is different, and while FreeFit aims to give you all the tools you need to succeed, sometimes it’s not enough.
♦ Maybe you’re a person who has been inactive for years and is scared about starting a new program. In that case, having a hands on coach/personal trainer to lead you through a beginner’s on-ramp program would be crucial.
♦ Maybe you’re finding it harder to motivate yourself to workout at home, and you find that having a separate space to workout (i.e. a gym) is just what you need to keep yourself accountable.
♦ Maybe you want to train for a specific sport or skill, or have a special medical condition, and want individualized programming from an expert.
All of these are good reasons to belong to a GOOD gym. By GOOD, I mean a gym where the trainers care about you, where there is a family of supportive people all looking for YOU to succeed, and where you are challenged to try new things and get involved. A gym where you walk in, don’t talk to anyone, do your business, and hit the road like a ghost is NOT, in my opinion, a good gym.
Remember, you CAN succeed on your own, you CAN make amazing positive changes in your life – but you need to do what’s best for you. If you need coaching, programming, or are looking for someone to hold you accountable, maybe the future FreeFit “gym” is for you?
Now that I’ve given you my vision of what a FreeFit ‘gym’ could be like, I want to hear YOUR thoughts.
What do you think about ‘gym’ as community builder? What would your “Perfect” gym be?