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A little men-couragement

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Written by James Combs

A workout group helps men discover faith and fitness. 

While some people are taking their first sip of morning coffee, a group of men is outside performing jumping jacks, enjoying camaraderie, and strengthening their leadership skills. 

They’re part of F3 Nation, a fitness movement for men started in North Carolina that ties outdoor boot camp-style workouts with social interaction.

F3 stands for “fitness, fellowship, and faith.” Each has a meaning: fitness is the magnet that draws new members in; fellowship is the glue that bonds participants; and faith is the dynamite that makes workouts so exciting and ties everything together. 

Men of all ages, shapes, and sizes gather for these free, peer-led workouts, which now take place in 26 states. 

John “Slaughter” Lambert is F3’s Weasel Shaker, the equivalent of a chief operating officer. Yes, F3 has developed its own language that is incomprehensible to nonparticipants. Still, John has seen many men improve their lives—physically, socially, and spiritually. 

“From family to work, men have many responsibilities and rarely have time for themselves,” says John, of Charlotte, North Carolina. “Guys really need something like this where they can bond with other guys and learn to be the best they can be.” 

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Healthy Living conducted an interview with John to learn more about F3. 

How did F3 get started?
There were two men—Dave Redding and Tim Whitmire—who were working out with a group of guys in Charlotte, North Carolina, at Freedom Park every Saturday. Those in that group said they didn’t want it to grow. Dave and Tim had visions of it being much bigger, so on New Year’s Day 2011, they launched F3 and 35 guys showed up. They completed their first workout that day. 

Please explain what F3 does today?
It’s a men’s peer-led workout group whose mission is to plant and grow small workout groups for men to help them become better community leaders. We have workouts in as many places as we can to bring guys together and fight what we call “sad clown syndrome.” That refers to guys who get in their middle ages and find they don’t really have close friends. They might have their old college buddies or the work friend, but they have no one to have a deep connection with. We try to bring guys together. That’s the fellowship aspect of our program. You start getting close to those guys and they start knowing you on a deeper level. Our third component of the program is faith. You can gain some spiritual insight with these guys you’ve gotten to be close with and improve your life in every facet, not just physical fitness. 

How long have you been with F3?
My first workout was June 6, 2012. That morning, I was nicknamed Slaughter. Sometimes nicknames make sense and sometimes they don’t. The last name of the guy who was doing the workout that morning was Lambert. So, silence the lamb, slaughter the lamb. Everybody gets a nickname. Sometimes it’s based on where you went to school or something that happened in the workout that morning or what you might be wearing. The worst thing you can do is complain about your nickname because you’ll get a far worse one. 

Tell me about your first workout with F3.
Before, I had been going to the gym and doing routine things like lifting weights. A friend told me about F3, and I said I would try it out. I showed up at 5:30am not knowing what to expect. It ended up being a blast. I thought I was in good shape but found out I wasn’t. Also, because it wasn’t a planned routine ahead of time, I didn’t know what I would be doing next. At the gym, I became bored by knowing how many reps I was going to do. I started going back and began hanging out with guys outside of the workouts. It filled a void in my life. I was definitely a “sad clown” and didn’t have many deep connections with other men. 

How large has F3 grown?
We estimate that across the country, there are 1,600 workouts encompassing 18,000 men who are working out on a weekly basis. F3 is now located in 26 states. 

Are you surprised how large F3 has grown?
Not really. Men enjoy forging meaningful friendships with other men. For those who get into this, it becomes all-encompassing. 

When and where are the workouts held?
They are typically held at public schools or public parks. The workouts have to be outside. We don’t cancel the workout if it’s raining, snowing, or cold. When men go through difficult times together, they bond quicker. Working out in harsh weather conditions certainly tests your strength and endurance, but when you go through it together you develop a deeper bond. Workouts are held at 5:30am and it’s a great way to start your day and helps you better conquer all the tasks ahead. Also, men have so many responsibilities—jobs, family, kids. When we’re out there in the morning, we can temporarily forget all that and act a little bit like kids. We run around in the rain, tell silly jokes, and stuff like that. That gives us a chance to let our hair down before we have to be the responsible adults that society has turned us into. 

What are some examples of the different kinds of workouts you do?
Most of what we do is body weight-type stuff—pushups, squats, jumping jacks, running up and down hills, carrying other guys on your back. Sometimes we’ll run for several miles. 

What if someone is grossly out of shape? Can they still join?
The great thing about joining is that it’s you versus you. You start off doing only what you can do. If the group does 25 pushups and you can only do five, then you stop at five. The other great thing is that we never leave anybody behind. If we’re running a half-mile to the next stop and somebody is lagging behind, we’ll wait for them. You can take as much time as you need to get somewhere. People who are out of shape are the ones we encourage to join.

Do people come up with excuses not to join?
Yes. They say it’s too early in the morning or they need to get in better shape before joining. That’s not how it works. You come to F3 to get in shape. One of the great aspects about F3 is the competition. You may think you can only run 100 yards, but when you’re trying to keep up with your buddies, you find out you can run farther than you thought. It pushes you physically to do better than if you were on your own. There’s also the accountability factor. If you tell someone you’re going to be there tomorrow morning, that’s extra motivation to wake up early and complete the workout. 

What are the age ranges of the men who have joined F3?
We have men who bring their sons. The oldest guy I know of just turned 80. So, we’ll say anywhere from 8 to 80. 

How do you incorporate faith into F3? 
There are several different ways we do that. Every workout ends with a circle of trust and a prayer. We believe there is something bigger than us binding us all together. We try to conduct ourselves in a Christian manner by not swearing or telling off-color jokes. We try to position ourselves as leaders in the community. We are not an organization with leaders; we are an organization of leaders. We try to make men into better men.

Since joining F3, how do you feel you’ve become a better man? Physically, I’m in the best shape of my life. I’ve completed races and events I once thought were impossible for me. I’m also a much more spiritual person who is connected to my higher power. I also have a slew of good friends who I can talk to about personal issues, and they know they can talk to me about their personal issues. Being part of F3 has also made me a better leader—a better leader for my family and for my church.

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About the author

James Combs

Akers Media Group's James Combs has been a staff writer for several local publications since August 2000. He has had the privilege of interviewing some of Lake County’s many fascinating residents—from innovative business owners to heroic war veterans—and bringing their stories to life. A resident of Lake County since 1986, James recently embarked on a journey to lead a healthier lifestyle. He has lost 60 pounds and walks nearly five miles a day. In his spare time, he enjoys target shooting, skeet shooting and watching his beloved Kentucky Wildcats!

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