By George Bell
My life changed last spring at Grace Covenant Church one Saturday at 7 a.m. when I showed up for an all-men's, free boot camp workout group called “F3.”
“I'm Springfield,” the soul-patched warrior said to me as he reached out his hand to give me a fist bump.
I quickly responded, “I’m a new guy,” to which Springfield responded, “Welcome brother,” and that's how my story began with the brotherhood known as F3 Nation.
About a year ago, I made a resolution to start eating healthier. My wife bought a paleo cookbook, and before I knew it, I was gutting down things made out of coconut flour, gluten-free tasteless concoctions and endless meat helpings.
I was about 25 pounds heavier than when I got married and was starting to gain 3-4 pounds per year consistently.
The paleo diet helped me lose about 15 pounds. However, after six weeks of light-headedness and lack of willpower, I made a commitment to just “eat clean” and started running consistently three times per week at Huntersville Family Fitness & Aquatics.
After a long winter of running on a treadmill and listening to the same songs over and over again, I found myself by springtime sick of the solo workouts.
I would later find out that F3 Nation calls men who workout by themselves, "sad clowns," who work out alone with no accountability, no community and no overarching purpose.
I was a sad clown in desperate need of connecting with an all-men's group. I craved community, accountability and working out with other guys as I had done my whole life playing backyard football, wrestling through high school and college, and the camaraderie of being in a fraternity.
A friend had told me that he worked out in an all-men's workout group called F3. He told me to come out one Saturday morning and check it out his church.
After about four weeks of putting it off, a voice inside me said, "Go."
So, as I was saying, I showed up at Grace Covenant Church one Saturday morning in spring 2013. As we started the workout, I learned that F3 stood for "Fitness, Fellowship and Faith."
F3 is a nonprofit that started in 2011 in Charlotte and quickly expanded to Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson and the surrounding Lake Norman area.
Each workout is roughly 45 minutes to one hour, is participant-led and is formatted after a military boot camp. We do various exercises such as push-ups, sit ups, sprinting, jogging, bear crawling, partner carrying, and mainly body weight exercises, although there are several kettle bell workouts each week.
We meet at churches, parks, parking decks and restaurant parking lots. For an exhaustive list of F3 workout times and places in the Lake Norman area, visit http://f3nation.com/schedules/charlotte-north.
To qualify as an F3 workout, five core principals must be present. They are free of charge; open to all men and only men; held outdoors, rain or shine, heat or cold; led by men who participate in the workout in a rotating fashion, with no training or certification necessary; and end with a Circle of Trust or short prayer.
So as I was saying, I showed up in a church parking lot. About a dozen men were rolling in with black and white F3 workout gear, and I kind of thought this was a cult or something.
I soon found out that the tough looking guy named “Springfield” really wasn't Springfield, but his real name was Jesse. And I also learned that the guy leading the workout’s real name wasn't "Fonzie," but Jason.
I found out quickly that everyone had a nickname similar to a military call sign or handle. I was told by Fonzie that I was an “FNG” or “friendly new guy.”
“If you make it through a second workout then you will get a nickname at the end,” Fonzie said.
As a side note, Fonzie works as a graphic designer and has lost about 70-80 pounds through F3 workouts over the last year. With that said, F3 is for all men, not just former college athletes.
As an F3 saying goes, "The workouts don't get any easier; you just get better at them."
F3 also trains men to get ready to participate in adventure races, obstacle races, 5Ks to marathons, GoRuck challenges, and various outdoor challenges that we do as a group.
Besides workouts, the fellowship aspect includes grabbing a beer on Thursday nights, attending leadership-building groups and Bible studies.
For example, on Jan. 10, approximately 85 men of north Charlotte had an F3 movie night. We grabbed a beer at the Fox and Hound Bar & Grill, watched "Lone Survivor" as a group and ended the event with a short prayer under the marquee.
The prayer at the end of each workout is participant led and F3 does not subscribe to any religion other than understanding that there is more out there than just ourselves.
If you find yourself alone at a gym as I once did, and longing for a sense of purpose, community and accountability, then F3 is waiting for you.
I find myself having a better marriage, more patience with my children, strong friends, and I am in the best shape of my life since college.
The age span for F3 is probably between 30 and 50 years of age, but we have men from 18 years of age up into their 70s.
We anticipate 50-75 men to show up for a special convergence workout at 7 a.m. Jan. 18 at Richard Berry Park, 13801 Beatties Ford Road.
Hope you can make it. I'll be there. They call me "Scrappy."
George Bell and his wife, Hannah, own Bell & Bell Law Firm in Huntersville.
Want to learn more? For more information about F3, visit www.F3Nation.com.