Long before sunrise Thursday, Derek Wilton’s tennis shoes pound the sidewalk at Pacific’s Community Park.
When he returns to a circle of cinder blocks, Wilton drops down to do a series of push-ups. Throughout the workout, words of encouragement are shared by the other 19 men who go through the training regiment which included running, jumping jacks, burpees, squats and bell-inspired swings. kettle using the breeze block.
“Good job, manicurist,” one said, referring to Wilton’s nickname in the band. Each of the men has their own nickname – Pigeon, Tinkerbell, Zero Turn, Rumba, Nerf and more. Nicknames are bestowed by other band members as an icebreaker. The group also has its own lexicon for exercises as well as for its equipment such as cinder blocks, called “coupons”.
Wilton, who works in financial planning, is part of F3 Nation, a men’s fitness group, which started in 2011 in North Carolina and has now found its way to the Pacific.
“I still don’t consider myself a morning person, but there’s something special about it,” Wilton said of the 5:30 a.m. workout routine.
“I know I could train anywhere, at the gym, at home or in a park alone, but what’s unique here at F3 is the camaraderie, the friendships,” he said. . “I haven’t found that anywhere else I’ve worked. It’s a really united group. »
F3 Nation is a network of free, peer-led workouts for men in the United States. The organization, which stands for Fitness, Fellowship and Faith, is estimated to have more than 40,000 participants in 39 states. The international organization – which recently expanded to the UK, Germany, Australia, South Korea and Kenya – hopes to involve 250,000 men by 2025.
In the St. Louis area, there are more than 60 F3 Nation training groups, including two in Washington and two in Eureka, but the group in Pacific is among the newest. One group in Washington meets at the Town & Country Fairgrounds on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 4:30 a.m. and a second group meets by the river for biking at 5 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
“We started this group (in the Pacific) a month and a half ago. So far we’ve seen everything from five to seven guys come in up to 25 guys come in to practice,” said Dean Mandis of Eureka, who competes in the Pacific Training Group and is known as Pigeon name. Mandis works in the insurance industry in Chesterfield and has been involved with F3 Nation for over a year. Like Wilton, he said he was addicted from his first practice session.
“A friend had invited me several times – probably six times – to come to a training session. I resisted, but the COVID-19 arrived and after six months of confinement at home, I decided to ‘try,’ Wilton said he appreciates how each participant is treated with respect and encouraged, regardless of physical ability or socioeconomic background.
“When they say F3 Nation is open to all men, they mean it. It is open to people regardless of your race, religion, what you do for work, or anything else. Here, it doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company downtown or someone who lives in your parents’ basement. Here, who you are is what matters,” Wilton said.
The Pacific group meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The type of training varies from session to session, but each training session begins with the planting of the “shovel flag”, an American flag mounted on a long-handled shovel that serves as a rallying point for the day’s workout. Each workout – known as a “beatdown” – is led by a volunteer within the group. The leader is known as QIC. QIC’s role rotates through different people in the group.
Sessions end with a “circle of trust,” which can range from a Bible verse, inspirational quote, or personal development advice. F3 Nation is not affiliated with any particular denomination, but simply asks its members to believe that there is a power greater than themselves – a point that was made by Brent Barringer, nicknamed Tinkerbell, who closed the training of Thursday.
“Too many people walk around believing they control everything, and I was definitely like that. But we don’t control everything, we actually control very little in the world,” said Barringer, a father of two. of Eureka, a teacher and coach in the Rockwood Summit School District, he ended the workout by reminding participants that “kids spell love as ‘TIME’.”
“Yes, the holidays are great. The trips are great. The gifts are great. But what’s even bigger is being home and being present in their lives,” Barringer said. “Time spent with your children is always time well spent.”
Among those working Thursday morning was Ken Boland, a Washington native who now lives in Fenton and is retired from the insurance industry.
Boland, 65, who is known as Milwaukee’s best among his peers, said he started attending practices hoping they would help him better keep up with his two grandchildren, but now he stay for the camaraderie.
“We’re so much more than just a fitness band,” Boland said. “The camaraderie you get is truly amazing, especially since you have these young men who are absolutely there to break it, sweat it out before dawn to better themselves, their families, their faith and their community. . It’s awesome.”
He said one of the biggest benefits of the program is the focus on leadership and personal development.
“One of the things I really like is the leadership program, where we talk about how to be a leader in your family, in your community, in your work. Even though I think I can teach these guys who are younger than me, I also know they teach me a lot,” Boland said.
According to Barringer, who also led Thursday’s practices, the age of an F3 participant in the St. Louis area ranges from 18 to 77.
“It changed my life,” Boland said. For a self-described ‘very competitive person’, the workouts not only help him improve his fitness, but also prove that he ‘can compete with these young guys’.
Mandis and Barringer said they’re optimistic the Pacific Training Group will continue to grow with the arrival of “FNG,” which translates to “Friendly New Guys,” in the F3 lexicon.
“Right now we’re really relying on word of mouth and some flyers that we’ve been handing out around town,” Mandis said. During Thursday’s practice, there was an FNG. If the Pacific group gets too big, Mandis and Barringer said the organization would look to plant another group in the area or look to expand to another community.
“It would be fantastic to have this problem, because we all want to plant, cultivate and serve,” Mandis said. He said those interested in joining a practice group can find information about the groups closest to them by going online to f3nation.com. Barringer said men interested in forming their own F3 group should first attend several F3 practice sessions in established groups.
“It’s not Wendy’s, we’re not looking to franchise anything. We’re just looking to help other men get fit,” he said. He said he joined the training group 18 months ago because it was “free outdoor training that wasn’t in my basement”.
He said that since joining the group, he has realized the value of free exercise sessions.
“As men, who have families, who are involved in their community, who have responsibilities at work, having time to train is so important.” Barringer said. “It may be early days, but for us, that 5:30 a.m. hour is a time when our families don’t need us, our jobs don’t need us, and our community doesn’t need us. from U.S. This is the time for us to be ourselves and to work on ourselves.
Mandis agreed: “I tell people that F3 is transformative, because it really is.”
According to Mandis, an F3 Nation member from a Eureka group arrived weighing 340 pounds, but today the man is 280 pounds and continues to lose weight.
“You can say 5:30 a.m. is way too early to get up and train, but there’s honestly a bond that forms when you’re here and training. From that moment, there is something in you that makes you want to be here.