Long gone are the days when most guys would only spend $10 per month on their fitness via a big-box gym membership. Whether you’re in small-town Tennessee or walking the streets of Manhattan, it’s easy to find a reason to add expensive boutique fitness classes into your regular routine. Combine that with the occasional new pair of workout shorts or a music-streaming service (a good run needs a stellar playlist, after all), and you’re easily up another $75.
The good news? There is such a thing as a free workout, and they’re definitely more common than a free lunch. Just ask the guys at WOLACO (Way of Life Athletic Company, if you’re wondering).
When founder Terry White launched the brand at the end of 2014, he was simply looking for a way to connect with friends who would dig his product. What began as a small focus group of three to five guys doing a workout on the west side of Manhattan turned into full-on fanfare, dubbed WOLACO Wednesday. “This summer alone, we worked out with over 3,000 people,” he tells Men’s Health.
“Waking up at 5:30 in the morning to make it to a 6:30 workout with 100-plus strangers attracts a special type of person,” says Nick Diodato, the brand’s creative director. “We’ve worked really hard to make sure this community is inclusive and accepting of everyone.”
That openness to all seems to be the overarching vibe behind a lot of free workout culture, and a feature that not everyone can say is something that they experience at cult-favorite fitness studios. It’s what drew Brian Fisher, influencer marketing manager at Brooks Running in Seattle, to the November Project. Every Wednesday and Friday at 6:29 a.m., you can find him co-leading his local chapter of the free workout group, rain or shine. With group sizes ranging from 20 to 200 people, it’s all about encourage anyone and everyone to be present, interact with others, and show up regardless of fitness level or ability. Of course, sometimes the wrong people show up, but the groups seem to have a handle on crowd control.
“These workouts are the perfect way to build your network.”
When asked about the necessity for permits when hosting group workouts of this size, Fisher laughed. “Permit requirements definitely vary by location,” he says. “Thankfully most cities recognize the value of our free and open to the public workouts and allow us to use the parks even if permits are typically required.” The WOLACO guys, meanwhile, “plead the fifth” on whether or not they should technically have one themselves.
High on good vibes (and ready to put your wallet away)? Here, the experts weigh in on everything you need to know if you too want to get in on the free workout craze. For those that aren’t sure what free workout they want to dive into: Good news; there’s an app for that. Check out MyCrew, an which empowers people to connect and build fitness communities wherever they may be.
6 Things to Know Before a Free Group Workout
1. Come with an open mind.
You’ll get out of it what you’re willing to put in, says Fisher. A lot of these free workouts focus on the importance of working as a team and partnering up. In other words? Be prepared to make new friends.
“A lot of our community is young and ambitious, there’s a sense of urgency to improve and to build extremely positive relationships of people within our respective lives, especially while we are young,” says Diodato. “These workouts are the perfect way to build your network.”
2. This isn’t meant to be the same experience as your boutique fitness class.
You shouldn’t expect the same level of equipment and resources since it is a free event, says Ahmad Jones, co-founder of Triyo Fitness with his two other identical brothers in Philadelphia.
“But, you can still expect a damn good workout if you’re working with great instructors,” he adds. Be smart by bringing whatever you may need along with you, like a water bottle and deodorant wipes.
3. You’ll find all the details on social media.
Ask anyone who’s at the helm of a free group workout how they do marketing, and nine times out of 10 they’ll say word-of-mouth.
“Social media has been a big part of getting the word out,” says Olivia O’Sullivan, New York City crew captain for Midnight Runners, which operates in 10 different cities around the globe. “We have a global handle that all the chapters feed into @midnightrunners, but every chapter has their own individual Facebook pages.”
4. Don’t worry about skill level.
No one expects you to display Usain Bolt-worthy speed or crush through agility drills like you’re in a tryout for the Patriots.
“Whether you’re the fastest person, the slowest, or anywhere in between, we care more about how much positivity and energy you bring to the workout than how fast or fit you are,” says Fisher.
5. Ditch the technology.
Free workouts are not the place for you to be playing with your cell phone, unless you’re snapping a quick selfie.
“You definitely want to get off your phone and talk to people,” says O’Sullivan, adding in that just because the workout is free doesn’t mean you should be doing your own thing. “We still expect people to show up on time, excited and ready to go.”
6. If you dig the sweat, tell a friend.
“Word of mouth is super important when it comes to the free fitness movement,” says Malik Jones of Triyo Fitness. “We get a lot of new attendees that come as friends of previous participants.”
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