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Two Guys Walk Into A Bar And A Free Fitness ‘Movement’ Is Born

November. Waning light, biting winds. Toasty beds that say, “No, don’t get up. Five more minutes.”

It was just about a year ago that Bojan (pronounced Boyan) Mandaric and Brogan Graham faced the November problem head-on over a couple of beers at a Boston pub.

Back when they were rowing buddies on the Northeastern University crew team, they knew they had to get up to work out or else they’d let down the rest of the boat. But now they were grown-ups, thirtyish, with real jobs and long workdays, and no teammates depending on them. Every fall and winter, their fitness slid.

Bojan Mandovic and Brogan Graham

Bojan Mandaric and Brogan Graham, November Project co-founders (Courtesy of The November Project)

As Bojan recalls it, he asked Brogan something like, “Dude, do you want to help me get my ass out of bed starting November first?’ And Brogan said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’”

So they started to meet up at 6:30 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, “running stadiums” — bounding up the concrete seats — or steep hills, throwing in push-ups or burpees. Just the two of them, tracking their progress on a Google doc labeled “November Project.”

Many an idea born in a cozy bar later dies in the cold light of day, but this one worked through the winter, and in May, Bojan said, they decided to “open it up a bit. Throw out a few tweets.” Plus post a blog and a Facebook page.

These days, when Bojan and Brogan work out, a couple-three hundred people do it with them.

They call themselves a “grassroots morning fitness tribe,” only unlike most tribes, anyone can join. You just have to show up. And unlike most fitness programs, the November Project is completely free, and its founders pledge it will remain free forever.

It is not just a tribe but a movement, they say, a demonstration that social connection is an incredibly powerful fitness tool, and if you build it, they will come. When attendance recently hit 300 at a single workout, Brogan and Bojan decided to celebrate with new ink: a November Project arm tattoo, showing a clock at 6:30.

The group creates some striking new Boston sights. On Fridays, its 200-strong members come charging over the steepest hill in suburban Brookline like some save-the-day cavalry in fluorescent running shoes. On Wednesday mornings, they brave the brutal high steps of the Harvard stadium. Mondays, they turn flash mob and meet in variable locations tweeted in advance, from the Museum of Fine Arts to a Charles River canoe dock. All the workouts are “scalable,” doable at varying levels for elite athletes and newbies alike.

So is this the start of another Boston-based revolution? Will it spread?

The model could likely work elsewhere where population is dense, said Prof. Gary Liguori, head of the Health and Human Performance Department at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and an on-call expert for the American College of Sports Medicine.

‘This is interesting how it just continues to grow, and people want to be a part of it.’

“I’ve heard of nothing else this size,” he said. “Running clubs have been around forever, and break up into small groups who go and do their things. But this is interesting how it just continues to grow, and people want to be a part of it.”

The November Project fits into a major recent trend, he said, toward ‘outside-the-gym routines,” often using little or no equipment.

Think boot camps and outdoor parcourses. In fact, The American College of Sports Medicine reported this week that for the first time, “body weight training” turned up as an emerging trend in its annual fitness survey. Continue reading