Exercising outdoors year-round at 6:01 a.m. through wind, rain and snow might sound like torture to some, but there is a dedicated bunch of people in Grand Rapids that do it every Wednesday morning. They call themselves the November Project.
November Project is a grassroots free fitness movement currently found in 49 cities and eight different countries. Each group in every city meets on Wednesday mornings, no matter the weather. The Grand Rapids division was the 45th to be established.
Matt Swiontek and Yoshi Saka, co-leaders of the Grand Rapids November Project, started the group in Grand Rapids in 2017 as a way to build an inclusive community of fitness fanatics. They wanted to create more opportunities for people to connect with others through overcoming tough workouts and promoting an encouraging atmosphere around outdoor fitness.
Anyone is welcome to join. All you have to do is show up at the corner of Lyon Street and Bostwick Street, near the Grand Rapids Community College Ford Fieldhouse, at 6:01 a.m. on a Wednesday.
Why Outdoor Fitness?
“Our mission is to offer free fitness to improve physical and mental health, as well as to increase human connections by bringing people of different backgrounds together to support one another,” said Saka.
As co-leaders, Saka and Swiontek plan and lead the workouts for the group every week.
“One of our keywords is to be weatherproof,” said Saka. “We embrace the hot and the cold, the rain, sun and snow, so we can take full advantage of Michigan’s four seasons.”
Overall, the November Project has received great attention and acceptance by the Grand Rapids community. Saka shares that over 70 people showed up for the November Project inaugural workout on a morning that had a winter storm advisory and over 130 people attended the summer workout with Mayor Rosalynn Bliss.
On a regular basis, the November Project has a great turn out of 40-50 people every week in the spring, summer and fall, and 30-40 people per week in the colder winter months.
“It’s definitely harder to go outside for a workout in the winter but we’re striving to grow a vibrant, engaging community around free fitness so that people feel more motivated be fit and be a part of a community,” said Saka.
What to Expect
Workouts at the November Project are different every week. With various movements and intensities that can be made to suit any level of athlete.
“We design our workouts to be scalable so that anybody can participate, whether they’re coming off the couch or they’re a seasoned triathlete,” Saka said. “We also design them in a way that people have the opportunity to be engaged and supportive of each other during the workout. We’ll incorporate partner exercises and movements that are unfamiliar to most so that people have a shared experience and are more likely to open up to conversations and connections.”
Workouts combine cardio and bodyweight exercises, using no equipment, instead incorporating practical objects such as stairs, hills, benches and tables.
“Workouts are a tight circuit so that people are in constant movement and the difference between first and last place becomes blurred,” Saka said.
Whether you’re totally intimidated or mildly curious, Saka encourages anyone and everyone to come out and give it a try.
“When you gather with people who are stoked to be outside with you, it’s a huge motivation to just show up and enjoy whatever weather we face.”
*Photos courtesy of November Project