Free Pop-Up Workouts Are Coming to Portland

The Boston-based free workout fanatics behind the November Project are bringing flash mob-style fitness to PDX.

By Claire McNally January 14, 2015

At 6:29 am on a chilly Wednesday morning in January, over 50 people gathered to get sweaty at the International Rose Garden in Washington Park. No, I wasn't there to do landscaping in the dark, I was pumped up for the debut pop-up workout hosted by the November Project. The Boston-based grassroots free workout evangelists are hoping to expand their 17-city community to include Portland and Seattle in 2015, so I stopped in to see what the flash mob workout was all about.

Our workout started promptly at 6:30 am—no waiting around or easing into the action. November Project co-founder Brogan Graham gathered the group of 50+ first-timers into a very cozy huddle, and then began the chanting. Soon after, the entire group was shouting "Good Morning" and the organization's official motto, "F**k yeah!" These guys are animals. Loud, loud animals. 

Then came the hugging—I told you, there was no easing into this. We were asked to hug, hi-five, make intense eye contact, or precariously elbow-five up to 10 folks we did not know, then commenced to jump, yell, and get warmed up.

After a two minutes of close-contact warm up, the real work began. The group was instructed to run a circuit of stairs around the Rose Garden stage, through to the parking lot, then complete five full pushups on the stage itself...and then repeat endlessly, no stopping, for the next 40 minutes.

Sure, that sounds kind of tedious, but there were some wild cards thrown in—for one, the rose garden is MUDDY in January. One woman lost her shoe in the muck, and I'm pretty sure my sneakers will never be clean. Another factor: during the circuit, white whiffle balls made their way around the group. When you are passed one, you had to stop and immediately do five burpees. Of course, I received one immediately upon starting. Once the burpees were completed, we were instructed to shout out what was written on the ball itself—phrases like “I’m not holding my cell phone” and “What a beautiful morning” or “I’m not in a running group.” After confusing and ever so slightly embarrassing ourselves, we would be free to pass the ball to another person. Note to self: Wear black next time to avoid the ball passes, you'll be harder to see.

The Portland workout team!

Throughout the workout, everyone was going at their own pace, some speeding by, some taking every step with care, while Brogan stood on stage shouting encouragements. We were asked to cheer on people to the right and left of us, which meant there was a lot of shouting at all times, which could be considered uptempo or chaotic, depending on your outlook. 

The bottom line: Despite the mud, and the hugging, and the yelling, I would totally do this again. Even though my legs felt like lead weights by the end, there was a spring in my step. The organization is looking for a leader for the Portland branch—I'm not sure if any of the participants today will step up, but if they do the hope is to create a tribe of people who will gather Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings for free workouts around the city. I can't wait for the next one. 

Follow the November Project online for further updates on Portland events, or to reach out to help host the next workout!

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