Free, peer-led workouts gaining ground

A community of women whose mission is to make each other stronger in all aspects of life has arrived in Charleston.

It’s Called Females in Action (FiA), and they lift each other up with actions focused on body, mind and heart.

From free peer-led workouts to small group discussions to giving back to the community, these ladies are making a difference.

Today, the FiA momentum is so great that it operates with no “leader” in the traditional sense. FiA is led by all of the women who show up and contribute to its success and growth – as well as their own.

FiA is free, it’s for women, it’s outdoors, it’s peer-led, and its purpose is to strengthen members from head to toe.

Local workouts usually begin at 5:15 a.m. Some are at 8:15 p.m. But they take place all over the East Cooper area, from the Isle of Palms to Waterfront Memorial Park to Rivertowne and Daniel Island.

Mount Pleasant resident Lee Rowland, who is the area founder, is the mother of a 5-year-old. She was looking for a way to get back in shape. Last year she came upon a status update from a male friend who was benefiting from a program called F3. He said he’d lost 40 pounds, reached a bunch of life goals and talked about how it had truly changed his life.

Rowland Googled F3 and learned it was a free, hard-core workout program for men. She wondered if there was something like that for women.

Sure enough she stumbled upon FiA, the female counterpart to F3, which had been started in charlotte. The only problem was it had not yet made it to our area.

So she emailed organizers to see if there were plans to bring it here. There had been a ton of interest, but no one was interested in getting it going or leading it.

Neither was Roland. She just wanted to work out and get in shape. Not lead. Little did she know she had exactly what it takes to get it started.

“FiA is not about getting in shape,” she said. “That was secondary.” Rowland said that first, it was about getting the word out and getting everyone organized.

Rowland linked up with a group in Summerville that had just launched in April of 2015. She wanted to see what it was all about.

“They were so welcoming. It is not like a normal workout where no one knows each other or no one is talking amongst each other,” she said. “On the way back I called the founders and told them I was in.”

They told Rowland they needed 50 names from people in the area interested in participating. Within a week she had 150 names.

On June 13, 2015 they launched under the Ravenel Bridge at Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park. Sixty women showed up to work out on that first day. From there it really took off, and Rowland knew they would need more locations. They now have seven workout locations and over 400 women who participate. On any given day there could be 100 women working out with the various groups in the East Cooper area.

“We thrive on being supportive and being inclusive,” Rowland said.

Everyone is given a silly nickname based on a story you’re asked to tell about yourself. She said it’s a fun way to build camaraderie.

The bonds are the most surprising aspect that come out of a free workout. According to Rowland, the free aspect of the workout gets you there. “But really it is odd how close you get. The friendships were surprising, and some of us are considered best friends, and we didn’t even know each other a year ago,” she said.

“It has something to do with being a Type A person - that’s the kind of person that is going to be attracted to this. The friendships are a surprising added bonus I didn’t expect, and most people didn’t expect.”

She said that surprisingly, with all those Type A women, no one is competitive; instead everyone is extremely supportive.

“It’s a bunch of very driven women that only lift each other up,” she said.

And after a 45-minute workout at that time in the morning, Rowland said the women are radiating and being their best selves throughout the day. “It’s a scientific fact that if you workout in the morning, you’ll feel better all day, from your mood to productivity,” she said.

And if you’re driven to workout at 5:15 in the morning, you’re probably a driven person. So part of FiA is giving back, which is a holistic component. FiA is about being a better person, and giving is a part of that. Mount Pleasant resident Leigh Anne Garrett leads up FiAlanthropy, in which the women in the group pick projects to work on once a month.

“The undercurrent is that when you’re investing in yourself, you’re better able to invest in other people,” Rowland said.

FiA operates as a nonprofit with an established board, and the chair is called the “Q.”

It is for women of all ages and workout levels.

There is a philosophy that no woman is ever left behind. Everyone works together at a shared pace.

FiA is absolved of all liability since it is a peer workout. You work out at your own risk but are encouraged to listen to your own body. “We’re here to push and encourage but not injure,” Rowland said. And when new participants - also known as FNG’s (friendly new gals) - show up, they are paired with a more experienced person.

The boot camp-style workout then ends with a devotional and a group photo.

Workouts are very rarely canceled, and that’s only if it is lightning or roads are impassable. The show goes on in rain, or snow. And for Rowland, who has had several gym memberships and showed up maybe three times in one year, she’s never done anything more consistently.

“I have to show up. People expect me to be there. The others notice when you’re not there. I work full time and am a mom. This is the only time in my day that I have to myself with zero guilt. It’s girlfriend time, devotion, prayer, and a workout, and kids aren’t even awake yet.”

Learn more about this peer to peer workout at fianation.com.