“If we suffer together, we bond together,” Chris Jackson, Labadie, said Saturday morning, July 25, standing on the main stage at the Washington Fairgrounds as he wrapped up a grueling workout for the local F3 group.
And suffer they did.
Group members began with a run around Lions Lake, stopping every so often to do a set of burpees or jumping jacks. They ended their run at the bleachers of the motorsports arena where they alternated running the stairs with completing exercises like situps, squats or pushups.
The finale was a six-minute-long, no-mercy ab work, which F3 members call Six Minutes of Mary.
The turnout last Saturday was light with just five men showing up for the 7 a.m. start, but the fitness was intense. And like all F3 workouts held anywhere across the country, it was 100 percent free.
If you’re not familiar with F3, the peer-led, all-male outdoor workouts are the drawing card for a lot of people, but the group, which began in 2011 in Charlotte, N.C., offers a lot more.
The three Fs in the name refer to fitness, fellowship and faith, and men who are active in the group say all three are equally as important to them.
“We are not a cult, just a group of guys trying to be better,” Chris Jackson said. “We are a fellowship, a band of brothers. We are here for each other.”
Ben Hoemann, New Haven, who joined the Washington F3 last August after hearing about it from a co-worker at Washington High School, said that is no exaggeration.
He initially joined for the workouts, but has stayed active for the support. The group is so valuable to him that last year after he hurt his back and couldn’t exercise, he continued to attend workouts just for the camaraderie.
Hoemann typically attends the group’s three weekday morning workouts, which begin at 4:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. It meets at the main stage on the Washington Fairgrounds.
“It’s definitely made me realize the important things in life and look for something more powerful than myself,” he said. “Having faith that there is something above you.”
Joining F3 came at a difficult time for Hoemann and his wife; they had just experienced their second miscarriage. But the F3 group quickly provided him the support he needed, with prayers and ears willing to listen.
“They definitely kept me moving forward,” Hoemann said. “Talking to them in the mornings kept my head above water. It’s hard to talk about sometimes, but those guys helped.”
They made a note of when he and his wife had doctors’ appointments and called afterward to see how they were doing.
“It’s a powerful group to be in. ‘No Man Left Behind’ is not just part of the workout,” Hoemann said.
Tyler Jackson, Chris’ son and a 2011 graduate of Washington High School, brought F3 to Franklin County last summer after he was introduced to the group in St. Louis.
“I was training for a half-marathon and looking for a group of guys to work out with,” Tyler Jackson said. “I was working in Clayton at the time, and (F3) has a workout at 5:30 a.m. on Fridays at Clayton High School, so I went to try it out.
“It was exactly what I wanted,” he said.
He attended one more F3 workout in Clayton before launching a new AO (area of operation) in Washington, with the help of the St. Louis F3 members.
“They brought a core group of guys to Washington to lead workouts for six weeks, teaching us how to do it and instilling the culture,” Tyler Jackson said.
Currently, the Washington F3 offers four workouts a week beginning at the Main Stage on the Washington Fairgrounds. It meets Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 4:30 a.m. and Saturdays at 7 a.m.
Each workout typically lasts around an hour, and on Saturdays several in the group will go somewhere afterward to get coffee together.
There are around 30 men registered in the Washington F3, and between four and 10 show up for any given workout. Most of the group live in Washington, but members also drive in from New Haven, Marthasville and Labadie.
The average age of the Washington F3 skews much younger than most groups: mid-20s compared with mid-40s and older. But that doesn’t mean the workouts are too intense for anyone of any age to participate.
Modifications to the workout are allowed, and the men are looking out for each other, never losing sight of who needs a boost or extra motivation.
“Sometimes people are worried we’re going to leave them in the dust, but that’s not what we’re here for,” Tyler Jackson said. “If you can’t do a pushup, do something else close to it. We do a lot of burpees. If you can’t do a burpee, just do a pushup or a jumping jack or whatever you can do.”
“The point is you show up, and we all work together to get a good workout.”
And guys who may be straggling behind the group on a run or having a hard time keeping up with the pace of various exercises will see the leaders circle back to be with them, providing emotional support and motivation to keep going.
That’s part of F3’s “No Man Left Behind” credo, which goes beyond just the physical realm — “Leave no man behind, but leave no man where you find him.”
In other words, the group is all about making men better, and not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually too.
“The biggest thing we’re trying to do is develop virtuous leadership, which is built out of love, not anger or hate or separation,” Tyler Jackson said. “We’re building up men to handle situations in a virtuous and idealistic way, not in a way that’s harmful or hurtful.
“It’s really a community built around ‘Let’s build you up.’ ”
The F3 founders had roots in the U.S. military, and they brought that culture both to the workouts and the mentality, Tyler Jackson said.
There’s a lot of opportunity for leadership development in F3, which has a rotating schedule of workout leaders.
Anyone can volunteer to lead a workout, and members say it is a great way to build confidence and public speaking skills.
“You get immediate feedback too, so you know what works and what doesn’t,” Tyler Jackson said. “You can tell if the workout isn’t good, because nobody’s sweating, and everybody’s chatting all the time.”
As the AO lead for the Washington group, Tyler Jackson said he provides as much feedback to a workout leader as he can to help him improve and be better next time.
The rotating leader aspect of the group makes it both fun and effective.
“I might lead a workout that involves a lot of running, but someone else might have us do a lot of pushups and squats,” Tyler Jackson said. “Last week we did a Viking workout. It’s whatever interests the leader that day.”
Hoemann appreciates the leadership development he’s found in F3.
“My wife has noticed a difference in how I present myself. It has brought out leadership qualities in me that I never would have thought I had,” Hoemann said.
In the past, he would have been too scared to do any public speaking, but after leading a number of F3 workouts, he feels more capable.
The majority of men who participate in the Washington F3 are Christians, but people of any faith are welcome to join.
“Faith is just a belief that you can’t control everything,” Tyler Jackson said.
Every F3 workout ends with a Circle of Trust, where the guys can share what’s going on in their lives, what they may be struggling with or needing support for.
They literally gather in a circle, sometimes holding hands or linking arms.
“Whoever is leading the workout that day has to kick off the Circle of Trust with a prayer or a shout-out or something uplifting, but not everyone is required to contribute something,” Tyler Jackson said. “The majority are prayers, but it doesn’t have to be that ... There is one man in our group who is not Christian, so he contributes a positive quote or message of how to improve yourself.”
To help celebrate the one-year anniversary for the Washington F3, the men collected around $1,600 to benefit Harvest Table, the free weekly community meal served every Saturday evening from 5 to 6 p.m. at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Washington. They also collected canned goods and aluminum cans.
Chris Jackson, who led the Saturday morning workout, July 25, prefaced his Circle of Trust with a challenge:
“My challenge for you guys is just to be better — not at one thing, but everything. Just be a little bit better,” he said. “I don’t expect anyone to be superstars, but everyone can be a little bit better.
“You do a little bit better every week and in 20 years you’re a lot better than you were, versus the other way. A lot of people get worse as they age ... We are a fellowship, a band of brothers, so if you need something or to talk to someone ... We are here to band together and be there for each other.”
If You Want to Try It Out . . .
There’s no formal process for joining an F3 group. You simply show up to one of the workouts.
Right now, the only F3 in Franklin County meets in Washington, but if membership grows, they will split into two or more groups, and if enough members live in a particular area, that could be the location.
“That’s the plan, to start branching out once the numbers go up,” Tyler Jackson said.
To learn more about F3, go to F3nation.com or show up at any of the workouts held anywhere across the country.
Every Man Gets a Nickname
F3 members have a language all their own, likely a result of the military influence. But it adds an element of fun to the group.
The website has an “Exicon” list identifying the various workouts, and 30-page Lexicon explaining the shorthand references to everything else:
Site Q is the leader charged with overall responsibility for a particular workout;
Q is a leader who takes responsibility for the outcome;
Pax is a member of F3Nation;
FNG is short for Friendly New Guy;
Beat down is a very difficult workout delivered by a Q with zeal;
M is the transformative relationship between a man and his wife; and
Name-a-Rama is that stage of the COT (Circle of Trust) when each PAX announces his birth name, his age and his F3 nickname.
Every man who attends an F3 workout is assigned a nickname.
Tyler Jackson is Maroon, because with his beard he bears a striking resemblance to Pat Maroon of the St. Louis Blues hockey team.
Christopher Jackson is Stitch;
Matt Vollmer, Marthasville, is Brick;
Kenneth Mook, Labadie, is Shortcake; and
Zach Omer, who grew up in Labadie but now lives in Washington, D.C., received the nickname DPR or Dread Pirate Roberts, at the workout he attended here July 25.
The men helped come up with the name, which they said was fitting because Omer looked like the character in “The Princess Bride” movie.
Nicknames are a fun way to encourage conversation, Chris Jackson said. When you hear some of the names you just have to ask the story behind them.