Edmonton’s November Project – Building Community Through Fitness

A few weeks ago, I saw an interesting tweet from Andrew Ference, the newest member of the Edmonton Oilers.

November Project

If you’re not familiar with the November Project, it’s  a year-round, outdoor group fitness class for anyone and everyone to join for free. It was started by a small group of people in Boston who were looking to get into shape without having to splurge on expensive equipment and memberships. Pretty quickly, using social media to announce locations, their sessions grew, with some workouts involving over 300 people. Today, the November Project has been established in Madison, WI and San Francisco. It really is a grassroots movement that emphasizes community and fitness.

One member of the November Project tribe is Andrew Ference who attended sessions as a player in Boston. Now that he’s a member of the Oilers, Ference is starting up a chapter here in Edmonton.

Andrew Ference with the Stanely Cup in 2011 (Source: Days of Y'Orr)

Andrew Ference with the Stanely Cup in 2011 (Source: Days of Y’Orr)

“It’s a mix between a flash mob and Fight Club”

Since early July, the Edmonton group has been following the original November Project workout plans and rules, meeting on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, at 6:00 AM, regardless of the weather. Ference has been instrumental in getting the word out on Twitter

In a recent interview with Sportsnet, Ference talked about how staying fit should never require expensive equipment, but also emphasizes the importance of community when remaining active:

The biggest thing is having a group, and having people that you know are going to show up. Working out by yourself is tough and it’s really hard to motivate yourself and push yourself as hard as you would when you’re surrounded by other people. That’s the part that makes it special is finding that group. And once you do, it’s like a family, it’s great.

Ference’s attitude towards fitness is accurate in that our social networks do play a significant role in our behavior. It has been discovered that obesity is contagious (Christakis and Fowler, 2007), so surely fitness and healthy activity can be as well. The requirement, however, is a positive, social setting, welcoming to participants, which is what the November Project values very highly.

It’s especially encouraging to see an NHL player push for fitness through community building. It should come as no surprise that Ference is enthusiastic about a social issue that impacts his community. Ference has also been a strong supporter of environmental issues, including partnering with David Suzuki Foundation to offset more than 5,000 tonnes of carbon emissions during the NHLPA Carbon Neutral Challenge in 2008-09.

Ference probably won’t be attending many sessions because of his hectic NHL schedule, but he appears to be committed in making a difference in the community by getting the word out, setting a foundation and supporting the growth of a special movement in Edmonton.

November Project in Edmonton

For more information about the group and their workout locations, follow @Nov_ProjectCAN on Twitter or on Facebook. The current workout schedule is:

Monday – Destination Deck workout. Locations vary.

Wednesday – Running stairs near the Royal Glenora, downtown Edmonton.

Friday – Hill Repeats, Cloverdale area in Edmonton, but subject to change.

Related links:

Crossman, A. (2013, August 8). November Project’s Growing Fitness ‘Tribe’. The World. Retrieved from http://www.theworld.org/2013/08/november-projects-growing-fitness-tribe/

Christakis, N. A. and Fowler, J. (2007). The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years. The New England Journal of Medicine, 357. Pp. 370-379. Retrieved from http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMsa066082

Goldberg, C. (2012, November 2). Two guys walk into a bar and a free fitness ‘movement’ is born. CommonHealth. Retrieved from http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2012/11/november-project-free-fitness

Lehrer, J. (2011, April 19) Contagious Habits: How Obesity Spreads. Wired Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/04/how-habits-spread/

Lewis-McDougall, A. (2013, September 30). November Project: A workout you need to try. Avry Sports. Retrieved from http://avrysports.com/2013/09/30/november-project-a-workout-you-need-to-try/

Szto, C. (2013, August 1). We make exercise scary: A failure of the physical education system. The Rabbit Hole. Retrieved from http://cszto.blogspot.ca/2013/08/we-make-exercise-scary-failure-of.html

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About sunilagni
Sunil Agnihotri is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s Communications and Technology Master’s program. His research focused on online communities, information management and communication technology. His final project used sociocultural theories and concepts to examine the blogging activity of hockey fans. Sunil can be reached at sunilagni@shaw.ca or on Twitter @sunilagni.

3 Responses to Edmonton’s November Project – Building Community Through Fitness

  1. courtneyszto says:

    Thanks for the link Sunil. Could you please elaborate a bit on the “obesity is contagious” reference? Sounds like a somewhat problematic ‘finding’ depending on the context.

    • sunilagni says:

      Thanks Courtney. Your article got me thinking about group fitness classes and why they might not work because of the intimidation involved. I then compared that to what’s happening with NP, and what they do to make fitness more social, and came up with this post.

      The idea of obesity being contagious is from the study done by Christakis and Fowler in 2009 (link is under Related Articles). They looked at data over 32 years and found that a person’s social ties play a major role in their healthy/unhealthy behaviour. Being influenced by others isn’t a groundbreaking finding, but this study mapped data-driven social networks to demonstrate behaviour related to personal health.

      Highly recommend checking out Christakis’ TED talk – “The hidden influence of social networks”: http://www.ted.com/talks/nicholas_christakis_the_hidden_influence_of_social_networks.html

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