I get to the West Bund early in anticipation of the workout I am completely unprepared for (physically, mentally, emotionally). I’m the first to arrive but within minutes the group multiplies with fit people who look like they were plucked straight out of a Nike ad. It’s clear some who jog up to the circle are regulars, exchanging hugs and the familiar "Hey girl!”
But I can spot other newbies like me, being welcomed with the same open toned arms.
“Are you new?” A girl sitting on the outskirts of the group asks. I nod.
“If you need a friend, you can always find me in the back.” She laughs as she hoists her backpack onto her shoulders.
Before I can even think about the last time I went on a run (has it been months or years?) a countdown to 7.30pm begins. The group has grown quite large at this point and we're told we’ll split into 2 groups of 20. A petite blonde checks her wristwatch while beginning to jog backwards, yelling that it’s just about time. At 7.30pm on the dot, everyone begins to run.
What Is FitFam?
FitFam is a community-based organization that started in Shanghai in 2015. Back then, it was just a group of friends who dubbed themselves the Winter Warriors, training through a cold December at Luwan Stadium. The group grew, added a second location and in the spring of 2016 adopted the name "FitFam". It’s now become a kind of phenomenon in the city, with 50 volunteers facilitating 30+ workouts a week across 13 locations in Puxi. A great response to Shanghai's climbing gym fees, all FitFam sessions are completely free. It comes across like a cool counterculture workout, promoting good health and community for all.
Vy Vu, the FitFam Community Manager, describes the organization’s purpose as: “Creating a supportive workout environment where people of any fitness level can feel comfortable but challenged. Our members range from people who are just learning about how to exercise through to triathletes and ultra-marathon runners.”
The Typical Workout
Typical workouts last 60 minutes and are based in High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) with cardio and bursts of strength training. In addition to their HIIT classes, FitFam offers boxing, yoga, and partners with the women’s running group Puxi Run. The organization also collaborates with RunnersHai and holds a Papas & Pipsqueaks session on Sunday which is just as cute as it sounds. All workouts involve partner and group exercise—the structure is great for holding you accountable and ensuring you push yourself to your limit.
And hey, it’s always nice to make new friends too.
Locations and Logistics
The organization operates out of 13 different locations in Puxi and will be adding a location in Pudong soon. Each location has its own personality because each trainer brings their own style. There’re the bootcamp drill sergeant types and there’re the thank-yourself-for-coming-out types. Sessions also vary depending on the time. The majority of sessions run early in the morning, like 6am early. These are for the dedicated, hardworking people of Shanghai. I’m not one of those people, so I opted for the night class on the West Bund.
On the Run: A Typical West Bund Workout
The West Bund session has a nice balance of thank yourself and push yourself. The workout is broken down between four stations, each a short run away from each other. After taking off promptly at 7.30pm the first stop is a stretching station, aimed at warming up the muscles. 10 minutes later it’s time to run once more to the second station, where we are told to find a partner.
Partner one will “animal crawl" up stairs to a slight platform, do 6 burpees, run to a wall a few meters away, do 6 “split” burpees, run back, hammer out 6 more regular burpees, and animal crawl back down. Partner two will hold a plank until partner one comes back; we alternate 3 times. Seems simple enough, but it’s not long before I feel like I’m in the first five minutes of MTV’s Made -- that part where the person being made throws up all over the pavement. But words of encouragement from “You got this!” to “Get that ass down!” keep me going. My partner is Vy and as she animal crawls up the steps she actually manages to look graceful. We high five every time we switch and soon enough the burpee station is in the rearview mirror.
Now, we’re running toward our last big lift: the hill. It’s not a real hill, it’s a bridge just a little past the rock climbing wall that has a steep incline. At this point I’ve fallen towards the back, but I’m not alone and one of the trainers hangs back as well. At the hill we do squats at each lamp post. Run, squat, run, squat, repeat. On the other side of the hill we do push ups at each lamp post. During this time trainers help with form, reminding us to keep our back straight, and making modifications when necessary. We make it through the hill by counting down together. Just one more becomes our group mantra.
After the hill, we run to the last station, where we’ll do abs and finally stretch it all out. This is one of the easier stations and is a welcome change of pace after the hill. Drake rap-sings over a speaker as we stretch out on the grass, endorphins pumping. Afterwards, we cheer, indulge in another round of high fives, and a large part of the group goes to dine at Wagas.
FitFam: A Few Positives and Negatives
-It’s 100% free
-A real sense of community, the friendly faces will keep you coming back and the positive reinforcement will push you to do better
-Modifications are made for all levels, so everyone (from the plebes to the pros) is getting a good workout
-Since most sessions are held outside, it’s weather dependent, called off for rain or bad air quality, which might throw you out of rhythm
-Wish there was a little more variety in the schedule, considering I’ll probably never wake up before 6am
-There’s no place to store your stuff, so if you’re coming straight from work (for night classes) you gotta run with what you got
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