There is a somewhat underground movement in the United States where people are coming together for free, fairly large scale, outdoor boot-camp style workouts and neatly tying together fitness with social interaction.

One effort that's made national news in recent months is the November Project, featured recently on the "CBS This Morning" show and in "Runner's World," that is drawing hundreds to early morning workouts and has groups in 10 cities in the United States and Canada.

Another smaller group focused on mature men, F3, started in Charlotte on Jan. 1, 2011, and has since spread to Raleigh, Greenville and Columbia.

The group is now working on establishing one in Charleston.

The three F's

F3 stands for "Fitness, Fellowship and Faith," but before you jump to a conclusion, like I initially did, and assume this is a Christian men's group with ulterior motives, its organizers insist it isn't.

The core principals of F3 are that the workouts are free, open to all men, held outdoors regardless of weather, that workouts are led by men on a rotating basis with no training or certification necessary, and that the workouts end with a "Circle of Trust."

That circle of trust consists of a short meet-up, welcoming new members and giving them a nickname, and with the leader gathering participants together for a few brief words, whether it's a nondenominational prayer or even reading a poem.

Co-founder Tim Whitmire says he and David Redding decided to form F3 after attending a similar workout group, The Crusaders, in Charlotte's Freedom Park. To their surprise, the leader of the group didn't want it to grow and so they launched F3.

Why just men?

Whitmire and Redding think that the modern American male, ages 35 and up who are typically married with children, not only typically find themselves out of shape, but suffer from a sense of loneliness and sadness.

Work and commitments to family and community often take away time from the male friendships that many have during their youth. Opportunities in mature adulthood, Whitmire adds, usually revolves around altruism, such as doing charity work, or drinking and debauchery (think "The Hangover" movie).

What they wanted was something in between. The fitness and fellowship dovetail, and the faith, which they define as a belief in something outside of and bigger than one's self, typically was a common trait, as well.

Establishing here

An effort to gain a foothold in Charleston initially failed last fall, but the leadership of F3, which is entirely volunteer, realized that the importance of having other, regular F3 participants help establish a group in new cities.

This month, several group members from Columbia have been coming to lead workouts at Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park for a 40-minute workout starting at 5:40 a.m. Tuesdays and an hour-long workout starting at 7 a.m. Saturdays.

John Powell, who is 36-year-old architect with a wife and two young children, made the trip down from Columbia for a workout Feb. 8.

Though he doesn't look like it now, Powell described himself as couch potato who wasn't overweight when he started doing F3 workouts a year ago.

Powell, who was an athlete at Porter-Gaud in his high school days, says the last time he truly exercised was participating in the 2006 Cooper River Bridge Run.

He says he is like many men approaching middle age who have lost the drive to stay active because of all the other demands in their lives.

But F3 provides the motivation, encouragement and accountability that helps sustain a workout regimen, which naturally evolves into other goals.

One example is when a participant's wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. The F3 group in Columbia rallied around him and formed a team to run in the Get in the Pink 5K. Another example is nine guys creating a team to run the Palmetto 200 relay in March.

"There's a transformative power about what's going on with this," says Powell.

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.