Free for All

A new fitness movement is born.

november project

Photo by Josh Campbell

At 6:29 a.m., Brogan Graham, a cheerful, spandex-clad giant, addresses a hundred people gathered on a chilly Wednesday morning to run up Harvard Stadium’s 1,138 stairs. Turn to your neighbors, he instructs the crowd, give them a bear hug, and say, “I’m glad you’re here.” This sort of thing, along with the prospect of running all those stairs, would send most New Englanders right back to bed. But not the members of the rapidly growing November Project, a socially oriented exercise movement founded right here in Boston.

The idea was hatched two winters ago, when Graham and his former Northeastern crew teammate Bojan Mandaric decided to use each other as motivation to stay in shape during the cold months. A few friends joined them in the spring, and their workout sessions—increasingly upbeat and addictive as participation grew—took on a life of their own. Soon word spread through social media, and the thing went viral.

Now, more than a year later, Graham and Mandaric head up a tribe of like-minded athletes and amateurs, ranging in age from 18 to 71, who meet three mornings a week to run hills, climb stadium stairs, and do bodyweight exercises. Graham posts the week’s locations online, and scores, even hundreds, of participants show up.

Much of the project’s success is due to the Wisconsin-raised Graham’s magnetic personality—he once got an entire MBTA bus to sing “Kumbaya.” Mandaric, for his part, hails from Serbia. The two found Boston socially chilly when they arrived, but instead of fleeing to friendlier climes, they’ve spent their time here working to foster a more-welcoming community through fitness. Almost anybody who’s turned up for one of their workouts will tell you it’s the group’s contagious spirit that keeps them coming back.

The idea has been so successful, in fact, that several major athletic brands, including the Boston-based New Balance, have proposed partnerships with the November Project. And it’s no wonder. A recent report from the American College of Sports Medicine identified “bodyweight training”—the kind of do-it-yourself pushups, burpees, and crunches emphasized at NP—as one of the top emerging fitness trends for 2013.

Already, NP has started a second branch in Madison, Wisconsin, led by Graham’s brother, and both Graham and Mandaric hope to expand to more cities by the end of the year. The two are aware that a corporate partnership could help them grow, but they’re also thinking hard about how to preserve their movement’s authenticity. As Graham puts it: “A lot of our excitement—our energy—comes from being completely unsanctioned, grassroots, and unofficial.”