As New Year’s brings on the inspiration for new resolutions, habits, and goals; it also brings on a new wave of what some gym-goers call “New Year’s members.” Commercial gyms pack out with people who hope to begin their fitness journey. Many gyms offer discounts or dropped annual fees for January membership enrollment. Some of those gyms are home to seasoned “gym rats” who often can intimidate newcomers. Plugged into music and “zoned out” in an over-crowded gym, one thing may be lacking that many female athletes want: community.
“It became so much more than just a physical workout. We’ve become a true community and we support each other,” says Amy Baltensberger, also known as “Beats”, one of the co-captains of an all-female, peer-led, and free fitness group in Memphis. FiA (pronounced “fee-ya”) or Females in Action started in North Carolina inspired by a male-version group known as F3. Now thriving in ten different states, Memphis is home to five FiA groups known as AO’s (Area of Operation); such as Sweat School in Freeman Park, Firehouse in Overton Park pavilion, and The OC at Oliver Creek Church of Christ in Arlington.
As someone who has been dedicated to pursuing fitness for three years, I thought that the workout would be a breeze as I joined The OC group on a Monday night. Deadlifting 225 pounds, squatting 132% of my body weight, and countless nights in the gym should have prepared me for any kind of workout; however, all my iron-pumping experience seemed to pale in comparison to the rigorous FiA workout. In efforts to not scare away anyone who may be new to fitness, FiA’s workouts are created for modification whether that be to dial down for newbies or intensify for more seasoned athletes. If your motive is to simply get moving or to be drenched in a well-earned sweat, FiA is the place for you.
Another aspect of FiA that fortifies its value in community is that no woman is left behind. “We say the phrase “carry the six.” If we see someone struggling or can’t keep up, we make sure that someone comes alongside them and finishes the workout with them,” says Ashton Guard, co-captain of FiA Memphis and known as “River Rat.” As some women finish a part of the workout at a slower pace, others can be seen cheering their partners on while maintaining constant movement as to not be “waiting around.” It’s not always easy to find such a supportive attitude among workout groups. That’s why the mission and purpose of Females in Action is to make sure that the women who show up are not left out.
One of the proudest moments for the co-captains of FiA is seeing some women come out of their shy, and possibly low-confident shells, and become leaders of workouts. Baltensperger reflects on a certain member who was quiet at the beginning of her FiA fitness journey and who now boldly guides groups through a strenuous workout. “From when she first started to now is crazy to see. She encourages women through the workout and leads in so much confidence,” says Baltensberger.
For all newcomers to the fitness world or for those who are starting back as the new year brings fresh starts, co-captain Stephanie Olinger known as “Doula” gives her words of encouragement. “Just take it one workout at a time and take it slow,” says Olinger. FiA guarantees that you are going to get a solid workout with them whether it be with just a few people in the group or a larger number. This aspect can attract those who have difficulty focusing in a commercial gym or want to have a time-efficient workout that usually lasts between 45 minutes and one hour.
FiA promotes boosting each woman with every little movement. At the end of the workout, everyone gathers together in a circle of trust to go through a verbal attendance check. Everyone is seen and heard to help their sense of community. “You get all of these women together who didn’t know each other and they’re all laughing, having conversations, and end up spending time together after the workout,” says Guard.