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This Cult Fitness Phenomenon Is the Anti-SoulCycle

November Project/Facebook
November Project/Facebook

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Imagine a workout that combines the "intensity of CrossFit, the cultishness of SoulCycle... and the camaraderie of a sports team." Oh, and instead of costing $35 a class, it's absolutely free. The November Project, profiled in today's New York Times Styles section, is a Boston import that organizes early morning, game-driven workouts at various landmarks around the city, and has participants doing anything from burpees on the steps of the Met to mountain climbers outside Gracie Mansion—all while security guards cheer them on.

Launched in 2011, November Project was born out of its founders' fear that cold weather would enable them to slack off. After creating a Google document (named the November Project) to track their morning training schedules, the schedule spread through word-of-mouth and social media, until strangers began showing up and wanting to join in on the fun.

But much like SoulCycle, there are a few rules: First, each session opens with members touching the nose of someone they don't know, and say "I'm happy you're here." Upon meeting someone for the first time, you can't give them the standard handshake—you've got to hug them.

Unlike other cultish fitness phenomena however, workouts are free and must be designed so that even beginners can participate. And while you won't have to eat your $35 if you miss a session, you may be subject to public humiliation:

Anyone who has promised to come ("dropped a verbal," in November Project parlance), and then doesn't, appears on the "We Missed You" page of the blog. No matter what the excuse, the November Project makes it look as if the absentee was out partying by pulling old photos from a Facebook page that show him or her drinking or eating nachos. It is a shame theory of accountability that featured in a TEDx talk Mr. Graham and Mr. Mandaric gave recently.