A group of Ottawa fitness enthusiasts is holding free Wednesday morning workouts on on Parliament Hill in an effort to make physical activity more accessible.
Work it YOW is a free local fitness initiative inspired by a movement called the November Project that began in Boston and currently runs in 33 cities around the world.
"It's a group of us running free fitness, and it's basically all about community. So getting people together, and working out in the morning outside," said volunteer Lauren Carter, who started organizing the weekly Ottawa meetings in January.
Parliament Hill on Wednesdays is already part of the exercise routine for some down workers during the summer, as noon-hour yoga sessions take place on the lawn from May through September.
But the Work it YOW group runs year-round and is targeting early risers looking for more of a workout routine. The group meets every Wednesday at 6:29 a.m. on Parliament Hill to run through a series of exercises, including running, planks, lunges, burpees, and more.
"It's open to all fitness levels, but the idea is challenge by choice," said Carter. "So if you want to go really hard, then you can. If you want to walk, you can. It all kind of depends on how you want to make your workout happen."
Inspired by initiatives in other cities
The goal is to provide an accessible, positive outlet for fitness that's open to everyone.
"It offers so many people who don't have the financial resources to get out there and be working out with a like-minded group of people, as well as if you don't feel confident enough to go to a gym, or don't feel fond enough about working out with already athletically fit people, then it offers you the way to modify it," said Elizabeth Mackenzie, who got involved through word of mouth.
Carter was motivated to start Work It YOW after being introduced to a very active November Project group in Edmonton that regularly draws more than 100 people.
The Ottawa group averages around two dozen participants on a weekly basis, but numbers are growing through word of mouth and social media, and Carter expects a bump as the weather gets warmer.
"It's a big highlight for us in our week. We find that our numbers are growing, we're getting a lot of people out," she said. "And it's a really, really positive vibe. There's lots of high fives. There's lots of really positive interactions to start your day."
Encouraging downtown workers to get moving
Like the others, Mackenzie enjoys the community aspect and the outdoor activity.
"Anyone can go out and run by themselves, but when you come here in the morning, you're expecting to be with a group of people, and I think that's the best part about it," she said.
Carter, an occupational therapist by day, believes it's a good opportunity for people who work downtown to get more active and healthy.
"It could be a really easy thing for them to do before they come to work. They're already down here. So being able to come out, move a little bit before they go and sit at a desk for the day," she said.
"I think it's an awesome way to start your job really, really positively."