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Concrete jungle workouts - Local launches citywide online fitness network

Most New Yorkers wouldn’t dispute Williamsburg resident John Famulary’s contention that “New Yorkers lead a very indoor kind of existence.”

The environment in which they live and move – one consisting of apartment buildings, subways, offices, gyms and bars – makes it understandably hard for New Yorkers to duly appreciate the natural world.

But Famulary, a native of the Red Bank, NJ area, was determined to enjoy whatever nature the city offers. To this end, he created his “urban workouts,” a series of outdoor exercise programs designed to give New Yorkers a taste of the bucolic amidst the concrete jungle.

In 2005, Famulary – whose works for the Department of Education for a “day job” – launched the website Urbanworkouts.com, an entrepreneurial venture in which he led workouts for groups.

In 2006, he founded Neighborhood Outdoor Exercise for New York, a non-profit promoting outdoor exercise, nature appreciation, and healthier living.

(The organization is supported financially by Councilmember Diana Reyna, the Independence Community Foundation, and Partnership for Parks.)

Recently, he launched the Urban Fitness Network (urbanfitnessnetwork.org), an online forum with programs and services Famulary hopes will bring together outdoor exercise enthusiasts and foster appreciation of his unique brand of exercise among city residents.

Famulary’s urban workouts are quirky – stretching under sidewalk trees and ad hoc games involving acorns are common features in many of them. But he thinks this quirkiness has value because it breaks up the monotony of city life.

Offering an example of a typical urban workout, Famulary said: “You’ll find a starting point within your neighborhood, maybe one of the trees. You’ll do some stretches, some agility drills on the sidewalk, and then head to a nearby park or playground. Maybe you’ll power-walk with little weights, or walk backwards to work out your hamstrings.

“Then when you get to the park, you’ll maybe do some more stretching and some meditation. I always bring a ball, a rock, and maybe a couple of five-pound weights. I might lie on my back and throw the weights up in the air.

“And then you’ll play some sort of game. I invented this original game called “Swoop and Scoop,” where you line up acorns in a pattern and try to scoop them all up at once.

“At some point, you always want to stop at a natural area and spend some time there. It combines nature appreciation with exercise,” he said.

Famulary admits that his workouts might seem “eccentric.” But the truly bizarre thing, he maintains, is that so many New Yorkers take the subway to a gym so they can run on a treadmill.

“They key is having these moments of interaction with the environment. Within that context, exercise is a natural thing. It’s not so natural when you’re on a treadmill at a gym,” he said.

Famulary’s focus now is on urbanfitnessnetwork.org, which he hopes will one day include outdoor exercise routines for all of the city’s neighborhoods.

To further foster an appreciation of the natural world, the website is launching a photography project hoping to document all 2,366 public drinking fountains in the city.

“Images of Fountains” has a similar philosophy to the urban workouts: each tries to highlight the city’s natural resources that New Yorkers do not avail themselves of, eschewing them instead for treadmills and bottled water.

“The idea is that water is a precious resource, and that there’s this amazing system for delivering water to New York City,” Famulary said.

“I hope people open up a little more to the natural environment, even in this highly urbanized place we live in. If we nudge people a little bit to get outside, to be a little more aware of natural resources and their value, that would be a good thing.”

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The recently launched Urbanfitnessnetwork.org seeks to become a community resource for those interested in outdoor exercise.

To participate in the “Images of Fountains” project, go to urbanfitnessnetwork.org/fountains.

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