F3 Nation: Elevating Men From the Ground Up
Nationwide, by many measures, men are not doing well. The numbers tell the story:
In education, since the mid-1980s, the number of men attending college or universities has fallen by 10%, and women now make up a majority of college graduates.
In employment, men aged 25-54 (their prime working years) are now more unemployed than at any other time in U.S. history.
By way of longevity, men are more likely to die younger and at a greater rate than women. As of 2023, the average lifespan of a man in the United States was nearly five years less than that of a woman. What’s more, men die from suicide at a rate almost 4 times higher than their female counterparts.
Although some feminists see the battle of the sexes as a zero-sum game, that is, what’s bad for men is good for women, the beat-down of the American male is trouble for both men and women.
For starters, men are consistently perceived as better leaders, both by men and women. This means that our society wants men to exercise leadership, but if men are not up to the task, a destabilizing guidance gap opens up in our homes, communities and nation. Both girls and boys who grow up without a stable man in their lives are at higher risk for poverty, incarceration, drug use, destructive behaviors and even suicide.
Outside of the home, the comfort and ease of our ever-digitizing economy are completely dependent on jobs that are hard, heavy, dirty and dangerous. At scale, without men doing the back-breaking labor we all take for granted, we could not produce the raw materials, energy and infrastructure needed to support our world.
The bottom line is that as men go, so goes the country. And as of 2024, things are not going well.
However, in cities across the U.S., in the early hours of the morning, members of F3 Nation are trying to do something about the assault on the American male, helping their fellowman get back up and on his feet.
Founded in 2011 by David Redding and Tim Whitmire of Charlotte, North Carolina, F3 Nation is a grass-roots organization that encourages men to get together and exercise, usually a boot camp-style workout held early in the morning, always without charge and almost always outside.
F3 Nation operates differently than most organizations, and a visit to the website reveals a movement that lacks an obvious command structure. Instead, F3 Nation encourages all men participating in the workouts to take their turn as leaders.
To better understand F3 Nation and its impact on the men who take part, I contacted an F3 Nation member in the heart of the heartland — Adam from Washington, Missouri.
‘It Has Changed My Life’
“I have been involved with F3 Nation for almost five years,” Adam told me as we spoke by phone, “and it has changed my life.”
When I expressed skepticism about how a pre-5:00 am workout could be a life changer, Adam responded with, “Yes, it might seem improbable, even impossible, but the thing is, it really works.”
“F3 Nation,” Adam told me, “takes its name from three foundational elements that all men need: Fitness, Fellowship and Faith.”
Though these three elements interlock, “It all starts with fitness,” Adam said.
Fitness and Leadership
“A fundamental question for us as men,” Adam noted, “should be ‘Is an unfit man fit to lead?’”
F3 Nation believes, and I agree, that the answer to that question is “no.”
The workouts, Adam told me, are open and free to all men and function as a place where a man finds out just how resilient he is and how he can do hard things and succeed.
“Everyone works at their own pace, Adam said, “but we encourage everyone to give it their best.”
And every man, Adam pointed out, gets a chance to lead a workout.
“By leading the workout, Adam told me, “Each man has the opportunity to learn how to lead and then takes those skills back into his home, to his work, and into his community.”
‘Sad Clown Syndrome’
“What we are aiming to do, Adam continued, “is to help men get out from under the ‘sad clown syndrome,’ a place where a man seems happy on the outside but is depressed and dying on the inside.”
So many of us as men, Adam and I agreed, spend much of our time doing things as a way to respond to our internal problems. Men tend to process emotion by “doing something” at work or at home, but by the end of the day, many men feel alone, like their cup is empty and they have no one who understands them or what they are going through.
Through the morning workouts, the men of F3 Nation talk to one another, encourage and support each other, and build a sense of fellowship and belonging that continues beyond the workouts.
The Circle of Trust
Each workout, which lasts around 45 minutes, ends with what F3 Nation calls “the circle of trust (the COT),” a space where all the men can share their fears about things holding them back. During the COT, men encourage each other to reflect on overcoming fears and self-limiting thoughts, to reach out and talk with one another, and to lean on each other.
“One of the many things we men in the U.S. are lacking today, Adam pointed out, “are other men in our corner when life gets tough, others who can understand what we are going through when we are going through it.”
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Combined together, the workouts, the fellowship, and the faith that men are not alone in their struggles seem to work, giving F3 Nation men a sense of stability and hope.
“Before I joined F3 Nation, Adam said to me, “I could see myself heading down the path of the ‘sad clown,’ feeling like marriage sucks, work works, life sucks.”
“F3 has helped put purpose back into those things by giving me a base of support, other men’s experience and wisdom that I can draw on,” Adam confessed.
A ‘Game Changer’
As we concluded our talk, Adam told me without a hint of hesitation in his voice that getting involved with F3 was “a game changer” for him.
“It helped me with discipline that I didn’t know I needed, like deciding to see a therapist about some anger issues that I was having.”
“I don’t think I would have done that without another man helping, even pushing me to make me better.”
Can F3 Nation be part of the solution to the crisis facing men in the U.S.? Quite possibly, yes, and time will tell. Adam is convinced that it can, starting with himself and the men he knows.
“It has changed my life, Adam said, “and I hope to see F3 Nation do the same for other men.”
To learn more, check out F3Nation.com.
Dr. Jeff Gardner holds an MA in history and a Ph.D. in Communication and Media Studies. For over a decade, he has worked in media, writing and taking photographs for various publications and organizations across North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. His work has been featured in numerous national and international publications and broadcasts. He teaches courses in media, culture and government at Regent University. You can reach him at jeffgardner.online.