Fitness Festival highlights an accepting form of fitness

Graham Shapley

Getting out and exercising is a difficult prospect for many people. The activity will tire anybody out, leaving an exerciser drenched in sweat and not looking their best.

woman dancing on stage
Gretel Balmer (second from left) leads a MixxedFit dance workout at the Fort Collins Fitness Festival on Sept. 21. (Megan McGregor | Collegian)

With all of this in mind, the idea of working out in the middle of a warm end-of-summer day in the middle of the street with hundreds of others may sound like torture, but that’s exactly what attendees of the second annual Fort Collins Fitness Festival did.

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The theme of the event was “Break Free,” encouraging individuals to break free of societal pressures that may give them anxiety about keeping physically fit and find a routine that works for them and a body that works for them.

In the streets surrounding Civic Center Park, accessible exercises for all ages were designed for participants. A competition known as the Festival Games pitted teams of two-against-one in physical challenge, and several events specifically for kids and pre-teens were present in a kids zone.

The event played host to many smaller fitness-themed events and vendors representing local gyms and health-oriented businesses. A chiropractic office offered free spinal checks and acupuncturists did their work under a small tent. Some programs set challenges to their visitors, timing them on how fast they could do burpees or push ups and promising prizes to high scorers.

The real draw to the event was at the main stage, where motivators and exercise leaders led workouts for hundreds of people. Fitness and lifestyle coaches, including headliner Shaun T, hosted exercise routines for hundreds of people in the street. 

If I’m (exercising) by myself, I will stop earlier than I should, not push myself as hard as I could.” – Lisa Permar, festival attendee

Shaun T is best known as a coach, motivator and fitness choreographer. His portion of the day was by far the most crowded part of the event, with hundreds of people showing up to exercise alongside him.

woman lifting barbell
Jennifer Slaughter completes an overhead press at the Fort Collins Fitness Festival on Sept. 21. (Megan McGregor | Collegian)

For some, group exercise is more fulfilling and effective than anything that could be done in a traditional gym or at home.

“Other people’s presence pushes me,” said Lisa Permar, a newcomer to Fort Collins who attended the festival. “If I’m (exercising) by myself, I will stop earlier than I should, not push myself as hard as I could. The yelling, screaming, hooting and hollering really motivate me.”

The most recent wave of the fitness movement has changed the way that people look at fitness and how it’s defined. Once upon a time, fitness was treated as a state of being that looks a certain way. However, the modern definition of fitness has expanded to include a greater diversity of body types and forms, creating a space free from body-shaming of any kind.

“We could do the same exercise, same reps and eat the same things,” Shaun T said during the cooldown phase of his exercise program. “And we would all look different.”

“It’s not like it used to be with the meathead gym places,” Permar said. “Just intimidating and all or nothing. It’s truly a welcoming place.”

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The festival’s atmosphere was incredibly accepting, welcoming people who might not have otherwise gone to a fitness event.

“You shouldn’t compare yourself to anyone,” Shaun T said during a Q&A event. “Focus on your body, and find what works for you.”

Compared to many of the other events that happen in Old Town, the fitness festival provided some much-needed variety. In a town like Fort Collins that’s well known for its cuisine and especially known for its alcohol, an event like this is less heard of.

“I go to a few festivals, but this is our first fitness one that didn’t revolve around beer and food,” Permar said. “I’m looking to do more than just the beer festivals, so I appreciated something to do more with health and wellness.”

The festival was partnered with many local clubs and businesses, including the Fort Collins Kiwanis Club, a group which focuses on putting on youth events to improve community togetherness, and ACT Fusion, which will soon be opening a studio in Fort Collins.

Graham Shapley can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com and on Twitter @shapleygraham.