World and Nation

Finding their gym on the city’s streets

NEW YORK — As dawn began its daily blanching of the bright lights in Times Square one morning, a cluster of early birds cheerfully dragged one another in wheelbarrow formations, pair by pair, up the steps of the TKTS booth. Yawning workers in suits hustled past, while police officers looked on ambivalently A couple of tourists raised their cellphones to capture the spectacle for posterity, or at least for Instagram.

The wheelbarrowers, who had arrived at 6:30 a.m., acknowledged nothing but the call to switch to push-ups, bending over a subway grate.

For that ambitious — and slightly neurotic — set of New Yorkers who want their workouts hard, early and, perhaps most notably, free, there is a new option in town: It’s called the Rise.

The group was founded by two graduate students in economics at New York University, Dave Johnson and Joseph Mullins, and their friend Anthony Burdi, an entrepreneur. They were seeking to combine an enthusiasm for fitness with an eagerness to build a group of friends who also wouldn’t mind meeting up for the occasional brunch or happy hour.

“We were chucking around the idea of working out in the morning,” Johnson said. “We wanted something more intense than just the running we’d been doing informally together. But at this point, it has as much to do with fitness as it does community.”

The resulting group embraces all comers. You don’t need to be particularly athletic to start — the Rise frames fitness as the inevitable outcome of frequent attendance — but you do have to be the kind of person who does not mind a workout’s indulging public curiosity or involving tactile contact with the pavement.

None of the 50 or so gathered on this particular morning seemed to mind either. They were completing their circuit training, as they do every Wednesday. Mondays are for intervals, while Fridays feature New York City’s version of “hills,” done on the Williamsburg Bridge. The only soundtrack was the roar of the subway underground, penetrated by the call of the group leaders counting “One, two, three” as they drove their flock into sets of burpees, squats or lunges by drawing from a deck of cards.

For Bryant Barnes, a patient coordinator at Mount Sinai Hospital, the first rise — from bed, at Co-op City in the Bronx — occurred at 4 a.m., after which he ran 1 hour and 20 minutes to join the group. He had a 36-pound pack of bricks strapped to his back throughout the hourlong circuit in Times Square, and then ran back to the Bronx.

In a city that can be notoriously standoffish, the Rise arranges activities with ice-breaking in mind. Lunges are done in sync, and teams are organized by birthdays. “If you see somebody new, give them a high-five,” Johnson urged throughout the workout.

High-fives duly exchanged, one partner held a plank position while another jumped on and off an adjacent wall.