At 6 am on one side of a soccer field in the heart of Shanghai Jiaotong University, a group of elderly people are busy with their Chinese yo-yos, or kongzhu. Sounds of excitement echo among the group.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the field, a group of more than 25 greet one another with hugs and high-fives.
A mix of expatriates and Chinese, they prepare themselves for a dynamic workout that will alternate between a variety of movements, all to the beat of exercise music.
The movements they perform include: crunches, a popular abdominal exercise; burpees, a full-body routine used in strength training and aerobics; planks, an isometric core exercise that involves maintaining a difficult position for an extended period; and squats.
After an hour of high-intensity training, they gather to take a group picture before bidding each other farewell and dispersing quietly.
This is a typical early-morning session with FitFam, a fitness community that has been gaining popularity among foreigners and local enthusiasts throughout Shanghai and overseas. Its most dedicated members volunteer their time and efforts to provide free, quality training in different locations around the city for those interested in joining.
One of the organizers of the community, Vy Vu, an Australian-born designer living in Shanghai, said, "We want to make FitFam accessible and approachable for everyone."
The community started in 2015 with a small group of friends who motivated each other to work out together at the Luwan Stadium in Shanghai. "At first, there were only a few people running or doing tai chi at the stadium, and they were mainly elderly," Vu said.
As curious passers-by became interested and asked to join, the group's numbers grew. When core members eventually relocated from Shanghai, they started their own FitFam communities.
"We now have 35 locations in Shanghai alone, with 65 volunteer-led workout sessions every week throughout the year," Vu said.
In the past two years, the community has added a variety of sessions, including balancing exercises, long-distance running, other track work, yoga, boxing and dancing.
Vu said: "During a one-hour workout, social status means nothing. We have CEOs and office workers, teachers and students, youngsters and grandparents all exercising together and motivating one another. The community and the friendships formed see people coming back."
Xu Wenmei, a civil servant, has been attending FitFam sessions regularly since 2017. "I tried a lot of different gyms, but I got bored easily," Xu said. "This group gives me a sense of belonging. I have made a lot of new friends through Fit-Fam."
Ji Jing, an internet technology professional, said she has lost 10 kilograms since joining FitFam. "I join the workouts every morning before I go to work. They make me feel happy and reduce the amount of stress I get from work," she said.
The local government's efforts to build public facilities such as running trails and greenways alongside the Huangpu River and Suzhou Creek have played a vital role in encouraging a more-active lifestyle.
At the end of 2017, redevelopment of the Huangpu River reached a milestone, with both sides of the waterway connecting with a 45-kilometer walking trail, flanked by parks and art museums.
Xie Chuntian, a marathon runner who lives near the river, said: "There used to be obstacles along the banks of the Huangpu. Connecting these short riverside trails has been really good for runners. Now, I can run alongside the river all the time, free from the traffic, and take in the terrific skyline views."