What started as a college entrepreneurship project at USC in 2007 has developed into a popular local organization called Element Fitness, founded by 28-year-old Mark Ryan. Element Fitness, centrally located in Camarillo, combines physical fitness with social responsibility through fit camps and community-based projects.

“I’ve always liked working out, just never in a gym,” Ryan said. “Since we live in sunny Southern California, instead of lifting weights at the gym, why not exercise outdoors in our element — hence Element Fitness, like a park or a beach or local mountains — and why not give back to that particular element, like cleaning up the beach while we work out, or giving back to Parks and Recreations.”

It’s feel-good fitness for more than just personal gain.

“So many people talk about giving back or getting fit, and they don’t,” Ryan said. “This is a platform where they can do both of those things.”

Each month, Element Fitness hosts a series of Fit Camps throughout Ventura County. The purpose of these outdoor camps is to generate money and awareness for not only health, fitness and the community, but also for certain causes. The Fit Camps support these causes by donating 50 percent of the proceeds to the featured cause for that particular month.

These cause-inspired Fit Camps began back in October 2011, when Element Fitness hosted a one-day intensive outdoor workout for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Nearly 50 people showed up, and in one hour, roughly $1,200 was raised.

Since a different cause is featured each month, the cause for July and August is Friends of Camarillo Dog Parks. Element Fitness has partnered with Ventura County Credit Union and Pleasant Valley Recreation and Park District in order to help the community get healthier and more physically active. So far in July, they have generated about $700.

People can either register online at www.YourElementFitness.com or they can just show up at the designated places and pay via check, cash or credit card. The cost for a single camp is $20, and $99 for an entire month, which gives access to 16-plus classes. The group workouts (typically 10-20 people) usually last around an hour and 15 minutes, and incorporate all facets of fitness.

“The type of workout and the types of exercises change every week,” Ryan said. “Sometimes it will be strength and resistance training. Other times it will be Pilates or cross-fit workouts or sports-related exercises.”

All levels of exercisers can participate — from struggling beginners to dignified pros. Any age level and any fitness level are acceptable, since the exercises are scalable to meet the individual’s ability.

“Whether you’ve never lifted weights before or working out is on your daily to-do list, it doesn’t matter,” Ryan said. “We welcome anyone and everyone who wants to be healthy and in shape and give back to the community.”

Kelsey Snaidman, who joined a month ago, left other fitness camps, including one that was free, because she believed this one was much better overall.

“I love it every time I come,” Snaidman said. “Mark knows what he’s doing and he makes the workouts enjoyable.”

Bridget Leire, 18, loves the fact that she gets a head-to-toe workout.

“The workouts work every muscle, and every week when I leave here, I literally feel the effect in my entire body,” Leire said.

Emmanuel Manasievici likes the fact that participants can each go at their own pace.

“It’s challenging, but not overwhelming, and we’re encouraged, but never forced,” Manasievici said.

Suzie Connell, one of the Element Fitness trainers, said she thinks that exercising in a park is more fun than exercising in a gym.

“Going to the gym is sometimes daunting, but exercising outside in the fresh air is energizing and therapeutic,” Connell said. “People can work out here and sweat without feeling self-conscious, like they might in a gym.”

The Fit Camps are held at Marina Park, Ventura, at 9 a.m. on Sundays; Mammoth Highlands Park, Moorpark, at 4 p.m. on Sundays; and at Eldred Lokker Park, Camarillo, on Saturdays at 9 a.m. and Wednesdays at 6 p.m. Element Fitness also plans to add Tuesday and Thursday at 6 p.m. at Eldred Lokker Park. These cause-inspired Fit Camps will continue every month. 

For more information, visit the website at yourelementfitness.com/cause.php or call 585-5589. To stay in touch with the Element Fitness camps and projects, visit www.Facebook.com/CauseFitness.