THE WEEKLY HOWL IS SELLING CARS

Be Better: F45 is a popular Australian gym that has started to expand into the U.S. It’s group training in the functional fitness/HIIT mold. Vox published an article on the company this week and once again, the fitness industry did not receive a good analysis:

A 45-minute, high-speed series of punishing, “functional” exercises that engage multiple muscle groups — hence F45 — the Down Under export currently has 1,300-plus outlets across the globe, with 570 gyms active or planning to open in the US. For comparison, Pure Barre has roughly 460 US locations, and SoulCycle has 88 studios. I’ve attended F45 classes in the Venice studio and saw George’s face and form onscreen, modeling perfect burpees, effortless squats, and nonchalant hammer swings, before I met him in person.

Also:

It’s no accident the Aussie chain, which has recently made big inroads in Canada and the UK, chose red, white, and blue for its logo and gym decor (“We actually made it look Americanized because we always wanted to take it to the US,” Deutsch said in an interview). The company, and franchises, seeks to grab a larger portion of the US gym market. Gyms, fitness clubs, and fitness franchises comprise a $37.1 billion chunk of the United States health and wellness industry, according to IBISWorld research, with nearly 61 million Americans paying for membership.

Pete McCall, host of the All About Fitness podcast, compares the growth of these franchises to Howard Schultz’s strategy with Starbucks; spend on new locations, instead of advertising, and explosive growth becomes the story.

One of my pet peeves is when people compare the growth of gyms without accounting for the business models that each organization uses. There is huge difference between franchises and corporate owned gyms. Companies using the corporate-owned model use their own money to open new locations, own 100% of them, and are fully responsible for operating them. Companies using the franchise model license their name to someone else who puts up their own money to and then pays various fees and shares revenue to the franchisor. It’s not hard to figure out which model promotes rapid growth in the number of locations. It also makes comparing the growth of a franchisor to a non-franchisor meaningless. Also, Starbucks is not a franchisor. They spend their own money on new locations, F45 does not. That’s a terrible comparison.

A big part of the growth in boutiques is based on the business model. Think about trying to open a big box gym versus a studio. Big box gyms are usually in excess of 20,000 square feet. Studios are usually well under 5,000 square feet. Big boxes were founded on the philosophy of body building. That meant purchasing large, expensive strength machines that were designed to isolate the muscle. The advantage of these machines from a business POV is that they don’t require much instruction or supervision. You could fill a box with these machines and your members would be able to figure out how to use them. This meant that operating a big box gym would not require hiring a whole lot of employees. The startup costs associated with opening a big box are enormous and out of the reach of most people. The growing popularity of studios created an opening for thousands of fitness entrepreneurs to start their own gyms because they could afford to do so. Most studios don’t have a lot of equipment either but they do require a lot of instruction. Fitness entrepreneurs typically address this issue by serving as instructors in addition to owner/operator, at least at first.

Business models matter. They can magnify trends in the industry and determine which company grows the fastest as well as which company makes the most money. CrossFit has had enormous success by eschewing both the corporate-owned and franchise models. The affiliate model that CrossFit employs has radically low licensing fees, no revenue sharing, very few rules, little support, and no exclusivity. It’s also why CrossFit is the fastest growing fitness company in the world over the last 10 years. It was designed to do so. They made it easy and cheap to open a CrossFit box so thousands of people did. Just don’t compare CrossFit to F45 to SoulCycle without acknowledging that those 3 companies have very different ways of managing their own growth.

Sex isn’t the only thing that sells: Have you been seeing ads that look like they’re for a gym but it turns out that they’re selling beer or cars? It’s a new subdivision of marketing that I call fitness marketing. It is the promotion of other products/services through fitness. This can take the form of traditional advertising like those Michelob Ultra commercials or it can be experiential marketing like stores holding workout classes. Acura is getting in on with their latest ad campaign, in which they’re partnering with SB Nation:

For decades, the most advanced piece of technology in a neighborhood gym was the treadmill. Workout routines were woefully analog as well. Want to lose weight? Go for a run. Want to gain muscle? Lift heavy things.

Those barebones gyms are no more — tech upgrades have leveled up our workouts and performance. State-of-the-art composition scales can break down your body by its fat, water, and muscle mass, and the ubiquity of connected equipment and wearable tech has given athletes more feedback on their performance than ever before. There are even gyms that will tailor workout plans to your genetic and physical makeup, using 3D body scanners and breath analysis to create a routine that is uniquely yours. Say goodbye to your treadmill and hello to the skate-mill.

Exercise fiends looking to upgrade their workouts have a whole new slew of data-connected equipment and metrics to help them get to the next level. Watch Jacques Slade take back control of his gym routine with the help of Peter Vodden, trainer and owner of the Los Angeles gym Pharos, with the power of the Acura ILX to inspire him.

              There is a video as well that is not nearly as awkward as the write-up. Acura seems to want to draw a line through the idea of high performance. I think that they want to go after the type of person that demands the highest level of performance from themselves and the products that they use (i.e. their car). I don’t think that they do a very good job though. His car inspires him to “take control of his gym routine”? What?

              It is interesting to see a company stretching so hard to do fitness marketing. I don’t think that the people behind this know much about fitness but they know that they can use it to reach the consumers they’re going after. This ad campaign is clumsy and awkward but it serves as a reminder that fitness marketing is in the very early days. Companies are starting to realize that fitness is a way to connect with their consumers but they’re not all that good at it yet.

Shoe Wars: It’s no surprise that activity levels are up. The fitness and outdoor industry are growing fast. People are prioritizing fitness and experiences over just accumulating material goods. What is surprising is that the brands in those industries might not be reaping the rewards that you would expect. From Footwear News:

But according to Matt Powell, senior sports industry analyst for The NPD Group Inc., brands aren’t capitalizing off of the increased participation. The insider believes it’s because brands are too focused on making top-tier product.

“Making more affordable product, not focusing on the pinnacle product, is really key,” Powell said. “Athletic brands are far too focused on making expensive products that are meant for pinnacle athletes only. In many cases the people who are doing sports today are not looking for pinnacle products, they’re looking for good enough products. I think the same story applies to the outdoor world as well.”

However, if past trends discovered at Outdoor Retailer events is an indication of what’s to come, Powell may see the good products at palatable price points that he believes the industry needs. In July during the Summer Market presentation in Denver, top brands in the industry showed styles boasting performance features at a lower retail price, as well as multisport footwear styles ready for multiple activities, eliminating the need for multiple pairs of shoes.

              If this is true, then I have to wonder why this is. There was a hard shift to minimalist footwear in the late 00’s. The pendulum has swung back from Vibrams but hasn’t gone back to overbuilt shoes. Functional fitness (and some of the disciplines that influence it) has always been about “less is more” when it comes to footwear. Chuck Taylors have always been popular amongst powerlifters and I see more of those in the gym today than I ever used to. The functional fitness shoes produced by Nike and Reebok are tiny compared to the cross-trainers of the 80’s and 90’s, even though they were ostensibly designed for similar function. It is difficult for Nike to work a lot of its design & marketing magic when the demand is for stripped down footwear. The price point for Nike Metcons and Reebok Nanos is much lower than those companies might like to charge for their premier training shoes. It will be interesting to see how this dynamic will affect the negotiations for the CrossFit apparel deal. CrossFit is keeping Reebok in the black right now. If they lose it, they’re screwed but Nike might be feeling even more pressure to become the official CrossFit shoe and apparel provider.  

Military Fitness: U.S. Military fitness tests have traditionally followed a formula. One upper-body exercise utilizing bodyweight (pull-ups for the Marines, push-ups for everyone else), some variation of sit-ups or crunches, and then a short run. The advantage of this format is that it is easy to test. Very little equipment is needed and you can test large numbers of people at once. The disadvantage is that it is not the best way to test service members’ combat readiness. The U.S. Army is introducing a new test that is slated to debut in 2020 and involves deadlifts and kettlebells. The U.S. Marine Corps is also considering making some changes to its fitness test as well. From the Marine Corps Times:

 Over the past several years the Corps has been sending Marines to partake in or observe Royal Marine commando fitness training routines to better gauge changes to the Corps’ own fitness regimen and Force Fitness Instructor, or FFI, program.

Marine Corps Times has obtained several ­after-action reports spanning 2016–2018 that detail an internal debate among the Corps’ fitness gurus on the best way to build a Corps that can better ­withstand the physical rigors of combat.

Some of the after-action reports have made their way to the assistant commandant’s office, the sergeant major of the Marine Corps and the Force Fitness Division, highlighting the level of importance the Corps has placed on feedback and knowledge coming from lessons learned at the Royal Marine Commando course.

Staff Sgt. Richie Salinas and Staff Sgt Ray Anatoly, two American Marine FFIs, were among the first wave of U.S. Marines to fully attend the commando’s elite 17-week Physical Training Instructor program, or PTI.

Their advice to the Corps: It’s time to overhaul its fitness program. They say it would be better to move the Corps’ culture, which is overly focused on strength training and college athletics, to a regimen focused on sustainable fitness that involves body weight exercises, routine assessments and builds muscular endurance and functional combat fitness.

Salinas and Anatoly, in their after-action report to the Corps, also called for an overhaul of the Marines’ two annual fitness tests, the combat fitness test, or CFT, and the physical fitness test, or PFT.

Specifically, the two Marine staff noncommissioned officers recommended the Marine Corps replace the PFT with the Royal Marine Commando Fitness Assessment, which commonly is referred to as the bleep or beep test.

Their after-action report also called for the Corps to replace the CFT with a standardized timed obstacle course, and for the Marines to ­incorporate a Corps-wide practice of speed marches with 32-pound kits at a 10-minute mile pace.

What is the beep test?

Each repetition is conducted at the sound of a beep, making it an intense test of muscular endurance and stamina. One after-action report reviewed by Marine Corps Times claimed this test is difficult to cheat on and “removes human error,” unlike the Marine Corps PFT, which involves “personal ­interpretation” of the movement.

The beeps are key to the test and set the pace of the exercise. For pullups, when a beep is sounded, the candidate pulls up, then after the next beep they come back down. This causes the pullups portion to slow down, and causes a person to pause slightly at the top of the bar that they must hold until the next beep.

The beeps also make the test easy to judge and administer. If a candidate isn’t keeping pace with the beeps and press-ups, it becomes fairly obvious to an instructor or observer.

“If they miss the beep it’s pretty much stand up, you’re done,” Salinas explained, regarding the press-ups.

              This is a great idea for any bodyweight exercise in a fitness test. Policing everyone’s form in a military fitness test is very difficult, especially when you’re dealing with a large group of people. Lying about the number of repetitions is also rampant. This is a simple solution to those problems. The obstacle course could be a good test of fitness but that is going to be very difficult to standardize. Speed marches are extremely functional and relevant for the Marines but would be a challenge to test on deployed forces. What other changes are they considering?

The Corps is also in the process of studying planks as an alternative to crunches on the PFT. Marines for ages have complained that the crunches portion of the PFT is too easy and susceptible to cheating.

              Yes, get rid of crunches. They are a terrible way to test core strength and also very hard to police. Planks would be a better test and much easier for the administrators to police.

Too much of a good thing: It’s all about the data. Every company is data-driven. Everyone is a data nerd. If you want answers, you go to the data. The thing about data though is if you don’t know how to analyze it, then it’s worthless. This data culture is present in the fitness industry. Fitness trackers promise to deliver reams of data on the human body which will allow people to maximize their potential. But how many of us are prepared to analyze that data? From The Atlantic:

Wearable medical technology promises a new, and better, way to manage personal health. Whether it’s Fitbits counting steps and calories burned, continuous blood glucose monitors aiding insulin dosing for diabetic patients, or Bluetooth earpieces offering round-the-clock heart rate and body temperature tracking, wearable devices sell the promise of the coldly clinical made portably intimate. Continuous EKG monitoring, like that available in the latest Apple Watch, might seem like a small technological leap, putting what was once the sole purview of hospitals and doctor’s offices neatly around a consumer’s wrist.

But continuous EKG monitoring is a little different from other, more discrete medical information. Unlike devices that measure more cleanly numerical metrics—step counts or target heart rates or blood glucose levels—a wearable EKG display doesn’t give the user an easy sense of hitting targets or falling short. Reading an EKG tracing is nuanced and interpretive, more art than math. A Fitbit gives you a number. An EKG paints a picture.

Also:

Shrinking and wearing an EKG is a symptom of technology’s drive to subsume health and wellness, and it renews a belief in humanity’s mastery of the heart, that most important muscle. EKGs might start to seem capable of producing meaning on their own, instead of producing pictures that can be interpreted by medical professionals.

That aligns the continuous, single-lead, wearable EKG with the set designer’s intentions for the symbol. The EKG—especially the 12-lead device—offers real diagnostics, but not nearly as often as its traces convey the symbology of health. As it shrinks, that secondary meaning could become more primary. The wearable EKG offers the comforting weight of medicine itself, worn on the wrist like an amulet warding off evil, whether it ever gets used or not.

              Technology is advancing so rapidly that its ability to collect and deliver data is outpacing our ability to properly consume it. We’re drowning in it. Knowing what to ignore is becoming as important as being able to analyze the relevant data. It’s amazing that Apple engineers were able to build EKG capability into a smartwatch. I am in awe of that but it’s not going to replace actual doctors. The same is true of fitness trackers replacing human trainers/coaches. All that data isn’t going to replace anyone. It’s going to create a greater demand for someone who can interpret that data.

Tidbits:

-How to break up with your workout partner

-“CrossFit is like period sex”

-Now your Nikes can crash after a software update

-If your employer gave you a fitness tracker, then they might be spying on you

-Rowing classes are always on the cusp of being the next big thing

-Physique 57 is expanding into Saudi Arabia

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS CUTTING COSTS

Get more sleep: It was inevitable. Work-outs have gotten harder, which has made recovery crucial. This has led to a proliferation of companies offering recovery products and services. It’s the next frontier of the fitness industry but is it legitimate. Christie Aschwanden has written a book (Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery) in order to tackle this question. From Science:

 

Many of today’s recovery modalities, she finds, are based on tiny studies that are not necessarily replicable or representative of the outcomes most athletes should expect. A dismaying number of them are funded by industry. And in many cases, recovery technologies that are allegedly science-based don’t live up to the claims made by their endorsers. After enduring an infrared sauna, for example, Aschwanden points out the lack of any large studies able to demonstrate a significant recovery advantage. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, she reminds readers, even had to order one manufacturer to stop claiming that its saunas reduced swelling or expelled toxins. There is little evidence to support these claims. Even her own carefully designed “study”—which sought to determine whether beer makes a good workout recovery drink—does more to persuade Aschwanden that conducting sports science research is hard than it does to up her six-pack consumption.

Also:

Aschwanden’s persuasive science and snappy writing helped me relinquish some recovery beliefs I’d been holding for years. Fancy electrolyte-laden sports drinks, it turns out, show no clear superiority at hydrating the body over plain water, and drinking too much liquid can be more detrimental to performance than getting a little dehydrated. The benefits of “precision eating” and protein supplements are probably all in our heads. Icing and cryotherapy might actually do more harm than good. And fitness tracking apps—which focus our attention on a handful of metrics instead of the overall picture—are causing us to ignore the sophisticated training and recovery signals released by our own bodies. It may be better, Aschwanden regularly reminds readers, to learn to trust your own body and its specific needs.

The recovery sub-industry is repeating the same mistakes that the broader fitness industry has always made (selling pseudo-science and shortcuts). For example, The New England Patriots use a sleep tank that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels claims can cram the benefits of 4 hours of sleep into 45 minutes. Does that pass the common sense test? I don’t think so. I also don’t think that McDaniels made that determination on his own. That sounds like a sales pitch.  

People have always wanted a magic pill or a magic workout. Now that it seems like people have come to accept that there is no getting around hard work, the demand for the magic recovery technique has surged.  Some things make sense such as massage tools like the HyperVolt or TheraGun. Others seem like nonsense. Then there are others that don’t pass the driving test. The driving test is whether it’s more beneficial to get in your car and drive somewhere to receive the treatment or just stay at home, drink some water, and maybe get some extra sleep that night. Because there aren’t going to be any magic recovery fixes. Handheld massage tools are just leveraging technology in order to deliver the benefits of massage at a lower price and greater convenience.

CrossFit: CrossFit Inc. has always been fiercely protective of its trademark. There were only 2 ways to be a part of the brand: get a CrossFit certification or become a CrossFit affiliate. Last year, they deputized a series of functional fitness competitions as Games qualifiers and allowed them to call themselves CrossFit competitions. This week, CrossFit Inc. announced that they would be expanding the opportunity to become an official CrossFit event. From The Barbell Spin:

In a press release today, CrossFit, Inc. announced it is launching an official program to allow for affiliates and organizations to license a competition and receive limited use of the CrossFit name and logo. These CrossFit-licensed events, however, will not send the winners to the CrossFit Games like CrossFit-sanctioned (Sanctional) events.

Organizers of CrossFit-licensed events will be able to sell merchandise with the CrossFit logo, but will also need to “uphold CrossFit-approved standards for safety and programming.” Licensed competitions must have event insurance and the organizer must be L-1 certified.

These CrossFit-licensed events will also be a feeder system to the Sanctional competitions. Before an event can become a Sanctional, the event must first be approved as a CrossFit-licensed competition.

In the past, CrossFit Inc. has tried to hold these events at arm’s length but everyone associated them with CrossFit regardless. It’s smarter to let event organizers use the name so that CrossFit Inc. can exert some quality control.

Look at the aftermath of Kevin Ogar’s injury at the OC Throwdown. Mr. Ogar was paralyzed after an accident during the snatch event. CrossFit Inc. came under criticism for trying to distance themselves publicly from the OCT at the same time that they were demanding things from the event’s organizer. Prevention is better than damage control. Take an active role and set some safety standards. Do something to prevent the next tragedy. CrossFit Inc. planted the seeds for this whole ecosystem to blossom. That’s great but that comes with some responsibility as well. It’s good to see them take it. This will also create a pipelines of competitions vying to be the next Sanctional. I’ve written before that I think the new qualifying system will create incentives for competitions to be professionally run so that they can become a Sanctional event. Right now, I think that the incentive is to come up with the most extreme event. This will encourage more competitions to seek Sanctional status, which will be a good thing as well.  

More CrossFit: Back in August, CrossFit Inc. laid off a bunch of people and announced that there were going to be some changes to the way athletes qualified for the Games. Most of the layoffs were in the media department, the people who made all those documentaries about the CrossFit Games. It felt like a byproduct of a strategic shift. Now it appears that there was another round of layoffs. From Morning Chalk-Up:

In a continued effort to shift the direction of CrossFit Inc., the company executed another sweeping round of layoffs Tuesday at their office in Scotts Valley, CA, the Morning Chalk Up has learned.

Through conversations with former employees, we have confirmed that 21 of in-office employees across publishing, health, video, writing, IT, e-commerce, project management, QA and operations departments were laid off effective immediately.

This is the third round of layoffs the company has gone through in the past six months. Key figures like Rory McKernan and Tyson Oldroyd were included in this round of layoffs.

Also:

With the latest changes, the total number of CrossFit employees laid off over the past half year is approaching 100, according to our best estimates, leaving a skeleton crew to execute on the CrossFit Games vision which kicks off in a little more than five months.

After the Games media and broadcasting teams were completely closed along with several staffers involved with Games support and operations, serious questions were raised in the community about the ability of CrossFit Inc. to execute on their vision for the CrossFit Games going forward.

The stakes couldn’t be higher for the dozen or so remaining Games staffers — including Dave Castro and Justin Bergh — to deliver an event on par with past years, and the latest round of layoffs is sure to send another shockwave through the industry already concerned about the future.

I find this very curious. CrossFit has never been a company that has exerted a lot of cost controls. Lauren Glassman’s rationale for wanting to sell her stake was that the company burned through cash and she was concerned about the financial health of the company. This isn’t terribly unusual for companies that are in a rapid growth phase. You’re growing fast, adding a lot of headcount, and thinking that the good times will never end. CrossFit appears to be in the cost-cutting stage when a company tries to trim its headcount and reign in spending. This stage usually doesn’t come until the growth starts to slow because once revenue stops growing like crazy, management has to stop burning through cash.

We know that domestic growth has slowed and CrossFit Inc. is shifting its focus to international growth. We also know that the majority of its revenue is derived from affiliate fees and certifications. The affiliate fees will continue to roll in but slowing growth would significantly reduce the number of people seeking CrossFit certifications. On the other hand, its debt to Summit Partners should be paid off and I anticipate that its next apparel deal will be extremely lucrative. What we don’t know is whether CrossFit Inc. is in any sort of financial trouble or if it’s just trying to trim the fat.

Even More CrossFit: Jillian Michaels, of The Biggest Loser fame, decided to take on CrossFit. It was an odd take. From USA Today:

 In a video filmed back in December but shared by Shape yesterday on the magazine's Instagram account, the personal trainer bashed CrossFit, listing multiple "issues" with the trendy workout.

"First of all, you’ve got what, maybe 20 to 25 movements that don’t really vary? And you’re doing them over and over and over again," she said. "So on one hand it stops being effective because you’re not challenging the body from various angles of push and pull, with different varieties of exercises and different types of movements that work different modalities.”

She continued, "And I know CrossFit (athletes say), ‘Oh, we work all the modalities!’ — but no, not really, so shouldn’t you choose a workout that has a little bit more flexibility and strength so you get more mobility, not just power, which is speed and strength.”

Instead, she advised a more balanced workout.

“A little agility work, maybe some endurance training,” she said. “So that you’re training in a more balanced way, to keep the body changing and keep your training more holistic by hitting all modalities of fitness.”

I don’t think that she knows what CrossFit is. There are some valid criticisms of CrossFit but not enough variety isn’t one of them. It’s hard to imagine a more varied training program. For strength training, CrossFit incorporates movements utilizing barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, and gymnastics. Endurance and stamina training involves running, swimming, rowing, skiing, and biking. What else do you want? Are you mad that they don’t use Indian clubs and the Versaclimber? It’s sad that this person is considered a fitness expert when she’s too lazy to do any research. It sounds like she watched 5 minutes of the CrossFit Games and figured that was all she needed to know. It also shows how far the fitness industry has to go. There are people in positions of power and influence in this industry who know very little about fitness. Imagine if someone at a similar level in the auto industry didn’t understand what Tesla was. It’s hard to even fathom but that’s where we are. 

Cycling: CNBC published an article on Peloton this week. It’s a good read and you should check it out but there was one passage that got me thinking.

In particular, Peloton's instructors are part of the secret sauce.

"The way that Peloton has built their instructors into their brand, with many of their instructors achieving a sort of cult status among the Peloton following, I'd say is definitely one of their biggest advantages over alternative at-home fitness equipment and gym and cycling classes," Marisa Lifschutz, lead industry analyst at research firm IBISWorld, tells CNBC Make It.

Indeed, popular instructors like Arzon are one of the main draws, as evidenced by her the nearly 200,000 people who follow her on Instagram. Arzon is known for her high energy, motivational style and her catch phrase, "sweat with swagger," which is also the name of the tribe of Peloton users who specifically follow her classes. She calls Peloton's group of instructors "a team of superheroes" whose job it is to inspire and lead the community.

"We've also built a socially engaging platform in the workouts themselves," Arzon says. "So whether you're getting a high-five from a fellow rider or you're getting a shout-out on your first run ... there's an intimacy there that doesn't exist most places, certainly not in a space where you're interacting digitally, and instructors are kind of breaking that fourth wall and in people's homes. That's really powerful stuff."

The feeling seems to be mutual. Sara Richards, 44, a medical writer and mother of four who lives in Los Angeles, tells CNBC Make It that she'd tried SoulCycle a few times, but "was not very impressed with any of the instructors." After she tried Peloton last year, Richards says, she felt more of a "personal connection" with the instructors, especially Arzon. "When she is talking to that screen, she is talking to me," Richards says.

This is anecdotal evidence which is highly unreliable and it’s not as if SoulCycle’s instructors don’t have followings. However, I’d love to see compensation numbers for SoulCycle and Peloton because I wonder if Peloton is paying its instructors a lot more right now. The thing is that Peloton scales, SoulCycle does not. There is no limit to how many people can stream a Peloton class but there is a limit to how many people can attend a SoulCycle class. As Peloton continues to grows, it is going to be able to pay its instructors more than its brick-and-mortar competitors. Maybe they are already doing this, maybe they’re not but having the best instructors (because they can pay more) could develop into a competitive advantage for Peloton.

Paying the bills: I came across 2 articles this week that were pushing the idea that boutique classes are as expensive as they are in order to signal quality and exclusivity. Both articles featured quotes from the founder of the Association of Fitness Studios. From Refinery29:

 So, how did studios land on the magic number $34? There are a number of factors that influence how companies set prices, like understanding how to stay competitive in the market, but it ultimately comes down to "knowing that what you set as your pricing also influences the consumer’s perception of the quality they will receive," Josh Leve, founder and CEO of the Association of Fitness Studios, the trade association that represents studio owners and entrepreneurial fitness professionals. "If your fitness studio is focused on delivering the best possible experience for your members or clients, but you price below what others are charging to generate business, then consumers will believe that your offering is average; counter to how you have positioned your studio."

And from Insider:

It comes down to "knowing that what you set as your pricing also influences the consumer's perception of the quality they will receive," according to Josh Leve, founder and CEO of the Association of Fitness Studios, the trade association that represents studio owners and entrepreneurial fitness professionals.

Speaking to Refinery29, he said: "If your fitness studio is focused on delivering the best possible experience for your members or clients, but you price below what others are charging to generate business, then consumers will believe that your offering is average; counter to how you have positioned your studio."

This is the luxury model of pricing. It’s how you get handbags that cost thousands of dollars. The problem is that it’s not true in this case. Let’s think about the cost structure of these companies. Most of their recurring expenses are going to be rent and labor. In the markets where boutiques thrive, rent is often prohibitively expensive. Manhattan is home to SoulCycle and Flywheel and Ground Zero for boutique fitness. Even a relatively small retail space (1500 square feet) could require annual rent payments in excess of $1 million. That is a huge fixed cost. On top of that, you have a highly skilled labor force that you need to pay well (because they have to live in these expensive areas as well). That’s why boutique classes cost so much. It’s not luxury pricing so much as it’s the price of retail space in NYC. The other areas that these companies want to focus on are also expensive, urban areas. This is what is setting the pricing. My next question is why is the Association of Fitness Studios is pushing this idea right now. Are they just trying to make it seem like they know what they’re talking about or is there some kind of agenda here?

Tidbits:

-Read this oral history of the Stairmaster

-Don’t ask people to sign NDA’s in order to get a refund

-The U.S. Army has filled its functional fitness competition team

-Chris Hemsworth’s fitness app is already the top fitness app in the U.S.

-Netflix shouldn’t be giving a platform to Goop’s nonsense

-Sporting good store bans Nike gear, goes out of business

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS LIKE A CASINO

Keep the faith: Community and fitness go hand in hand. Organized religion is fueled by a sense of community amongst its practitioners. Does that mean that the rise of faith-based fitness was inevitable? From Vox:

People who want to get fit, lose weight, and eat more healthfully often turn to trainers and dietitians for advice. But today, they might also to turn to a Bible-inspired or faith-based wellness program. Take actor Chris Pratt. He announced last month in an Instagram story that he was on day three of the Daniel fast.

“It’s 21 days of prayer and fasting,” he explained.

The program takes its name from the Old Testament prophet Daniel. While it’s called a fast, it does not require complete abstinence from food. Instead, “some foods are eaten while others are restricted,” according to the Daniel fast website. Those who go on the fast hope to not only get their weight and diet under control but also draw closer to God.

The fast is so popular that it has spawned a book, a weight loss manual, and a study guide. There’s also the similarly named Daniel plan. Developed by megachurch pastor Rick Warren, along with Dr. Daniel Amen and Dr. Mark Hyman, the plan promises a healthier life in 40 days. You can follow it by buying the series of books about the diet and signing up for the Daniel plan 21-day challenge for $89; it includes workouts, coaching emails, and food planning tips.

Also:

 Churches have launched cycling ministries as well as archery ministries like Centershot Ministries, a Christian archery program for kids. Beyond archery programs, Christianity-based workout plans like Faithful Workouts and PraiseMoves have grown popular in evangelical circles. PraiseMoves bills itself as an alternative to yoga and frames the practice, much like megachurch Pastor John Lindell does, as dangerous for Christians. The Holy Yoga program takes the same approach.

Last year, Lindell warned his congregation away from yoga because of its non-Christian roots.

“To say the positions of yoga are no more than exercise are tantamount to saying water baptism is just aqua aerobics,” he said during a sermon.

There’s even a Christian answer to CrossFit. Revelation Wellness pairs high-intensity exercise and strength training with Scripture; as participants do reps, Bible verses are read aloud. “We believe that as the body of Christ gets healthy and whole, we will be fit for our purpose — to proclaim and spread the love of God to the ends of the earth,” the Revelation website says of its mission.

On one level I get this, fitness and religion are fueled by a sense of community. But the Bible wasn’t meant to be a guide to fitness. Even the nutrition guidelines are based on an entirely different period in human history that had very different concerns about food. In 21st century America, the biggest danger is eating too much food. That was not the case two millennium ago. Also, I don’t get the urge to combine all the things that you love into one thing. I have a lot of interests outside fitness. I do not feel compelled to experience them all at the same time but that’s just me.

So far, this stuff seems pretty harmless. Restricting calories is like 90% of the battle of the bulge so something like the Daniel Fast is probably going to work. What I don’t like about this is that it contributes to the “gimmick-iness” of the fitness industry. The way to fight that is by sticking to the fundamentals and using science.

What do you want: There is a certain brand of article that I have come to detest. It pops up around the New Year but it can manifest itself at any time. The premise of the article is that the gym is a rip-off. From RealDaily:

That’s right. Most gyms make money off of people who buy gym memberships but never show up over those that actually show up.

Only about 20% of Americans who buy a gym membership actually patronize that gym 100 times or more in a year. More than 10% of Americans buy a gym membership, work out at the gym a few times, then never return.

A shocking 70% of Americans buy a gym membership and then never go to the gym once.

Think about that. Seven out of every 10 people literally waste their expensive gym memberships.

Like a casino, the gym and fitness club industry are profitable. But it is an exaggeration to accuse them of actively ripping people off.

              Like a casino? You know who else is like a casino then? Every profitable business in the world. I Is it the gym’s fault that people don’t show up? Should gym operators design their facilities to accommodate all the people that don’t show up? The conclusion of these articles is usually some version of: don’t join a gym because you won’t use it and therefore you’re getting ripped off. Because choosing not to use the service that you paid for is somehow a rip-off?

There is another perspective to this: gym memberships are a fantastic deal because they are subsidized by people who don’t use theirs. There are 3 groups of people: those you use their memberships, those who don’t, and those that don’t have a gym membership. Being in the 1st group is the smart financial move. You will avoid a lot of health problems that way. Advising people to move from the 2nd group to the 3rd group is not good financial advice. You can get a big box gym membership for about $30/month in most parts of the country. Even cheaper if you join a low cost operator. And they’re a great deal, you get access to a ton of equipment for a very reasonable price because so many people don’t use their memberships. Unfortunately, this type of article will never die. There will always be some jackass who thinks that this is insightful and original even though it’s some of the worst advice that you can dish out.

The taxman cometh: One of the reasons that taxes in the U.S. are so complicated is that they serve 2 purposes. The first is to fund the government. The second is drive policy, namely to either encourage or discourage certain behaviors. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Tennessee, where the state government recently decided to start enforcing an obscure tax law. From WYCB:

A little-known tax could be making it more expensive for you to exercise in Tennessee.

Owners of small gyms are joining lawmakers in a fight to end an "amusement tax" on gym memberships in Tennessee. The 10 percent tax only affects gyms smaller than 15,000 sq. ft.

"One of the most unhealthy states in the United States shouldering an amusement tax that taxes wellness is a little backwards," said Taryn Hayden of CrossFit 423 in Bristol, Tenn.

For decades, the tax went unenforced by the Dept. of Revenue. Then, last June, gym owners were told they retroactively owed taxes to the state.

For CrossFit 423, that meant $20,000.

"It's a tax directly handed to the member, which turns into a tax on wellness," Hayden said.

              Why? Why was this ever a law? Why start enforcing this now? Why charge businesses back taxes on a law that everyone had forgotten about? This is completely backwards on 2 levels.

(1)    Why have a tax that only applies to small businesses and not larger ones? Don’t we want to help smaller businesses grow into larger ones? Making it harder for a small business to succeed with a larger one doesn’t make any sense (unless you’re a lobbyist for the larger businesses).

(2)    Why tax something that we should be encouraging? The movement is toward taxing things that are unhealthy like soda. Taxing fitness like this is crazy.

Hopefully, Tennessee gets its act together and repeals this law. This is the type of policy that has no constituency. It is a blatant act of corporate favoritism that should not be tolerated.

Playlists: People love to listen to music while they exercise. The preponderance of fitness apps and studio classes have strengthened the importance of playlists in the fitness landscape. And for good reason, music improves performance. From Outside:

For years, scientists have studied the link between music and heart rate. In 2005, a team of researchers found that listening to music with a fast tempo could speed up heart rates, while a leisurely tempo could slow them down. Furthermore, crescendos—where the volume of a song gradually rises—can increase heart rates, while decrescendos have the opposite effect, according to a small study from 2009 published in the journal Circulation. Although scientists aren’t certain why and how these interactions happen physiologically, relaxing music could be used to maintain a level of serenity for lower-intensity activities like yoga. “I always set my metronome at 60 [bpm] because it’s lower than the normal heart rate, and it helps me relax,” says Rodney Garnett, an ethnomusicologist at the University of Wyoming. “Something that has a slower beat gets a different response than something that has a fast beat.”  

Another perk: listening to music can make a workout feel less challenging. Research suggests that music activates the subcerebellum and amygdala, which regulate emotions like pleasure, while also decreasing interactions between the areas of the brain that are responsible for communicating fatigue and reducing performance abilities. Fast workout music causes neurons to fire longer and with stronger pulses, suggesting that people don’t need to think as much about their workouts when listening to a killer playlist. Instead, they can let their minds wander, reducing the cognitive perception of strain while muscles continue to perform with less conscious processing, says Costas Karageorghis, a psychophysiologist at Brunel University in London. If a bopping melody isn’t enough to get you through a tough workout, a song’s lyrics can provide an extra boost of motivation with different positive affirmations and associations, Karageorghis says. 

Notice that there is nothing here about volume. Playing music extra loud has no bearing on performance. There is an epidemic of studios playing the music so loud that they are damaging people’s hearing. Some of these studios now offer earplugs. Think about how insane that is. There is no good reason to play the music that loud and it is a choice. No one is making them select that volume. Instead of offering ear plugs, just turn the volume down. Then read this article and realize that it’s about picking the right music, not destroying people’s ear drums.

Peloton: Forbes sat down with Carolyn Tisch Blodgett, the SVP of Global Brand Marketing at Peloton. Peloton has been doing very well and is poised for a successful IPO this year, a rarity in the fitness industry. She had some interesting thoughts on building a brand in fitness.

Too many brand and positioning exercises try to answer the question: “what do we do better than everyone else?” Here’s a better question: “what are your fighting for?” Customers are much more likely to pay attention to a company that is addressing a bigger problem or unmet need. In fitness, diet and exercise fads fail because they promise a quick fix. Blodgett sees Peloton as fighting for something bigger. “At its core, Peloton is helping people be the best version of themselves. I know for myself, as a working mom, if I can spend 45 minutes, or even 30 or 20 minutes with Peloton before my kids wake up, I’m more patient with them. I’m more present in meetings at work. Every part of my life is better because of Peloton. So that is the story we’re telling and the brand we’re building. If we go back to the fitness category when we started, nobody else is really telling that story.”

              I don’t think that no one else is telling that story but too many fitness companies undersell fitness. Some are selling a quick fix, others are selling aesthetics only. Fitness is the best product in the world. Everyone should sell it that way. There are a lot of reasons that Peloton is successful but one of them is that they seem to get how to sell fitness.

A bigger mission can upend the influencer model. Brands are used to paying people to mention products on social media—Kim Kardashian charges over $250,000 for an Instagram photo. Peloton doesn’t pay its influencers—even though according to Blodgett Peloton members do a better job of selling than Peloton marketing. Here’s the difference, according to Blodgett: “unless you pay someone, nobody’s talking about what kind of toothpaste they use on a daily basis. What’s unique about Peloton is that our customers are actually talking about fitness habits they’ve created on a daily basis, because it really is changing their life.”

              There’s so much passion in fitness. There’s so much opportunity to bring positive change to people’s lives. People wanting to talk about fitness is not unique to Peloton but they get that passionate customers are the best marketing. If you focus on producing results when you design your product or your gym, then you’re going to reap the rewards. That’s what gets people excited. Sometimes, that might mean giving people what they need, not what they want. You might have to bridge that divide through education and that’s okay. Ultimately, the results will speak for themselves.

Tidbits:

-Keep a workout diary

-Katrin Davidsdottir and Sean Sweeney win the Fittest in Cape Town and qualify for the CrossFit Games

-The rise of the energy bar

-Do you post workout pictures on social media?

-What is recovery?

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS GETTING READY FOR THE BIG GAME

Pseudoscience: The Super Bowl is this Sunday and the New England Patriots are once again playing for the Lombardi Trophy. Tom Brady will be making his ninth Super Bowl start and play for his sixth championship. He is still at the top of his game in his 40’s and he has some thoughts about why he has been able to compete at such a high level for so long. From Vox:

Brady eats a mostly organic, local, and plant-based diet with no highly processed foods. In the morning, he starts with 20 ounces of “water with electrolytes,” then a fruit smoothie, and after working out, more water and a protein shake. Lunch is typically fish and vegetables. Afternoon snacks consist of fruits, protein bars, and more protein shakes; dinners include more vegetables and sometimes soup broth.

Even more notable than what Brady eats is what he doesn’t. He avoids alcohol, as well as gluten-containing bread and pasta, breakfast cereal, corn, dairy, foods that contain GMOs, high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, sugar, artificial sweeteners, soy, fruit juice, grain-based foods, jams and jellies, most cooking oils, frozen dinners, salty snacks, sugary snacks, sweetened drinks, white potatoes, and prepackaged condiments like ketchup and soy sauce.

Tom Brady has had an amazing career but his fitness & nutrition advice is bizarre. There’s not that much wrong with it. He mostly recommends drinking plenty of water, getting plenty of rest, stretching a lot, and eating a pretty sensible diet. Nothing ground-breaking but nothing too controversial either. The bizarre part is the mystical properties that he ascribes to this stuff.

For example, let’s first address his claims about acidic and alkaline foods. Brady suggests that by avoiding certain acidifying foods, like meat, refined grains, or ketchup, you can control your body’s pH balance and improve your health and athletic performance.

The problem here is that pH balance, like the body’s temperature, is very tightly regulated, and diet has little to no impact on it. Instead, your lungs and kidneys keep the body’s pH in check automatically.

“It’s next to impossible — in fact, I can’t think of an instance — where people have been able to change their blood pH with diet,” Stuart Phillips, a professor in the department of kinesiology at McMaster University, told me. “So there’s zero foundation for the notion that alkaline and acid foods [are] able to do anything to your body.”

“If you actually eat a bunch of baking soda — even if you do that — you don’t change [the pH level] that much,” said Mayo Clinic exercise researcher Michael Joyner.

That means that while avoiding “acidifying” foods may feel good for Brady, it’s not actually going to alter his pH level.

Also:

In addition to the dubious diet and nutrition claims, the book also expounds on a concept called “muscle pliability.” Muscle pliability is different from flexibility, Brady writes. Pliability is “all about lengthening and softening the muscles,” and it can be achieved through “deep-force muscle work.”

Brady says Guerrero, fitness guru friend, does special pliability-enhancing massages, as Brady “rhythmically contracts and relaxes” each muscle. In addition to helping athletes achieve peak performance, Guerrero and Brady believe this can cure many common injuries, from tennis elbow to lower back pain.

When I asked exercise scientists about the concept, they said they’d never heard of it. They also advised against trying to soften one’s muscles. “The last thing an athlete wants is a soft muscle,” Phillips said, explaining that muscles only go soft when they’re underused.

              There are 2 sides of Tom Brady’s fitness & nutrition advice. Side 1 is taking conventional advice and trying to repackage it as something else. Doesn’t “deep-force muscle work” sounds like a massage? They just call it something else and then make some claims that don’t even make any sense. How is pliability different from flexibility? The other side is more dangerous. It’s the snake oil.

But the unreliable science behind Brady’s routine can be explained at least in part by the fact that Guerrero is behind it. Guerrero has been investigated by the Federal Trade Commission for falsely presenting himself as a medical doctor, and for promoting bogus nutritional supplements.

According to the Boston Globe, Guerrero once marketed a drink “that protects your brain from the consequences of sports-related traumatic brain injury,” which Brady endorsed. Together, the pair opened up the TB12 Sports Therapy Center, outside the Patriots’ Gillette Stadium, which brings many of the concepts outlined in the book to life for athletes seeking a fix. So the book is just the latest fruit of a dubious partnership — one that has the whiff of science without actually having anything to do with it.

              He is also opposed to weight-lifting, instead preferring to strength-train using resistance bands. I guess lifting weights will make your muscles too hard. As a society, we are addicted to learning the secrets of people’s success when a lot of the time the most successful people don’t understand how they succeeded. Tom Brady’s longevity is mostly a product of being on a well-coached team that has always had a good offensive line and the NFL changing the rules to protect quarterbacks. It’s not a coincidence that Drew Brees is still playing some of his best football at 40. Brady has avoided concussions and other injuries by not getting hit not by drinking magic water. And I hate to see a high-profile athlete muddy the waters of fitness advice with this crap. It’s stuff like this that makes fitness & nutrition seem like such a black box to most people. 

Fitness Marketing: Michelob Ultra will be running 2 ads during the Super Bowl on Sunday. One of them will be another fitness-focused ad from the beer brand. From WebWire:

Today, Michelob ULTRA unveiled its new Super Bowl commercial, reinforcing that while there’s an abundance of artificial in the world, your beer is one thing that shouldn’t be. With no artificial flavors or colors and only 95 calories and 2.6 carbs, Michelob ULTRA believes being human is about being fit and fun. In the :30 commercial that will air on Super Bowl Sunday, the robots featured outperform humans at everything except one critical moment: enjoying a superior light beer.  

“Reminding people who are physically active and fans of beer that balance is possible has always been our mission, and we’re excited to bring this message to the Super Bowl stage,” said Azania Andrews, vice president of Michelob ULTRA. “As the fastest growing beer brand we believe we are the beer of this decade, and the next, and we can’t wait to show America what we’re up to this year, beginning with Super Bowl.”

              This is not a new approach for Michelob, who has been pioneering fitness marketing for several years now. It’s interesting to watch them hone their approach though. Previous ad campaigns showed people working out and then kicking back with a few cold ones. Michelob clearly wanted to go after a certain demographic. This ad makes it much more explicit: What’s the point of all that working out if you can’t enjoy yourself a little bit? As fitness marketing grows, I’m excited to see how creative the advertising gets.

Wearables: Google missed the boat on smartwatches. The tech giant believed in wearables but had committed its focus to Google Glass, a product that completely bombed with consumers but is now finding life as an enterprise product. Now that smartwatches are taking off, Google has to do something to catch up with Apple. They decided to pursue a path of carefully considered acquisitions/partnerships with smaller companies that have already been developing hardware. From Wired:

Google and the Fossil Group announced earlier today that the tech giant is acquiring some of Fossil’s smartwatch intellectual property, suggesting Google may be making its own competitor to the Apple Watch, or, as wishful pundits refer to it, a Pixel watch. It’s not an outlandish idea: As first reported in Wareable, Fossil Group executive vice president and chief digital officer Greg McKelvey says the $40 million deal will result in the launch of “a new product innovation that’s not yet hit the market.” Google buying up talent as it ramps up hardware efforts is also not unprecedented: In early 2018, it spent $1.1 billion to buy a significant chunk of the HTC smartphone team that had helped develop Google’s Pixel phones.

But Google’s $40 million buy of some of Fossil’s smartwatch tech also says a lot about the broader smartwatch market. In short: Fitness has been driving this whole category of technology, more so than fashion. And it underscores the challenges that fashion brands like Fossil face as they try to incorporate more technology into their products, spending millions to build in-house tech teams that will make their already-wearable stuff more useful.

I can’t say that this is a bad strategy. Partnering with other companies is a good way to get up to speed quickly. What makes me think that Google won’t recover from this is that I don’t think that they appreciate how committed Apple is to smartwatches. Google reminds me of Microsoft 20 years ago. Both companies were used to throwing their weight (and money) around. They didn’t always have to be on the cutting edge of innovation because they had such enormous resources to put to use. Microsoft didn’t come up with computer spreadsheets or internet browsers. They saw someone else have success with those and then bullied them out of the market. Everything was fine until Microsoft picked a fight with someone their own size. They missed the whole mobile market, which is right in character for them. The difference was this time, they couldn’t bully Apple and Google. It’s going to be very hard for Google to catch up to Apple in smartwatches. Apple has more money, more expertise in hardware, and is committed to the success of the Apple Watch. Google is trying to figure out how to compete in this segment. And this quote doesn’t bode well for them:

Fossil Group’s McKelvey agreed that health and fitness tracking are driving demand for smartwatches. He said that while the company will always be focused on fashion and design, it will be “leaning into” sport devices this year and next. He seemed undaunted by Apple’s dominance in smartwatches. “We’re a small company,” he said. “We only need 5 percent of this market and we’re still in the game.”

              That makes sense for Fossil. They are a relatively small company (at least relative to Apple). But that lack of grand ambition would be a disaster for Google (and parent company Alphabet).  

Sports: It’s no secret that football is a dangerous sport. Not anymore. However, most people believe that the danger stems from the actual playing of the sport, which is plenty dangerous. There is also a hidden danger: the team’s strength and conditioning programs. This would sound ridiculous if 28 college football players had not died in workouts since 2000 and the NCAA sounds like it might want to start doing something about this. From The Sporting News:

The NCAA’s board of governors has given initial approval to a measure aimed at preventing non-traumatic deaths in offseason workouts, Sporting News has learned. It is expected be enacted this spring following an amendment process.

The document outlines how schools should acclimate student-athletes into workouts following low-activity periods, which carry greater risk of injury or death because players have not yet adjusted to strenuous drills. It would also discourage the use of intensive workouts as a form of punishment, and establish how to properly diagnose and treat heatstroke.

Fourteen medical organizations, including the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and the Korey Stringer Institute — which strives to prevent sudden death among athletes at all levels — are reviewing the proposal and suggesting amendments. Brian Hainline, chief medical officer of the NCAA’s Sports Science Institute, said roughly half the organizations involved in the process have approved it, and the rest are expected to deliver formal reviews by Jan. 31. Hainline said he expects the document will be officially enacted and published by late spring.

“It’s a huge leap forward," Hainline told SN, "because frankly, and we state this in the document, the vast majority of these non-traumatic catastrophic deaths and injuries are preventable.”

It’s really sad that the NCAA has to intervene here. Football teams need to be told how to not kill their own kids during workouts. This isn’t hard, this is common sense.

(1) Don’t make work-outs into anything other than a work-out. Don’t make them into team-building exercises or manhood tests or a roster management tool. You work-out so you can get better at your position and your sport. That’s it. Strength & Conditioning coaches should design work-outs to make athletes better at their sport, not as a punishment.

(2) Accept that the athletes on a football team are very different from each other. Don’t expect 300 pound athletes to be able to do the same things as 180 pound athletes and vice versa.

(3) If someone is showing the signs of exhaustion or heat stroke, end their work-out immediately and have someone attend to them.

No one should ever die in a work-out. No one should ever be severely injured either. There has been a lot of discussion about how to make the sport of football safer. There needs to be more discussion on how to make preparing for the sport safer as well.

Cycling: Gizmodo reviewed the Peloton Tread this week. The Tread is Peloton’s expansion into treadmill classes following on its success with cycling. It carries a price tag that is double that of the bike and weighs over three times as much.

It took three Peloton delivery men to wrestle this thing into my moderately sized, only somewhat cluttered apartment in Brooklyn. They uttered phrases like, “This thing is like a tank,” and “Oh god my back.” Which makes sense because this thing has a footprint of 6 feet by 2.7 feet, and weighs a whopping 455 pounds. My janky floorboards bent a little under the weight. It dominates my living room. We had to move our TV distinctly off center to accommodate it. My tiny dog sometimes stares at the large contraption in senile bewilderment.

It’s also extremely loud. Of course, you’d never expect a treadmill to be quiet, but the Peloton Tread still isn’t the most subtle device. The ground shook when I ran, and things on my coffee table came precariously close to falling off. That makes sense—this thing goes up to a speedy 12.5 mph. But with its large size and hefty weight, it cements that the Tread isn’t suited to apartment living. I could hear when my roomie was going for a run, and I imagine my neighbors could too.

              Peloton’s marketing always presents its bikes as something to be displayed in the common areas of your house, not tucked away in the basement. This focus on the Peloton bike as a status symbol was recently roasted on Twitter. Peloton wants you to believe that its bike isn’t just a piece of fitness equipment, it’s a status symbol. It is a way to show people that not only are you the type of person who enjoys pushing themselves in high-end cycling classes, you are also way too busy to waste time angling for SoulCycle slots. Plus, you have the cash to shell out for a $2,000 bike. There is a reason that Peloton chooses to present its bike this way and that’s because it is an incredibly powerful marketing message. And it’s made possible by the design of the bike. It is a great-looking piece of equipment.

The Tread’s hulking appearance and bigger noise footprint will likely preclude it from being a tasteful addition to the living room. The thing is a “tank”. Who wants to put a tank on display in their house? So you’re paying twice as much but you have to stick it out in the garage? And how does Peloton rethink their marketing for the Tread? They can’t just replace the bike with the treadmill and reshoot the same ads. It could be a challenge to reach the same customers who bought the bike.  It sounds like Peloton built a great treadmill but it remains to be seen whether there is a market for it. Building a great product is no small feat but that is never a guarantee that it will sell. They are going to face some challenges regarding the pricing and the marketing. I am interested to see how they approach this.  

Gym Class Hero: Childhood obesity is on the rise, school funding is not, and physical education is often one of the first things on the chopping block. I instinctively considered that a bad thing. Our children needed more exercise, not less. Perhaps my instincts were wrong. From The Atlantic:

The paper posits that by subjecting participants—namely low-income kids, as the Fitness Now grants targeted campuses serving disadvantaged populations—to these circumstances on a daily basis, the P.E. requirement made students less inclined to go to school. “These adolescents were not enjoying the daily P.E. requirements and would’ve rather skipped school,” suggests Packham, who as an economist has focused her research on the outcomes of health programs. The Fitness Now program required that students participate in at least 30 minutes of physical education every school day. Schools that took part in the grant received $10,000 on average to help improve their P.E. programs by adding classes, for example, or hiring coaches and fitness instructors. They also used the money to purchase equipment such as stopwatches, jump ropes, and free weights.

According to the study, the program resulted in a roughly 16 percent increase in the number of disciplinary actions for each student. The study also found that the proportion of misbehaving students went up by more than 7 percent.

The findings of the study, which has yet to be published in an academic journal, are limited in scope. Still, the new paper adds much-needed nuance to the body of research that has evaluated the effectiveness of various approaches to P.E., complicating the findings of studies that generally assert the importance of school policies that encourage regular opportunities for physical activity.

It’s hard to argue that a given P.E. program is anything but well intended, particularly when considering that children spend most of their waking hours—and meals—at school, and that childhood obesity is a national crisis. But the kind of strategy taken by many of the Fitness Now schools may not be the most effective way to achieve the purported goals.

              The fact that most physical education classes are archaic is not a surprise but the fact that children hate it that much is. While the statistics are sobering, I also don’t believe that we should throw the baby out with bath water. This means that we need a better approach to integrating some physical activity into our children’s lives. It doesn’t mean that we should just give up on having any form of physical education in our schools. What might a better approach look like?

Justin Cahill, a veteran P.E. educator who’s taught at an Atlanta-area private school for the past decade or so, stresses that it’s the typical application of physical education rather than the fundamental concept that results in bad outcomes. Until the past few years, P.E. classes tended to focus on kids’ acquisition of skills, such as dribbling a ball, and the fulfillment of universal benchmarks, such as the ability to run around a track three times within some specific amount of time. This approach, he says, “breeds stagnation and disinterest—the kids are like, ‘Yeah, this is ridiculous.’” It can also, as Packham’s study suggests, breed resentment: After all, in this “old school” version of P.E., certain kids are bound to struggle.

Cahill maintains that many P.E. programs are high caliber, successful in both engaging students and producing positive health and wellness outcomes. Echoing the findings outlined in Kohl’s book, he says that positive results are contingent on a multifaceted and holistic design—what he defines as programs that inspire children to exercise without realizing they’re exercising, that simply ensure they’re constantly moving, during recess, frequent “brain breaks” to get out “the sillies,” morning jogs, and, yes, regular P.E. class. Positive results are also contingent on experienced, empathetic P.E. teachers—those who know to modify a curriculum to meet a certain student’s needs, and to give kudos to that child who can’t run around the track. After all, research shows that people can get a good workout even when walking, and the more important thing is to create a healthy relationship with exercise that can last for decades.

              The human body is made to move. We can’t expect children to sit all day. It’s unnatural. We need to figure out a way to incorporate physical activity into the school day in some form. I also believe that we need to teach our children how to incorporate fitness into their lives when they get older.

              Change is inevitable. Our economy has shifted from agriculture to manufacturing to information. That has led to an enormous change in our lifestyles as well. But no one every sits you down and explains that to you. That your dad worked in a factory all day so he didn’t need to go to the gym after work but you work in an office and you do. So most people don’t change their lifestyle. They live their lives the way that they saw their parents live their lives but the changing circumstances have wreaked havoc on their waistlines. Physical education is an opportunity to be that sit-down, a chance to explain what it will take to stay in shape as an adult in this country.  I hope that we don’t give up on it.

Tidbits:

-Sam Briggs and James Newbury won the Australian CrossFit Championship

-Superman had some strange fitness advice in the 1940s

-Equinox is spinning its popular treadmill class out into its own studio

-Aaptiv got in on the pop-up gym craze

-The Army Reserve may not be ready for the fitness test by 2020

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS LOWERING THE VOLUME

Green-washing: If you use cardio equipment of any kind, it has probably occurred to you that you’re generating power. Especially, if you use a machine that measures your watts. So it’s not surprising that we are seeing entrepreneurs who want to build gyms and equipment to take advantage of this. The problem is that the amount of energy that we generate during our workouts is miniscule. From Bloomberg:

There is a problem of scale, however. The treadmill’s maximum output is 200 watts an hour. The average American uses about 28,000 watt-hours a day. The maximum treadmill workout, generating 200 watts for an hour, would save 2.4 cents, assuming an electricity cost of $0.12 a kilowatt-hour, plus the power that would have been used by a motorized machine.

The company’s bikes and elliptical trainers can move up to 250 watts. On the treadmill, a 147-pound person running roughly 8-minute, 20-second miles would put out only 24 watts every 30 minutes, or enough for 4 hours of wifi. A 176-pound person lightly jogging for 20 minutes could power a 60-watt lightbulb long enough to light the room while they’re working out. 

Factoring in the electricity-use avoided, SportsArt’s “Eco-Powr” equipment with continual use could save almost $900 a year compared with other brands’ treadmills, according to Mejia. Units cost about $10,000 each, and are sold to gyms, assisted-living centers, universities and beyond. Consumer models are in the works.

              This is not worth it. The costs vastly exceed the benefits. This won’t save anyone any money or solve our energy problems. The other possible angle is motivation. Will people be more motivated to use this equipment if they think it’s environmentally conscious?

Paul Crane owns Eco-Gym, a “sustainable gym” in Brighton, England, that uses SportsArt equipment. In the past, the facility reduced fees based in part on how much power members generate while working out. He said members “definitely feel motivated and committed to improving their own health and that of the planet.” Other clients include boutique gyms that can charge more for amenities like power-generating equipment, where it’s not about saving energy and more about making a statement.

Getting to the gym is difficult enough for busy, working people. Being able to measure one’s own power output may be the added mental incentive, or trigger, people need to get moving, even if it’s “just giving people a sense that they are burning energy and seeing some results,” said Dan Ariely, a psychology and behavioral economics professor at Duke University and an author.

              I doubt it. You can already measure your power output on some pieces of equipment. How often do you hear someone bragging about their watts from their last air bike workout? I think that it’s more demotivating than anything else. Working your ass off to power a couple of light bulbs is not the stuff of dreams.

Buy a watch: I’m not usually the biggest fan of the “workout tips from celebrity trainers” genre but this one caught my eye. The reason that I’m not usually a fan is that they’re usually fluff. Not this time. From Insider:

Ryan told INSIDER that people should leave their phone in the locker room if they want to make their workouts more efficient. Otherwise, they end up mindlessly scrolling through social media, making their rest periods much longer than they should be.

The only time exception to the rule is if your phone is the only way you can track and measure your rest periods, which he says is essential — but there are watches or clocks you can use for this.

"It's very easy to get distracted in the gym and let your minute-long rest turn into three or four minutes which in turn is going to make the intensity of your workout go way down," he said.

"By systematically measuring and tracking your rest time, that creates a much cleaner programme. Knowing that, say, between every set you've had a minute and a half rest, it's really pleasing to the brain."

The brothers believe being regimented about your rest time can "improve your workout exponentially.”

Taking some rest time between sets in the gym is recommended by fitness experts, but how long yours last depends on your goal.

"If you're after maximal strength, longer rest intervals will allow you to optimally achieve higher intensities (the amount lifted)," the brothers explained. "With large muscle compound movements that generate high levels of metabolic disturbance like squats, deadlifts, presses, and rows, the optimal strategy will be to take two to five minutes between sets."

This ensures the muscles have adequate time to regenerate energy before the next set — ideally, you should perform these moves at the beginning of your training session.

"If you are looking to create metabolic stress in order to prioritize fat loss or hypertrophy [the growth of muscles], the strategy should call for shorter rest periods," the brothers explained. "Isolation types of exercises, like biceps curls, tricep extensions, and leg extensions, are not as metabolically taxing and require less recovery time.

"Therefore, to heighten metabolic stress and cellular swelling (the infamous 'pump' where the muscle becomes engorged with blood), it is best to keep rest periods between 15 to 60 seconds."

              You have 3 main variables to play with when you’re strength training: resistance, volume, and recovery. Most people understand the first 2 and never think about the last one. Ask someone about their workout and you’ll usually get the number of sets, the number of repetitions, and the weight: “For squats, I did 3 sets of 5 at 315”. The recovery period is just as important (was it 1 minute or 5 minutes?) but you don’t see many people measuring that. And it can completely change what kind of workout you’re doing. Your recovery period shouldn’t be determined by what’s trending on Twitter. This is the biggest mistake that I see almost everyone at the gym make.

Pump down the jams: Music has always gone hand in hand with fitness but the rising popularity of boutiques has raised the importance of music in the industry. The right playlist is now seen as one of the most significant components of an effective fitness class. Unfortunately, this has led boutique operators to believe that they have to blast that music at decibel levels that can damage people’s hearing. There is a better way. From Men’s Health:

Does volume come into play?

The focus of our playlist is to push people to their limit using the motivational power of music. The perceived emotion of a song and therefore the motivational effect is stronger, if we listen to it at a higher volume. A study by Edworthy and Waring showed a performance increase through louder music in a 5 to 10 minute workouts. However we have not heard of studies examining volume as a boosting parameter over a full workout session at this point.

Volume should be used carefully during workouts though, since it has been shown that our ear is even more sensitive to loud sounds when combined with exercise. We do believe that raising the volume a bit during your last set is a good way of benefitting from the loudness boost effect.

Any boutique that thinks that they have to play music loud enough to damage people’s hearing should read this. Loud music isn’t atmosphere, it’s just loud music. And the thing about loud noise it is that if everything is loud, then it loses its effect. You can get used to anything, I learned this in boot camp. Within a couple of day, I got used to having someone scream in my face, it lost the effect of stressing me out. It became normal. People get used to deafingly loud music as well. It loses its effect and then you have to make it even louder in order to try to get the effect that you’re looking for. That’s how we got to this point. The way to avoid it is by altering the volume levels. Keep the volume at a reasonable level for most of the class and then crank it up for the tough part. Or have the volume slowly rise during the class as everyone is working harder and harder. You’ll get a better effect and you won’t be destroying your members’ hearing in the process.

Training: The same thing is true for training intensity. It’s easy to fall in love with high-intensity work and think that if a little is good, then more must be better but that’s not always true. From Well + Good:

While walking on the treadmill for 45 minutes or pedaling away on a recumbent bike may not feel like the most exciting (or admittedly, most efficient) ways to exercise, they’re still critically important for rounding out your routine. (And a part of this year’s trend toward cortisol-conscious workouts.) “It’s just as important to have steady-pace runs and low-impact workouts as it is to have those higher-threshold workouts. And being able to balance the two not only makes you more versatile, but it really kind of lays the foundation,” says Aaptiv trainer Meghan Takacs. “It’s almost like you don’t want to go into a sprint workout without having an endurance pace, and that low-intensity training is really the foundation for any other workout you might do.”

She suggests introducing slower-paced, lower-impact cardio sessions into your routine twice (maybe even three times) a week in order to change things up for your body and ultimately make your harder-core workouts more effective. “Low-intensity stuff breaks up the training at a certain threshold that brings your body back down to a normal level of operation, so that when you go to do the high-intensity you’re not burned out,” says Takacs.

Your body isn’t made to go balls out all the time. When you try to do that, you end up compromising the high-intensity work. Everything becomes medium-intensity. And you want to build up an aerobic base. Everyone’s been in love with anaerobic workouts lately but you’ll never get really good at the anaerobic stuff without an aerobic base.  

Technology:

The Consumer Electronics Show took place earlier this month and there was a slew of new fitness products introduced. At least one of them seemed intriguing. From Popular Science:

Jaxjox KettlebellConnect

This adjustable kettlebell has weight options from 12 to 42 pounds, which is handy in and of itself since it’ll spare you from keeping a whole rack of bells in your home. Beyond the space saving, however, the kettlebell itself has sensors inside to help track the content, intensity, and duration of your workout.

The hardware is part of a $30 monthly subscription program that provides live workouts via the web kind of like what Peloton does for stationary bike training.

Personally, I think the kettlebell is one of the best training tools you can have in your house. At $350, you’re paying a hefty premium for the connectivity in the hardware, but it may be worth it if the tracking helps keep it from taking residence as a doorstop in your house once you’re bored of the regular workouts

I’m a low-tech fitness guy but even I was intrigued by this smart kettlebell. They had me at “kettlebell that can change its own weight” and then lost me at “only goes up to 42 pounds”. If you’re going to make this product, make it go up to more than 42 pounds! And does everything have to come with a subscription service? I realize that everyone wants to be Peloton for XXXX but Peloton for Kettlebells is not the best idea. Especially at $30/month. It’s stuff like this that hardens my low-tech fitness mindset. This is an interesting idea that ends up being a bunch of bells and whistles and paying too much money for something that only goes to 42 pounds. You’re better off just buying old school kettlebells.  

CrossFit: The 2019 CrossFit season is in full swing already. It’s the first season under the new qualifying system and the initial griping about enacting such a large scale change has died down. Now we’re into the legitimate complaints: isn’t there a conflict of interest in having event programmers double as coaches to athletes competing in the same event? From Boxrox:

3 days ago CrossFit® legend and former Games winner Ben Smith posted an interesting perspective on the programming at the Sectionals Events. We posted his thoughts on BOXROX, but there have been further advances as the debate continues. Here are Ben’s words:

“To all these “Sanctional” event coordinators that are qualifying athletes for the CF Games: This seems like common sense?

… Don’t have people programming the events for the competition. ALSO be the coaches of athletes competing in these events.  What am I missing?

I’m all for this format/changes and think it should work just fine, possibly even better than the last format. But these comps have a responsibility to be un-biased. I love that the events are varied in structure And programming but I see this programming bias potential as an issue that needs to be resolved and should just be common sense. Thoughts? Am I missing something?

(Ps. Don’t say that programming doesn’t matter. It does. And That’s not the point, I’m thinking bigger picture for the “sport” as a whole and just want to start a discussion. Thx.)”

When the new qualifying system was announced, I assumed that Dave Castro was going to have a lot of input into the programming for all these events. This way, there would be some consistency, some common themes of what was being tested that ran through all these different events. Plus, it would keep it fair. The athletes are right to be concerned, there is a conflict of interest here and that programming matters. Every athlete has strengths and weaknesses (except Mat Fraser) and competitions could be designed to take advantage of an athlete’s strengths and minimize their weaknesses. It’s Year 1 and perhaps this is something that was overlooked by CrossFit Inc. But this is an issue that needs to be addressed. Hopefully, the fact that a former Games winner is bringing it up will lead to some action. The solution here is simple too. Dave Castro needs to be involved. That doesn’t mean that he needs to program all these events himself, just that he should have some sort of role in overseeing it all.

Tidbits:

-Working out at the airport

-Being a bicycle messenger is a great way to burn some calories

-A workout a day could keep dementia away

-It’s not about what how you look, it’s about what your body can do

-Patrick Vellner and Tia Clair Toomey win Wodapalooza

-Tennessee has begun to collect a “fitness tax” on studios

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS KEEPING IT OLD SCHOOL

Cycling:Last week, I wrote about Flywheel failed attempt to sell itself. I speculated about whether that indicated an industry trend or just a Flywheel issue. It might be a little bit of both. From Vox:

At the end of December, users of the popular cycling class Flywheel received an email in their inboxes with the ominous subject line, “An Announcement From Our Co-Founder.”

In the vague note, CEO Ruth Zukerman wrote that she will be stepping down from the company, citing a move to undisclosed future endeavors after nearly a decade of cultivating Flywheel into the boutique fitness behemoth it is today. 

“As an entrepreneur and creative individual with a thirst for growth, my reflection this year led me to realize — with a heavy but excited heart — that it’s time for my next adventure,” she wrote. “I know I am leaving you in the best hands with the most talented instructors who have all been trained and nurtured under my method both technically and philosophically.”

Internally, the shift had been a long time coming. In recent months, Zukerman — who also co-founded SoulCycle and played a significant role in the rise of the modern cycling movement — had reportedly been relatively hands-off while promoting her new book, Riding High: How I Kissed SoulCycle Goodbye, Co-Founded Flywheel, and Built the Life I Always Wanted. In her book, Zukerman is vocal about her strengths in the idea conceptualization part of entrepreneurship, but less so in the nuances of running a company from the business side.

                   Ruth Zukerman wanting to cash out could explain it but it doesn’t sound like that’s the whole story.

So I was surprised when in the fall of 2018 I noticed Flywheel was suddenly heavily discounted on ClassPass, which operates on a monthly flat-rate membership model where users sign up for classes using “credits.” Even at peak times (typically mornings and evenings outside of work hours), classes in New York were allocated at half their usual credits, along with a note: “Take advantage of our special half-off Flywheel pricing — only for a limited time!” 

I would have brushed it off as a promotional anomaly had it not remained this way off and on for several months across all 19 of Flywheel’s operating cities. Unlike newer studios that offer discounts in exchange for exposure, Flywheel is one of the top cycling studios in the country, with the added benefit of lack of competition from SoulCycle and Peloton, which are not on ClassPass. (ClassPass did not respond to several requests regarding the process for discounted classes.) 

Meanwhile, events behind the scenes leading up to Zukerman’s departure paint a more telling picture. In mid-2018, Flywheel quietly let go of several employees on its executive team in a move Flywheel CMO Andy Wong wrote in an email to Vox was a result of restructuring. 

“In order to create one unified, efficient team that supports both our studio and on-demand business, we’ve had to make some very difficult decisions to streamline roles,” he wrote. “This impacted fewer than 20 employees. By focusing our efforts in the most crucial areas and eliminating redundancy, we’ll deliver on our growth goals and better serve our consumers.”

            This sounds like a company that is struggling to maintain its price point. The article lays out how competitive the cycling studio landscape has become. There are a lot of studios offering high-end cycling classes and one of the first effects of fierce competition is price reduction. Selling individual classes for $34 makes for great margins but as Jeff Bezos once said “Other companies’ margins are my opportunity”. It’s always easier for a new company to build itself a certain way than it is for an established company to change. It sounds like Flywheel is struggling to change its structure in order to survive in a market in which $20 classes are becoming the norm. 

 

Old School: Personally, I don’t like a whole lot of frills with my fitness. As long as everything is clean and functional, I prefer keeping things basic. I thought that was just my thing but it appears that this might be universal. Men’s Healthconducted a double-blind study on whether people experienced better results exercising in a modern facility with a great view or an unadorned basement. The results are surprising.

When the groups were revealed, it became clear that the group exercising in the old room in the basement reported greater improvement when asked: Compared to when entering the study, how are your knee/hip pain problems now? This was contrary to what we expected. 

We interviewed some of the participants and showed them photos of the two rooms to spark a discussion about their impressions. The people exercising in the old room didn’t perceive the aged appearance negatively. They felt at home in the environment and expressed nostalgia because it reminded them of their old school gym. They also felt a stronger sense of fellowship—they were in it together and worked as a team to achieve their goals.

In the new room, the large windows were distractions and participants said that they did not feel part of a team. The large wall mirrors in the new room weren’t appreciated, either. The participants said that they didn’t like the look of their untrained legs and their often overweight bodies.

            This is definitely counter-intuitive. I assumed that I was an outlier. You would think that people would prefer the nicer facility but it appears that this might be one of those areas in which fitness is different. This would also fly in the face of the success of luxury gyms like Equinox. I wonder if there is something to the team aspect of it. Working out in an old school facility was conducive to bonding. I also think that Equinox has benefited when mid-market gyms fail to maintain a certain level of cleanliness. 

 

Motivation: There was an article this week in NPRon how one of its editors made the transition from mostly sedentary to very active. The author used measurements called METs (metabolic equivalents) to track her exercise. What is a MET?

"Just sitting, doing nothing, is a MET value of 1 — you're working at your resting metabolic rate," explains Loretta DiPietro, an exercise research scientist at George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health. "An activity that, say, is 2 METs makes you work at twice your resting metabolic rate. So getting up and walking across the room is about 2 METS."

DiPietro says the Compendium lists the MET values for all kinds of activities — everything from mopping (that's about 3.5 METS) to line dancing. (That can be almost 8 METS!)

But to count as moderately intense exercise, the magic number you want to hit is between 3 and 6 METS. (Alas, even the most vigorous sexual activity falls just short of that, according to the Compendium — though DiPietro suggests with a laugh that more research may be needed.)

 

                  Using METs to measure her activity level got her to be more active and as she got more active, she craved more.

Knowing this really changed the way I think about exercise. Instead of seeing exercise as all or nothing, I started to think about it like climbing a ladder. It's OK to start at the bottom rung and work your way up. So I started with small bursts of movement throughout my day. Instead of sending an email to a co-worker, I'd walk over and talk to them. I'd skip the elevator and take the stairs. I'd do squats at my desk and take short walks around the office whenever I could fit it in. I'd do one-on-one meetings with co-workers while walking and talking.

The more I did, the stronger I felt — and the more I wanted to do. I started using the elliptical that was gathering dust in my basement. I made a rule: I'm only allowed to watch Netflix while working out or moving in some other way (like washing dishes or folding laundry).

Then a curious thing happened: The more I exercised, the more my body craved it. These days, I even take spin class and do high-intensity interval training.

And while I did lose weight during this process (which was pretty nice — I am now at a healthy weight), that's not what's kept me going.

For me, exercise has become a bodily need. I just don't feel right without it. And while I used to think I didn't have time to work out, nowadays I don't see how I could get through my busy days without the energy I get from exercise. (And my insomnia is pretty much gone.) 

 

            This is exactly how most people should approach it. So many people try to “flip the switch” but that usually ends up leaving them really sore which makes them think that’s what it always feels like. This is a realistic approach to changing behavior and lifestyle. It’s long term thinking not short term thinking. The last paragraph is key. You want to get to the point where your body craves exercise. Your body wants to move, you just have to learn how to listen to it. And once you get to that point, you will make fitness a priority in your life. 

More Motivation: Sometimes, the answers to our problems are hiding in plain sight. We just have to be ready to see them. CityLabpublished an article about New Year’s resolutions and when and how they fail. See if you can pick out the solution to keeping your resolution.

Similarly, analysts at Foursquare identify a “Fall Off the Wagon Day” each year among gym-goers by comparing gym and fast food activity. By Foursquare’s definition, that day is when an uptick in weekly visits to fast food restaurants meets a drop in weekly visits to the gym. In 2017, that fell on the second Thursday of February, and last year, people were itching for that fast-food fix by the second Friday of that month. Between January 1 and this day in 2018, visits to fast food joints were down 4.6 percent, according to Foursquare’s analysis, while gym attendance grew by 6 percent. Based on the trend, analyst expects this year’s “Fall Off the Wagon Day” to fall on February 9, the second Saturday of the month and just 40 days into the new year.

Of course, that’s not everyone’s story. According to Strava’s 2018 Year in Sport report, there are ways to stay on course: 94 percent of users who set goals remain active nine months later, for example. As humans are social creatures, Strava’s data show that when we exercise in groups, we tend to run or bike 21 percent farther and work out 10 percent longer. But if neither running nor biking is your thing, there’s still good news. Strava’s year-end analysis finds that users are three times more likely to get more activity if they incorporate indoor activities like yoga.

                  94%!!! That’s amazing. Why does the author gloss over this? That is the answer. Setting measurable goals will keep you going. That should be the whole article. They bury the answer at the end of the article and don’t expand on it at all. People are asking the question and they have the answer. They just don’t realize it.

New Year, same problems: Whenever the calendar turns to January, I expect to see a flurry of articles offering advice to people whose New Year’s resolution is to exercise more. There is a category of those articles that recommends that people not join a gym for…reasons. I stumbled upon one and it was something. From The Hustle:

If the average gym-goer were to use a gym 7 times a week, every week, without fail, $696 per year would work out to a measly ~$1.90 per visit. Even at 4 times per week, you’d be looking at $3.36 per visit.

But here’s the thing: We don’t even come close to 7 gym visits per week. Or 4. Or even 3. What makes a gym membership a poor investment is your lack of commitment.

A study run by a pair of UC Berkeley economists found that while members anticipatevisiting a gym 9.5 times per month, they only end up going 4.17 times per month. That works out to 50 visits per year.

Assuming an average session length of 1 hour, the typical gym member is suddenly paying $14.50 per workout. This stacks up pretty poorly with other things we pay a monthly fee for:

 

                  I appreciate that they took the time to do the math but so what? It’s not surprising that not using a service you’re paying for doesn’t look in a chart. Why focus on this? Shouldn’t the goal be to be the person who actually uses their gym membership? I realize that it’s not easy but if it was easy, then everyone would already be doing it. 

It seems counter-intuitive, but big-name gyms don’t want us to work out.

“If gyms operate at more than 5% of their membership at any given time, no one can use the gym,” explains one branding consultant. “They want [people] to sign up, but they know that after the 15th of January they won’t see 95% of them again.”

The nation’s largest gym chains often sign up 20x the number of people who can actually fit in a given location. They are well aware that most won’t show up.

As Planet Money reported, one Planet Fitness branch in NYC had a max capacity of about 300, but boasted more than 6k members. Similarly, Gold’s Gym and Life Time Fitness often ink 5k-10k memberships per location despite having only being able to house 300-500 people at a time.

In essence, the people who don’t show up “subsidize” membership costs for those who actually do go, allowing gyms to keep their prices down.

 

                  It’s a good thing that gyms are open for more than 1 hour a day then. This is so stupid. It’s true that gyms don’t expect every one of its members to show up at the same time. That would be a problem. Fortunately, people like to work out at different times so it’s not so much of an issue. As for the subsidizing, that is true but isn’t that a good thing. Company finds way to lower prices. Consumers generally like that. The author goes on to recommend that you build a home gym but fails to make a convincing case for why that would be better than a gym membership other than saving a little money.

Still, it’s hard to justify the cost when the odds of regular attendance are stacked so unfavorably against you.

One alternative is to simply build your own home gym.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (or 75 minutes of “vigorous” aerobic activity), in addition to at least 2 sessions of major muscle group strength training, per week. This is easily achievable without a gym membership.

While the equipment you choose to buy depends on a number of factors, including what types of exercises you want to do, and the space you’re working with, it’s possible to build a relatively space-efficient, full-body setup for the same cost as one year at a gym.

 

                  If you don’t use your home gym, that would be a waste of money as well. You need to figure out what works for you. A home gym can be great because you can save the time that you would send driving to and from the gym. But it’s not for everyone. If you use your gym membership, it can be the best money you every spend. The same is true for home exercise equipment. Saving money is important but the most important thing is finding what works for you. And gyms don’t like members who never show up because they will cancel their membership at some point and then they have to acquire a new member to replace that revenue. Acquiring a new consumer is always more expensive than retaining a current one.

Sports: It seems like football generates an endless stream of controversies these days. One of the most serious ones is college football players contracting serious injuries during team workouts. There have even been some deaths recently. One pattern that I have noticed is that there appears to be one position that suffers a preponderance of these injuries. From ESPN:

An $11.5 million lawsuit against the NCAA, the University of Oregon and former Ducks football coach Willie Taggart was filed Wednesday on behalf of former Oregon offensive lineman Doug Brenner, seeking compensation for "serious, lifelong injuries sustained during a series of highly controversial workouts imposed on Duck players in January, 2017," Brenner's attorney told ESPN.

Taggart's strength and conditioning coach, Irele Oderinde, was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit submitted by the firm of Kafoury & McDougal and attorney Travis Eiva.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed in circuit court in the state of Oregon, "the coaches imposed a physically impossible exercise regimen of squats and told the student athletes that the workout 'would demonstrate who wanted to be on the team.'"

"The drills were done in unison, and whenever a player faltered, vomited, or fainted, his teammates were immediately punished with additional repetitions," Mark McDougal, a member of Brenner's legal team, said in a statement. "A key goal of this lawsuit is to force the NCAA to ban these kinds of punishing, abusive workouts. These workouts are contrary to NCAA guidelines for protecting players from injury and death. Guidelines, however, are only suggestions. The NCAA needs to enact and enforce binding regulations that outlaw these practices."

                  Offensive lineman at the Division I level often weight in excess of 300 pounds. Why would you expect a 6’5, 300 pound offensive lineman to be able to perform conditioning exercises with a 5’10, 180 pound cornerback? That seems like common sense but we’re constantly seeing these stories. A football team has to incorporate a bunch of athletes who have completely different bodies and abilities. There is no good reason to train them all together. The only other sport that has such vastly different athletes on the same team is Track & Field and the throwers and the sprinters never train together because it wouldn’t make any sense. The strength & conditioning coaches at these schools need to get smarter and stop harming these athletes. These incidents are easily preventable. The coaches just need to use some common sense. 

Tidbits:

-HIIT explained

-Under Armour is partneringwith Samsung in connected fitness

-A brief historyof the keto diet

-Get a mouthguard!

-3 more events have beenadded to the 2020 CrossFit season

-The Marines are consideringreplacing crunches with planks on its physical fitness test

-Part 2 of CityLab’s study on the geographyof fitness

 

THE WEEKLY HOWL DOESN'T THINK YOGA IS A SPORT

Rules: CrossFit Inc. finally released the rulebook for the 2019 CrossFit Games, which has clarified the new qualifying process. Also, transgender athletes can compete as long as they have complied with all the applicable legal and biological requirements. The basic structure of how to qualify has already been announced. What was lacking was the details. From Morning Chalk-Up:

If I’m already invited or qualified, either through a Sanctional, or the Open, can I take another qualification spot or invite?

Well it depends. Both on how you qualified or received an invite and which subsequent competition you’re involved in so here’s how it breaks down (3.01, 4.02, 4.03, 4.04):

Scenario 1: An athlete qualifies for the Games as national champion in the Open AND places top 20 worldwide in the Open.

  • That athlete would qualify for the Games as a national champion and their top 20 spot would be backfilled to the next athlete in line.

  • Example: If Rory Mckernan finishes in the top 20 worldwide for men, and is the national champion for the United States, then he qualifies as the United States national champion and his spot from the top 20 worldwide leaderboard goes to the 21st place finisher worldwide in the Open.

Scenario 2: An athlete qualifies for the Games as national champion in the Open AND wins one or more sanctioned events.

  • That athlete would qualify for the Games as a national champion and their sanctioned event invite would pass to the 2nd place athlete in the most recent sanctioned event he or she won.

  • Example: If Samantha Briggs, who has earned an invite from the Dubai CrossFit Championship, is National Champion for England/U.K, then her invite from Dubai will be extended to 2nd place Jamie Greene. If she were to win another sanctioned event, her invitation would pass to the 2nd place athlete of that event, not Jamie Greene.

Scenario 3: An athlete wins one or more sanctioned events AND finishes top 20 worldwide in the Open.

  • That athlete would qualify with a top 20 spot worldwide in the Open and their sanctioned event invite would pass to the 2nd place athlete in any sanctioned event he or she won.

  • Example: If Mat Fraser finishes top 20 worldwide in the Open, his invite from Dubai will be awarded to 2nd place Dubai finisher Bjorgvin Karl Gudmundsson. If he were to win another sanctioned event, his invitation would also pass to the 2nd place athlete of that event.

Scenario 4: An athlete wins multiple sanctioned events.

  • If an athlete has already received an invite from a sanctioned event, and then wins another one, the invite from the latter of the 2 events chronologically will be extended to the next athlete in line on the leaderboard that. Any further invites earned will also be passed down.

  • Example: If Mat Fraser, who has an invite from Dubai, skips the Open or doesn’t qualify via the Open, and then wins the Rogue Invitational, his invite from the Rogue Invitational, since it happened after Dubai, will be awarded to the 2nd place finisher, and if the 2nd place finisher (let’s call him Patricio Vellnino) has already been invited or qualified, then the 3rd place finisher will receive the invite, and so on, and so forth.

Scenario 5: An athlete qualifies by placing in the top 20 worldwide in the Open, and either declines, OR will compete on a team that has been invited to the Games.

  • That athlete’s top 20 qualifying spot from the Open will be passed down to the next athlete in line on the worldwide leaderboard.

Scenario 6: An athlete qualifies as national champion but declines, OR does not complete all the Open workouts as prescribed.

  • That athlete will not compete at the CrossFit Games, and their spot WILL NOT be backfilled or passed down to the next athlete in line on their country leaderboard.

I’m sure that this won’t seem as complicated once we’re into it but it is a lot to take in. I’m interested to see the learning curve here as athletes learn how to game the system. So the top 20 from the Open will qualify and then the 15 sanctional winners plus all the national champions. I’m trying to think of who could get screwed by this. The Open has traditionally been more of a cardio test with lighter loads in order to encourage mass participation. Assuming that doesn’t change dramatically, that could put some of the heavier, stronger athletes at a disadvantage a they could struggle to qualify from the Open. Especially if they’re citizens of a highly competitive nation.   

Fitness Inequality: CityLab ran an analysis on the density of sport and fitness centers around the country. Their findings are not surprising but still worthy of reviewing.

Availability of fitness centers is also a product of denser metros, where fewer people depend on the car. Our measure of fitness-center employees is positively associated with the metro density (.29) and even more strongly associated with the share of commuters who bike to work (.42), but negatively associated with those who drive to work alone (-.35)—a key indicator of sprawl. While this suggests a connection between fitness and walking, it also reflects the fact that denser metros—where more people walk to work—are more affluent and educated. That said, there is no association between our measure of fitness-center employees and the size of metros (measured by population). It appears that fitness centers are more a characteristic of the density, knowledge intensity, and especially the educational level of metros, rather than their size alone. Not surprisingly, given these findings, fitness-center availability is also a characteristic of more expensive cities, with a positive correlation (.37) to median housing costs.

              Fitness inequality is a very real problem in this country. It’s why you can see articles about the boom in expensive fitness boutiques alongside articles about rising obesity rates. Inequality, whether income or fitness or something else, is not a prescription for a healthy, cohesive society.

Motivation: This time of year, there is never a shortage of articles about how to achieve your New Year’s fitness resolutions. Some are good, some are bad, and many fall somewhere in between. I have 2 that I want to write about. From Insider, Jim Edwards brings us 3 things that your personal trainer doesn’t want you to know. Let’s dive in:

1.       Go to the nearest gym to you, not the nicest gym you can afford.

You will be tempted to join the fanciest gym you can afford — like that nice one you saw with the hot tub and the sauna. But your ability to continue showing up will depend on your work schedule and your personal life, not whether the steam smells minty fresh. If the gym commute is more than 10 minutes, it suddenly becomes difficult to squeeze in a workout before or after work. Ideally, you want to work out for about an hour each day. Once you factor in showering and changing, and the commute to and from your gym, that can easily end up closer to two and a half hours.

              This is absolutely true but I question whether this is something that the fitness industry doesn’t want people to know. Location/convenience are crucial in determining whether someone consistently goes to the gym. It should be the #1 consideration in selecting a gym.

2. Do the exercises you enjoy doing, and don't bother with those you hate.

Everyone knows that full-body fitness is all about changing things up. Muscle confusion! And not getting stuck in a rut! That is true.

It's good advice if you want to end up looking like Cristiano Ronaldo. But if you're a normal person, take it from me: You want the gym to be enjoyable. You do not want it to be a chore. So do the things you enjoy doing.

Remember, you're in this for the long haul, and it's not going to work if you hate it.

I like weights, running, and swimming. I almost never use an elliptical machine or one of those yoga balls. Many, many personal trainers have recommended stomach crunches to me, even though stomach crunches are one of the most useless forms of exercise. (The flatness of your stomach is almost entirely dependent on your diet and the overall amount of exercise you do, not whether you use the itty-bitty muscles just under your ribs.)

They're also really boring.

So I never do crunches.

              This is a weird one. I disagree with the basic premise but he likes “weights, running, and swimming” and can’t stand elliptical machines or doing crunches. This guy likes the most effective stuff and dislikes some of the least effective stuff. For him, this makes sense but I wouldn’t give it to most people.

3. Go to the gym even when you feel tired and don't want to.

The No.1 cause of not going to the gym is deciding to not go to the gym.

There will be many, many days when you feel too tired, or it's too late, or you have a cold coming on, and the idea of putting your feet on the coffee table seems much more appealing. But you can't do that.

Show up at the gym anyway.

Whether you like it or not. Working out when you're tired suuuuuuuuuucks. We all have days when you can get through only about 80% of your "normal" workout — but it's better than no workout.

Even half your normal workout will help you maintain your top fitness level. Not going at all, by contrast, will set you back.

Life is going to get in your way. Your boss will make you work late. You will get invitations to dinner. There will be plenty of days when you cannot go to the gym. But on the days you can, you have to go even when you don't want to.

              Suck it up and go the gym even when you don’t feel like it is always good advice. There’s always a reason to not workout. You have to learn to stop listening to that voice in your head. Gunnar Petersen, of celebrity training fame, also put out some fitness tips via the L.A. Times. Let’s talk about #1 and #5:

1. The flat-tire analogy

Everybody is aware of the pitfalls of overindulging. I’m not going to be the guy who says, “Don’t go to any parties, go to bed.” That’s not reasonable. People want to indulge and they should. Just don’t let all the wheels come off. Don’t miss your training, eat badly, get drunk and not sleep. If you lose one wheel, you can still limp along. All four wheels come off? You’re done.

               I would expand this to include the feeling of all 4 wheels coming off. You missed a couple of workouts and strayed from your nutrition plan a couple of times. The wheels haven’t come off, it just feels that way. Get back into it.

5. Fitness is free

People can’t claim not to know what to do. There are 50 million articles on fitness. I’m not going to say it’s easy to be in shape because it requires effort. But it’s easy to know what you have to do. You don’t have to go beyond the pay walls. Instagram is free and full of fitness professionals. Find something you like. If you are de-conditioned and haven’t worked out in a year and you see a guy pushing a sled 50 yards and then dropping down into a burpee and doing jumping jacks, that’s too much. So dial it back until you can say, “I like this person’s approach. I like how they speak. I can process it.”

              I love hearing this from a guy who probably charges a small fortune to train people. There’s nothing wrong with that but you don’t need Gunnar Petersen to get results. He’s a luxury. All you really need is get out there and do something. And if you have an internet connection, there is a world of free information out there.

Just Yoga It: Nike is releasing apparel designed specifically for yoga this month. What’s interesting is that (1) Nike has waited this long to sell yoga apparel (I didn’t realize that) and (2) they want you to know that they’re not into all that “Oom” crap. From Bloomberg:

Nike had previously shied away from directly battling Lululemon Athletica Inc. on its own turf -- the yoga mat. This push now pits Nike and Lululemon firmly against each other, though Nike’s not going full spiritualism and granola. Rather than leaning into yoga as a primary form of exercise, it’s touting the practice as a component of a wider workout regimen so gym rats can become more flexible, reduce recovery time and transfer movement patterns to the field.

As a result, the faces of Nike yoga aren’t typical yoga influencers. Instead, yoga is being billed as a “secret workout weapon” to prepare athletes such as NFL linebacker Khalil Mack for when he’s slamming into opposing quarterbacks on the gridiron, WNBA player Alana Beard as she’s knocking down jump-shots and sprinter Christian Coleman while he’s jetting down the track. The company will also release in January new yoga workouts on its app.

              A couple of things about Nike. First, they are methodical about expansion. Their strategy is that they get into one new sport at a time. Second, Nike thinks of itself as a sports company. So it’s interesting that they want to make it clear that they don’t consider yoga a sport (even though it is). Yoga apparel seems like a no-brainer for Nike but it may have been hamstrung by this strategy. But if you classify yoga as a subset of Nike Training then you can circumvent the one-sport-at-a-time thing. Also, Nike prides itself on designing its products for elite athletes and then using sports marketing to sell those products. A lack of well-known yoga athletes would have made that very difficult. Re-framing yoga as a way for elite athletes in other sports to improve their performance allows them to utilize their standard marketing techniques.

Stick to the basics: Nate Dern from Outside decided to go to 6 of the most unusual fitness classes in New York City and write about this experiences. I found this interesting because it tells us a lot of how to design and market fitness. His first stop: nude yoga at Naked in Motion.

In 2016, Willow Merveille founded Naked in Motion to create a safe, inclusive space that would “offer a tool for developing a kinder relationship with the mind and body.” I was skeptical. Ten of the eleven students were men. Was this a way to get more comfortable with your body, or yet another opportunity for those already comfortable with their body—mostly dudes—to flaunt it? By the end of class, I was surprised to find that I was OK with getting flexible in my birthday suit, surrounded by a classroom full of strangers. Give this a shot at least once—you’ll be a hero at parties

              It sounds like he left skeptical as well. His tepidly endorses it purely for the novelty of it. This is a gimmick. Next stop: Pilates at SLT.

SLT stands for strengthen, lengthen, and tone. The class comprises eternal planks, deep-as-you-can-go lunges, and pulsing squats, all in an intense 50-minute session. The pace of the reps is measured, but the transitions between exercises are fast, which had me looking around the room to see what contortion I was supposed to be doing. Color-coded numbers gave me Twister flashbacks. It’s a great workout, but be careful not to sprain your ego when your body starts shaking during a move called the Mermaid.

              This sounds like a tough workout but Dern does not sound enthused about it. I suspect that he is a Pilates neophyte and this class was designed for experienced practitioners who want to take it to the next level. After that it was on to cold temperature training at Brrrn.

This was the most genuinely enjoyable workout experience of the bunch. Brrrn describes itself as “the world’s first cool-temperature fitness concept.” In other words, they crank the A/C. I took a slide-board class and not only learned what slide boarding is (repeated lateral movement on a piece of slippery rubber while wearing booties), but also discovered that 55 degrees is my optimal workout temperature. I wore a tank top and for once didn’t end the class by trying to mop up an embarrassingly large puddle of sweat.

              Dern sums up the real benefit of Brrrn: you won’t sweat as much. The reason that no one else has done this yet is probably because most people associate sweat with effort. That’s why we got hot yoga before Brrrn. When I’m dressing for a run, I use the rule of thumb that once I’m warmed up I will feel about 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. 55 degrees is probably most people’s optimal workout temperature because it feels like 75 degrees. Calisthenics at ConBody was next.

The hardest class I took. The sign by the door said it all: “CrossFit. Cycling. Pilates. These white collar workouts aren’t cutting it.” My instructor, Coss Marte, founded ConBody after developing a workout routine during a four-year prison sentence. He didn’t particularly care about catering to our egos; he was going to lead us through a difficult workout—60 minutes without a break—and we could follow along or not. I was dripping sweat as I struggled through a series of jumping jacks, push-ups, high knees, burpees, suicide sprints, mountain climbers, bear crawls, wall sits, and more. But intense workouts aside, ConBody’s real mission is championing prison reform, and it hires formerly incar-cerated individuals to teach its classes. As soon as my hamstrings recover, I’ll be back.

              Simple, tough, and effective. It’s a no-frills workout that has an odd but compelling marketing angle: train like a convict does in prison. It’s interesting that people have figured out a way to cash in on the fetishization of prison workouts. After that it was off to a treadmill class at Mile High Run Club.

An admission: I’ve done this class before, and I love it. It’s basically an interval workout on a Woodway 4Front treadmill, a roughly $10,000 machine that is to a standard treadmill what a Tesla is to Fred Flintstone’s car. Classes are offered at 28-minute, 45-minute, and 60-minute durations. What sets MHRC apart from other treadmill-interval classes is the special attention paid to your perceived-effort level rather than to hitting specific speeds. A laminated pace chart is mounted onto each treadmill, and it encompasses a wide variety of fitness levels. Pro tip: don’t choose a machine directly opposite a mirror. Nobody has a flattering tempo face.

              Running intervals is brutally effective. His last stop was AG6, circuit-training that incorporates light-up floor tiles.

This 45-minute session at Asphalt Green, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health of local residents, makes familiar circuit-based workout stations more interesting with light-up tiles on the floor and walls that are responsive to touch. So you’re not just doing sprints, you’re doing sprints to illuminate a circle on the ground! You’re not just doing medicine-ball slams, you’re doing medicine-ball slams to illuminate a circle on the ground! You get the idea. This class was the most stimulating, but it also made me realize that sometimes all I want is a boring old jog.

              There is always a tension in the fitness industry: do you go with what sells or with what works? Dern’s 2 favorites appear to be a calisthenics class and a running class. These are 2 of the most basic activities and very low-tech ($10,000 treadmill notwithstanding). The problem with basic and low-tech is that it makes it hard to stand out in a sea of fitness classes and gyms. ConBody has a built-in story that can cut through the clutter. One has to wonder if it would as successful if it was “just” a calisthenics class. I can see why fitness entrepreneurs feel like they need some kind of gimmick to get noticed and get people in the door but how much does that hurt them in the long run? And I believe that these gimmicks hurt the entire industry as well. People see nude yoga and think that everyone in the fitness industry is just selling the latest, stupid fad. We need to get better at marketing as an industry. There is a way to sell basic but effective workouts without resorting to gimmicks.    

Tidbits:

-Dwayne Johnson’s new fitness competition show, the Titan Games, has debuted on NBC

-“No Judgement” sounds dangerously close to “Judgement Free Zone”

-Want to work out in a shipping container in Singapore?

-Motiv is looking to add biometric payment capability to its fitness tracking rings

-ClassPass is acquiring competitor GuavaPass

-Can we retire the “fitness guru” title?

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS BEING COMPARED TO STARBUCKS

Shoe Dogs: Under Armour released a functional fitness shoe, the UA TriBase reign, on December 26. I don’t know why you would release a new product the day after Christmas but this means that UA is throwing its hat into functional fitness. From The Barbell Spin:

The shoe weighs in at just 10.3 ounces and has a 2mm heel-to-toe offset. The upper is made of a combination of a tough ripstop material and durable mesh. The medial and lateral part of the shoe feature rubber wrapping to add durability, especially during rope climbs.

The heel appears to have a bit of a lower profile than current shoes available on the market, but includes an external heel counter for increased stability and a locked-in heel.

There appear to be four colorways available – black with a gum sole, white with a gum sole, white with a black sole and red with a black sole.

The UA TriBase™ Reign will be available in both men’s and women’s sizing beginning the day after Christmas at UA.com. The will retail at $120.

This is notable because the Reebok-CrossFit apparel deal is coming up in 2020. The relationship between Reebok and CrossFit is strained to say the least. Reebok got sued by CrossFit last year for withholding royalty payments and it’s tough to see how you can repair that relationship in such a short period of time. Previously, I thought that it was a given that Nike was going to pick up CrossFit because Reebok (and parent company Adidas) had blown it and Under Armour didn’t seem all that interested in functional fitness. Apart from the Big 3 of athletic apparel, there aren’t many companies that are major players in both shoes and apparel. The only one I can think of is Puma and they trail the Big 3 by a significant margin. I also couldn’t see CrossFit signing with a company that didn’t already make a functional fitness shoe. Because of that, I didn’t anything standing in the way of Nike snagging the deal. This changes things and I think that Nike will have a legitimate challenger for that deal. I even wonder if the odd timing of the release is a result of Under Armour wanting to get its shoe out there as soon as possible. Perhaps they really wanted to be able to say that they had been selling a functional fitness shoes since 2018. I still think that Nike gets the deal but they are going to have some competition.  

Real Estate: It’s no secret that traditional retail is struggling and gyms are snatching up some of the prime commercial real estate once occupied by the giants of the retail industry. However, it seems that not only are gyms filling those spaces, they are making the surrounding spaces more valuable. From the SF Chronicle:

Having an Equinox in an office building makes other tenants happy and drives office rents up, said Weinhaus. That’s motivated landlords to convert upstairs work space into fitness space even in pricey office markets like San Francisco, he said. In contrast, some upper-floor stores in San Francisco’s Union Square and Mid-Market have struggled and building owners have sought to convert retail space into offices.

Being near, or even in the same building, as housing and office uses is deliberate. “It’s really about convenience and daily need,” said Weinhaus. “People are coming to us day in and day out.”

Gyms and fitness centers can thrive in upper floors and basements, where traditional retailers might struggle, said Helen Bulwik, a veteran retail consultant and senior partner at the Newport Board Group. A local operator, Fitness SF, recently leased second-floor space at the new Transbay Transit Center.

The difference is gyms draw members who are more dedicated, rather than casual shoppers who might overlook an upper-level retailer, said Bulwik. They can also offer different services like yoga, Pilates, strength training or cardio, which means they don’t cannibalize each others’ sales, she said.

“You can kind of stick a gym anywhere. It’s kind of like Starbucks.”

              Just a few years ago, landlords were hesitant to sign leases with gyms. Now they’re seen as a sign of prestige and being compared to Starbucks. Plus, gyms can thrive in the locations that have been traditionally considered less desirable. That is remarkable. It feels like every time I read something about gyms and commercial real estate, it gets better and better. It went from (landlords don’t want to lease to gyms) to (landlords have to lease to gyms in order to fill anchor spots) to (gyms are a must-have because they drive rents up in their buildings).

Military: The military has traditionally tested the fitness of its service members with a 3 part fitness test (upper body exercise, core exercise, run). The advantage of that formula is that it is relatively easy to test. You don’t need much equipment and you can test hundreds of people at the same time. This is a huge plus when you have service members deployed all over the globe in all sorts of conditions. Now the U.S. Army is rolling out a new fitness test that consists of six exercises and requires a decent amount of equipment. This won’t be an easy for deployed units to conduct. A couple of officers stationed at West Point have submitted a proposal for a modified test. From Army Times:

 Two West Point instructors have a possible answer to that issue, which they outlined in a piece published by the academy’s Modern War Institute on Dec. 7.

“What about the special operators, foreign area officers, and soldiers assigned to remote locations or any of the 800 small bases abroad?” Maj. Zachary Griffiths and Capt. Andrew Ferreira ask.

Griffiths, a Special Forces officer currently serving as an instructor in the social sciences department, is a fellow at MWI. Ferreira, an infantry officer, is a survival swimming instructor in the physical education department.

“This test stresses similar movements and energy systems, but removes space and equipment requirements that will make the ACFT impossible for some units to execute,” they wrote, proposing a six-event alternative that can be done with limited equipment and space:

  • Three-rep deadlift with a straight bar, rather than a hexagon-shaped one.

  • Standing broad jump, rather than a standing power throw.

  • Hand-release push-ups, same as before.

  • A modified sprint-drag-carry, with dumb bells or other 40-lb items instead of kettle bells.

  • Leg tuck, same as before.

  • Twenty-meter multistage shuttle run, rather than a two-mile run.

My first reaction was that exempting people who are deployed in challenging environments seemed like a better answer but the more I thought about it, I came to realize that this is also a good approach to fitness in general. Working out when you’re traveling can be challenging. You probably don’t have access to all the same equipment that you do when you’re at home. When you’re at home and you have your full fitness resources at your disposal, then you can do your full routine. But when you’re on the road and you have limited resources, then you have to replace exercises that require a lot of equipment (which you may not have access to) with exercises that require less or completely different equipment. You don’t have to give up on your workout just because you don’t have access to your regular gym. You just have to be creative and flexible.

Motivation: Halle Berry shared her 2019 fitness goals on Instagram. While she is a paragon of fitness inspiration, her goals left something to be desired. From Women’s Health:

Halle then sent people to her Insta stories where she spelled out her goals for 2019:

1. “Get bad ass banging abs.” I’m a little confused about this one, since this is Halle freaking Berry, who has abs you can shred cheese on. But I guess there’s always room for improvement!

2. “Learn a new martial art.” Halle already adds martial arts into her training, but apparently there’s more to learn. Also, she’s directing and starring in an upcoming movie about MMA, so clearly she’s motivated by her work.

3. “Inspire more people.” Just peruse her #FitnessFriday posts. Done and done.

4. “Run more.” SAME.

5. “Do Bikram yoga.” Halle is already pretty big into yoga, but Bikram is pretty intense. It’s usually performed in a hot and humid room and most classes run for 90 minutes, making it no joke.

Obviously, this works for Halle Berry but this is not the best way to set your fitness goals. A goal should be measurable. How do you measure “bad ass banging abs”? How do you measure “run more”? If she runs 1 more mile than she did in 2018, has she achieved her goal? I doubt that is what she has in mind. These goals are vague and unmeasurable. You want your goals to be S.M.A.R.T. (Specific – Measurable – Achievable – Relevant – Time-bound). For #4, a better goal would be to run 500 miles in 2019. For #5, do Bikram yoga 3 times a week. Even better would be instead of a subjective aesthetic goal like #1, set a specific goal for a particular exercise. Do 20 consecutive hanging leg lifts. That way you would actually know when you’ve achieved your goal.   

Everything’s for sale: I missed this because it dropped right before the holidays but Flywheel Sports had tried to sell itself last year. From the Financial Times:

Flywheel Sports, the boutique cycle studio, hired advisers to explore strategic options including a sale of all or part of the company, but has since pulled those plans after it failed to drum up investor interest, multiple people briefed on the process said.

The company, which competes with indoor cycling studio SoulCycle, considered a sale earlier this year after growth slowed from the rapid pace it recorded when it first launched in 2010, the people said.

The slowdown and operational problems damped enthusiasm from prospective bidders and Flywheel ultimately decided to end the sales process. The company is known for its high intensity cycling classes that sees riders compete against one another, with their results projected on a screen in front of the class.

Also:
One person familiar with the sales process said that investors who looked at backing Flywheel raised concerns that its management team had been spread too thin in the run-up to its launch of the home stationary bike, and that it trailed leaders including Peloton and SoulCycle in the home and boutique fitness space, respectively. Slowing sales growth at the company’s studios was also flagged as an issue.

It is surprising that Flywheel wasn’t able to find a buyer because private equity firms have been buying up fitness companies and boutiques are the hot segment of the fitness industry. Does this indicate an issue with boutiques at-large or is it Flywheel specific?

-Possibility #1: Wall Street is concerned about a global slowdown in 2019 and possible recession. Boutiques have been growing like crazy but the market is becoming saturated and $34 fitness classes might not sell very well in a recession.

              -Possibility #2: Flywheel is losing the cycling wars to SoulCycle and Peloton. Both companies are staying focused on their physical milieu (brick and mortar for SoulCycle and digital for Peloton) and seeking growth by expanding into other disciplines. Flywheel is trying to grow by expanding from brick and mortar to digital. Perhaps this strategy is not working and prospective buyers didn’t like what they saw in Flywheel’s financial statements.

The fact that Flywheel was looking for a buyer makes me think that #2 is more likely. My guess is that Flywheel has been burning through cash developing Flywheel Anywhere (“operational problems”) and wanted a buyer with deep pockets to rescue the company. If everything was great, then I don’t think that Flywheel would have been looking to sell itself. I am still surprised that someone didn’t want to snap up one of the big names in the boutique space.

Tidbits:

-Exercise is the Fountain of Youth

-Build out your home gym in 2019

-The Marine Corps is making changes to its fitness tests

-Please forward to this to any life insurance provider that wants to use fitness tracking data

 

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS A VERY FIT DOCTOR

Leading the Charge: One thing is that has almost been lost in the changes to the sport of CrossFit is that the genesis of these changes is a desire to focus on CrossFit Health. What is CrossFit Health? From Vox:

Since January, he’s hosted 340 doctors for weekends of networking, lectures, and a free two-day level-one CrossFit training course — the minimum requirement for anyone who wants to open a CrossFit gym. The next “MDL1” training will happen this weekend, at CrossFit’s headquarters in Scotts Valley, California. And Glassman has already expanded his offering beyond the US, to France and Brazil, in response to physician demand, he says.

The new endeavor — called “CrossFit Health” — is the future of his business, Glassman said. It might also be his legacy. By amassing and coaching an army of doctors, through CrossFit’s 15,000 affiliates around the world, he envisions nothing short of a global disruption of the health space. “[Doctors have] gone back [from the training weekends] a little bit militant. More eager to talk to one another and their colleagues; more likely to take a patient by the hand and bring her into the gym,” he said.

When asked what he hoped might come of the doctor trainings, Glassman was vague. “We thought it would just be nice to network [the doctors],” he said. When pressed, though, he articulated a big wish: While he wasn’t interested in drawing doctors away from medicine, he hoped they’d feel empowered to think about prescribing CrossFit to patients, incorporating it in their medical practices, maybe even opening up CrossFit affiliates.

In my years of medical reporting, I’ve come across hundreds of trainers, doctors, celebrities, and scientists who’ve promised permanent weight loss, longevity, and lasting health. As their fads have come and gone, the obesity and diabetes epidemics have only worsened, and, on average, Americans still aren’t exercising.

But Glassman’s view is distinct. Rather than focusing on patients’ frustrations with the limits of medicine — something celebrities Dr. Oz and Gwyneth Paltrow have exploited — he is now setting his sights on the dissatisfied deliverers of health care: the doctors.

Doctors, Glassman says, can see that CrossFit “fucking works.” And he’s become an unlikely advocate for solving an inconvenient problem: With the exception of bariatric surgery, doctors have few tools for treating, let alone preventing, obesity and other lifestyle-related diseases.

CrossFit is the only fitness company thinking about the big picture. It is starting to fulfill the role of an industry leader, something that the fitness industry has never had. This is how you grow the pie instead of just fighting competitors for market share and it raises the entire industry up. Creating a closer relationship between the medical establishment and the fitness industry is absolutely a good thing.

Other exercise scientists and obesity doctors I spoke to were much more skeptical of Glassman’s vision.

“We have a lot of [health problems] that could be addressed by better lifestyle, but the question is ‘how generalizable is [CrossFit].’ In my opinion — having taken care of thousands of patients — it’s not generalizable,” said Dr. Michael Jensen, an obesity and metabolism expert at the Mayo Clinic.

“[The people] who are in most need of correcting metabolic disorders — overweight, out of shape, busy, stressed — are very unlikely to be able to do what CrossFit wants them to do, physically, emotionally, lifestyle-wise.”

Jensen was getting at the question of whether CrossFit can truly help those most in need: the non-exercisers. “The biggest reduction in risk for every single known chronic disease when it comes to physical activity happens when you get somebody who does nothing to do something, and I mean anything — going for a walk,” said McMaster University’s Phillips.

There’s no substantive evidence — at least not yet — that CrossFit can transform these folks over the long term, he added, even with doctors prescribing the program.

“Exercise is truly a wondrous thing for health,” said obesity physician Yoni Freedhoff. “But suggesting there’s something unique to CrossFit probably isn’t evidence-based. And then there’s the fact that the percentage of the population sufficiently privileged to intentionally find consistent, multiple times per week exercise blocks is very, very small.”

 In response to this critique, Russ Greene, the CrossFit executive, said the company has always delivered workouts for free on its website.

Is it self-serving for CrossFit to want doctors to prescribe CrossFit to their patients? Of course, it is. They’re a for profit company, what do you expect? CrossFit is not for everyone but this will end up driving a lot of people to gyms and workout programs that are not CrossFit. The key is to change the relationship between medicine and fitness. Modern medicine was designed to treat patients who have contracted diseases not to take a holistic approach and try to prevent disease. But right now, the biggest health problem is that people are overweight which leads to a host of diseases. We need a more holistic and preventative model. This is a huge step in the right direction even if everyone doesn’t end up cranking out WOD’s.

Love the pop-up: Maintaining a decent fitness routine on the road has historically been a struggle. Your hotel gym, if you’re fortunate enough to have one, was probably a joke. Buying day passes at the neighborhood gym was prohibitively expensive and if you tried to run outside, you would probably get lost. That has been slowly changing as hotels have trying to accommodate fitness-conscious guests. Now Orangetheory is launching a series of pop-up gyms inside hotels. From Digiday:

High-end gym chain Orangetheory is testing out pop-ups for the first time. The company, which operates 1,000 gyms in 16 countries, is launching them to reach a new customer segment — travelers.

Orangetheory launched its first pop-up location last week at the Boca Raton Resort and Club, a Hilton-owned Waldorf Astoria hotel, and in 2019, plans on launching about a dozen more in hotels across the U.S., according to Kevin Keith, chief brand officer at Orangetheory.

At the first location, any guest at the resort can purchase a group interval training class for $30 or, if they are already members of the gym, join a class for $20. Keith said the company is also working on merging fitness with wellness by designing packages that would pair an Orangetheory class with other amenities at the hotel such as spa services. The pop-up will last six months.

Hotels are very interested in fitness these days and we’re going to see more collaborations over the next few years. I wonder who looks to get more aggressive. Equinox is building a hotel but I wonder if we’ll see more consolidation coming from the other side: hotels buying gyms. It’s also important to note that Equinox is owned by The Related Companies, a massive real estate firm. Both hotels and gyms are real estate businesses and fitness is becoming more important to the type of guest that hotels want. Gyms could offer a path to growth as well as a way to differentiate from competitors. And a lot of the big hotel chains are already franchisors so they’re no stranger to that business model.

Owning the wrist: Wearables are going to be a thing, whether you like it or not. Smartphone growth is over so tech companies have to figure out a way to put some kind of device on the wrist of every man, woman, and child. How they’re going to do that is still up in the air because the value proposition of wearable devices is still debatable when we all carry computers in our pockets. From Inc.:

Wearable biometric devices are quickly entering the mainstream. A new forecast from eMarketer says the number of U.S. adults who wear a smartwatch will cross 10 percent in 2019, while one in five internet users will own some kind of wearable.

Yet the category has long suffered a "so what?" problem. The standard knock is wearable trackers give you data that's mildly interesting but ultimately irrelevant. After a few weeks or months, the novelty of knowing your step totals or resting heart rate wears off--even faster if you know much about how inaccurate those numbers can be. That's why user churn has been such a persistent problem for companies in this space, or so the theory goes.

I see it somewhat differently. The value proposition of fitness trackers is real; it's just awfully front-loaded. When I started wearing a Fitbit, I was shocked to find out how few steps I took on low-activity days. I noticed how much better my energy was on days when I broke up long periods of sitting with walks and altered my habits accordingly.

The Oura was even more of a wake-up call. While it lacks the multifunctionality of a smartwatch, it makes up for it with smartly presented biometric insights and suggestions. The device combines data from its various sensors to generate a daily sleep score and a "readiness" score that's a measure of fatigue versus freshness. Looking at the breakdowns, you can see things like how much deep sleep versus REM sleep you got the night before, how that compares with your weekly or monthly average, and what each means to your overall well-being. (Deep sleep, I learned, is crucial for muscle rejuvenation and repair, while REM sleep is more important for creative thinking.) The Oura also tracks heart rate variability, a measure of how responsive your heart's rhythms are to stimuli; high HRV indicates a well-rested central nervous system.

Just a few days of wearing the Oura made me realize I should be thinking less about how many hours I spend sleeping and more about sleep quality. Tinkering with my nighttime habits in response to its suggestions, I quickly noticed how much more restorative sleep I got, particularly in the first half of the night, if I ate dinner earlier and limited alcohol consumption to one drink. Other changes I've made include an earlier bedtime and setting my devices to switch to "night mode," which filters out blue light, after 8 p.m.

All this took me a few weeks to figure out. Once my new habits were in place, though, there wasn't much more for the Oura to do. I continued checking my stats every morning, but that, too, was just a new habit. Now that I knew what internal signals to pay attention to, I didn't need an app to let me know when I'd slept deeply or awakened feeling especially fresh.

This is the best articulation of the problem with fitness trackers that I have seen. It’s not that they don’t do anything, it’s just that it doesn’t seem necessary to keep wearing them forever. They’re good for establishing behavior but after a while, they’re not that essential. This is why smartwatches are taking over. If you’re going to buy a device to wear on your wrist, it may as well do a bunch of things. It’s also why smartwatches are shifting from a focus on fitness to broader emphasis on wellness and health because fitness tracking is not going to be enough by itself.

So where does this end up? Does the smartwatch replace the smartphone? Probably not. How are you going to take a picture with a smartwatch? Will wearables find their killer app? I don’t know but I do know that the tech companies are going to keep going until they find one.

Innoventing: Re-inventing fitness is really hard. We may live in a time in which science fiction is becoming science reality but it is very difficult to improve on the most low-tech forms of fitness. If you want to get strong, lift heavy things. If you want to get fit, get out and move. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t any room for innovation. From Men’s Health:

For now, Tonal’s ability to mimic various resistance-training strategies is its selling point. Its electromagnetic resistance can be altered in an instant, and its programming allows it to simulate more than merely lifting weights. You can use advanced techniques that normally require extra equipment—for example, curling as if you had chains attached to your weights (with the resistance progressively increasing as you lift)—or even employ eccentric loading techniques, with the resistance increasing as you lower the weight.

I bang out a set of lat pulldowns, then a set of biceps curls with simulated chain resistance, and start getting a solid burn. Next I experiment with more bench presses, this time using the unit’s automated spotter system to push out a few extra reps. This doesn’t feel quite right; essentially, the “spot” is a programmed weight reduction that I can’t change. I tell Tonal’s representatives that a human spotter would force me to keep working for my rep. They mention that issues like this can be fixed quickly with a software update. “You can wake up one morning,” says David Azaria, Tonal’s head of software, “and just find new functionality.”

Because the hardware is modeled after a cable machine, it’s ideal for muscle-building exercises like curls and shoulder presses, but not cleans, snatches, and other functional movements that have grown so popular.

Over the past two years, trainers have started favoring total-body moves; even budget-priced big-box gyms like Blink Fitness now have battle ropes and medicine balls. Tonal’s movement tracking and resistance may seem right out of The Jetsons, but to forward-thinking trainers it’s Flintstonian. “In the fitness world, we are clearly going away from machines,” says Mike Boyle, a veteran Boston-based trainer. “You can get an awful lot of stuff done with dumbbells and a bench.”

Tonal founder and CEO Aly Orady counters that I can find other ways to perform the moves that the unit doesn’t accommodate. No power cleans? I can tweak my workouts to do deadlifts and jump squats. But given its price tag, should I need to do that?

Tonal does present something interesting. I am intrigued by its ability to adjust resistance through the range of motion; that is something new. Innovation often arrives as a result of some kind of limitation. The problem Tonal was looking to solve was a space issue: how do you deliver a gym experience at home without taking up a whole lot of space? Because heavy things take up a lot of space and don’t look great in the middle of your living room. That constraint led Tonal to come up with electromagnetic resistance. And changing the source of resistance away from gravity gives it some new properties. But even for all of Tonal’s innovation, it is still lacking some crucial exercises. Some people might not miss them but when something is that expensive, you don’t expect to have to make compromises. Re-inventing fitness is hard.

Tidbits:

-DNA tests can psyche you out

-World Gym is getting into the studio game

-The CrossFit prodigy

-Mat Fraser, Samantha Briggs, and Team Invictus won the Dubai CrossFit Championship and are the 1st qualifiers for the 2019 CrossFit Games

-How should a doctor talk to their patients about obesity

THE WEEKLY HOWL WANTS A RULE BOOK

Made in America: Inc. Magazine crowned Bird as its Company of the Year but Rogue Fitness was a contender for the crown and got a write-up. From Inc.

In 2006, Bill Henniger was holding down a full-time operations job at General Motors and working toward an MBA at the University of Michigan. But the Air Force veteran was still looking for a challenge. He found it in CrossFit, a full-body fitness regimen that combines interval training with high-intensity workouts involving movements like running and jumping performed with weights.

After completing his level one trainer certification at the original CrossFit location in Santa Cruz, California, Henniger decided to join CrossFit's affiliate program. He purchased the rights to open CrossFit studios, or "boxes," in Toledo and Columbus, Ohio, and set about building a personal CrossFit box in his Toledo garage. It wasn't easy: Even though CrossFit boxes are so named for their minimalist approach to equipment, Henniger still had to go through multiple distributors to procure the weights, bars, and racks he needed--a costly, time-consuming process. 

As all great entrepreneurs do, Henniger saw a problem and decided to build a business to solve it. Using only his own money, he launched Rogue Fitness as an online-only distributor, creating a convenient one-stop shop for outfitting CrossFit boxes of all sizes, from garages with a few dumbbells to larger studios' rowing machines and racks.

Now, 10 years later, Rogue Fitness is the leading manufacturer of American-made strength and training equipment. The company declined to disclose revenue, but this year increased its workforce to 600, up from 160 in 2012. It recently moved into a new headquarters where it designs, builds, stores, and distributes all of its equipment . The 600,000-square-foot campus is helping to revitalize the long-struggling Milo-Grogan neighborhood in downtown Columbus. Rogue's commitment to American manufacturing, its employees, and investing in the local economy made it a contender for Inc.'s 2018 Company of the Year.

In my opinion, Rogue Fitness does not get enough credit. I don’t think that CrossFit’s rapid expansion is possible without Rogue. It doesn’t get enough press either. It’s not some trendy tech startup, it’s something much better. They actually bend metal and make things. They’re doing undeniable good (making fitness more accessible). They’re manufacturing everything in the U.S.A. And they’re doing this via a marriage of the old school and new school economies (manufacturing and online distribution).

Although Rogue Fitness is hitting its stride in 2018, the company has by no means been an overnight success. Soon after launching Rogue as an equipment distributor, Henniger cashed out part of his 401(k), moved to Columbus, and opened Rogue Fitness Columbus. While the gym portion of the business took off, the distribution side ran into some issues. It was great for customers to be able to order their gym equipment from one place, but sourcing from multiple distributors meant inconsistent shipping times and costs. Henniger realized that the company needed more warehousing space, as well as to make its own equipment. And he knew he wanted it to be American-made.

By 2012, Henniger had made his manufacturing and distribution goals a reality. "The industry norm is six to eight weeks for racks and full gym outfitting," Henniger says. "We cut this down by 98 percent by stocking everything we make." CrossFit boxes can be any size and configuration, and have any combination of equipment. Rogue sells everything from dumbbells to exercise bikes, and lets shoppers custom-build boxes on its site. All of its orders ship in one business day.

              I acknowledge my own bias but Rogue is so much more interesting than another tech startup. Especially one that doesn’t seem concerned with the chaos that it causes. I would have loved to see Rogue win COY and not because I care about meaningless awards like this. I would have loved to read more about Rogue.

Motivation: Arnold Schwarzenegger has accomplished a lot in his life but it all started with fitness. Now he’s in 70’s and he’s fighting his way back into shape and he has a lot of thoughts on what’s right and what’s wrong with America’s relationship with fitness.

Hard work and sound science has been replaced by fads, false promises, and magic pills.

When you’re promised something like “rock hard abs in 28 days,” told one special tea is all you need to lose those last 10 pounds or bombarded with flashy advertisements passed off as legitimate information, it’s easy to see why so many people just throw up their hands and give up.

It’s time for the fitness industry to be honest with people. A healthier, fitter America starts with you. There is no gimmick. There is no shortcut. There is no magic pill. Everyone’s fitness journey will be unique, but a healthy lifestyle takes commitment, patience and motivation.

              One of the disappointing things about the Internet is that instead of democratizing information, it has spread misinformation. Fitness is huge on Instagram but how many influencers hawk sketchy supplements and diet teas? I am over-generalizing because it has never been easier to find good information but I would have hoped that the cream would have risen to the top by now. But it’s still the same mix of bad and good information that we had pre-internet. It’s just easier to access all that information now. 

Going through that process showed me that many people put too much faith in big moments, believing they’ll suddenly flip a switch and be healthier. There’s no such thing. A healthier future is every tiny step we take, or every little rep, that ultimately leads us to our goal. We all think we can do it alone, but no one does anything alone. As I always say, no one is self-made. We all need support — even Terminators.

So here’s my challenge to you: Don’t wait for New Year’s Resolutions. Don’t wait for your own heart surgery or emergency. Start right now. And ask a friend to join you.

I’m not asking you to reject all the delicious food you’ll see this holiday season, because I would never do that either. I’m simply asking you to be better tomorrow than you were today, every day, and to inspire someone you care about to join you. It’s a simple resolution and it’s not as sexy as having a six-pack, but it’s the key to fulfilling the unfulfilled promise of our fitness crusade and repairing this broken industry.

Don’t chase the next big thing. Be better. Today. That’s all. If you and your training partner walked 5,000 steps yesterday, walk 5,001 today. If you ate one vegetable yesterday, eat two tomorrow. If you did a pushup for the first time today, do two tomorrow.

              This is exactly right. People chase that flip moment and then crash and burn. They try to will themselves into becoming a “fitness person” but it doesn’t work like that. And those of us that are “fitness people” are really bad at articulating why and how we became that way. So other people waste a lot of time and energy looking for a fitness epiphany.

Do no harm: There is always a threat of injury during any form of physical activity. The answer is not to avoid physical activity or ignore the risk entirely. The answer is to mitigate that risk as much as possible. This is not always done. From the NY Post:

A Bronx woman wants her trendy Westchester County gym to fork over $2.5 million after a 400-pound tire crushed her ankle during a crazy workout.

Jeannette Burgos, 39, says she was in her “boot camp”-style fitness class at the Active Health and Fitness Club in Mount Vernon on Aug. 29 when two people working out nearby lost control of the John Deere tractor tire and it came crashing down on her leg.

Rolling and flipping oversized tires has become a workout trend among hardcore fitness buffs.

“Once they got the tire off my foot, I saw [the foot] was flipped to the opposite direction of my body. My toes were facing my back,” Burgos, who filed suit against the gym in Bronx Supreme Court, told The Post.

“I was screaming in pain and agony trying to get on that stretcher. My foot was just hanging.”

Burgos claims in her suit that the gym should have known to tread lightly around the big wheels — because instructor Emil Paolucci admitted that his own niece broke her wrist using the giant tire before the plaintiff was injured.

The gym and staff “should have known of the dangerous conditions that existed including … overcrowding of classes, using a dangerous item during class, and its need to adequately protect its patrons from such conditions,” charges Burgos’s lawsuit.

               Training with a 400 pound implement of any kind is going to carry a reasonably high level of risk. A tire is even worse because it was not designed with fitness in mind. The tire in question was designed for tractors. And this instructor had already seen his own niece get her wrist broken but still didn’t think that training with a John Deere tire was a bad idea? Unbelievable. Mitigating risk in this scenario would probably have been finding another exercise that provides a similar benefit using a standard weight like a barbell, sandbag, or kettlebell. A few years ago at the CrossFit Games, Rogue Fitness debuted their version of adjustable weight tires. I think that they were called pigs. Because then everyone doesn’t have to struggle with 400 pounds! 

This episode encapsulates a lot of what is wrong in the fitness industry. There is the urge to attract attention by using something big and flashy. There is the failure to mitigate risk or even appreciate the level of risk that you’re exposing people to. And then there is the failure or possibly lack of safety procedures. No one else should be within the fall radius of a 400 pound tire. And if you don’t have the room for this in your gym, don’t do it.

Pivot: Wearables is an interesting segment to watch right now because it is so immature. Everyone is still trying to figure out where the space is headed and what their place in it will be. Right now, there is a hard pivot to wellness. From Glossy:

 The wearables market has grown over the past decade, and now a new generation of tech wearables is looking to differentiate itself by looking to the buzzy wellness industry for growth.

The industry and definition of wellness has expanded to incorporate aspects of mental health, fitness and physical health, beauty and more, resulting in a new class of consumerism and ample opportunity for companies to tap into it. In the past few years, wearables brands Bellabeat, Oura and Motiv have launched, focusing more on a holistic approach to health and less on being performance-oriented. Instead of fitness bracelets, they’re packaged as necklaces, rings or water bottles. And, in addition to the usual sleep tracking, heart rate and pedometer functions, their features include guided meditation, menstrual-cycle tracking and integration with Amazon Alexa.

“You see so many fitness and wellness [wearable] brands right now, and they are uniquely aware of their competitors. They are thinking outside the box in order to be the best,” said Aimee Gaudin, international head of marketing at Smartech stores. U.K.-based Smartech is a retailer situated within luxury department store Selfridges and began selling Motiv rings on Nov. 15.

The Apple Watch isn’t even 4 years old but it’s already pivoted twice. Phase 1 was a fashion accessory. Phase 2 was a fitness tracker. Phase 3 is a health and wellness device that can track your sleep and be an EKG. I doubt that this evolution is complete. No one has discovered the killer app yet.

Streaming Wars: Everyone wants to be Peloton these days. The company is growing like crazy at the intersection of technology and fitness and inspiring a slew of imitators and iterators. An IPO beckons sometimes next year so Peloton is not looking to slow down anytime soon. From Fast Company:

On Wednesday, Peloton opened a new production studio dedicated to yoga and meditation in New York City. The programming will be helmed by yoga instructors Kristin McGee, Anna Greenberg, and Aditi Shah. This will be the company’s third studio space.

The yoga classes will span several varieties, including vinyasa-style yoga, a more rigorous and faster-paced “power yoga,” relaxing “restorative yoga,” as well as yoga basics. The meditation category also includes numerous options, such as guided visualizations, tutorials, and breath-focused classes.

Peloton members can now sign up for classes in the studio, but they will have to wait until December 26 to access live-streamed and on-demand classes. Classes are available to Peloton Bike and Tread owners, as well as Peloton Digital subscribers.

“As we did with the addition of Bootcamp, Running, Walking, and Outdoor earlier this year, we are continuing to expand our suite of superior fitness offerings in order to provide our members with an ever more diversified array of options to stay fit, happy, and healthy,” Fred Klein, chief content officer of Peloton, said in a statement.

              Peloton is making moves towards dominating the home streaming market. There are a lot of services out there trying to be the Netflix of fitness but Peloton is the leading contender to assume that mantle and they know it. A successful IPO could put them even farther ahead as it could boost their name recognition, prestige, and ability to raise cash. The Peloton IPO might even break free of the fitness curse. There are only a couple of publicly traded fitness companies. This means that investors and analysts don’t pay much attention to the industry or take the time to understand it which makes it hard to have a great IPO. Peloton has the potential to be thought of as more of a tech stock than a fitness stock, which would attract a lot more interest. Being thought of as a tech stock can also directly lead to a significantly higher valuation.

Rules: The calendar still reads 2018 but the 2019 CrossFit Games season has already begun in Dubai. The problem is that CrossFit Inc. still hasn’t formally laid out all the rules for the new qualifying process. From Morning Chalk-Up:

The only clear indication CrossFit HQ has given regarding the release date is before the 2019 CrossFit Open.

“How will nationality be determined for national champions in the Open?”

“What happens when an athlete qualifies on a team via a sanctioned event and then as an individual in the Open? If that athlete accepts their individual invitation, who takes that team’s place?”

“If an athlete wins two sanctioned events, who does the next invitation pass to?”

“Who is handling drug testing at these sanctioned events?”

“As it’s been stated previously, will the top 20 athletes worldwide in the Open qualify for the Games or will that number change?”

These are just a few of the questions we’ve heard athletes, coaches and event organizers vocalized in the three-and-a-half-months since we broke news of the changes.

Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that publicly over the past three-and-a-half months, HQ has done little to publicly assuage concerns, fears of rule changes, or provide answers to some of these basic questions.

I’ve been supportive of CrossFit’s changes to the qualifying process but this is ridiculous. Making a large scale change like CrossFit has will always be disruptive, there is no getting around that. That doesn’t mean that you never change, you suck it up and do it anyway but you do everything you can to minimize the confusion and disruption. This is not minimizing confusion. Starting the season without a rule book is really unfair to the athletes. It was always going to be hard for them to plan their year because the rules have completely changed. That sucks but again this doesn’t mean that you never make any changes. Changing the rules but not clearly communicating them makes it impossible for the athletes to plan their year out. They’re basically guessing. It’s going to invite chaos.

At this point, I would recommend to most prospective competitors to hedge their bets in the individual and team competitions but who knows what the rules about that will end up becoming. If an athlete qualifies for both the individual and team competition and chooses to compete individually, will that invalidate the team’s qualification or will they be allowed to substitute? And CrossFit does not have the best record when it comes to managing ambiguity around its own rules. I hope that doesn’t happen here because the athletes deserve better.

Tidbits:

-This is terrifying

-Planet fitness stock is still surging

-“In particular, the increased activity observed in POMC neurons persisted for two days after a single bout of exercise”

-The fountain of youth

 

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS DELIVERING PACKAGES

Sports: The NFL has never met an opportunity to make money that it doesn’t like and the latest opportunity is team-branded gyms. The Dallas Cowboys opened one a couple of years ago and the San Francisco 49ers have followed suit. And it appears that there are more in the works. From Forbes:

 On Thursday, 49ers president Al Guido celebrated the opening of the 36,500-square-foot facility with a ribbon-cutting ceremony inside the San Jose venue. Guido was joined by 49ers Fit chairman Mark Mastrov, former Pro Bowl running back Roger Craig and close to a dozen members of the team's strength and conditioning staff.

"We're proud of the dynamic, comprehensive fitness and recovery experience that 49ers Fit offers to fitness enthusiasts," Guido said. "Based in the Bay Area, Mark and his team know exactly what people want out of their gyms and have done an incredible job delivering our vision of everything we wanted 49ers Fit to be."

The facility includes a 40-yard turf field with space for sprint work, functional training and group sessions. Workout warriors will also have access to an expansive area replete with free weights, cardio, power and speed training. A litany of fitness specialists will offer personal training sessions for athletes of all levels, while others can enroll in group classes in Zumba, boxing, yoga, barre and HIIT training.

Also:

The concept of the NFL-branded fitness center is the brainchild of Mastrov, founder of M6 Football and 24 Hour Fitness. The ceremony marks the culmination of a two-year project undertaken by Mastrov and the 49ers. In May 2017, Mastrov opened Cowboys Fit, a 60,000 square foot facility overlooking the plaza at the Dallas Cowboys' headquarters in Frisco. The entrepreneur is targeting early-2019 to open a second Cowboys' facility in Plano, as well as Bears Fit, a similar concept in Vernon Hills, Ill. Mastrov has had discussions with several other NFL teams on adopting the model.

              The idea of professional sports branded gym may seem like a no-brainer but once you start to break it down, there is a lot less meat on the bone than you might have thought. It is counter-intuitive but there is not an established relationship between sports and fitness. There probably should be but watching sports and participating in fitness activities is not linked together. The NFL is the most popular sport to view in the U.S. Millions of people watch it but how many of them every play the sport? Running is the most popular sport to participate in but it is close to dead as a spectator sport in this country when the Olympics aren’t involved. 50,000 people ran the NYC Marathon this year but how many could pick Lelisa Desisa or Mary Keitany out of a crowd? And if you have no idea who Lelisa Desisa or Mary Keitany are, then you’ve proved my point. Watching a football game does not inspire people to go the gym. How many times have you ever heard someone say that their fitness goal is to look like an NFL player? Personally, I have never heard anyone say that. I understand why people would think that NFL-branded gyms are a good idea but there is no evidence that they actually are.

The next problem is that gyms are selected mostly on convenience (is it close to where they work or live?). It’s a real estate business and the 3 most important things in real estate are location, location, location. Not even the most die-hard 49ers fan is going to join a gym that is a 1 hour drive away from where they work or live. Any brick and mortar gym is going to live and die by its location. A gym cannot be a destination like a shopping mall or a restaurant could be. It is something that has to be trekked to multiple times a week. That means it has to be close by.  That means that there is a very small marginal benefit to being associated with the NFL. 49ers Fit might draw in some more members than it would if it was not branded but it won’t be a dramatically higher percentage. It is doubtful that this small benefit will cover whatever amount of money is being paid to the 49ers (I am sure that it is a significant amount of money.

Does this mean that I think that these gyms will crash and burn? No because it looks like they are executing everything else well. They are building nice facilities in good locations. They would do well without the branding. With the branding, they’ll do slightly better but probably pay way too much for it.

Pugilism: There used to be a thriving boxing scene in our nation’s capital. But now old school boxing gyms are on the way out and new fitness-oriented boxing gyms are moving in. From The Washington Post:

Today, the District’s boxing scene seems to be going through a rebirth, but with a much different look — one that reflects how the city has changed. A sport that once attracted largely blue-collar men in the District is now being marketed to the city’s influx of affluent residents — especially women.

In the past three years, Urban Boxing has opened locations in Foggy Bottom, Bethesda and Arlington. It remains the only chain to offer one-on-one sparring. NuBoxx has brought fitness-style boxing classes to NoMa, and it’s looking toward a second location on U Street NW. Later this year, Rumble — backed by Equinox — plans to open a location downtown, while an apparent challenger, Bash, is preparing to open in Arlington.

The growth is part of a broader boom in boutique boxing, driven by celebrities who have made it standard issue in their Instagrams and breakneck millennial spending on other workouts tailor-made for social media.

“Strong is the new skinny,” says Josh Leve, founder and chief executive of the Association of Fitness Studios. “Exercise, specifically boxing, has become an outlet for stress as well as building strength.”

              What’s weird about this these boxing gyms are falling victim to gentrification at the same time that boxing, a  traditionally blue-collar sport, is being culturally appropriated by white collar workers. I can’t think of another sport that has experienced this. Of course, this is happening because of the insatiable demand for boutique classes and cardio combat is always a strong category.

              What is also striking about this article is that it highlights the role reversal that has occurred. Affluent people are increasing their exercise levels (often with expensive classes) and the less affluent are becoming less and less active. This is leading to the death of old-school gyms at the same time that high-end cardio boxing gyms are opening in their place. I’m all for new gyms but it’s sad to see exercise options for less affluent people dwindle and die.

Good food quickly: One of the many reasons that we have an obesity epidemic in this country is because of fast food. The fast food giants have been able to deliver unhealthy meals at ridiculously low prices for years. This is often the cheapest and most convenient food that people have access to. Some people even consider the fast food hamburger to be a “modern miracle” for its ability to deliver so much nutrition for such a low price. But now prices at fast food restaurants are rising, threatening the industry’s main competitive advantage. From Vox:

Fast food prices are climbing.

Despite a preponderance of hot deals — McDonald’s $1 $2 $3 Dollar Menu offers two-buck Bacon McDoubles; Burger King is virtually giving away nuggets at 10 for $1 — the price of regular, non-value orders is going up, Bloomberg reports.

“Median fast-food hamburger prices have jumped 54 percent over the last decade to about $6.95, according to menu researcher Datassential,” Bloomberg says, while humble chicken sandwiches — always the bridesmaid, never the bride — are up a still-notable 27 percent. Both, Bloomberg notes, “surpass overall U.S. price inflation during that same time.”

Also:

But here’s the thing: Fast food should cost money. The price bump puts chains in a tough position but it also brings prices in line with what food production actually costs. Prices aren’t going up because of the cost of ingredients, they’re going up because of the increased cost of labor. It is expensive to pay people, and to (sometimes) give them benefits.

As the New York Times reported earlier this year, fast-food wages, which began to rise in 2014, have continued to increase faster than overall wages, although the pay “is still less than half the average for an hourly employee.” Given the tight labor market, that’s pushed companies to “offer more incentives — like dental insurance, sign-up bonuses, and even travel reimbursement — to entice workers.” (The actual positive impact of these benefits remains a subject of some debate.)

One side effect of keeping the federal minimum wage so low is that we are subsidizing the fast food industry. The minimum wage is not a living wage in most parts of the country so a lot of fast food workers are also beneficiaries of government aid programs like food stamps. This has allowed fast food restaurants to keep fast food prices artificially low. Reality is finally catching up to fast food but they’ve done their damage.

It’s one of the weird quirks of our society that has led to the obesity epidemic. There is a similar factor with extensive corn subsidies that have led to an abundance of high fructose corn syrup. That abundance had to find a home and it did by replacing sugar in soft drinks and a lot of our foods. Sometimes it feels like the deck is stacked against fitness and nutrition.

Late capitalism: Amazon has been going through a rough patch, PR-wise. The HQ2 audition process has been revealed to be a shameless lie and will result in the one of the richest companies in history receiving billions in tax subsidies. Concerns over the way that the company treats its warehouse workers have been increasing as the busy holiday season starts. Amazon could use a little good publicity. So there’s this. From Gizmodo:

On Monday, Amazon’s PR department touted the story of a woman who allegedly lost a ton of weight working for its Flex delivery service. In the company’s framing, Flex isn’t a dystopian project to reduce shipping costs by letting an army of expendable, plainclothes contractors compete to score “last-mile” delivery gigs. It’s a fun workout!

“Amazon Flex allowed this woman to lose 100 lbs in 18 months by creating a workout while delivery packages,” Amazon News wrote.

              Oh, for fuck’s sake. This sounds like a bad SNL skit. It turns out that this idea was already covered by Nathan For You, a Comedy Central show that parodied shows where business experts were sent to fix small businesses. It’s amazing how tone deaf these people can be. Amazon Flex has already come under criticism for exploiting workers and they have the balls to promote this story.  

I’m going to coin a new term: fitness washing. Fitness washing is associating something with fitness in order to improve its image. While I think that it’s great that fitness is viewed so positively, I don’t love that other entities are now seeking to co-opt that. Who else is doing this? Victoria’s Secret. From Refinery 29:

Each year around the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, stories about the models' elaborate and intimidating workout routines inevitably go viral. So, Victoria's Secret launched its own marketing campaign called "Train Like An Angel," which chronicles the models' workouts as they prepare for the show. In addition, Victoria's Secret produced free YouTube workout videos featuring the Angels and their favorite trainers: You can try the HIIT workout that Sadie Newman does with her personal trainer, learn Stella Maxwell's yoga workout, do barre alongside Martha Hunt, and even dress in the same Victoria's Secret workout clothes that the models wear. While the workouts are impressive and feature reputable trainers, they do seem to oversimplify what's attainable for the average person.

Also:

In many ways, the brand's choice to publicize models' workout routines is just an easy way to counteract the stereotype that all models are unhealthy, or have disordered eating habits. But saying that plus-size and curve models don't mesh with the brand's "specific image," while simultaneously insisting that Victoria's Secret models are all just "aggressively fit," reinforces unattainable body standards and implies that there's only one way to look fit and healthy.

For the subset of models who get paid to adhere to Victoria's Secret's unobtainable and unwavering body standards, exercising is just part of the job. "People don't understand that the reason these women are where they're at in life is because they've worked their asses off to get there — but they're also naturally six feet tall and their physique is built for it," says Andrea Rogers, founder of Xtend Barre, who trains Victoria's Secret model Martha Hunt. Compared to her usual non-model clientele, Rogers says that models tend to be hyper-motivated and "extremely focused on their body as their instrument for their work."

             

              This is not egregious as Amazon but Victoria’s Secret has been doing this for years. They really want to distance themselves from the image of models starving themselves in order to maintain an unrealistic female beauty standard. So they are doing everything that they can to associate their models with 21st century fitness. That’s fitness washing. Oh, and watch the Nathan for You sketch here.

Cycling: The cycling wars have been raging for a few years now and SoulCycle has maintained its position at the top. That might be changing. From Recode:

Peloton appears to have finally pulled ahead in the race to be the most popular exercise-bike company.

Peloton had 4 percent more U.S. customers than SoulCycle last quarter, more than doubling its subscriber base over the last year, according to new data from Second Measure, a company that analyzes billions of anonymized debit and credit card purchases from all major cards. The number of people who made a SoulCycle purchase via debit and credit card in the third quarter declined nearly 10 percent year over year, according to Second Measure.

That’s a marked change from the beginning of 2017, when SoulCycle — which earlier this year withdrew its 2015 application to become a public company — had approximately three times as many customers as Peloton, according to Second Measure. Peloton, which plans to go public in 2019, was most recently valued at $4 billion.

If SoulCycle really wants to do a successful IPO, then I think that they have missed the boat on having a home option. They’re doubling down on high-end, in-person classes by expanding into disciplines outside cycling. I don’t think that it’s a bad strategy but it is far less ambitious than developing a Peloton competitor. The path that SoulCycle is going down isn’t really that of a publicly traded company. They currently have 88 locations. For reference, Target has over 1,800 stores and  Starbucks has over 28,000 locations. That’s what investors want to see. A publicly traded company needs a big market and selling $34 classes in the wealthiest cities just isn’t that big. If you want a big IPO, then you need to figure out a way to bring your product/service to the masses. The Peloton method is that way to bring it to the masses which is why it is headed for a successful IPO next year. It make me wonder if SoulCycle has given up on its IPO dreams or not. 

 What have you found: ClassPass mines its data and releases a report every year. It serves both as a way to view trends in the industry and as a trivia test for fitness. This year’s report just came. What did it day? From Fast Company:

On Tuesday, the fitness and wellness platform shared quite a few fun facts from the more than 60 million reservations booked by its members. On a nationwide scale, ClassPass observed the following workout habits:

  • Most popular day of the week to work out: Tuesday

  • Most popular day of the year to work out: February 28th, 2018

  • Most popular rest day: January 1st, 2018

  • Most popular class times: Weekday: 5:30 p.m., Weekend: 10:30 a.m.

  • Most popular fitness genre in the U.S: Strength training

  • Fastest growing trend: Treadmill classes, with an 82% increase in the last year

  • Time spent: ClassPass users were 33% more likely to book a class under 45 minutes (44 minutes or less) in 2018 than they were in 2017

ClassPass also took a look at the preferences of individual cities, which differed on everything from workout time to class cancellations:

  • Most likely to book class at 7:30 a.m. or earlier: Columbus, Ohio

  • Most likely to book class between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.: Portland, Oregon

  • Most likely to book class at 7:30 p.m. or later: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

  • Most likely to book class in another city: Orlando, Florida

  • Most likely to book class at the last minute: Las Vegas, Nevada

  • Most likely to book class with a friend: Atlanta, Georgia

  • Most likely to book a treadmill class–2018’s fastest growing activity: Washington, D.C.

  • Least likely to miss or cancel a class: San Diego, California

  • Most likely to book a class–any class: New York City

New Year’s Day is the most popular rest day? That is really surprising. I understand that a lot of people are very hungover but I would have thought that the New Year’s resolution factor would have balanced that out. I would have guessed Christmas or the day after the Super Bowl. Treadmill classes are the fastest growing trend. I guess that they’re becoming a thing. I’m still bearish on the Peloton treadmill though. 

Tidbits:

-Protein is King

-Standing desks aren’t going to save us

-The college where you have to run a half-marathon in order to graduate

-New solution for the obesity epidemic: make every man, woman, and child in the U.S. star in a Marvel movie

-Exercise, is there anything it can’t do?

-More gyms should do this

-The founders of LuLaRoe sound like swell people

 

 

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS GOING TO THE DESERT

No one likes change: Morning Chalk-Up published an op-ed from Chyna Cho on the changes to the qualifying process for the CrossFit Games. It was a fascinating peek into the mindset of a top CrossFit athlete as they’re figuring out how to adjust.

However, you just have to roll with the punches. I’ve dealt with changes before. First the Regionals changed from NorCal and SoCal into California, and we went from six spots to five spots—at the time I was terrified of that. Then we went from the California Regional to the West Regional, and we went from 10 spots down to five spots.

In the end, though, how you feel doesn’t really matter. If I’m angry, that doesn’t give me more opportunities, if I’m sad about it, it doesn’t make me any more fit or any better. You just have to be like, “Well, I hope my fitness is good enough.” And keep doing what you’re doing. I don’t think anything changes just because there are fewer spots.

              None of this was ever set in stone. The process was always changing as the sport exploded. This is the most radical change yet but you’re still going to have to do CrossFit things to qualify for the CrossFit Games. However, you might have to do those things in another country. I am less concerned with the notion of fairness than I am with the learning curve involved in navigating a completely different process. Devising a strategy for qualifying is not so clear-cut and I think that there will be a lot of lessons learned in the first couple of years. In the long-run, everyone will adapt and the best athletes will qualify. In the short-run, there might be chaos.

Right now my plan is to go to Wodapalooza on a team. The rules now say you can qualify for the Games on a team and still qualify individually. I think it’s a good option just in case, so that’s my plan for Wodapalooza.

Then I will try to qualify as an individual in the Open. This year the top 20 in the world qualify for the Games, and I’ve been in the top 30 worldwide the last three years (Cho placed 28th in 2018, 23rd in 2017, and 35th in 2016), so it’s not a super long shot. I would love to do that because then I wouldn’t have to travel. That gets expensive. If that doesn’t work out, then I will definitely try to go to a qualifier and try to peak for that.

My training didn’t change a lot after the announcement about the Games. There’s more focus on the Open now, and the Open is traditionally classic CrossFit. You have to have a really good engine and you have to be good at all the basic movements like thrusters, pull-ups, wall balls, and double-unders. In the Open they are not going to film someone running 10 miles. You have to be good at Fran, you have to be good at all the basics. I’ve done a little less swimming and running and odd object things since I heard those changes, but intensity wise, timing wise, mentally, it’s all the same.

              Cho’s plan makes a lot of sense. She’s going to hedge her bets between the individual and the team competition and make qualifying through the Open her Plan A. If she fails to do that, she will have time to make a concerted attempt (or even 2) at a sanctioned event. My question is how CrossFit is going to manage all the athletes who qualify as both individuals and team members. Maybe there won’t be that many people who qualify for both but I think that a lot of athletes are probably approaching the upcoming like Cho is. With all this uncertainty, athletes are going to want to make sure that they have punched their ticket to Madison in some form.

              There is also a move to make it easier for athletes to make multiple qualifying attempts. Wodapalooza announced that it would partner with the Brazil CrossFit Championship in order to allow the top 4 male and female finishers as well as the top team from Miami automatic entry into the field in Sao Paulo. From Morning Chalk-Up:

The BCC qualifiers — January 30 – February 3, 2019 — start on the final day of Wodapalooza making participation from athletes competing in Miami nearly impossible.

With the partnership, it now creates yet another avenue for the sport’s biggest stars to parlay strong competition performances into more opportunities throughout the season in the event they come up just short of a coveted qualifying spot.

It’s opportunities like this that Olschewski believes will be major benefit for both athletes and fans alike. “The Brazil CrossFit Championship, taking place in the center of the Latin American CrossFit community, is expected to be a huge spectator event and thus it makes sense to have some of the best athletes in the world compete in Sao Paulo: Having passionate crowds of fans push the best athletes through exciting events. That is what part of the sport should be about.”

Similar to other competitions, when athletes decline their invitation is passed onto the next in line. Presumably because the individual winners and team will decline due to already qualifying for the Games, their spot will be given to the next highest placing athlete and team.

              It’s good to see the people involved in this thinking ahead and trying to make the transition less painful for the athletes.

Wild West: Boxrox interviewed Kelli Holm, a CrossFit athlete in the 35-39 age group who recently tested positive for endurabol but had her ban reduced after an appeal.

Why was your ban reduced?

My ban was reduced because we were able to prove via a third-party supplement testing company that the supplement was contaminated with the same substance for which I tested positive. We also provided additional documentation to support my case.

What steps do you think could be taken in the future to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t keep happening for athletes?

The thing that CrossFit emphasized the most to me during this process was the importance of third-party testing of supplements (if you choose to take supplements at all). So, increasing awareness among athletes around third-party testing would theoretically help to prevent this in the future. What’s interesting is that I thought I was being careful in choosing my supplements, and most of them were third party tested. This particular supplement was just so widely used, commonly seen at CrossFit events, and sponsoring CrossFit athletes, that I naively figured the company as a whole was safe. And that decision falls on me – I own that for sure and don’t blame anyone else.

I also think there may be room for more formal education around it from CrossFit. Other professional sports provide mandatory education around anti-doping for their athletes, and it could be something worth considering for CrossFit. (Picture something like the Online Judges Course for the Open, but around safe supplementation practices and related topics instead of judging.) With all the changes at CrossFit HQ right now, I’m not sure if that’s something they would considering investing in, but one could argue that it would be worthwhile if they want to continue to hold athletes to the zero-tolerance standard and maintain such severe penalties, regardless of the circumstances.

Without getting lost in the weeds here, I would also love if there were a way to hold supplement companies more accountable for what they put into their products. I don’t have a particular solution for it, I just have realized over the past couple of months how prevalent this issue is and how little we can do about it. I have no problem with holding athletes accountable, but it’s fascinating the way we manage to criticize athletes for their role in it, and then throw up our hands at the role supplement companies play.

              I find it surprising that there are so many high-level athletes who still think it’s safe to take supplements. The supplement industry is completely unregulated and has been for decades. There is no oversight for what goes into all those powders and pills. It’s the Wild West. I have been reading stories of athletes testing positive and blaming tainted supplements for decades as well. None of this is new territory. Arnold Schwarzenegger just launched a supplement company to address this issue. From Men’s Health:

Ladder aims to change how you view food supplements. It hits the crowded protein market with a direct-to-consumer model that skips the middle man (sorry, GNC) and a promise to personalize your nutrition. “The idea is not to overwhelm people with these huge cans of protein, stuff they didn’t know what to do with, how many scoops to put in,” the 71-year-old bodybuilding icon tells Men's Health.

You don’t buy a giant tub of protein from Ladder. Instead, you head to the company website and fill out a questionnaire. Ladder then ships you packages of protein tuned to your specific needs and body type.

It’s an idea that Schwarzenegger got a few years ago from James, whom he’s known for 20 years. After struggling through the 2014 NBA Finals, James decided to start developing his own food supplements—supplements designed for his body chemistry and made from ingredients he could trust. When he mentioned that to Schwarzenegger, the action hero was instantly intrigued.

“He explained to me that the whole idea behind it was that he cannot afford to be tested and not pass a drug test,” Schwarzenegger said. “I found that fascinating, because that was always my complaint about the (protein) products, that they don’t know what is in this. You know that, ‘OK, this is protein or this is whey protein or this is milk protein or this is egg protein. You know that, but you don’t know exactly what is in it.”

 That idea also appealed to Vonn, a world-class skier who, much like LeBron, can't afford to fail a test. Crawford, who has plenty of experience marketing products, joined soon after. "It was kind of organic," says Schwarzenegger. "There was no deadline. We never even thought about, you know, starting a company, until awhile back. And so here we are."

              I do think that Kelli Holm has a point that there should be some level of education regarding anti-doping. It’s only fair that everyone who competes in the sport understands that CrossFit has a zero tolerance policy regarding banned substances and that you’re rolling the dice if you take any supplement without testing it first. As for holding supplement companies accountable, that will probably never happen. From The Atlantic:

While it costs millions of dollars to develop and substantiate a pharmaceutical product, selling supplements requires no such investment. And new products are easily sold as supplements: The only common feature among them, as defined by the FDA, is that these are edible things “not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases.”

That is why people take them, though.

This expansive category was set forth in the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act of 1994, known as DSHEA, which passed on Kessler’s watch. Backed by Senator Orrin Hatch and enormous investment from the supplement industry, the law allows any of these products to go directly to market and carry unfounded claims about what the product does. The burden is on the FDA to prove that the product is unsafe, if it later proves to be harming people, and then take the producer to court.

“When there's a problem, FDA does take action, and usually it's when there is a contaminant,” explained Margaret Hamburg, who served as FDA commissioner from 2009 to 2015. She noted that while companies are required to report any known “severe” adverse effects of their products, “it's very hard to even know what's going on.”

              Because the burden of proof is on the FDA, they’re only going to do anything when it becomes a safety issue. They don’t have the time or the budget to investigate why a couple of athletes tested positive. The best thing that you can do is break free of the supplement habit. They’re not getting regulated anytime soon.

Stay Well: The Atlantic sent James Hamblin out to the desert to find himself. His destination was the Wellspring wellness festival in Palm Springs. The festival was a gathering of a couple thousand of fitness and wellness enthusiasts who could afford to shell out $1000 and travel to Palm Springs. If that sounds like it could be a bit elitist, it was. But to the credit of the participants, they were very aware of that and concerned about the implications.

Elitism was a hot point of contention and discussion among attendees. The convention center was literally divided into two camps: One wing held the expo, with its many aforementioned products, while some 100 yards away a separate wing housed stages where speakers condemned wanton consumerism.

“A significant cost is the association of wellness with money—thinking you need something external, tinctures and potions and balms. Its, you know, it’s the stuff that’s here,” said the Zen priest Angel Kyodo Williams, the second of only four black women recognized as teachers in the Japanese Zen lineage, during a talk in the latter wing as she gestured in the direction of the expo. “And there’s nothing wrong with those things, but we have a psychic connection that wellness equals something I can purchase, something I’m in competition for, something that I have to acquire because it’s not intrinsic to me.”

Also:

Wellness isn’t just gendered. Most of the products and services that define the industry are clearly marketed toward young, thin, toned, ambulatory women who are white. Some speakers were blunt about the fact that wellness is often synonymous with—and sometimes a proxy for—whiteness. One panel was literally called “Wellness Beyond Whiteness,” in which it was decided that wellness needed to be totally reconciled into something for everyone—not to simply be “inclusive” or “bring people to the table,” but to demolish the table and, as with any growing movement, keep building new tables.

The old “bring people to the table” metaphor rang especially egregious to the artist and writer Anasa Troutman, who had a similarly revelatory vision for wellness: “Unless we’re willing to make a commitment to community, we will never be well. Even if you wake up every morning and drink your juice and do your yoga, without that commitment to each other we will not be well as a country and as a world,” Troutman said.

And:

This is at odds with the consumerist bent to wellness. If the movement indeed rejects the quick-fix products, which seems infeasible, it’s unclear what wellness is to become. If wellness is actually essentially the inverse of consumerism, and nearly synonymous with connectedness and wholeness and feeling complete, then the industry will need a new way to monetize.

Wellness is such a broad and holistic idea. Fitness is much more contained but shares a lot of the same problems. It is also becoming a privilege of the affluent and suffers from a rash of people selling unnecessary products. I worry that people think that they need something external in order to get fit. I don’t think that fitness is the inverse of consumerism but I hate the idea that people might be discouraged from pursuing their fitness goals because they assume that they need a lot of money to do so. Fitness needs to be more inclusive as well.

I would love to get a non-American view on this because there seems to be this underlying assumption that everything has to be monetized. Just because you have a good idea, does that automatically mean that you have to figure out a way to get rich from it?

Shiver Yourself Thin: It’s no great insight that people love the idea of fitness shortcuts. Those who don’t work-out dream of a magic pill, something that would give them the benefits of exercise without all the sweat and toil. Those who do work-out dream of some way to trick their body into working harder or recovering better than it does naturally. This can lead people down some very strange roads. You might see it in a person running in 3 pairs of sweats on an 80 degree day. Or in a person working out with a mask designed to simulate conditions at altitude. The latest buzz has been exercising in the cold. The idea is that your body has to use more energy in order to keep you warm which will burn more calories, right? Not really. From Vox:

Now here’s the rub: These processes only kick in to keep you warm when you’re truly cold. But once you start exercising — running or cross-country skiing, for instance — outside, you’re going to start generating heat from the physical activity. And the exercise alone may give you enough heat that your body wouldn’t burn any extra calories through shivering and brown fat.

That’s why you can go running in very cold temperatures wearing a light sweater and pants, but if you were just sitting around outside in the same cold climate, you’d need to bundle up in a heavy jacket and hat, or you’d start to shiver, to stay warm, Pontzer explained.

“The best way to use the cold to burn more calories would be to not exercise while you're outdoors,” Pontzer added. “You'd get your brown fat cooking and making heat, and might even start shivering, all of which burns calories.”

Now, it is possible to get those energy-burning heating processes going while exercising. Cypess imagined a scenario where a person is exercising in subzero temperatures, and wearing light enough clothes, that the exercise alone isn’t keeping him warm, and thermogenesis kicks in.

But even in that case, you’d only burn a few additional calories at best, Cypess said. In studies where he’s put participants in cold rooms for entire days, they burned off an additional 150 to 200 calories. Again, that’s a full day of cold — not an hour’s worth of outdoor activity.

You can’t trick your body into working harder during exercise. You are already working hard. You can’t work extra hard without any additional effort. If you’re running 7:00 minute miles, you can’t get the benefit of running 6:30 miles without putting in the effort to run 6:30 miles.

Umbrella Company: Club Industry interviewed Anthony Geisler, the CEO of Xponetial, the private equity-backed company that is gobbling up boutique fitness brands. He gave a peek into his strategy and how he views the industry.

With seven boutique brands in different verticals now in its stable, Geisler is on his way to including a brand under Xponential from each of the eight cores he sees in the boutique market: Pilates, barre, cycling, rowing, yoga, stretch and dance. The eighth core is running, he said, noting that he is in pursuit of a running brand but not divulging the potential acquisition. 

              What about HIIT? Or cardio kick-boxing? They seem like more a core in the boutique market than running.

Also:

The portfolio of Xponential brands allow landlords to create a “fit row” at their strip malls while working with one company instead of dealing with multiple companies, Geisler said. Xponential has already created next-door-neighbor offering in several cities, including in Orange County, California, where a Row House is located next to a Club Pilates and in Louisville, Kentucky, where a CycleBar stands next to a Club Pilates.

Having studios in close proximity to each other is a win-win-win—for landlords (who need to fill their brick and mortar spaces), Xponential (who wants to sell more franchises) and members (who want easy access to multiple fitness options).

Another win for members is a pass that allows them to upgrade their memberships so they can attend classes at more than one Xponential studio brand.

              There is so much potential here in linking together a bunch of boutiques. Co-locating gives consumers a central location and helps landlords fill those big spaces. Having a bunch of boutiques under the same corporate umbrella could lead to some sort of master boutique membership. That’s why it’s even more surprising that Xponetial doesn’t consider HIIT a core discipline. None of the current brands in the Xponetial portfolio contain strength-training. That’s the missing piece to a complete fitness picture.

              Geisler also had some thoughts on fitness fads:

Anyone who thinks that the studio trend will cool because people will tire of paying for a singular activity may not want to voice that opinion to Geisler. He has heard that “garbage” for 16 to 17 years, he said, even back to his LA Boxing days when people called boxing a fad.

“I don’t know when this downfall is coming or when this ‘fad’ is over,” he said. “I heard that Pilates was a fad. I have heard it all. Yoga was a fad until it was a staple. I just don’t know why it’s going to go away.”

              Amen brother.

What’s Swedish for fitness: I just wanted to share this bit of news: Ikea is collaborating with Adidas on home fitness solutions. From Architectural Digest:

Of course, it wouldn’t be a trend unless IKEA is partaking, and sure enough, the retailer announced an upcoming collaboration with Adidas on a collection to make exercising at home easier, and at a good price point. “We know the home plays an important role in creating lifelong habits both for adults and children,” said Josefine Aberg, Adidas’s VP of Design, Training at the Ikea Democratic Design Days last June. “So we will really be looking at how we can make fitness fit into their home environment, and how it can be a part of their daily routine.” While there is no specific launch date for the collection, the two megabrands have been popping into real households to learn where the challenges lie, primarily with space restrictions. But if there’s any company that can solve a small space problem, it’s IKEA, so look out for whole new ways to build buns of steel from the comfort of your living room.

              I am curious what this will look like because working out at home typically requires more open space, not more furniture. The one direction that I could see this going is into furniture that allows consumers to store their fitness equipment out of sight. A credenza that has a dumbbell rack inside it or something like that. Somehow, I doubt that they do anything really cool like an armoire with a pop-out pull-up bar but you never know.

Tidbits:

-A brief history of the Turkey Trot

-The U.S. Army is starting a functional fitness competition team

-Sir Mix-A-Lot was ahead of his time

-Eat your vegetables

-User beware

-Don’t forget to stretch

THE WEEKLY HOWL HAS A TEN YEAR RULE

Planet Apathy: Everyone knows that the fitness industry is “barbell-ing”, growing fastest at the low end and the high end. The high end is represented by companies like SoulCycle, CrossFit, and Orangetheory. The low end is represented by Planet Fitness and since going public, it is thriving. From The Motley Fool:

It was another strong quarterly workout for Planet Fitness (NYSE:PLNT). Shares of the discount gym operator hit more all-time highs last week, fueled by blowout financial results. 

Investors are used to strong quarterly outings at Planet Fitness, and they've been rewarded handsomely in the process. The stock is trading 59% higher in 2018. Planet Fitness shares have risen by at least 46% in each of its first three full years as a public company, more than tripling since going public at $16 in the summer of 2015. 

              The thing about the “barbell-ing” is that it’s not just about the price point, it’s growing at the apathy and passion ends as well. Planet Fitness has figured out how to turn apathy to its advantage. Gyms have always benefited from members that didn’t use their membership. The problem with that free money is that eventually those members will cancel and have to be replaced and acquiring new customers is expensive. There is a finite period of time that people will pay $30/month for something that they never use. Planet Fitness is based on a bet that there isn’t a finite period of time that people will $9.99/month for something that they never use. Or at least that it is a much longer period of time.  Then they designed the entire company around this bet. They built their gyms to appeal to people who don’t work-out regularly and alienate those who do. This meant getting rid of free weights, instituting the lunk alarm, and even banning certain types of exercise like plyometrics. You don’t need 30,000 square feet to accommodate your members because they’re not going to show up anyway so they save a lot of money on rent. Then to hedge against those members canceling anyway, they added pizza nights and free bagels so that members would still feel like their membership was worth it even though they never worked out. And it’s working!

The case for the upside at Planet Fitness is that the concept is not limited to hardcore workout junkies. Planet Fitness sets members back as little as $10 and only as much as $20 a month, which explains why it's been able to grow to more than 12.2 million members. It crossed the 10 million-member mark just early last year. Joining a Planet Fitness is not a bank-breaking decision. 

Planet Fitness has ramped up to 1,646 units in short order, but it hasn't even hit half as many fitness centers as it hopes to open. The goal here is 4,000 units, and by then it expects have enhanced its money-making potential through in-store initiatives and brand partnerships. In short, as good as things have been for investors since its 2015 IPO, there are still more than a few reps to go before this workout is complete. 

              Planet Fitness has figured out how to monetize people’s apathy towards fitness. The other end of the barbell is the passion side. It’s consumers paying a lot of money because they’re so passionate about their work-out. The joke about CrossFit is that the first rule of CrossFit is to always talk about CrossFit. I understand why that can be annoying but that is a reflection of how passionate CrossFitters are. What’s really interesting is that the home exercise equipment market has shifted over to the passion side after years spent on the apathy side. From Vox:

Peloton is not like the exercise bikes and NordicTracks of yore that largely ended up as clothing racks. It’s managed to harness the energy, connection, and competitiveness of a live group fitness class. Thanks to a methodical “casting” system for instructors and a well-tended and well-studied community presence on Facebook, people are exceptionally loyal to the exercise modality. The company was founded in 2012 and delivered its first bike in 2014; it boasts of having more than 1 million users.

Now, at-home, “connected” fitness options, like Peloton’s answer to SoulCycle, are ascendant. There are an abundance of class streaming apps, like the audio app Aaptiv, the so-called “Spotify of fitness,” that you only need a phone to use. But increasingly, more companies have been inspired by Peloton’s success to the point that they are asking customers to commit to pricey home equipment. There are now several Pelotons of rowing (Hydrow, Cityrow), a Peloton of weight training (Tonal), a Peloton of boxing (Rumble), and a Peloton of group cardio studio fitness (Mirror).

Like a lot of things that emerge from the wellness industry, Peloton comes at a steep price. It costs $2,000 for a bike, and that’s before you add in the monthly streaming service. The company is valued at more than $4 billion, and an IPO is likely imminent. Since people are busier and boutique fitness is more popular than ever, it’s not surprising that a business that accounts for both of these things is thriving. Peloton’s success is also a convincing sign that high-priced fitness has been normalized. It wasn’t long ago that SoulCycle’s high class prices were raising eyebrows, but now people are willing to pay up for a stationary bike of their own at home.

Everyone is consumed with building the next Peloton but we really should think about what home exercise equipment used to be. It was Nordic Tracks and cheap treadmills that ended up becoming expensive coat racks in most households and those cheap barbell sets that you could get at Walmart. It was also gimmicky crap like thigh masters and shake weights. Now it’s $2,000 Peloton bikes and Rogue Fitness products. It’s not about cheap crap and gimmicks anymore, it’s about gear that will allow you to get a gym-quality work-out in the comfort of your own home. The schism in fitness isn’t just a price thing, it’s also a schism in enthusiasm. And the home market is switching sides.

The Vox article also had an interesting depiction of what it is like to participate in a cycling class that is being streamed.

In the cycling studio, 12 instructors record classes about eight to 12 times a week each, in front of a live group of actual riders at an NYC studio; a separate treadmill studio is ramping up its offerings as the treads start to ship. Classes at the studio are $32. Lunchtime classes, which are hard to fill with paying customers, are often free.

Taking a live Peloton class at the company’s fitness studio feels like being in a TV show about a spin class, because that’s essentially what it is. The lights, cameras, and some scripted patter of the instructor are clues that this class is different from SoulCycle, Flywheel, or any of the other popular spinning classes that have taken over gym culture in the past decade. There are cameras mounted on the ceiling that zip around getting shots of the instructor from different angles, ultimately feeding the footage to a huge, high-tech video studio in the basement level.

The instructor takes care to speak to the camera more than to the IRL class. It felt slightly stilted, a thing that I found weird since it feels so authentic when you’re actually on the bike at home. I felt a little bit like a prop in the room. Brad Olson, the senior vice president of member experience at Peloton, acknowledges that having bodies in the physical space to create energy “does translate on camera. Ultimately, we’re optimizing for the million members, not for the 50 folks in the room.”

 How does this play out as streaming classes continue to proliferate? They want people in the classes because they want it to feel like a real class but if the participants feel like a “prop”, then they’re probably not coming back. Do these companies have to start offering classes for free (as Peloton is already partially doing)? I even wonder if, as the number of streaming companies grow, they will have to start competing for people willing to go to these classes. Maybe that’s with some kind of perk or benefit or maybe it’s with straight up cash.  

Big Government: The Department of Health and Human Services released the second edition of its guidelines to physical activity this week and there was one major change. From Gizmodo:

The U.S. government has released its latest recommendations on how physically active we should be to stay healthy, and do we detect a hint of desperation in their tone? The guidelines, as before, call for adults to aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise, to get the most optimal benefits of physical activity. But they also make clear that any physical activity, no matter how short or relatively mild, is better than nothing at all.

Also:

What makes the guidelines different this time around, though, is the emphasis on convincing people that any extra exertion is worth the effort, even if they don’t meet the above numbers. There is no longer a mandate that people have to be active for at least 10 minutes at a time for it to count toward their weekly exercise. They also state, as recent research has suggested, that people can benefit from any level of exercise they are able to accomplish, no matter how small.

              It will never stop surprising me how hard it is to get people to exercise. I think that this was the right move on the part of HHS because you want to make exercise as accessible as possible. If you tell people that they should exercise for 1 hour a day, what most people hear is that you can’t do that then why bother doing anything.

A lot of people have a weird all-or-nothing attitude towards fitness. We’ll be seeing it in a couple of months when people are flooding the gyms. Maybe it’s a desire for instant gratification or a focus on short-term thinking, I don’t know. Sometimes I think that people are trying to flip a switch and turn into a “fitness person”. The quote that always comes to mind is from Bill Gates: “Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in 1 year and underestimate what they can accomplish in 10 years”. That’s the most daunting thing for most people: there is no secret. If you want to be fit then you have to do the work day in and day out for the next 10 years and the rest of your life. 

              The psychology around getting people to exercise is fascinating because it is so complex and often counter-intuitive. Fitness is the best product in the world. It will make you look good and feel good, it will make you healthier and smarter, it can earn you the respect of people around you. It can get you laid! This sounds like something that should sell itself yet selling it is incredibly complicated. HHS is discovering that. They’re basically pleading with Americans to just do something, anything and they’re not wrong to do so.

For the cynics in the crowd, though, the more lenient guidelines seem to also reflect just how few Americans are physically active. According to the HHS, only around 26 percent of men, 19 percent of women, and 20 percent of teens meet the current guidelines. And annually, around 10 percent of premature deaths and $117 billion in healthcare costs might be attributable to people not getting sufficient exercise.

              We are on a collision course with disaster if we can’t figure out how to get the majority of Americans to start exercising.

Rule the World: A couple of months ago, CrossFit began the process of revamping the process for qualifying for the CrossFit Games. It laid off dozens of employees whose main responsibilities had been in documenting and promoting the Games. The original narrative was that founder Greg Glassman was “anti-Games” and was re-structuring the company to re-focus on affiliate growth and CrossFit Health. The Regionals were discontinued and a plan to partner with existing fitness competitions was disclosed. Now that we can see the primarily international composition of the qualifying events, I am proposing a new narrative. I don’t think that Glassman was ever “anti-Games”. He just never saw the CrossFit Games as an end unto itself. The end goal wasn’t to find out who the Fittest Man and Woman was; it was to be a marketing tool for the affiliates. The only thing that’s changed is that CrossFit is getting most of its growth internationally instead of domestically. From Morning Chalk-Up:

CrossFit in Brazil is exploding, adding approximately 353 new affiliates in 2018. That’s 31%, or nearly one third, of the current gyms in Brazil. Also notable are France, Italy and Spain which added 143, 148, and 118 new affiliates, respectively.

  • Brazil — 353 new affiliates (31% of total)

  • Italy — 148 new affiliates (22%)

  • France — 143 new affiliates (30%)

  • Spain — 118 new affiliates (26%)

  • China — 47 new affiliates (31%)

China, which had about 15 affiliates in 2014, has exploded with a 920% increase in the past four years, adding more than 130 new affiliates.

Analyzing the chart above, it shouldn’t be surprising that the locations of sanctioned events closely mirrors the list of fastest growing markets as well as the top 15 countries. In fact, 14 of the 17 sanctioned events are in the top 15 countries. The only exceptions are Argentina, Iceland and United Arab Emirates.

              It was time to take the show on the road. The problem is that holding a series of international events is both very expensive (the Brazil Regional cost over $1 million) and a huge pain in the ass. So CrossFit decided to partner with competitions in the countries where it was seeing the most affiliate growth. This is just Phase 2 of the CrossFit story. Phase 1 was rapid expansion in North America and the Regionals/Games reflected that. Phase 2 is where the majority of growth is coming from Brazil, Australia, Europe, and China. And now CrossFit has re-configured the sport side to reflect that and drive more growth in those countries. They have an eye for Phase 3 by crowning National Champions based on the Open results. I am sure that they are hoping to identify and encourage growth in a new set of countries once growth starts to slow in the Phase 2 countries. Once that happens, expect to see a re-jiggering of the qualifying events again.

              None of that means that they will abandon the U.S., they just announced another U.S. event for the 2020 season. From BarBend:

The latest CrossFit Games sanctioned event (qualifier) has been announced for the 2020 CrossFit Games season. The event is set to take place in March of 2020 in Del Mar, California and is being coined the West Coast CrossFit Classic. Live and Loud Sports, who also host the Wodapalooza CrossFit Festival based in Miami, Florida, will be the hosts of this event.

Del Mar was also the home of the California/West Regional. California is the birthplace of CrossFit and home to a lot of affiliates. There wasn’t a West Coast event before this was announced and this will be a new event. The geographic placement of all these events, both international and domestic, is being carefully considered. The 2020 season will have 5 U.S. events spread across the country (Florida, California, Ohio, Texas, and Maryland). There is a method to the madness.

Nutrition: In the world of fitness and nutrition, there are trends and there are fads. Tae-bo was a fad, group exercise classes are a trend. If you want to avoid looking foolish, then you need to be able to distinguish between the two. Which brings us to the keto diet. The keto diet is booming and companies hawking products related to it are popping up all over the place. From Grub Street:

To track the keto trend, Yeji Lee, a marketing insights specialist who follows the keto craze for Kerry Taste & Nutrition, says they track consumer habits to see how many people look and act as if they’re on keto diets. That, specifically, means butter. While the market for butter, in general, has grown 5 percent this year, keto-focused butter has exploded. “One core ketogenic staple is grass-fed butter,” she explains. New data shows grass-fed butter sales are up 45 percent this year. “You see a general trend toward carb-conscious foods — which grew by 10.3 percent in the last year — and moving away from no-, low-, and reduced-fat foods, which declined by 4 percent over the same time.”

Meanwhile, Bulletproof Coffee — a keto pioneer of sorts and the group that popularized the idea of adding butter to coffee — has grown 80 percent since 2012, runs cafés in Seattle and L.A., and now sells coffee pods, as well as something called “Brain Octane MCT oil” in Whole Foods. This year, Bulletproof also raised $40 million from Starbucks investor Trinity Ventures, and $17 million the year before that.

              The keto diet is the fad, cutting back on carbs is the trend. Keto isn’t even the first diet craze in the carb cutting trend. It seems like everyone was on Atkins in the ‘00s and the keto craze has given it new life.

The Atkins plan is still around, of course, thanks to some corrective re-strategizing. Rob Lowe is the new spokesman, and there’s an Atkins 100 program rolling out: It’s a diet that allows up to 100 carbs per day, five times more than the old diet plan allowed. The thinking behind this is that the original plan was “unnecessarily restrictive” for some people, says senior vice president of innovation Linda Zink. “We want to get the message out that, yes, we offer a way to lose weight, but this is also a lifestyle.” As far how much Atkins interest is due to keto-fueled interest in low-carb diets in general, Zink says that Atkins has seen “continued growth for years,” and “we don’t see the pendulum swinging back the other way to low fat.” to it as well.

              One rule of thumb that I employ is the ten year rule: is this something that will seem ridiculous ten years from now? Cutting back on carbs? No, that seems reasonable. Putting butter in your coffee? That will seem ridiculous.

Tidbits:

-Anytime Fitness acquires Basecamp Fitness

-Febreze wants to be in your gym bag

-Ultrarunners are insane

-Yoga and meditation are very popular these days

-How to stay in shape in space

-How to stay in shape underwater

 

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS HEADED TO THE POLLS

Sugar Water: Earlier this week was Election Day where millions of people headed to the polls and voted both on who would represent us as well as a number of propositions. In Washington, voters had the opportunity to vote on whether future soda taxes should be legal. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like the voters understood what they were voting for and that was by design. From Vox:

Voters in the state passed Initiative 1634, a ballot measure that makes it impossible for cities and counties to enact new soda taxes. (An existing soda tax in Seattle will still stand.)

But some voters might not have realized they were voting against soda taxes. The industry-led campaign “Yes! To Affordable Groceries” described the measure as “opposing new taxes on everyday grocery items, such as meats, dairy and beverages.” But state-level bans on food and beverage taxes increasingly seem to be an effective way for industry to curb the soda tax momentum that’s been building.

As rates of obesity and diabetes, which have been linked to excessive soda consumption, rise, more and more US cities and counties and countries around the world have been turning to soda taxes.

The basic idea behind the taxes is this: Making drinks like soda more expensive through taxation helps reduce consumption, improves awareness of the health harms they carry, and nudges people to choose lower- or no-calorie beverages instead. To date, 40 counties and seven cities — including Berkeley, California, and Philadelphia — have implemented soda taxes, and more municipalities are currently considering them.

Preliminary research suggests these taxes do seem to curb soda drinking, and ding beverage makers’ bottom line at a time when soda sales are already flagging.

In an effort to prevent more taxes from being enacted, beverage makers are taking a page from the tobacco industry’s playbook and supporting ballot measures and state laws that block governments from passing new taxes on food and drink. But the trick is that these measures are framed as a way to help consumers avoid spending more on what they’re putting in their grocery carts.

And that’s exactly what happened in Washington last night.

There are a lot of things causing the obesity epidemic but that fact that purveyors of sugar water have so much money and power in this country is a huge factor. They stick their dirty hands into health research and politics and lobbying. The fact that they are emulating the tobacco industry’s tactics should tell you all that you need to know about Big Soda.

Motivation: Bustle published a list of 7 ways to get motivated for the gym. It wasn’t a bad list, it was pretty good. My issue is that it presented all 7 as equivalent when one stood out from the rest.

1.    Set Concrete Goals

2.    Go With a Friend

3.    Find a Comfortable Outfit

4.    Listen to Music

5.    Create a Plan

6.    Branch Out

7.    Keep a Visual Reminder

This list should be presented as #1 and some other stuff:

“Here’s the #1 way to get motivated for the gym, 4 other useful tips and some fluff”

In case you’re wondering, I would rank them in this order:

1.       Set Concrete Goals (This is the single best way to stay motivated, have a defined goal that you’re working towards)

2.       Create a Plan (Know what you’re going to do before you set foot in the gym and then get it done)

3.       Go With a Friend (Making the gym a more social experience can keep you accountable and make it more fun)

4.       Branch Out (Variety is the spice of life)

5.       Keep a Visual Reminder (This works for a lot of people)

6.       Listen to Music (This kind of contradicts #3 but also, doesn’t everyone already do this?)

7.       Find a Comfortable Outfit (As opposed to working out in uncomfortable clothes? I can’t say that it’s wrong, it’s just common sense)

What frustrates me about this is that the entire article should be about #1. That’s the real secret and I feel like it’s hiding in plain sight in article like this. They make it seem like it’s equivalent to Listen to Music.

Domination: Steve Jobs once told the CEO of Nike that they should completely streamline their product line and make it more like Apple’s. Just have one product in each category. Mark Parker did not take Jobs’ advice because athletic apparel is completely different from consumer electronics and he understood that. I think of this whenever I see someone write that something is going to replace gyms or trainers. From Fast Company:

Currently, the majority of Aaptiv’s community skews female, college-educated, under 34, with household income around $100,000. Most already have a gym membership or boutique fitness regimen, notes Agarwal, but they find that Aaptiv serves as a worthwhile add-on–either to fill in for the days they don’t head to the gym, or because the experience trumps what they get in a live class.

              The fitness industry isn’t predisposed to being a winner-take-all, zero-sum environment. It is an immature industry and frequently misunderstood. It’s not like the tech industry. There will never be an iPhone of fitness because 1) people have very different fitness goals 2) people have very different preferences for what they want their fitness experience to be and 3) some people will choose to mix and match.

              The biggest trend that we’re seeing right now is a move away from the big box gym, where you can pretty much do anything under one roof, to smaller, specialized gyms. That is only going to lead to more mix and matching. People need more fitness options not less. Convenience is the name of the game and that might mean having a traditional gym membership as well as some work-out at home options. It means that consumers are going to be assembling a routine from an increasingly diverse fitness menu. The success of a service like Aaptiv might hinge on being a complement to brick and mortar gyms not on being a gym-killer.

Army Strong: The Army’s new physical fitness test is coming in 2020 and it is not without controversy. The ACFT is a complete re-imagining of what a military fitness test can look like. The Army, Navy, and Air Force currently test push-ups, sit-ups (or some version thereof), and a short run. The Marines swap pull-ups for the push-ups but otherwise stick to the formula. The advantage of this is that it’s easy to test. You don’t need much equipment if any and you can test a lot of people at the same time. The disadvantage of this is that it’s a poor test of the fitness that is required for combat. Implementation of the ACFT is going to be a lot harder than the current test so they tried out at West Point. From War On The Rocks:

The U.S. Military Academy’s Department of Physical Education administered the ACFT twice in the past two weeks to two different populations: members of the faculty who are over 40 years old, and the class of 2019. The class of 2019 is particularly representative because the testing population is the approximate size of a light infantry battalion. Using 16 testing lanes over the course of two days, it took just under four hours per day to test 732 cadets, plus 40 minutes of daily set up and tear down. The test was administered on a large, flat field adjacent to a two-mile run course. It required 32 graders, each of whom had been trained on movement standards, grading criteria, and traffic flow through one hour-long session the week prior. By testing four cadets per lane, throughput was approximately 64 cadets every 25 minutes, yielding an overall flow rate of around 128 people per hour. Throughput was enabled by the use of six lane supervisors who helped to manage graders, monitor movement standards, and field questions. Neither the cadet population nor the over-40 population sustained any injuries during testing — a remarkable statistic given that some test participants had never done a deadlift. Cadet feedback was largely positive, in spite of the fact that few approached the maximum test score.

What did we learn about the ACFT from this experience? First, the test is not “too complicated,” nor is its execution too time- and labor-intensive for the average unit to handle. Our pilot suggests that four hours for 400 people is a generous upper limit for overall testing time. That number will only go down as units and leaders gain testing familiarity. The data show that a battalion of 514 soldiers, using one company to grade, will be able to test their entire formation in four and a half to five hours. This is, admittedly, about two–three times longer than it takes to administer the current APFT, but is still less time than it takes to rehearse for and execute a single battalion change of command.

Furthermore, the comparative complexity of the new test may turn out to be a good thing. The amount of planning and preparation required to administer the ACFT means that it will likely become a battalion-level event, as opposed to a company-, squad-, or platoon-level event that it is easy for leaders to ignore. This means that every member of the battalion will have to participate, and they will have to do so in front of other unit members. Gone are the days of pencil-whipping an APFT card or of leaders simply opting out of an APFT because they cannot be bothered to take it. The ACFT may thus bring a welcome culture change not only in its emphasis on realistic physical standards, but on its demand for visible leader accountability to those standards. Far from micromanaging, the ACFT has the potential to empower local commanders to hold themselves and their formations to a higher standard of fitness across a broader range of physical domains.

              It sound like the ACFT will take most of the work day to complete and I think that’s a good thing.  It will feel like more of an event. The old-school test felt perfunctory, something to get over with before you start another regular work day. This will require a lot more resources but that sends a message. The message is that fitness is important. It’s not just a check in the box.  Fitness should be a big deal in the military. If you think that you can’t devote 2 days a year to ensuring that your people are fit and combat-ready then you need to re-evaluate your priorities as a military leader.

Marketing: If you watch television, then there is a good chance that you have seen a commercial that looks like an ad for CrossFit and then turns out to be hawking light beer or something else completely unrelated to fitness. I dubbed this fitness marketing a while back and it is an emerging trend. From PR Newswire:

The "2018 Southwest Sports Marketing Report," crafted and commissioned by leading marketing services agency LAVIDGE, reveals insights about consumer spending choices in this fast-evolving space. Among the key findings: in addition to a preference for TV advertising around health and exercise, consumers spend more money on gym memberships than sporting events, equipment or apparel, and prefer a casual approach when it comes to sports and fitness.

Indeed, ads that contain the word "healthy" strongly resonate with consumers who want more products and services that "support a healthy lifestyle."

"We've analyzed the business from all angles and have discovered the most impactful tactics and messages to reach the sports and fitness-minded public," said David Nobs, managing director, business development at LAVIDGE.

              You can also see fitness marketing manifested in experiential marketing initiatives. This is department stores offering boutique fitness classes in order to generate foot traffic in their stores. I consider fitness marketing to be a close relative of sports marketing. PR Newswire seems to think that it is a part of sports marketing.

Sports marketing is a booming industry, continuing to dominate corporate spending, far outpacing entertainment, causes and the arts. A recent report published by ESP Properties further predicts brands will spend more on marketing, advertising and sponsorship this year, resulting in industry growth of 4.5 percent in North America and 4.9 percent globally.

"Today, the relationship between sports and entertainment is inseparable and interchangeable. Sports still makes sense as a way to enhance corporate image and increase product visibility. If done well, it provides companies with opportunities to promote brand awareness, build loyalty, deliver quality content and enhance customer relationships, all in a single package," said Nobs.

              The relationship between sports and fitness is not as close as people tend to assume. The primary way that the majority of Americans interact with sports is as a passive observer. Adults watch football, baseball, and basketball and rarely, if ever, play the game themselves. Fitness is something that people actually, they interact with it as a participant. I don’t consider fitness marketing a subset of sports marketing for that reason. You’re selling a completely different ball of wax with fitness than you are with sports.

CrossFit: There are a lot of people that are not fans of the changes that have come to the sport of CrossFit. Change is usually unpopular at first. Nicolas Atkin of the South China Morning Post is one of them.

Gone are the old Regionals. Instead now the CrossFit Open will crown 162 male, female and team national champions from each nation with a CrossFit affiliate. They will all be in Madison, Wisconsin next August, along with the winners of 16 newly-sanctioned events acting as invitationals.

These 16 events span the globe, in an attempt to give the sport a more international flavour. The first qualifier takes place in Dubai in December, with the 2019 schedule kicking off in Australia in January, before taking in other stops in Iceland, China, Dubai, South Africa, France, Brazil, the UK, Italy, the Netherlands and Argentina.

Of course, the US still gets a look in with four events. But there’s the rub – CrossFit as a sport originated in North America, and most of its best athletes are from there. And now some of them are likely to miss out on qualifying for the 2019 Games.

“[At this 2018 Games] I did see athletes coming into the arena carrying their flags. And boy, it looked like a 4th of July parade, you know?” CrossFit CEO and founder Greg Glassman told the Girls Gone WOD podcast.

“And there’s nothing wrong with that, but better than that would be a true reflection of the growth and the universal nature, the globalisation, of the affiliate … 160-something [countries], I believe, participated in the Open. They don’t all make it to the end.

              I disagree that North American athletes are going to miss out on qualifying for the Games because I think that athletes will get on a plane if they need to. People that have dedicated their lives to CrossFit will be willing to travel in order to qualify. I would be more concerned about the potential financial burden this puts on the athletes. Transporting a handful of people around the world is an easy problem to overcome. Getting the media attention that comes from having a CrossFit event in Brazil or China cannot be replicated any other way.

And while before you had a straightforward 40-man and 40-woman field at the CrossFit Games, the new qualification system will cause similar format changes.

Now there are likely to be around 200 athletes in each field, with the top 20 finishers from the CrossFit Open who aren’t national champions also qualifying, plus four “at-large” wild cards chosen by CrossFit Inc.

“What could happen – it seems enjoyable to me – is earlier in the week put 200 [athletes] to a task that leaves 10. And then [we’re] watching 10 for two days,” Glassman said. “A higher intensity, denser format, where there’s less to watch but more to see.”

He added: “In short order we’re gonna cull the herd to a very watchable and exciting number of people.”

But if so many athletes are going to be culled because they’re not good enough, then why have them there in the first place?

              This new system might not be as fair. Making a cut to ten athletes so early in the competition is going to leave out some people who could have made a late surge for the top of the leaderboard but will instead be watching from the beer garden. But sports are not always fair. There are arbitrary cutoffs in every system. In Olympic track & field, every country can send a max of 3 athletes per event. Why not 4? Why not 2? It’s an arbitrary number and every four years, there are deserving athletes who missed 3rd place by inches and get nothing to show for it. Is that fair? I don’t know but it is thrilling to watch. Sports fans live for the drama and cutting down to 10 is going to crank up the intensity on the 1st day. The drama of who gets left out is going to be fascinating.

              I think that Nicolas gets the why. CrossFit Inc. has always used the sport of CrossFit as sports marketing. That’s the ultimate goal, to grow the affiliate base. It’s not to find out who the Fittest on Earth is. Making the qualifying process more international and crowning national champions is a reflection of where CrossFit’s future growth is going to come from. Everyone will adapt to these changes. Top American athletes will hop on a plane if they have to. The Games will look very different but Mat Fraser is still going to be standing on the top of the podium when it’s all over. And ten years from now, there will be a lot more top athletes from outside North America.

Tidbits:

-How do you know when it’s time to get a new gym?

-Dwayne Johnson’s new fitness competition show looks like a combination of American Gladiators and the Hunger Games

-Under Armour has a serious culture problem

-Don’t trust the Kardashians

-I want to work-out all night

-Redneck Fitness

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS GOING TO AUSTRALIA

Athleisure: The talk of the fashion world these days is athleisure. Clothes originally designed for the gym are bleeding over into casual wear and even office wear. While this may seem like a new phenomenon, Derek Thompson at The Atlantic has documented how almost everything we wear was derived from active wear.

Let’s look at a couple of specific examples beyond tennis shoes: sport coats, polo shirts, and shorts. For each item, the influence of athletics sticks out like a popped collar.

The first sport coats were adopted by 19th-century Europeans and Britons who enjoyed hunting or horseback riding but found such activities difficult in a typical suit jacket. Young American students borrowed the style with a few tweaks, sometimes pairing sport coats with non-matching pants to play outdoor sports like golf.

What we call a “polo shirt” was originally known as a “tennis shirt.” In the 1920s, the Frenchman René Lacoste was a Grand Slam–champion tennis player who was dissatisfied with the era’s typical athletic garb, which featured long sleeves. To make it easier to scamper around the courts of France, he designed a short-sleeved cotton shirt that could be loosened by unbuttoning part-way down the front, with a starched collar that players could turn up to protect their necks against the sun. (Most recognizably, Lacoste, who was known as “the crocodile” on the court, emblazoned the left breast of the shirt with an image of his nickname.) The shirt was a hit. Other companies, like Brooks Brothers in the United Kingdom, adopted a similar design for polo players, who sought the same breathable shirt. When Ralph Lauren launched his clothing line in the 1970s, he put an image of a polo player on the breast pocket. Thus, a shirt designed for French tennis was co-opted for British polo and gobbled up by preppy Americans, who now use the term polo shirt to describe, without a second’s thought, an everyday article of clothing that is as athletic in its origins as “yoga pants.”

Shorts were perhaps sportswear’s most popular offering, Clemente writes in Dress Casual, a history of early-20th-century American style. Shorts started as gym garb, adored by coeds and despised by their elders. In 1930, a group of newspaper editors at Dartmouth College organized a campus-wide Shorts Protest calling for men to “lounge forth to the supreme pleasure of complete leg freedom.” Readers were encouraged to “bring forth your treasured possession—be it tailored to fit or old flannels delegged.” They brought forth, alright. By mid-century, shorts on American men were nearly as ubiquitous as buzz cuts.

              It’s interesting to see how the function has shaped the form like that. As an active lifestyle is driven more by fitness than specific sports, it is interesting to imagine how much fitness has already influenced fashion and will continue to do so in the future. I don’t know enough about fashion to predict what the next trend will be. We’ve already seen sneakers, sweatshirts, yoga pants, and shorts. Maybe a bigger influx of stretchable and breathable fabrics.

Gym Class Hero: Gym class is kind of a weird thing and I don’t say that because it has been disappearing from schools. While I think that it is important for children to get some exercise during the school day, there should be a greater goal of education built into it. I love playing dodgeball as much as the next guy but it doesn’t teach our kids anything lasting. From The Chicago Tribune:

“You have a lot more control over what you do in gym class now,” she said. “You get to choose what kind of workouts work best for you and how you want to shape your health routine and your body.”

Gym class, she said, “is much more personalized.”

That, Airola said, is the goal.

Sandburg, in Orland Park, began the school year with 40 new spin bikes, newly purchased heart monitors for 1,500 kids and a redesigned class schedule.

“We’re trying to get away from some of the things we all went through (as kids),” he said. “Sports aren’t everybody’s thing.

“Kids need to be given an opportunity to try something new, something different,” he said. The activities they learn and confidence they master in high school, he said, can carry with them throughout their lives.

Also:

The district, one of only a handful in the state to offer SCUBA to its students, is currently piloting a course for freshmen at Shepard High School called “Connecting to Wellness,” that combines physical education and health.

“Students are with the same teacher all year and every couple of weeks they flip between the classroom and PE settings rather than taking one semester of PE and then one semester of health,” VanRaden said. “The hope is that students will be able to transfer what they’re learning in the classroom to what they’re doing in P.E. and vice versa.”

At Sandburg, Airola said students are using the heart monitors to adjust their workout.

“This technology helps them take ownership of their progress,” Airola said.

In strength and conditioning class, kids rotate among stations where they toss medicine balls, flip tires and whip battle ropes up and down.

“It felt like we were getting a little bit stale just doing a couple days of cardio and then three days of weight training,” Airola said. “We needed to spice things up, to get kids more engaged. So every other week, they do this at least once a week.”

              This is fantastic. Playing sports is fun but how many adults continue to play team sports on a regular basis. Most adults who want to stay in shape go to the gym so we should start exposing kids to exercises that they will actually use when they get older. I also love that they’re incorporating classroom sessions into this as well. Fitness is a black box to the majority of Americans. We need to de-mystify it and the best way to do that is by having some form of fitness education in our schools. The sad thing is that Illinois is the only state that still requires PE. Instead of reforming PE in our school, schools are eliminating PE because of funding issues.  It’s a shame because we need to be doing more to fight the obesity epidemic not less.

Boutiques: Fitness has never had much of a presence in publicly traded markets but there has been increased interest from private equity firms. Most of those firms have been acquiring fitness companies with the standard PE motivation of flipping the acquired company for a profit within a few years. TPG has taken a different strategy: amassing a portfolio of boutique fitness brands under the Xponetial Fitness banner. And this week, they picked up another one. From Health Club Management:

Xponential Fitness has acquired Pure Barre, one of the largest barre franchises in the US – making it the seventh business in Xponential's rapidly growing portfolio of fitness brands.

Founded in 2001 by dancer and choreographer Carrie Rezabek Dorr, Pure Barre has more than 517 studios throughout the US and Canada. The chain has expanded rapidly since launching its franchised operations in 2009.

"Pure Barre sets the standard for barre workouts not only in the US, but globally as well," said Anthony Geisler, CEO of Xponential Fitness.

"The addition of Pure Barre to our already robust portfolio of brands enhances our company and establishes Xponential as the number one curator of the best brands in the boutique fitness industry."

              Watching PE firms gobble up fitness companies is interesting because you think about the exit strategy. There isn’t a strong demand for fitness in the public markets and the industry is so fragmented that even the big players aren’t that big. That doesn’t rule out IPO’s but it doesn’t make them super-attractive either. And there aren’t many if any strategic buyers. That leaves flipping companies to other PE firms as the most likely exit strategy. Which is kind of like flipping a house and then selling it to another flipper. What is the next guy going to get out of it that the first guy didn’t?

              Xponetial is trying to create value by assembling this companies. That’s interesting because it’s different. No one else has brands in all the major boutique disciplines. The big question is how Xponetial will tie them together. The CEO has talked about attracting “franchisees who may want to own several different exercise “modalities” in a single market”. I think that there is potential to create some kind of umbrella membership, a closed garden version of ClassPass, so that people can train at multiple boutiques. Either way, this gives TPG a lot of options for its fitness holdings. Keep an eye on Xponetial.

Global Domination: Six more CrossFit sanctioned events were announced this week. Following the trend, there was a strong international representation in this batch as well. From Barbend:

1. Australian CrossFit Championship

This qualifier is set to take place in January 2019 in Queensland, Australia. For this competition, there will be an online qualifier to select the 32 men and women, and 16 teams who will be invited to compete. The top placing woman, man, and team will qualify for the 2019 CrossFit Games.

2. Asia CrossFit Championship

The Asia CrossFit Championship is set to take place in April 2019, and will be China’s first ever CrossFit Games qualifying competition. In CrossFit, Inc.’s press release Max Ma owner of One Nation Huaihai states, “With event programming from CrossFit Games athletes Austin Malleolo, Spencer Hendel and James Hobart, the Asia CrossFit Championship is not one not to miss.”

3. Reykjavik CrossFit Championship

This qualifier is set to take place in May of 2019 and Annie Thorisdottir is serving as the Championship’s director. The top placing man, woman, and team will earn a ticket to the 2019 CrossFit Games. Thorisdottir states in the press release, “Building on the tradition of Icelandic strongmen and women, the competition will be varied and exciting.”

4. Down Under CrossFit Championship

The Down Under CrossFit Championship will be taking placing in May of 2019 in Wollongong, Australia. The Down Under CrossFit Championship’s director Mick shaw states, “This year, the Down Under CrossFit Championship will incorporate some of the scenic settings of Wollongong into the events to create a diverse and challenging event.”

5. Pandaland CrossFit Championship (2020 CrossFit Games)

The Pandaland CrossFit Championship will serve as a qualifier for the 2020 CrossFit Games. This competition is set to take place in December 2019 in Sichuan Province, China. Pandaland CrossFit Championship Director Zhu Chen states in the press release, “We are ready to share our love of history, culture, and sport, and of course, celebrate the growth of the Chinese CrossFit community with the rest of the world.”

              The 6th event is the Rogue Invitational, a new event that will be held at Rogue Fitness HQ in Columbus, OH in May. Let’s check the 2019 breakdown by continent:

North America – 4 (Granite Games, Rogue Invite, Mid-Atlantic CrossFit Challenge, Wodapalooza)

South America – 1 (Brazil CrossFit Champs)

Europe – 5 (Strength in Depth, French Throwdown, Italian Showdown, Lowlands Throwdown, Reykjavik CrossFit Champs)

Asia – 2 (Dubai CrossFit Champs, Asian CrossFit Champs)

Australia – 2 (Australian CrossFit Champs, Down Under CrossFit Champs)

Africa -1 (Fittest in Capetown)

              There are also 2 events that will join the 2020 slate: Pandaland CrossFit Challenge and SouthFit CrossFit Challenge. The 2020 breakdown is as follows:

North America – 4

South America – 2

Europe – 5

Asia – 3

Australia – 2

Africa – 1

              2 events in Australia? That’s a strong representation for the forgotten continent. And it is surprising to see more events in Europe than there are in North America. And no Canadian event? From Barbend:

Let’s address the elephant in the room, but out of the 16 announced qualifiers, there have been none set to take place in Canada, and that’s got us wondering if there actually will be more than 16 sanctioned events.

After all, Canada has a very strong CrossFit community and has had multiple athletes place in the top three at the Games in recent years (ex: Brent Fikowski and Patrick Vellner). If CrossFit is trying to include every community across the globe, then it only makes sense that Canada hosts at least one qualifier, right?

              That would make sense. CrossFit made sure to include an event in Iceland, reflecting the small country’s outsized contribution to the sport. Perhaps there is another event to be announced in the Great White North. All in all, this seems like a blueprint for spreading CrossFit across the globe. The company has shrewdly used the sport of CrossFit to raise awareness and promote the fitness of CrossFit. Now they’re going to expand this strategy to the rest of the world. 

She Blinded Me With Science: One of my guidelines for learning about fitness is to take into account any bias or conflict of interest that the “expert” might have. This extends to researchers as well which is something that CrossFit has been exposing recently. Researchers need grant money and they often get it from companies that sell the thing that they are researching. Marion Nestle has written a book (Unsavory Truth) on the conflicts of interest in food science and she sat down for an interview with Vox:

Julia Belluz

You make a strong case in the book that the food industry has borrowed from the tobacco industry when it comes to using science for marketing purposes and avoiding regulation.

Marion Nestle

The tobacco industry, knowing full well that research linked cigarette smoking to lung cancer risk, embarked on a strategy to cast doubt on that research and stave off regulation. Cigarette companies gave gifts to researchers, funded researchers, found ways to support them so they would cast doubt on research suggesting harm and push the uncertainty. The companies worked behind the scenes to convince Congress that there were enough doubts about the research that regulations weren’t needed.

Food is much more complicated than tobacco, but some food trade associations have adopted the “cast doubt” playbook. The American Beverage Association insists that sugar-sweetened beverages have no role in obesity or Type 2 diabetes, for example, despite much suggestive evidence that they do.

Also:

Julia Belluz

What advice do you have for consumers who are bombarded with and trying to make sense of food and exercise claims? What should they look out for?

Marion Nestle

Please be a bit skeptical. If the title of a study suggests that a food is performing something miraculous, especially for multiple conditions, it’s good to ask who paid for it. No one food can perform miracles, alas. Diets are complicated, people are complicated, lifestyles are complicated.

Other things that should set off red flags: “breakthrough” and my favorite, “Anything you thought you knew about nutrition is wrong.” That’s not how science works.

If you want to eat healthfully, it’s not very hard. Eat your vegetables and fruits, don’t eat too much, and don’t eat a lot of junk food. And, of course, don’t smoke cigarettes, drink too much alcohol, or take drugs.

Variety and processing are the big issues in food. The best advice is to eat as wide a variety of unprocessed foods as possible and to stay active. That’s all it takes to get the nutrients you need and do what you can to stay healthy.

            The one thing that she left out was if something seems too good to be true, then it’s probably not. This is where “A couple of alcoholic drinks a day are actually good for you” comes in. This is also a good way to think about fitness. There are a lot of people that want to sell you on some exercise(s) that will perform miracles. Always think about their motivation and take whatever they say with a grain of salt. It’s very hard to come up with a breakthrough in fitness. The most effective stuff is the old school stuff.

Tidbits:

-You can buy fake weights on the internet in order to impress people on social media

-What is fitness?

-Under Armour’s Connected Fitness division used to be big and unprofitable, now it’s small and profitable

-Netflix and Motivate

-Everyone loves yoga pants

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS

Fitness Trackers: The media loves to cover the British Royal Family and right now, Prince Harry and Megan Markle are the center of attention. So it’s big news when Harry decides to start sporting a fitness tracker. Unfortunately, he chose to wear one that’s a ring. From Vox:

People magazine “exclusively” and excitedly identified it as an Oura ring, after much speculation on social media and in online publications. His is the $299 black Heritage version, though there is a silver version with diamonds that costs $999. It makes sense that he chose this trip to debut the ring; traveling from the Western hemisphere to Australia is a difficult transition for your body and sleep patterns.

The tracker focuses on sleep primarily, though it also reminds you to get up if you’ve been inactive for too long, and it tracks steps, workouts, and calories like any number of trackers out there. “The tiny ring also has Amazon Alexa support, so you can check your fitness stats using your voice, instead of having to faff around with the app,” writes the Evening Standard. Because who has time for faffing when you have people to hug!

              I am not excited to see that these ring trackers keep proliferating. There is not much awareness around ring avulsion right now but there should be. Wearing rings while engaging in physical activity is dangerous and should not be encouraged. A ring-shaped fitness tracker might seem like a great idea if you aren’t aware of ring avulsion but it is not. Everyone should take off their rings before they workout or do anything physical. Selling a ring that is designed to be worn during exercise is putting people’s fingers at risk. 

Home Gym: Working out at home is nothing new but it is certainly more attractive than ever. That means that the media has to start talking about whether this will lead to the DEATH OF GYMS. From Fast Company:

A new report from user insights platform Alpha looks at whether consumers are ready to bunker down inside, as well as the biggest obstacles facing the $14 billion home fitness equipment market. In their findings, analysts learned that 54% of Americans who work out at least once a month are interested in buying an at-home fitness system, but several concerns keep them from pulling the trigger.

Of those surveyed, 34% claimed they have “no room in their home or apartment” for the equipment, while 24% said the trendy systems were too expensive. In third place, 11% said they simply preferred the live environment of fitness classes.

While those all seem like reasonable objections, it’s interesting that the majority did not single out price, notes Alpha cofounder Nis Frome. “The rest of the objections seem easier to overcome than being too expensive,” says Frome via email. He also echoed what many industry insiders have said before: Prices will continue to drop as tech advances and adoption continues to grow.

              These reasons aren’t mutually exclusive. If you have no room in your house for exercise equipment, then you are going to reject the idea before you even get to the price. And how is lack of room easier to overcome? That is a bigger obstacle as real estate prices continue to rise. As technology evolves, it tends to become cheaper. As time goes on, real estate prices tend to rise.

              The other issue that they don’t address is whether people see something like Peloton as a complement to a traditional gym membership. It doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario. What about people who work out during their lunch break? Or people who don’t like taking classes. If gyms don’t exist, how will the point of entry be for consumers? A person who has never worked out before will just shell out thousands of dollars for something that they’ve never used before?

Fitness can be very personal. If you talk to anyone about their fitness routines, you learn a lot about their lives because we all have to fit it in around our careers and families. And we all have vastly different goals and preferred ways to workout. There will never be an iPhone of fitness, which is what I think Fast Company is trying to suggest.

Inequality: Here are 2 facts:

1)      The fitness industry is growing in this country

2)      Obesity in the U.S. is worse than ever

Now you take in these facts and start jumping to some ill-advised conclusions. If you’re Axios, you’ll

probably jump to the conclusion that this must mean that the fitness industry is full of false

promises and doesn’t work.

Between Soul Cycle, Fitbit, Whole30 diets and social media health gurus, the health and wellness industry is booming — but Americans are more likely to be obese today than ever before.

The problem: Despite promises made by gyms and fitness programs, physical activity does little to help people lose weight, says Ashkan Afshin from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. And Americans' diets are still terrible.

One key trend: The prevalence of diseases most attributed to obesity — high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol — has held steady or even fallen over the past few years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • But that's mostly due to increased treatment for those conditions, health experts say.

Meanwhile, obesity has created a thriving industry in the U.S., even though many programs have little medical or scientific backing.

The U.S. fitness industry is the most lucrative in the world, bringing in $30 billion worth of revenue in 2017, according to the latest report by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) — a global trade association for the fitness industry.

  • Since 2008, the number of gym members has increased by more than 33% in the U.S., according to the same report.

  • The commercial weight loss program market was worth $2.77 billion in 2016 and was expected to grow 9.4% to $3.03 billion in 2017, according to Marketdata.

  • Fitbit's consumers have grown from 500,000 to more than 25 million in just 5 years, according to data collected by Statista.

  • Fitness apps and wearables overall are projected to be used by 16.4% of people in the market by 2023, up from 15.7% in 2016, per Statista.

But food is the key problem when it comes to obesity, according to Afshin.

  • "Data shows there is increased availability, affordability and accessibility of high energy-dense foods," Afshin said. And many Americans are eating more than their bodies need.

  • More than a third of Americans eat fast food every day — an industry notorious for high caloric, low nutrition meals — and only 1 in 10 eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, per CDC.

  • Eat better, not less: Stanford argues that eating less isn't always the solution either. Some dietitians argue that the quality of the food matters more than the number of calories.

While the author is correct that food is as much to blame as lack of exercise, what they don’t seem to understand is that this boom in fitness is not evenly distributed. There are 2 Americas when it comes to fitness. In the first one, people spend money on gyms, exercise equipment, fitness trackers, and healthy food. This is the world of SoulCycle and CrossFit and Peloton. This is where all that fitness spending is coming from.  In the second one, people don’t belong to a gym, rarely exercise, and eat a lot of fast food. This is where the obesity is coming from.

This is fitness inequality. Health and wellness is turning into a luxury product. The obesity epidemic isn’t the failure of physical activity to help people lose weight.  It’s the failure of the fitness industry to reach most Americans. William Gibson once wrote that the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed. That is an apt description of the fitness industry right now. Fitness is still a young industry. Less than 20% of Americans are members of a gym. The majority of the country is not engaging in the fitness culture even though it appears widespread in the major cities. The story isn’t that the fitness industry is making false promises, it’s that most Americans are not engaging with it at all. 

Military Fitness: The Army is looking to launch its new physical fitness test in 2020 and in the meantime, it’s still tinkering with some of the technique requirements. From Military.com:

The exercises are locked in, but the mechanics may change to make them easier to grade, Whitfield East, the research physiologist for Center for Initial Military Training, told Military.com today at an ACFT demonstration.

"During the field test, we are refining the hand-release pushup," East said, explaining that event will either have soldiers raise their hands straight up off the ground before coming back up or extend their hands out to the sides and bring them back in again before coming up again.

The arm-extension version may be easier to grade, East said.

"More or less, the point of it is to ensure that they are totally resting on the ground. We don't want them in a low hover over the ground," East said.

The arm-extension also "engages a little bit of the ... muscles in the back," East said, adding that "it is good to link movements together, so a pull-type movement and a push-type movement."

Both techniques achieve similar physical results, said Lt. Col. David Feltwell, the command physical therapist for the Center for Initial Military Training.

"Biomechanically, and from a combat specificity point of view, both work pretty well, but we really want to make sure we are getting a gradable event," he said.

              I like the fact that they are designing it with grading in mind because pushups done in a military physical fitness test are generally garbage, at least in my experience. Doing something to slow them down is a great idea. The way that the Army is approaching this re-design seems well-thought out. It will be a drastic change (which is never without problems) but in the long run I think that it will be a positive one.

But why not parallel bar dips? They work the same muscles but are generally a more challenging exercise which is easier to grade. The increased difficulty forces people to slow down which makes it easier to keep count. Dips get no respect in the world of military fitness and I don’t understand why.

CrossFit: Morning Chalk-Up did a breakdown of CrossFit affiliate growth. Obviously, the numbers are impressive.

Since Greg Glassman opened the first affiliate in 2001 in Santa Cruz, CA, CrossFit has exploded globally. Currently there are more than 15,000 locations in 162 countries.

Not only is CrossFit the largest fitness chain in the world, comparatively speaking, it’s also one of the largest and fastest growing corporate chains.

  1.  Subway — 42,998*

  2. McDonald’s — 37,200*

  3. Starbucks — 28,720*

  4. KFC — 20,404*

  5. Burger King — 16,859*

  6. Pizza Hut — 16,796*

  7. CrossFit — 15,500 (2018 approximate data)

  8. Domino’s Pizza — 15,000*

It’s nice to see a fitness company breaking up the list of fast food companies. More interesting was how CrossFit is looking outside the U.S. for current growth.

The growth of CrossFit affiliates as a whole has slowed down in recent years. Since 2015, affiliate growth has slowed in the United States down to about 2%-5% per year. Of affiliates that opened from 2012 – 2015, only approximately 62% are still open today.

However, it appears that pace is picking up again, especially internationally.

In the past 12 months, 2500 new affiliates registered with CrossFit; 820 were in the United States (32.8%), 1680 were opened internationally. And today, for the first time in CrossFit’s history there are more gyms located outside the United States.

CrossFit’s recent changes and renewed focus on affiliate growth and expansion makes sense given the continued growth of the brand internationally and the need to support new affiliates opening overseas.

I’ll be more explicit here. CrossFit is seeing most of its growth coming from overseas and wanted to have more CrossFit events outside of the U.S. But they found that organizing events on other continents to be prohibitively expensive. That meant that they needed to find other funding (through issuing debt or selling equity) or find some partners willing to organize events. Greg Glassman probably found the idea of selling debt/equity repugnant while there was already an ecosystem of competitions that were CrossFit in everything but name. That’s why we’re seeing CrossFit add so many international events because that’s where the future of CrossFit lies.

In other CrossFit news, Brent Fikowski is quitting his full-time job to focus on being a professional athlete. I have two thoughts on this. The first is that it is remarkable that Fikowski had been an anomaly up until this point: a CrossFit Game athlete who did something besides CrossFit. It is amazing that a sport so young can already support so many people to pursue it full-time. The second is that Mat Fraser was a college student in 2014 and 2015 when took 2nd place 2 years in a row. Then he graduated and began to focus on training full-time and started to dominate. Will we see a similar jump in performance from Fikowski that allows him to challenge Fraser for the top spot?

Finally, Lukas Hogberg failed to qualify for the Dubai CrossFit Championship. This is only a few months after taking 3rd place at the CrossFit Games so it is a surprising development. And I don’t think that this will be the last time that we see something like this. This is all brand new to the athletes. They have to figure out what their qualifying strategy will be and then see how their bodies respond to it. My guess is that Hogberg’s fitness didn’t bounce back after the Games the way that he had expected it to. There is going to some trial and error in the first couple of years. All the more reason to save those at-large qualifying spots for actual CrossFitters.

Tidbits:

-The founder of Lululemon has written a book

-It turns out that you can’t have too much of a good thing

-Where are they now: Jackie Warner

 

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS BRINGING CORPORATE WELLNESS BACK

Being a leader: Men’s Health published a profile of Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, last Friday. It retread some of the old, familiar stuff but was focused on CrossFit Health, Glassman’s vision for reshaping the health care industry.

“Here” is CrossFit Holy Land: “the Ranch” in Aromas, the site in 2007 of the first CrossFit Games, a weekend when 400-plus stupid-fit people do stupid-hard workouts to determine the fittest humans on earth. Glassman invited the doctors here to indoctrinate them with a CrossFit MDL1 course, a certification reserved for M.D.’s. There’s a 400-doctor waiting list for future courses.

 Across more than 20,000 hours of medical school, physicians receive about 25 hours of lecture on nutrition. As for exercise? LOL. What really digs at Glassman is that docs do, however, spend semesters on pharmacology. “The CDC estimates chronic diseases [and mental-health conditions] account for 86 percent of health-care spending and 70 percent of deaths,” he says. “If people would just get off the couch and off the processed carbs, 40 percent of those deaths could be avoided.”

Enter CrossFit Health, Glassman’s shotgun blast at America’s obesity crisis: It’s a steady stream of these MDL1 courses, which will create a network of CrossFit-friendly doctors who might prefer to prevent and fix couch-and-carb-induced lifestyle diseases by sending you to a box instead of a pharmacy or a surgeon. It’s the brand’s attempt to huddle the overweight, diabetic masses. On Instagram, CrossFit posts fewer images of jacked 20-somethings doing reps to infinity and more shots of what CrossFit does for people you might see at Walmart: a diabetic woman doing her first box jump, an 80-year-old lifting a dumbbell from the floor, a daily flow of before-and-after weight-loss shots.

CrossFit Health is about increasing the number of CrossFit boxes, creating access for all. It’s also about fighting the establishment: lawsuits against fitness organizations trying to bring down the brand as well as junk-food companies that fund nutrition science. Hell, it may eventually be a health-care association and insurance package for the 4 million CrossFitters. It is seemingly many things, all of which are evolving organically, exactly how Glassman likes. “It would be a mistake to engineer this from the top down,” he says.

              This is the closest we have come to having an industry leader in fitness. A true industry leader starts to worry less about increasing its market share and more about growing the market. Fitness has never have something like that. Part of that is because the industry is so young and part of that it is because it’s so fragmented. If you’re curious what that might look like in another industry, think Google building high-speed internet access with Google Fiber or Facebook trying to expand internet access in the developing world through Internet.org. Some people even believe that Google became interested in self-driving software because it wanted to convert all those hours spent driving into time spent online. This is the leadership that the fitness industry has always lacked but I am starting to see it in CrossFit Health.

              All of these initiatives will help grow the entire market, not just CrossFit’s share. Of course, CrossFit stands to benefit immensely from it but so do a lot of other companies. It’s good to see. My concern is that Glassman could lose interest if he doesn’t feel like he has an adversary though:

During Glassman’s legal fight with the NSCA, his team discovered that the association’s research was funded partly by the soda industry. More digging revealed other health organizations cashing Big Soda’s checks. Scientists at Boston University confirmed 96 of them, and other research shows that studies funded exclusively by food and drink companies are four to eight times as likely to find results positive to the funder. In one case, for example, Coca-Cola secretly bankrolled the now-disbanded Global Energy Balance Network, a university-based nonprofit whose basic message was that what you eat doesn’t matter so long as you exercise enough—junk science. Drinking one or two sugar-sweetened beverages a day, for example, is associated with a 26 percent increase in risk of type 2 diabetes, say Harvard researchers.

“It was the Big Soda stuff that compelled Greg to start CrossFit Health,” says Pat Sherwood, a former Navy SEAL who works for CrossFit. “But if someone can take it on, it’s that guy. Greg likes to fight, and he never, ever backs down.” Glassman sees science sponsored by pop as akin to Big Tobacco’s paying for bad research to cast doubt on the harms of smoking. He regularly calls out publicly the names of researchers who have accepted soda dollars and is lobbying to strengthen conflict-of-interest guidelines at the CDC and the National Institutes of Health. He backed a failed California bill to add warning labels to soda, but he’s continuing that fight.

              I don’t know the man but it seems like he thrives on conflict. Fighting Big Soda is right up his alley but what happens if he wins? Maybe CrossFit will be far enough down the path that it won’t make a difference. Maybe Glassman finds a new adversary and goes in another direction. I don’t know but for now, it’s nice to see someone trying to grow the market.

The flip side of this focus on CrossFit Health is that in order to do this, CrossFit is reducing its focus on promoting the sport of CrossFit. This week, there were more layoffs at CrossFit HQ in Northern California on top of the round of layoffs that occurred right after the Games. From Morning Chalk-Up:

Yup. Though there are still more than 20 full time staff on the CrossFit media team, CrossFit Games media content as you’ve come to know it is completely gone. Now adding to that is broadcasting team — the ones who brought you all those free livestreams you’ve been watching on Facebook, the update studio and other YouTube content.

And don’t look for anymore update videos from the CrossFit Games team. Two weeks ago, Sean Woodland, Tommy Marquez, and Rory McKernan signed on for the last time to deliver the final studio update.

It also seems unlikely that fans will see a fourth installment of the award-winning Fittest on Earth documentary franchise. BoxRox just confirmed that Heber Cannon and Marston Sawyers were also let go.

              2 months ago, CrossFit let go more than 50 people, which was estimated to be 30-40% of the total HQ staff. Now they’ve let go another 12-15 people and still have 20 people in the media team. That would mean that, a couple of months ago, over half of its HQ staff was devoted to media and Games operations. I feel for everyone who has lost their job but I can see why Glassman might have been concerned with the direction that the company was taking. CrossFit was becoming a media company.

Big Brother: Last month, John Hancock announced that it is going to convert all of its life insurance policies to “interactive”, meaning that there will be incentives for using fitness trackers. While I am sure that the senior management at John Hancock imagined themselves as boldly imagining the future of life insurance, it doesn’t appear that anyone else is as positive. From the Huffington Post:

The wellness industry produces some of the most poorly designed and communicated research in the world, and yet, promises of weight loss, better health and longevity draw us all in. But the human body is one of the most complex systems on earth, affected by genetics, long- and short-term environmental stressors and some things we likely don’t even know about yet. At the moment, scientists can’t even agree on that it means to be fit, the role of exercise in weight and health, what kind of physical activity we should partake in or how often we should be active.

But we do already know a lot about wearable fitness trackers. Recent research suggests step counts aren’t really a good measure of health, and raises questions about whether they are even that reliable. Some of them accurately measure heart rate, but most of them are fairly unreliable when it comes to calories burned: the best-performing device was off by 27 percent, and the worst by 93 percent.

This suggests that individuals shouldn’t make lifestyle choices based on this data, much less hand it over to their life insurance company to assess their fitness. While wearable fitness devices have been a great way for some of us to track our activity, they aren’t ready to prop up a massive data set on health and longevity.

We know that people make decisions about exercise and eating based on their data from their fitness trackers. A study of 200 women found that 89 percent of them wore their trackers almost constantly, checking their dashboards on average twice a day, and altering their diet and activity to hit goals. With tech addiction already rampant, it’s disconcerting to note that 30 percent of users reported feeling guilty when they didn’t meet goals, 45 percent felt “naked” when they weren’t wearing the device and 43 percent even felt like their exercise time was wasted if they weren’t wearing a Fitbit.

This could be the digital equivalent of using BMI to determine someone’s health: a highly flawed methodology that is treated with way too much importance despite its glaring problems. Fitness is a black box to the majority of people so I have little faith that insurance company executives will be able to measure my fitness in a holistic manner. They will try to take the path of least resistance, which will be to attempt to reduce my fitness to some limited measurement like steps taken. And they will do so using a technology that does not appear to be very precise and is very easy to fool.

The other thing that galls me about this is it’s as if they have never heard of the law of unintended consequences. If there are financial incentives involved, people will figure out a way to game the system. In the case of fitness trackers, you don’t even have to think very hard to figure out how that will go. You can sit in a chair and swing your arm and convince your tracker that you are walking. Sometimes people are in charge of things because they’re in charge of things

Row the Boat: Everyone wants to be the next Peloton. It’s not hard to see why as the company is on track for an IPO next year and is currently valued at $4 billion. And it seems so easy to bring the same business model (streaming workout classes to a high-end piece of exercise equipment) to a different discipline. From Bloomberg:

Can’t make it to the Head of the Charles this year? Cambridge, Mass.-based Hydrow by Crew is also sculling into the market with plans to bring rowing’s group-activity benefits into the home via a Peloton-like subscription service. Currently raising money through Indiegogo, Hydrow is making its rowing machine available to early investors through the crowdsourcing campaign. It features an immersive Wi-Fi-connected 22-inch 1080p touchscreen that provides users with live-training sessions straight from the Charles River as well as prerecorded workouts and team rows.

Weighing in at about 130 pounds, the Hydrow is available for a pledge of $1,299 ahead of the proposed retail price of $2,655, with units expected to begin shipping in the U.S. next May.

Peloton is a compelling story: company leverages technology to make fitness more convenient and makes a ton of money doing so. It’s not hard to see why so many entrepreneurs want to emulate it and become “the next Peloton” (which is still being touted as the “Netflix of fitness”). However, there is a part of the story that is omitted. Cycle classes have been popular for years and hit a new high (and price point) recently with the success of SoulCycle and FlyWheel. Peloton took advantage of that by offering a home version of SoulCycle that made participating in high-end cycle classes convenient for consumers but still very lucrative for Peloton.

Timing is everything in life. Peloton was perfectly-timed to take advantage of advances in technology and the boom in cycle classes. Copycats are focused on the former but I fear that they don’t appreciate the latter. Rowing classes are always on the verge of becoming the next big thing but it hasn’t happened yet. Without a boom in rowing classes, it is going to be very difficult to attain even a portion of Peloton’s success.  

Going to the well(ness): Corporate wellness programs have never lived up to the hype. The reasoning behind them is sound. Companies want fitter employees because they are more productive and less likely to incur a lot of health care costs. Employees like free stuff. It sounded like a match made in heaven but it never caught on in the way that a lot of people expected. However, we may be on the verge of Stage 2 in corporate wellness: partnering with existing companies. From Fast Company:

ClassPass revolutionized access to boutique fitness classes with its flat-rate monthly subscription billing service. Now the company that let you purchase a $35 spin class from your phone wants to help attract and retain talent in corporate America.

On Monday, the company announced a partnership with its latest corporate partner, Justworks, a fast growing HR technology company that counts more than 35,000 employees. In the coming year, the two intend to bring studio fitness classes to growing businesses across the country, or more specifically, to millennials averse to corporate “wellness programs.” As millennials grow into one third of the total U.S. workforce, companies now look for more targeted ways to get them healthy. Younger generations want something familiar, flexible, and, well, trendy. And what better way than a barre class?

Through the new partnership, Justworks will provide employees access to ClassPass’s flexible fitness packages, alongside supporting their benefits, payroll, HR, and compliance needs. It’s one more piece in the employee package. Companies that sign up for ClassPass through Justworks can then decide how much they contribute to their employees’ membership each month

The challenge of corporate wellness is encompassing the totality of fitness experiences. How do you encourage and subsidize gym memberships, studio fees, exercise equipment, exercise apparel, and everything else under the sun? I work for a company that offers a limited number of free personal training sessions every year and I’ve never used them. I’m not interested in that. In a perfect world, I would get the value of those sessions in a Rogue Fitness gift card.

Why are people not excited about corporate wellness programs? I suspect that it has something to do with having your employer dictate how you should be working out. A partnership with ClassPass looks attractive because:

              -it’s a third party service so employers won’t have to run it themselves

              -they think that it will appeal to millennials

              -it offers the illusion of diversity

              -it’s a trendy name

But will it run into the same problem? I say “the illusion of diversity” because it is a smorgasbord of studio classes (which sounds diverse) but all the offerings are studio classes. Everyone doesn’t want studio classes so you’re going to run into the same problem.

Don’t put a ring on it: It is not particularly surprising that Microsoft wants to get back into the fitness tracking game after discontinuing the Microsoft Band 2 years ago. This time, it seems that it wants to seek some differentiation from the glut of smartwatches and fitness bands. From Wareable:

A patent has been uncovered which suggests Microsoft is exploring the possibility of a smart ring, complete with fitness tracking and gesture control.

The filing concerns a ring working in a similar manner to a basic wearable on the wrist, giving the user the ability to pay through NFC, receive notifications from their connected smartphone and even track activity and heart rate.

Unlike many patents we come across, the reference to the device isn't made in passing, with detailed descriptions of the smart ring. Within the listing, Microsoft notes how the 'finger band' (its wording, not ours) would be configured to accommodate a user's finger. That means that pressure sensors would recognise the finger and configure itself to sense changes in the tendons of the finger, and thus be able to recognise different gestures.

Dear Microsoft, don’t make a fitness ring. This is not a good idea because ring avulsion is a thing. Ring avulsion is when a ring gets caught on something and it takes part of the finger with it. It is also called de-gloving. Amputation of the finger is common. People shouldn’t wear hard rings while they’re doing anything physical. They should either remove their rings before engaging in physical activity or wear a silicone band. This can even happen to you when you’re walking around your house like it did to Jimmy Fallon in 2015.

A fitness ring sounds cool and it would be a way to differentiate from Apple and Fitbit (but not Motiv) but it is not a good idea. A fitness ring is not a safe idea. We should be raising awareness of the dangers of wearing rings during exercise not trying to sell people rings that are designed to be worn during exercise.

Tidbits:

-A secret society but for fitness

-Just because someone is rich doesn’t mean that they’re smart

-“Exhibit A: the defendant’s Fitbit”

-CNET puts the new Apple Watch to the test

-Sears bankruptcy will impact the fitness industry

-Kettlebell Kitchen raises $26 million in funding

 

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS JOINING THE ARMY

Beer: My track coach in college once told us something that has always stuck with me. He told us that we were smart people so we could rationalize anything but that didn’t mean that we should ignore common sense. He was talking to us about alcohol. He didn’t want his athletes drinking because it would hinder performance and he knew that some of us would invent reasons to justify why it was okay to imbibe. What he didn’t tell us was that there was a whole cottage industry devoted to justifying the consumption of alcohol. The Ringer sent Molly McHugh down the rabbit-hole of the Beer Mile, a competition that entails drinking 4 beers and running 1 mile as fast you can. She survived to write about it and came back armed with pseudo-science about the health benefits of beer.

While ingesting beer before running certainly won’t make you go faster, Neilson isn’t the only one who thinks that it could be beneficial after exercise. Some breweries are creating beer with exactly this factor in mind. Chief among them is Sufferfest Beer, a San Francisco–based brewery with the slogan “will sweat for beer.” The aim of Sufferfest is to make a beer with some physical benefits that doesn’t sacrifice taste—though it doesn’t claim the drink aids recovery. The Sufferfest team like to qualify theirs as a “functional” beer, which means it’s meant to do something beyond tasting good and giving patrons a nice buzz. Sufferfest beer is gluten-free and has nutrients runners look for in both training and recovery—sodium, iron, potassium, and fiber. It’s also a probiotic. ABV ranges from 3.5 percent to 7.5, fairly strong for what’s deemed a “beer with benefits.” It’s sold not just in grocery stores, but also in climbing gyms and CrossFit studios. “Beer is actually really healthy,” says Sufferfest director of marketing Margaret Link, who recently completed a 50K race. The beverage is high in fiber and electrolytes, and it’s also around 90 to 95 percent water. It’s no wonder that runners crave a beer immediately after crossing the finish line, she says.

              What if I told you that there was a liquid that is 100% water? It’s called water. Alcohol is a diuretic, it is not a good thing to drink post-exercise.

“Exercise provides a wealth of benefits to brain and body, and is regarded as a protective factor against disease,” the researchers wrote. “Protective factors tend to cluster together—that is, people who engage in one healthy behavior, such as exercise, also engage in other healthy behaviors, such as maintaining a nutritious diet and getting sufficient sleep. In contrast to exercise, alcohol consumption is not typically regarded as a health-promoting behavior. … Surprisingly, several large, population-based studies have shown a positive association between physical activity and alcohol intake.” That same study’s survey of college students found that those who classified themselves as moderate drinkers were more likely to be physically active, and that as the intensity of their physical activity went up, so did their drinking. Other, broader surveys confirm the correlation beyond college students.

              So alcohol might be good for you because healthy people tend to do healthy things. This is pure rationalization. If you enjoy drinking beer, then go ahead and enjoy it. But please stop trying to convince anyone that it is good for you. It is not. Alcohol has been designated as a Level 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization. Take a look at the list and ask yourself if you would want to put some of those substances in your body. It’s not a recovery drink and it’s not going to help you live longer. It will do the exact opposite. People will always choose to drink alcohol and that’s okay but it is dangerous to tell them that it’s actually good for you.         

Dear Gym: Gyms are notorious for making it hard for members to cancel. It’s the seedy underbelly to the fitness industry. And it not uncommon for the media to pick up on some of the most outrageous examples. From WILX 10:

Gym memberships can be a major headache when you try to cancel them. But for one Jackson woman, her health prevented her from going to the gym and being able to cancel it. Kathie Pagan was diagnosed with temporal bone infection. She has to take antibiotics through an IV often, and that prevents her from going places. She was told the only way she can cancel her gym membership is to do it in person, something she says is just not possible.

"I told him that it could possibly harm his employees and patrons," she said.

Pagan says cancelling her membership in person wouldn't be fair to her or the gym's employees and patrons.

"I wanted to stay there, I wanted to work out, I didn't think that I was going to be sick all this time. I thought he would work with me, and then when I got better I would just go back. I don't plan on not being able to work out. I hope that one day I can feel good and get physically fit."

Pagan says she tried to explain the situation to the owner, but didn't feel like she was getting anywhere.

Dear gym operators, stop making it so hard to cancel! It’s short-term thinking. Yes, you will probably get a few more months of membership dues out of that person but there is a cost to that. Think long-term. You could get that member back one day or they could even refer other people to your gym. Or you could avoid negative headlines like this one. Have more confidence. You have the privilege of selling the best product in the world: fitness. Stop acting like you’re selling time shares. You don’t need to do this kind of stuff.

This is very 20th century to me, treating the consumer as if they’re not sophisticated and basically trying to rip them off and thinking that they won’t understand what’s going on. 21st century companies excel by being customer-centric and confident in their product/service. I’ve canceled my Netflix subscription because I wasn’t using it. The process was easy and hassle-free and you know what, I ended up coming back. There have been other subscription services that I have used before that made it a pain to cancel and I’ll never go back. Because that was my last impression of the company, that they were trying to rip me off. I would never recommend those services to anyone either. That’s not good business.  

Military: One of my instructors at boot camp used to brag that he only worked out twice a year, when he was forced to take the Navy’s PFT. The PFT is max push-ups, max curl-ups, and a 1.5 mile run. It’s not terribly demanding especially considering how rampant cheating is on the push-ups and curl-ups. Basically, you could fake your way through the strength portion and then suck it up for a short run. A lot of people would cram for it, try to get in good-enough shape in the 2 months before the test and you could. Other people would fake injuries, I remember one guy who would mysteriously develop a limp the month of the PFT. The Army PFT is similar, the main difference being a slightly longer run (2 miles). But times are changing and the Army Combat Fitness Test is going to re-define what a military fitness test can look like. From Military.com

The secretary of the Army said Monday he has no doubt that soldiers will "rise to the challenge to meet the requirements" of the new Army Combat Fitness Test in October 2020.

The chief of staff of the Army put his views more bluntly.

"If you can't get in shape in 24 months, then maybe you should hit the road," Gen. Mark Milley said, referring to the Army's commitment to the new six-event ACFT.

"We don't want to lose thousands of soldiers to [the ACFT]. This fitness test is hard. No one should be under any illusions about it," he said. "But we really don't want to lose soldiers on the battlefield. We don't want young men and women to get killed in action because they weren't fit."

              The main impetus for this change is to more accurately prepare people for the rigors of combat. Push-ups, sit-ups, and running isn’t comprehensive enough. An added benefit of this overhaul will be that it will be very difficult to cram for it. The old PFT model isn’t rigorous enough. You can suck it up through some sit-ups, push-ups, and a short run, especially when you’re young which most service members are. I always preferred the USMC test (Pull-ups, Sit-ups, 3 mile run) because pull-ups are much tougher than push-ups (you have to train them!) and a 3 mile run really keeps you honest. The new Army test will require people to train year-round, you’re not going to be able to cram for this one.

Drugs are bad: Are we at a point in which everything is a thing now? It sure seems that way. Why do I say that? Because apparently taking Viagra before working out is a thing now. From Men’s Health:

Last year, Sam*, 27, started taking anabolic steroids. “I always wanted to be big and strong,” he told MensHealth.com, “At some point I realized my goals were unattainable naturally, so I hopped on the juice.” He had heard that steroid use could potentially lead to erectile dysfunction, so he started taking 10mg a day of the erectile dysfunction drug Cialis.

Then Sam started spending a lot of time on Reddit. He quickly discovered another potential benefit for Cialis. “I saw that people were taking it before their workouts,” he said. “So I changed the timing of my doses to about an hour prior to training.”

To hear Sam tell it, he noticed the difference right away. “I noticed increased vascularity and good pumps,” he said. “Plus, it seems to help reduce cramping/debilitating pumps from oral steroids. I have better erection quality as well, which is obviously pretty great.” Though he eventually dropped to 5mg per day to improve nasal congestion (a common side effect of erectile dysfunction drugs), he continues to take it before his workouts.

This encapsulates the insanity of taking PED’s. You start taking a drug to boost performance but there are side effects to the original drug so you start taking another drug to counteract those side effects but now you have to worry about the side effects of the other drug that you’re on.

And will getting a better pump (more blood in your muscles) even translate to greater muscle growth?

“Sildenafil increases blood flow to the penis and surrounding muscles, which translates into a nice strong erection,” says urologist and assistant professor at the UCF College of Medicine, Jamin Brahmbhatt, MD. “This increased blood flow is what some athletes hope to have to get them to build up their bodies faster.” Viagra also contains nitric oxide, a key ingredient in many legal bodybuilding supplements (though it's worth noting that the benefits of nitric oxide for building muscle are pretty unclear).

There's a small amount of research to support these claims. A few studies have suggested that taking sildenafil can benefit athletes competing at high altitudes, such as cyclists or long-distance runners, by delivering more oxygen to their muscles. Additionally, a 2013 study in the journal of Clinical and Translational Science suggested that sildenafil could increase muscle protein synthesis and reduce muscle fatigue, concluding that it may “represent a potential pharmacologic strategy to improve skeletal muscle function.”

But Brahmbhatt says there were serious limitations to this study. “The study found some potential benefit in gaining muscle mass if you took low doses of Viagra,” continues Dr. Brahmbhatt, “but that study was flawed by its small size. This is a great example of how you should not get caught up in the hype of one study.”

              In other words: who knows. Kids, don’t do drugs.

World Domination: CrossFit has announced another 4 events that will become a part of the 16 event qualifying circuit that will replace the Regionals. And what is definitely a trend now, all 4 events will be contested outside of the U.S. From Morning Chalk-Up:

The 2019 CrossFit Games season officially kicked off last week with the start of the Dubai CrossFit Championship and Wodapalooza CrossFit Festival online qualifiers. Athletes and fans will now have eight months of uninterrupted CrossFit competitions leading up to the CrossFit Games in August. 

Today, CrossFit HQ added four new sanctioned events, bringing the total to 10 with several more expected in coming weeks.

CrossFit Strength in Depth, the CrossFit Italian Showdown, the CrossFit Lowlands Throwdown, have all gained sanctioned status and will be qualifying one male and female athlete and one team to the CrossFit Games. The only exception to that is the CrossFit Italian Showdown, which will not include a team competition. 

Due to SouthFit CrossFit Challenge kicking off next month, it won’t become a sanctioned event until the 2020 season. 

              Strength in Depth is held in London, The Italian Showdown in Milan, the Lowlands Throwdown in the Netherlands, and the SouthFit CrossFit Challenge in Buenos Aires. That gives us 3 U.S. events (Wodapalooza, Granite Games, Mid-Atlantic CrossFit Challenge), 2 South American events (Brazil CrossFit Championship, SouthFit CrossFit Challenge), 4 European events (Italian Showdown, Lowlands Throwdown, French Throwdown, Strength in Depth), 1 African event (Fittest in Cape Town), and one Middle Eastern event(Dubai CrossFit Championship). This is what the circuit for a sport with global aspirations looks like. It’s also something that would have been very expensive and time-consuming for CrossFit to organize itself. The downside is that it will be expensive for U.S. based athletes to travel to these events.

              We’re also starting to see athletes figure out their qualifying strategies. Moving the Open from February to November seems less than ideal for Games competitors. Trying to compete in both basically means that you can’t take anytime off after the Games. Some athletes mused about not competing in the Open but it appears that CrossFit is putting the kibosh on that strategy.

Since Greg Glassman first announced changes to the CrossFit Games season six weeks ago, it was unclear what role, if any, the Open would play. As only country winners and the top 20 worldwide would receive invitations to the CrossFit Games, it appeared that the Open would offer little to no benefit for a majority of would be competitors.

Some were even expressing interest in skipping it altogether.

“The likelihood of me doing the Open is small, I think,” said Brent Fikowski in an interview with TeamRICHEY, who placed 184th worldwide and 20th in Canada in 2018. “It’s likely that I’ll probably just go to a lot of competitions and try to qualify through the competitions. I think it’s a much better use of my time for me to do that to go to the Games” 

However, with today’s updated announcement, athletes will want to think twice about skipping the 2019 CrossFit Open. 

According to a press release, “Overall competitor seeding at the Games will be determined by athletes’ scores in the 2019 worldwide CrossFit Open. Athletes who do not participate in the Open (and thus do not receive an Open score) will receive the lowest seeding and will compete in the first qualifying heats at the 2019 Games. Higher seeded athletes will compete in later heats.”

Glassman has teased the idea of elimination rounds in several interviews over the past month. CrossFit HQ confirmed that the CrossFit Games will open with mass elimination rounds to whittle the competition down to only 10 athletes, hence the emphasis placed on seeding from the Open. 

For example, the Fittest Man in Bolivia — Carlos Hurtado — ranked 5653 worldwide and 250th in the Latin America region. By comparison, Alex Vigneault was the Fittest Man in Canada and 2nd worldwide. Vigneault would compete in later heats with fitter athletes. 

CrossFit also confirmed that winners of sanctioned events will be seeded higher than national champions and possibly receive a bye out of the first elimination round. 

              Figuring out how to approach the new qualifying format is going to be tricky. Everyone will probably want to compete in the Open which means that Games competitors will need to keep training hard between the Games and the Open before taking a break. Does that make Dubai an attractive event? You could train all year to be in peak shape for August-December. And then if you don’t qualify, you have the rest of the year to make another attempt. It will be interesting to see what works and what doesn’t.

Tidbits:

-SoulCycle’s new media division is getting into music

-Meanwhile in the sleep economy…

-Your fitness tracker might not be as accurate as you want it to be

-The Science of Gym Selfies

-I don’t think that fitness snacking is a good way to describe this

-Ruth Zukerman, founder of SoulCycle and FlyWheel Sports, has a book coming out

-I need a vacation

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS WATCHING THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA

It’s got to be the shirt: Athletic apparel has very low barriers to entry. Everyone has their own apparel line these days. You can hook up with an overseas manufacturer or an on-demand service like Teespring and be selling your own t-shirts in no time. For the athletic apparel giants, this means that they need to do something to differentiate themselves. For Nike and Adidas, that something is performance. They are going to seek innovation in the materials used and then try to convince us that we will perform better because of it. They also apply this strategy to footwear which already has much higher barriers to entry than just apparel. For Lululemon, that differentiation is going to be customization. From Fast Company:

 Lululemon plans to capitalize on its ability to track how each customer’s body moves. The Whitespace team has created a store-ready version of the treadmill I tested in the lab, which will be called the “Signature Movement Experience.” The idea is for customers to learn about their own unique pattern of motion while allowing store representatives to provide highly customized product recommendations. When I went through the experience, an algorithm identified a top bra for me based on the results, plus four other bras that would also provide the support I need. The first of these treadmills went out at the SeaWheeze Sunset Festival–the half marathon and music event in Vancouver that Lululemon sponsored this past weekend–where the company set up a booth where women could go through the process.

Now facing competition from countless activewear startups, Lululemon is eyeing its future in a post-athleisure world, where comfort–not product categories–determines what consumers wear to work as well as the gym. By capitalizing on this individualized, data-based style of customer experience, the brand wants to push the athleisure genre it pioneered in the 2000s forward. “It’s an entirely new paradigm for us,” says Waller.

It’s a smart play to not try to play the Nike/Adidas game because you’re not going to beat them at it. They’ve been doing it for too long. Plus, then you’re not differentiating yourself from them. Customization also plays into the athleisure angle. If you’re not working out in it do you really care about performance or do you care about how it feels on your skin? Isn’t that the point of athleisure? To be comfortable. This is the kind of thing that is not easy to duplicate. Anyone can start a t-shirt company but this is a lot more difficult.

 Under Armour has traditionally followed the same script as Nike and Adidas. The company was founded on moisture wicking shirts. But recently, CEO Kevin Plank was been vocal about Under Armour becoming a tech company and trying to make smart clothing happen. This is the smart way to incorporate technology into your apparel company. Put the tech into the recommendation process so that you can sell someone a shirt that fits them perfectly.

Are you well?: If you’ve ever seen The Devil Wears Prada, then you probably remember the Cerulean scene. It’s when Miranda Priestley explains to Andy how decisions made by the high-end fashion houses eventually filter down to everyday people like her. But what does that have to do with WW (the recently rebranded Weight Watchers)? Everything, of course. From Vox:

There’s a famous scene in the fashion-insider tell-all The Devil Wears Prada, in which Miranda Priestly, the Anna Wintour avatar played with icy hauteur by Meryl Streep, explains to jejune fashion assistant Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway), a wannabe serious journalist, about the trickle-down effect of high fashion.

After Andy scoffs about what she considers frivolous fashion choices, Miranda informs Andy that the frumpy blue sweater she’s wearing isn’t simply blue, it’s cerulean. Furthermore, Miranda says, her wearing that sweater is the result of a long series of fashion decisions — from an Oscar de la Renta collection featuring cerulean, to that of lower-end designers, to “some tragic ‘casual corner’ where [Andy], no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin.” High fashion, she implies, starts with luxury brands, then those trends work their way down to the mainstream.

The same process is happening with wellness.

Traditionally, the kind of luxury “wellness” product associated with lifestyle brands was a thoroughly high-end affair. There’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, with its $66 jade eggs (designed to be placed in the vagina, for dubious medical benefit). There’s SuperShe, a Finnish island resort devoted to wellness and women’s empowerment that runs $4,600 a week. Last year’s pop-up at Saks Fifth Avenue, The Wellery, was a high-end, 20-stall “wellness mall” where you could, among other things, pay $25 for a 10-minute slot to breathe in high-end Himalayan salts.

Now there’s WW, which was, until September, Weight Watchers. The affordable weight loss organization is in the process of rebranding itself as a wellness hub (the company says WW now stands for “wellness that works”). According to a press release, WW will now focus less on shedding pounds, and more on its “overall approach to health and wellbeing of inspiring powerful habits rooted in science.”

              I never made the connection before but this is how the fitness & wellness industries work as well. Fitness is much more fragmented than fashion but the same dynamic is at play. Someone starts doing something new and different in a studio in New York or California. People flock to it, possibly including some celebrities, and pay handsomely for the privilege of being on the cutting edge of fitness. This leads to expansion and copycats. Then it slowly filters down to workout DVD’s and big box gyms. Tara Burton is also right that this marks the mass market phase of wellness.

She added: “The movement has trickled down to more affordable options — as wellness is seen as not just for the rich, but something you should do for yourself. Almost like a responsibility.”

As Beth McGroarty, a spokesperson for the Global Wellness Institute, told Vox that according to the Institute’s trends report: “There is a proliferation of lower-cost wellness products and services: from a new generation of affordable healthy grocery stores to low-cost spa chains. ... We expect to see greater shifts from wellness as a luxury product to an attainable goal that’s packaged and sold by more affordable outlets.”

In other words, wellness is entering the economy class. Sometimes literally. Earlier this year, several airlines — including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic — partnered with Headspace in order to give passengers access to in-flight guided meditations, ostensibly to make the experience of traveling in economy a little less hellish. Wellness, in other words, is now being treated as a necessary corporate amenity, even for those passengers for whom $3,000 retreats or $30 barre classes would break the bank.

              This can be a double-edged sword. Health is the new wealth and people are starting to redefine success as more than just having a lot of money. That’s great. Feeling and looking good shouldn’t be a luxury product, affordable only to the upper classes. But there will be a lot of stupid fads. There already are. There will be many people who exchange their hard earned money for a bunch of pseudoscience nonsense. I suppose that is nothing new to anyone who follows the fitness industry so as always, buyer beware.

Made for TV: There is a new gym in New York City that you have to apply to for the privilege of paying up to $900 a month in membership dues. The name of the gym is Performix and now we’re learning more about its business model. From Cheddar:

Eventually, Hesse plans to use Performix House as a content generator for a streaming service his company plans to launch in January. The majority of content will be free ー all with an objective to promote other Performix-branded products. On its site, the company sells items for weight and diet management, workout performance, and general health and wellness. The company also has a subscription service, which delivers its health and wellness products to users every 30, 60, or 90 days.

"Performix uses this House as a marketing vehicle," Hesse said of his strategy. "Generally speaking, we want to provide these products as sort of complements to the customers that are already supporting our brand," he added.

              So let me see if I have this straight. Performix wants people to pay $900 a month in order to be in the background of its workout streams (which will be free) so that the company can make the real money selling supplements. I understand the concept of a loss leader and a lot of product placement during the streams could do the trick. What I’m wondering about is whether charging people almost $1000 a month for a gym membership is a smart move. I assume that they want good-looking, rich people with large social media followings to be the members of this gym. But what is in it for those people? Is Performix going to try to sell them on added exposure? The problem with that is that people with large followings want to cash in on that. They want to get paid for endorsing products. They already know how to get a lot of followers. Maybe no one will actually pay that amount. Maybe it’s just another way to establish prestige and exclusivity. Make them feel like they’re getting some amazing deal when Performix offers them a gratis membership. I don’t know.

              I do think that the gym-as-sound-stage model is going to become more prevalent. All those workout streams have to be produced somewhere. But this does speak to an underrated issue with that model: how do you manage the participants. The instructors are more straightforward, you pay them. But the people taking the classes could be an issue. You’ll need people to sign forms, you’ll need people to give the instructor some energy, you’ll want people that embody the aspirational nature of that particular workout. How do you manage all this? Paying people to take the class is not the best model but perhaps free attendance might work. I doubt that charging someone a small fortune is the answer.  

              Also this:

"I didn't open this to be in the gym business ー not that the gym business isn't a good business to be in," Matt Hesse said Tuesday in an interview with Cheddar. "It's just not our core competency."

              So your core competency is product development (supplements) but you’re opening up a gym and starting a streaming service in order to market those supplements. I think it’s interesting that Hesse mentions core competencies because this strategy is the exact opposite of focusing on your core competencies. Now you’re in 3 different businesses that require 3 different sets of core competencies. That’s a lot of stuff for Performix to get good at.

Motivation: Humans have been around for 300,000 years but in the last few decades, there has been a massive shift in the way that we work and play. We used to exercise for work and rest for leisure but the information economy largely requires the opposite. The problem is that we’re not wired for sedentary work and active leisure. From The Washington Post:

Teaming up with longtime friend Boris Cheval, a postdoctoral researcher in health and exercise psychology at the University of Geneva, the duo set out to determine why people may have the desire to exercise regularly, but struggle to follow through. It’s the “exercise paradox,” Cheval told The Post.

The problem is people’s brains are conditioned to choose the easy route, whatever calls for the least amount of energy, said Boisgontier, who studies neuroscience.

No matter what you think you want, researchers say your brain wants you to be sedentary to conserve energy. When you start contemplating physical activity, it forces your brain to work harder to counteract the urge, the study found. Even when you’re headed up to the gym to get exercise, for example, your brain may tell you to use the elevator rather than the stairs, Boisgontier said.

              Sometimes the flesh is strong and the mind is weak. You have to learn to listen to your body and turn off your brain. Your brain is good at coming up with excuses but your body wants to move. Rest days are for when your body is telling you that it doesn’t want to work-out.

CrossFit: Add Wodapalooza to the list of sanctioned CrossFit events. From Morning Chalk-Up:

Today, CrossFit HQ announced that Wodapalooza 2019 will be an official sanctioned event and qualify one male, female and team to the 2019 CrossFit Games. Wodapalooza is the 7th official CrossFit sanctioned event to be announced in recent weeks. 

“Wodapalooza brings its distinctive character and culture to the CrossFit Games season,” said CrossFit founder and Chairman Greg Glassman. “They figured out that Miami in winter — sun, bathing suits, balconies, and bright lights at night — is a world-class destination for showcasing the fittest and healthiest people on earth. It’s a party.”

              This brings the U.S to non-U.S. ration to 3:4. I also think that it’s interesting that Glassman chose to mention Wodapalooza’s atmosphere because I think that this is a major upgrade over the Regionals format. More events should try to emulate that instead of trying to come up with outlandish and possibly dangerous events. I realize that it is extremely difficult to find a venue as distinctive as Wodapalooza (it might be impossible) but this is how event organizers need to be thinking. Make your event distinctive and representative of the local area. I have a mental image of Wodapalooza that I do not have of the Granite Games.

              In other news, CrossFit also confirmed that there will be at-large spots in the new Gams format. From Boxrox:

“The CrossFit Games will return once more to Madison, Wisconsin, in the late summer of 2019. Participants in the individual Games competition will consist of:

  1. national champions as determined by the CrossFit Open;

  2. first-place, sanctioned-event winners;

  3. the top 20 overall finishers in the CrossFit Open;

  4. four at-large athletes selected by CrossFit Inc.”

This means that they now have the power to select 4 athletes that they deem Games worthy and give them a free ticket to the 2019 CrossFit Games, even if they don’t fulfill the qualifying criteria. So far CrossFit Inc have not released any more information about what ‘at-large athletes’ actually means. 

              Greg Glassman had talked about giving these at-large spots to people outside the CrossFit community in order to embarrass them. I really hope that they don’t do this. The at-large spots should go to deserving athletes who missed out on qualifying for one reason or another. Maybe someone who got hurt but is an established top competitor. Or maybe someone who had the misfortune of coming in 2nd to Mat Fraser in a qualifying event. Giving these spots away to people just so they can be embarrassed on cable television would take away from the Games.

Conduct a separate event, kind of Pros vs Joes or Celebrity Challenge for CrossFit. It doesn’t have to be just the loudmouths. They could have Mat Fraser or Patrick Vellner compete against a team of people. Let a bunch of NFL players assemble a team and see if they could beat Fraser in a 5 event format. It would be a great way to illustrate how well-rounded the top Games competitors are. Although that would be more of a Pros vs Pros.

Tidbits:

-Virtual reality might help you train harder

-The guy who designed the Peloton & SoulCycle bikes has designed his own

-Are you a cop? Because if you are then you have to tell me

-The food industry has so many issues

-“The biggest fashion brand in the world”

 

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS PIVOTING!!!

World Domination: CrossFit has announced another 4 sanctioned events, in addition to the 2 that had been previously announced. From Boxrox:

The next four CrossFit sanctioned events are:

  • French Throwdown, 

  • Fittest in Cape Town,

  • Brazil CrossFit Championship

  • Mid-Atlantic Affiliate Challenge

The previous two events to be released are the Dubai CrossFit Championship and the Granite Games. This brings the total to 6 so far, with 10 more events to be released soon.

              I realize that we are only 6 events into what will be a 16 event slate but there is a sizable international flavor so far. 4 of the 6 announced events are held outside of the U.S.       

-2 in North America (Granite Games, Mid-Atlantic)

-1 in Europe (French Throwdown)

-1 in South America (Brazil CrossFit Championship)

-1 in Africa (Fittest in Cape Town)

-1 in Middle East (Dubai CrossFit Championship)

Is this indicative of a desire to make the sport of CrossFit more international? This year, there were 9 Regional competitions.

              -5 in North America (East, Atlantic, Central, South, West)

              -1 in South America (Brazil)

              -2 in Europe (Spain, Germany)

              -1 in Australia (Pacific)

Or the remaining 10 events could be mostly U.S. based and we end up with a similar distribution. However, if there ends up being more international events then the fact that CrossFit spend $1 million on the Brazil Regional this year could have been a real wake-up call for Greg Glassman. Perhaps, he was looking to have more international representation in the qualifying process but realized that CrossFit couldn’t afford to do it alone. The desire to crown the Fittest in every country speaks to CrossFit’s global ambitions but we will see what the last 10 events end up being. 

Pivot!!!: What’s in a name? For a company, quite a lot. It conveys what a company’s mission is and what that company can do for a consumer. Re-branding is nothing new. Apple Computers became Apple after it expanded beyond the Macintosh line. Research in Motion became Blackberry in a belated acknowledgement that the company was known for one thing. Lately, we’ve seen quite a few re-brandings. Dunkin Donuts is becoming Dunkin because it is becoming more known for its coffee than its donuts. Michael Kors is acquiring Versace and then changing its name to Capri because it wants to become a fashion conglomerate on par with LVMH. IHOP briefly changed its name to IHOB in order to spread awareness that the restaurant chain was going to be serving hamburgers (for everyone who criticized that move, remember that we all know that IHOP serves burgers now). And Weight Watchers is rebranding itself as WW. From Vox:

Weight Watchers will now be known as “WW.” The 55-year-old company just announced that it is rebranding to focus more on overall health. Its new tagline: “Wellness that works.”

It’s a change the company has been building up to since 2015. Oprah Winfrey came on as an investor when Weight Watchers was in decline and announced that she lost a lot of weight on the program while also still eating bread every single day. The company’s fortunes have improved since then, but it is shooting for $2 billion in revenue, according to Fortune, a goal that has been in its sights for almost a decade but has not yet come to fruition.

It’s not surprising that Weight Watchers is distancing itself from dieting. We are in a moment when the concepts of wellness and self-care have become all-important. Talking openly about dieting is becoming taboo, and the body positivity movement is on the rise. Weight Watchers had to change to stay relevant, and it’s been increasingly talking up wellness and a healthy lifestyle for a few years now. Tellingly, in an op-ed in the New York Times in March decrying the company’s plan to offer free memberships to teens as young as 13, Jennifer Weiner wrote, “You could almost believe that the company was preparing to change its name from Weight Watchers to Self-Esteem and Healthy Habits Central.”

              Of course, WW is not going to completely abandon weight loss. Re-brandings aren’t about complete reversals; they’re about expansion. Dunkin isn’t going to stop selling donuts, they’re expanding their offerings. Apple didn’t stop making Mac’s either. This is trickier area because there is a bit of a backlash to dieting culture and for good reason. But people still want to lose weight and WW wants to help them do that. They’re just going to talk about it in a different way. This is not the dramatic pivot that a startup might do. This is a company that was founded in 1963 and is a household name. It’s a more subtle pivot from dieting to health & wellness. But that new name…

The blue logo featuring the two letters stacked on top of each is by now a familiar one to users of the company’s app. But “double-you double-you” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Will the company try to shorten that into something like “Two Dubs” or “Double Dub”? Wait a few more financial quarters to find out.

My suggestions are either Double-Dubs or 2W.

You can’t beat free: Any time that anyone is dispensing fitness wisdom, ask yourself if there are any conflicts of interest. Most of the time, that person is selling something, whether that something is a fitness product, a gym, a training philosophy, or just themselves. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t listen to anyone, it just means that you should approach them with a critical mind. But sometimes, they are just full of crap. Exhibit A is an article from the Irish Times about free, outdoor gyms. No one could have a problem with that, right?

Despite the increasing prevalence of outdoor gyms across parks and public places in Ireland, not everybody is convinced of their usefulness. Siobhán Byrne, a personal trainer and director and co-owner of BodyByrne Fitness, believes outdoor gyms have a place, but are “not for everybody”.

“I love when there’s money put back into our parks to get people outdoors, but you can’t see a 65-year-old woman going for the first time and using the chin-up bars,” she says. “That’s just not realistic. But some of the equipment might help people to get motivated.”

Byrne also suspects that outdoor gyms are not actually used effectively or often enough. “I’ve seen kids messing around on them, but I’ve never seen anyone using them seriously. That’s not to say that nobody does work out on them. But as a personal trainer, I don’t feel that you’re getting a really effective workout from them. I do think that doing something is better than nothing. If they have the potential to get people out doing something in a group, then it’s effective.”

Byrne believes much needs to be done to encourage people to get active and believes public funds could be better spent on other initiatives. “I certainly think the Government should be looking at putting more money into people-training and getting them fit, whether that’s through gym subscriptions and personal trainers. These are the things that help our health service over a number of years. The fitter and healthier we are, the less reliant we are going to be on health services in years to come.

As a personal trainer, Byrne feels that people can get “so much more” from joining a gym rather than using outdoor gym equipment. “I’ve been training clients for 15 years, and there’s nothing like strength-training in a gym environment with somebody experienced to guide you through. You have these outdoor gyms in place and people are trying to figure them out, and some of them have never been to a gym before. That’s obviously never going to be as effective as being in a gym environment where you’re being shown what to do.”

              The fitness industry needs to get smarter because this is really dumb. Of course, you get what you pay for. We need to stop putting any credence in media reports that (Insert X) is going to replace gyms and personal trainers. These trainers seem scared that they will lose potential business to these free, outdoor gyms. Do these trainers really think that the consumer who uses a free, outdoor gym overlaps with the consumer who would pay for a personal trainer? Personal training is a luxury product; if it was a car, it would be a Mercedes. A big box gym membership (without any personal training) is a Honda. A free, outdoor gym is public transit. Mercedes never feels the need to point out that riding the bus is a far worse experience than driving the new S-Class because their consumers don’t overlap with people who ride the bus. Let’s get smarter. Also, outdoor gyms could serve as a gateway to a traditional gym membership. It’s an easy, non-threatening way to try out some strength training and if they like it, maybe they would be inclined to upgrade to a commercial gym.

Do you like luxury?: Personally, I don’t need a lot of frills when I’m working out. I just need everything to function, form is not a huge concern for me. But that’s not true for everyone else. Some people want their gyms to be fancy and they’re willing to pay for it. Let’s take a look at one of those gyms, Third Space City in London, and examine some of the amenities. From Forbes:

Before you've had the chance to see a connected fitness gadget, you'll find even the air you're breathing is smart. How? Because it's cleaned with UV lamps featuring quartz anodized reflectors that remove 99.9% of all bio-contaminants. This Third Space says, creates the cleanest air in any London gym and aids a better training experience. Even the water fountains use an advanced filtration system to give members pure water throughout the club.

              How does this work exactly? Wouldn’t a bio-contaminant, like a virus or bacteria, cause you to get sick? How would it help your workout?

The club features a "Hypoxic Chamber" that uses tech to take a small percentage of oxygen out of the room and replicate training at 2500m. By exercising in this low oxygen environment, science dictates that you can develop enhanced endurance and stamina. For example, Third Space says a 15 min high-intensity session in the chamber can be equivalent of a one hour workout at sea level.

              THIS DOES NOT NOTHING! Science does not dictate that training at altitude is better than training at sea level. The benefit comes from living at altitude because it forces your body to become more efficient at oxygen consumption when you’re at rest. When you’re exercising, you are already exposing your body to a stimulus. You can’t trick your body into working harder during exercise. In fact, top endurance athletes have a maxim: Live high, train low. They will live at altitude and then travel down to sea level for their more challenging workouts. Or they will live at sea level and sleep in a hypoxic chamber.

I gave the club's latest high tech spin class a whirl, which was a great example of how much innovation Third Space has pumped into this club to offer visitors something unique.

Called Power Ride, the class uses live visual data to fuel your workout, benchmark your commitment and help you achieve better fitness results. Each rider's bike uses data to drive results, endurance, and performance, which is displayed on a leaderboard where you can compare your effort rating with others. Great idea for the uber-competitive, perhaps not so much for those who can't quite keep up (but it does work in giving you a kick up the backside if you're lagging behind).

              That’s not unique, they’ve just ripped off Flywheel.

Something you won't find in many other spas that Third Space have is a 20m swimming pool where the water is treated by UV light technology, which is said to provide a chemical-free treatment, killing any bacteria and viruses.

              So they don’t put any chlorine in the pool? If true, that’s kind of cool.

The changing rooms aren't usually a place where'd you find much technology, but the City club has fan assisted dry showers. Yes, because drying yourself with a towel is so old school.

              This is indicative of what Third Space is really about: luxury and novelty. Nothing here will give you a better workout than a bare bones gym. But you might not have to subject your hair to chlorine damage in the pool and you won’t have to dry yourself with a towel like a peasant. I have no problem with providing a luxury experience but I hate the pseudo-science masquerading as innovation.

Who will watch the Watchmen?: Last week, I wrote about John Hancock’s decision to make all of its life insurance products contingent upon participation in fitness tracking. I am not a fan of that. It turns out that a lot of other people feel the same way. From The Verge:

Another worry is that this will fundamentally change how we measure our lives, according to Dan Bouk, a historian at Colgate University. Bouk studies bureaucracy and quantification and is the author of How Our Days Became Numbered: Risk and the Rise of the Statistical Individual. At the turn of the 20th century, he explains, corrupt practices tarnished the reputation of US life insurers. As a result, many, including Metropolitan Life, responded by developing and instituting “life extension” programs to seem more philanthropic. These companies took techniques developed for assessing life insurance risk — annual medical examinations, blood pressure measurements, height-weight tables — and made them standard parts of our lives.

“Some historians have shown that most doctors don’t even have scales in their offices until they’re required to by life insurance companies,” he says. “Before this era, most people are only getting a health examination if they’re buying life insurance. Out of a seeming moment of weakness, when companies were under political pressure, they developed new forms of power in terms of shaping how we think about our bodies.”

Medical examinations and screenings certainly seem useful. But they have also “made many people think they were unhealthy in moments that they weren’t, and sacrificed a great deal of human individuality,” Bouk says. For example, many doctors now argue that we use too many medical tests and researchers have long argued that “accepted knowledge” about height-weight tables and obesity are wrong.

“My concern is that you give this power to someone who is giving you life insurance — and life insurance is a crucial means of protecting you and your family against unforeseen accidents — then they get to decide what your healthy life looks like, even if we decide that’s not how a healthy life should look,” Bouk says. “They impose and flatten the variety of ways in which it’s acceptable to be healthy. I can only imagine that certain types of yoga might not work well with an activity tracker.”

              When I was on active duty, I was told that I should lose weight but I was approaching the upper limits of weight for my height. This was because I carry a lot of muscle on my frame but that didn’t matter because they had this chart with some numbers on it. My response was to bring on the rope and choke (and I never hit the limit anyway). Could this become a situation where activity is defined by number of steps taken and ignores everything else entirely? I wouldn’t rule that out. Let’s check in with Morning Chalk-Up as well:

  1. They just can’t track CrossFit, yet. When Margaux Alvarez rowed the ninth fastest marathon in the world among men at the 2018 CrossFit Games, during her 3 hour and 42 second row her Fitbit would have reminded her to get up and walk around because she was idle too long. Plain and simple, if companies like John Hancock start requiring step or distance thresholds in order to get better policy rates, CrossFitters may not qualify. There is some hope in this area as a new wearable called NEXUS was recently released which reportedly can accurately track CrossFit workouts rep-for-rep.

  2. What one insurance company can do, another insurance company can do. As of right now, this only applies to life insurance. But what happens when it’s health insurance and all of the above is still true. Wearables can’t quantify how your Fran time translates to being A). clearly very active that day and B). a pretty fit individual.

  3. How secure are those things anyways? Fitness apps have been hacked multiple times stealing millions upon millions of users data. In March of 2018, MyFitnessPal was hacked and 150 million records were stolen. And in 2016, hackers gained access to Fitbit’s GPS history log as well as sleep data for individual users.

These are 3 of my big fears right here. It’s an imperfect technology to put so much stock into, this could spread to health insurance, and I don’t trust these companies with my data. My last fear is that I spend the rest of my life unable to take my fitness tracker off because I would lose my health and life insurance. That sounds like the plot of an episode of Black Mirror.

Tidbits:

-Free gyms help opioid addicts in their recovery

-Fitness trackers are recalled for burning users

-The Marines are making their fitness test harder

-Feeding Mat Fraser

-A brief history of the women only gym

-How technology is shaping the fitness industry