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.

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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

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS RUNNING ON A TREADMILL

Running: It wasn’t that along that the fitness industry was demonizing running. Now there are a gaggle of startups determined to monetize the act of putting one foot in front of the other. From Bloomberg Businessweek:

Peloton is the only major company that’s aggressively advancing both new hardware and new software, but it has competitors in each arena. With hardware, there’s IPO Sports, with its foldable treadmill, for example, and Life Fitness, which says its cardiovascular machines are used by about 1 billion exercisers a year. Commercial accounts—largely gyms—make up 95 percent of its business; its home treadmills start at around $2,600.

While Life Fitness’s FlexDeck shock absorption system feels wooden compared with the Tread’s bed, the company is now letting outside developers create software for its machines. “You’ll be able to access video content,” says Jaime Irick, fitness division president of Brunswick Corp., which owns Life Fitness. “You’ll be able to do some shopping on the console. It’s not just the audio and the app, it’s a world of opportunity.” Last year, Irick helped start a digital ventures group within Brunswick to act as an “incubator for all the ideas we have: to test them, experiment with them in the marketplace, figure out which ones we can develop and scale up quickly.”

Life Fitness’s latest treadmill is equipped with its Discover SE3 HD console and features a coaching program from New York-based Studio, one of Peloton’s challengers on the software side. Started in January 2017 by Jason Baptiste, who previously founded a mobile publishing platform, and Nathaniel McNamara, a venture capital investor, Studio is modestly sized at this point. It has seven employees at its Wall Street office and $1.3 million in funding.

Take any piece of fitness advice you read or hear with a grain of salt. Look at who’s giving it and figure out what they have to gain from giving it, if anything. Running took a lot of heat the last few years for two reasons. The first reason is because the industry was over-correcting. For a long time, fitness was defined by endurance sports. It was all about running marathons and triathlons, going long. A correction was in order but we got an over-correction instead.  The second reason is because the people dispensing the “wisdom” didn’t know how to make money from running or didn’t understand it so they bashed it. They told people that it was somehow bad for you, that it would you make you skinny-fat. Always look at fitness advice with a critical eye. Of course, the 6’4/250 lbs power-lifting guru isn’t going to put much stock into running but you don’t have to listen to him.

Now there is a gold rush from fitness entrepreneurs who want to re-invent the act of running. Once again, let us not lose sight of their motivation: they want to make it rich off of running. One of the great things about running is that it is the most egalitarian of the fitness disciplines. You don’t need a bunch of equipment, you may not even need shoes if you have access to unpaved ground. These people want to make their fortune off running (some of them admit that they don’t even like running) and they plan to do so by making it seem more complicated than it is. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t purchase any of these products. Some of them might be helpful. Just remember that you don’t need any of them to go running, they’re all luxuries that will provide a marginal benefit at most. None of these products or services is going to reinvent running. Because the best running is done outdoors, covering ground and listening to your body.

              Also, $4000 is way too much money for a treadmill.

More Peloton: Let’s say you were a company that pioneered the concept of bringing high-end cycling classes into the convenience of people’s homes. You have a multi-billion dollar valuation and there is talk of a lucrative IPO. The world is your oyster but now one of the companies that offers those high-end cycling classes wants to get into the home market themselves. You start to worry. What if they can do what we do but better? What about the IPO? You have to do something! So you file a lawsuit. But what do you allege? From Fast Company:

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Marshall, Texas, Peloton claims its competitor copied its best-selling stationery bike using the company’s proprietary patents. In the formal complaint, the New York City-based company says Flywheel, a brick-and-mortar boutique cycling studio, decided to shift gears after increasingly losing customers to Peloton.

From the complaint:

[R]ather than innovating and investing, as Peloton had, Flywheel infringed the Peloton Patents by creating a copycat of the Peloton Bike experience called the ‘FLY Anywhere’ that, among other things, detects, synchronizes, and compares the ride metrics of remote users on a graphical user interface. With its FLY Anywhere bike, Flywheel infringes the Peloton Patents by, among other things, displaying live and archived cycling class content to remote riders, tracking a remote rider’s performance, and comparing that remote rider’s performance against the performance of other remote riders.

In addition, Peloton shares a rather head-scratching incident in which, three months before Flywheel announced its FLY Anywhere bike, one of its largest investors, Michael Milken, attended a private investment conference to meet with chief executives of several companies, which included Peloton. The complaint claims that Milken falsely presented himself to Peloton cofounder and CEO John Foley as a potential investor, going so far as to request and obtain information from Foley about the company’s technology and business strategy.

Peloton says Milken did not disclose his involvement and multimillion-dollar investment in Flywheel. “On information and belief, Milken provided this information to Flywheel, which then used this information to facilitate the development, sales, and marketing of the infringing FLY Anywhere bike,” concludes Peloton.

              Flywheel is older than Peloton and has been using scoreboards the entire time. The company is based on the idea of participants competing against one another.

In fact, says Flywheel, it introduced indoor cycling with signature features, such as scoreboards and individual personalized performance trackers eight years ago. Peloton, meanwhile, only introduced its technology four years ago, “employing many of the features first pioneered by Flywheel.”

              Michael Milken is still around? So Michael Milken, one of the most infamous criminals in Wall Street history, comes sniffing around and asking questions about your company and you just hand over all your secrets? That doesn’t sound very smart. Also, Peloton is alleging that Flywheel is infringing on their patents but also engaged in corporate espionage. It seems like they’re just throwing crap against the wall and hoping that something sticks. Prediction: this lawsuit goes nowhere.

What’s the plan: Obesity is a problem that our society has no handle on and the people suffering from it end up taking the brunt of it. From the Huffington Post:

Ask almost any fat person about her interactions with the health care system and you will hear a story, sometimes three, the same as Enneking’s: rolled eyes, skeptical questions, treatments denied or delayed or revoked. Doctors are supposed to be trusted authorities, a patient’s primary gateway to healing. But for fat people, they are a source of unique and persistent trauma. No matter what you go in for or how much you’re hurting, the first thing you will be told is that it would all get better if you could just put down the Cheetos.

This phenomenon is not merely anecdotal. Doctors have shorter appointments with fat patients and show less emotional rapport in the minutes they do have. Negative words—“noncompliant,” “overindulgent,” “weak willed”—pop up in their medical histories with higher frequency. In one study, researchers presented doctors with case histories of patients suffering from migraines. With everything else being equal, the doctors reported that the patients who were also classified as fat had a worse attitude and were less likely to follow their advice. And that’s when they see fat patients at all: In 2011, the Sun-Sentinel polled OB-GYNs in South Florida and discovered that 14 percent had barred all new patients weighing more than 200 pounds.

              The obesity epidemic is a gaping wound and we’re trying to stick a bunch of band-aids over it. Doctors don’t have the time or training to effectively deal with this problem.

Many of the financial and administrative structures doctors work within help reinforce this bad behavior. The problem starts in medical school, where, according to a 2015 survey, students receive an average of just 19 hours of nutrition education over four years of instruction—five hours fewer than they got in 2006. Then the trouble compounds once doctors get into daily practice. Primary care physicians only get 15 minutes for each appointment, barely enough time to ask patients what they ate today, much less during all the years leading up to it. And a more empathic approach to treatment simply doesn’t pay: While procedures like blood tests and CT scans command reimbursement rates from hundreds to thousands of dollars, doctors receive as little as $24 to provide a session of diet and nutrition counseling.

              If we’re expecting doctors to fix this as a side-gig, then we’re going to be severely disappointed.  There are a ton of structural problems in our society to lead to obesity but we have no system for dealing with it. People don’t know how to eat or to exercise and we don’t teach them. Maybe it should be in our public schools or maybe it should be part of our healthcare system but we can’t expect doctors to fill that gap in addition to everything else they do. Fitness and nutrition are a black box to most people, we need to demystify it.

              We also need to change expectations. There is no magic cure. Modern life in America is sedentary and contains an abundance of the unhealthiest food. This is the opposite of the entirety of human existence minus the last 50 years. We’re not wired for this so we have to re-wire ourselves. Work is now sedentary so our leisure time has to be active. Food is plentiful and famine is not right around the corner so we have to resist over-eating. But that’s not all either. Our food supply sucks too.

For more than a decade now, researchers have found that the quality of our food affects disease risk independently of its effect on weight. Fructose, for example, appears to damage insulin sensitivity and liver function more than other sweeteners with the same number of calories. People who eat nuts four times a week have 12 percent lower diabetes incidence and a 13 percent lower mortality rate regardless of their weight. All of our biological systems for regulating energy, hunger and satiety get thrown off by eating foods that are high in sugar, low in fiber and injected with additives. And which now, shockingly, make up 60 percent of the calories we eat.

Draining this poison from our trillion-dollar food system is not going to happen quickly or easily. Every link in the chain, from factory farms to school lunches, is dominated by a Mars or a Monsanto or a McDonald’s, each working tirelessly to lower its costs and raise its profits. But that’s still no reason to despair. There’s a lot we can do right now to improve fat people’s lives—to shift our focus for the first time from weight to health and from shame to support.

              There are no easy answers. We need a lot of answers and some of them are going to be very tough because the problem is still getting worse.

Insurance: Fitness trackers have been on enormous interest to insurance companies because for the first time they could actually see what their customers were doing on a daily basis. Now John Hancock is going all in on fitness tracking. From Venturebeat:

John Hancock, one of the oldest and largest North American life insurers, will stop underwriting traditional life insurance and instead sell only interactive policies that track fitness and health data through wearable devices and smartphones, the company said on Wednesday.

The move by the 156-year-old insurer, owned by Canada’s Manulife Financial, marks a major shift for the company, which unveiled its first interactive life insurance policy in 2015. It is now applying the model across all of its life coverage.

              Also:

It is too early for John Hancock to determine if it is paying fewer claims because of its Vitality program, said Brooks Tingle, head of John Hancock’s insurance unit. But data it has collected so far about customers’ activities suggest that it will, Tingle said, as Vitality policyholders worldwide live 13 to 21 years longer than the rest of the insured population.

John Hancock’s U.S. life insurance customers can choose from a basic Vitality program in which customers log their activity in an app or website and can receive gift cards for major retailers after reaching their milestones, or an expanded program that offers wearable devices and discounts of up to 15 percent on premiums, among other benefits, the company said.

              I should be the type of person who applauds this type of thing but I really hope that this doesn’t become the norm. I don’t want to have to be attached to a fitness tracker for the rest of my life so that I can get life insurance. What a pain in the ass. And I have no faith that these companies would be able to keep my personal data secure. I have little faith that they would even try very hard to do so.

Kids: Do you know any children? Or were you ever a child yourself? Does it sound like a good idea to try to make a child sit in a chair all day? No, of course not. Yet that it what we expect children in school to do and then when they struggle with that, we say that they have behavioral problems. Maybe we should try something different. From Psych Central:

As childhood obesity continues to rise and physical education classes are replaced by academics, elementary schools are searching for ways to incorporate the federally mandated half-hour of physical activity into the school day.

In-class exercise tends to put off many teachers who believe that the burst of activity in the classroom will disrupt learning. But new research suggests that mini exercise breaks during the school day may actually work quite well.

In a series of five studies, researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M) confirmed that 2-minute bursts of in-class exercise not only increased the amount of daily exercise for students, but did so without hurting math performance. In fact, when the exercise breaks were incorporated into classrooms throughout southeast Michigan, teachers found the breaks quite doable, and in some cases, could even enhance learning.

Sitting all day long is not natural. It’s insane to expect children to sit in a chair all day without any physical activity. I hope that this idea can catch on nationally.

Tidbits:

-The Army’s new fitness test is no joke

-There’s a Joe Weider movie coming out

-CrossFit at sea

-Strava wants to move indoors

 

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS GOING TO CHURCH

Ch-Ch-Changes: Details about the upcoming changes to the CrossFit Games and the qualifying process continue to dribble out. Crossfit founder Greg Glassman did an interview with the Girls Gone WOD podcast and he revealed some very interesting details. From BarBend:

This first year, we’ll probably take the top 20 from the Open, plus the national champions, and conduct however many sanctioned events we have ready. And they’re falling into our lap, this is easy. Wodapoalooza is on board. Granite Games is on board. The French Throwdown is on board. Dubai (Fitness Championship) is on board. We just spoke with Annie Thorisdottir this morning and it’s her intent to take a lead in this and mine to support her. There’s going to be something in Iceland, I’ll be shocked if not. And there’s a lot of others to talk to.

I’m going to have about 160 men and 160 women, 16 people from the sanctioned events, 20 of the top 20 of the Open because I don’t have all the sanctioned events in place. And that gets me to about 196 and that leaves 4 slots to get us to 200 and we thought we’re gonna have some wild cards.

We’re really attracted to this (idea of a) “Blowhard Card.” You didn’t do the Open, you’re not one of us, but you won’t shut the fuck up about how fit you are. (…) Why don’t we let someone get a “Blowhard Card.?” All we ask is you talk a load of that crap and that someone believes in you more than us. You need a community. So there needs to be someone with a loud mouth with a bunch of people saying, “Yeah you’ll do great.” I know where to find ‘em, so we just drop a line at some of those places and say, “Hey, tough guy, we’ve got a seat for you.”

              Does he have someone in mind for the Blowhard Card? That seems like it would cheapen the Games. Think of all the athletes who work their ass off to get to the Games and then they’re going to give a spot to someone who did nothing to deserve it. It will also take attention off the athletes who earned their place there. This feels like a cheap reality show trick not something that a respected athletic competition should be doing. I would suggest doing a separate event, like a Pros vs Joes. Don’t cheapen the Games.

 (At the Games) we’re gonna have 16 events, we get to the Games, what could happen — it seems enjoyable to me — is earlier in the week put 200 to a task that leaves 10. And then (we’re) watching 10 for 2 days. (…) A higher intensity, denser format, where there’s less to watch but more to see.

              So they’re going to cut down to 10 for the last 2 days? I assumed that they were going to cut down to 40 and then it would be like past Games. That cut is going to be brutal for any contender who has a slow start. It’s not hard to imagine some big names missing that cut. I think that this will end up being more controversial than any other change. That’s going to make the composition of the first few events crucial to the outcome of the Games.

              In a separate interview with ArmenHammerTV, Glassman revealed that pretty much nothing is going to change with Age Group qualifying but the Team format is going to be very different. From Morning Chalk-Up:

According to the interview, team members will no longer be required to workout at the same affiliate. They can select any two male and female athletes from anywhere in the world. However, teams will no longer qualify for the Games through the CrossFit Open, a fact which was revealed on Wednesday in a separate interview. Teams will only be able to qualify through sanctioned events.

“We’re not playing the game of where do you live, how long have you lived there,” Glassman said.

              Bring on the Super Teams!

Getting Religion: CrossFit has been compared to a cult on more than one occasion. It seems that a researcher from Harvard Divinity School was paying attention and she included fitness companies like CrossFit and SoulCycle in a study about institutions that are filling the void that organized religion once filled for a lot of people. From Vox:

Tara Isabella Burton

CrossFit and SoulCycle, on the surface, offer very tangible benefits: They change your body in X or Y way. But it sounds like the benefits are far greater and more expansive than just, say, losing weight or building muscle tone. What kinds of things did your study participants get out of these groups?

Casper ter Kuile

SoulCycle talks about how people “come for the body but stay for the breakthrough.” It’s a good workout, but that’s only the beginning. Really what people experience is a sense of release of stress or a new insight and clarity about what’s important to them or a renewed commitment to the goals in their life or an experience of sanctuary, amid anxiety and pressure from their job. So it’s really an emotional and spiritual experience as well as a physical one.

It’s interesting to see how SoulCycle has changed the way they talk about what they’re offering. When we first reached out about four years ago and told SoulCycle, “We’re from Harvard Divinity School,” they were very wary of us. Now its leadership really embraces the spiritual element as that becomes more mainstream and less scary, as more and more people talk about their experience of crying [on difficult songs] or eulogizing their father-in-law from the front of the room. A trainer played a James Taylor song and talked about her father-in-law who’d just died, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. More and more of that religious behavior is becoming explicit.

The same is true with CrossFit. People come because they want to lose weight or gain muscle strength, but they stay for the community. It’s really the relationships that keep them coming back.

That need for community was something that was so strong in our research. People were longing for relationships that have meaning and the experience of belonging rather than just surface-level relationships. Going through an experience that tests you to your limits, especially if you’re doing partner or team-based fitness routines, there’s an inevitable bonding that comes from experiencing hardship together.

There is something to fitness filling a space that other institutions used to occupy in this country. And it makes sense to multitask: get your exercise and sense of community in one shot. There is always something more compelling about a group of people who are committed to the same thing than a group of people who are trying to find something in common.

However, there is no need to compare fitness to religion. Religion is much more than just a sense of community. It is a way to explain the world and look at the world. It should offer a set of values.

Tara Isabella Burton

It also sounds like there’s something very meaningful about the experience of community: working on something with other people. I’m struck that, particularly in urban millennial demographics, it seems like we’ve lost more intuitive sources of community (a church, say, or a wider extended family). How do these kinds of intense fitness classes foster community?

Casper ter Kuile

There’s one really simple thing: You can’t look at your phone when you’re on a bike or lifting weights. Simply by exercising, you’re physically and mentally present in a way that you can’t be if you have in a phone in your hand. The second thing is that in our culture, especially among high-achieving, Type A people who are in these classes, there’s a pressure to perform, to meet a standard — what you look like, who you’re hanging out with. And by getting ugly sweaty and being pushed through those limits of physical comfort, some of those barriers are broken down and you’re left in this raw and vulnerable experience together.

In SoulCycle, it’s we’re riding as a pack. Or in CrossFit, the workout doesn’t finish until the last person is finished, and everyone will stand around and clap for you until you’ve done the right amount of reps. So it’s an inversion of normal human behaviors of leaving people on their own or shying away when it gets hard. You have to really lean into that.

That sounds like a sports team to me. You’re all working towards a common physical goal and you support each other in the pursuit of that goal. There are a lot of different institutions that offered people a sense of community that are not connecting with younger generations. Younger people are still seeking out that community but in different ways. One of those differences is that information workers need to engage in rigorous physical exercise to balance out the sedentary nature of their jobs. So hanging out at the Elk Cub after work doesn’t make as much sense as going to a fitness class does.  This whole ‘Fitness is the new religion” thing is a huge stretch (pun intended) past the community aspect.

Problem Solving: Tonal and Mirror have been getting some press this month, leading up to their launch dates. Tonal sells a wall-mounted strength-training system while Mirror sells a screen that streams exercise classes. Both are trying to capitalize on the success of Peloton. From The NY Times:

The screen was part of a new weight-lifting machine from Tonal, a San Francisco start-up. The system combines software and an interactive LED screen with electromagnetic weights and cables to create an experience that does not rely on plates, barbells and gravity. Tonal had sensed that my last set of curls was too easy, and helpfully — perhaps sadistically — added more weight for the next set.

I grumbled about the weight, but realized Mr. Wright couldn’t hear me any more than Tamilee Webb could hear me griping through a “Buns of Steel” VHS tape in the 1990s. The video of him was a recording, too. But as I grimaced and sweated through the reps, I noticed they were precisely the right level of difficulty. The machine knew my strength better than I did. As I tested the machine in a Tonal office, the company’s chief executive, head of marketing, public relations representative and another trainer eagerly looked on.

The Tonal machine is very cool, I told them — and, at $2,995, very expensive.

Home fitness machinery, in all its bulk, was once relegated to the garage or the basement. Now, with a little help from Silicon Valley engineers, it is moving onto the wall. In recent weeks two tech start-ups, backed by millions of dollars of venture funding, have introduced sleek wall-mounted fitness systems that stream workouts into their customers’ living rooms, bedrooms, dens, foyers or home offices.

I am intrigued by the technology that Tonal has developed but I fear that they might be solving a problem that doesn’t exist. Entrepreneurship is about identifying a pain point and then solving it for your consumer. I’m not sure if the pain point is specific enough for Tonal to succeed with its current business model. Tonal thinks that the pain point is “I want to strength train at home but I don’t want a bunch of dumbbells in my living room”. That makes sense but maybe not at $3000+.

Everyone wants to be the next Peloton but the path to it success was paved by SoulCycle and FlyWheel. The pain point was “I want to do SoulCycle but I can’t get into classes”. There were already consumers willing to pay $34 per class so a $2000 bike plus $39 per month wasn’t going to scare anybody off. However, if Tonal’s technology is as revolutionary at they claim, maybe they need to abandon their current business model and open their own studios. It is a lot to expect people to just buy this thing that is completely unlike anything else out there. It’s a huge jump from CrossFit or Orangetheory to this completely new system of strength training.  Consumers are more likely to try out a class than they are to plunk down $3000+. Innovation doesn’t always work out exactly as the innovators imagined.

One watch to rule them all: Apple debuted its new iteration of the Apple Watch this week and the improvements were not just incremental. From The Verge:

Apple is unveiling its Apple Watch Series 4 line of smartwatches today. It’s the first major design overhaul of the Watch since its debut more than three years ago, and the changes are immediately obvious. The Watch’s screen now goes nearly edge to edge, thanks to a larger display with rounded edges. There are now two new sizes, 40mm and 44mm, and the larger display, which is 30 percent bigger, lets watchOS 5 show more information through Apple’s built-in app complications. Apple is also overhauling the hardware inside its Apple Watch, including a new built-in EKG scanner.

              The new Apple Watch has a built-in EKG scanner??? Let’s read more about that.

This new hardware allows Apple Watch Series 4 to detect falls and automatically trigger a call to emergency services if you’re immobile for a minute after the fall. Apple Watch Series 4 will also screen heart rhythm for irregularities that appear to be atrial fibrillation, but the real new feature is the ability to take an electrocardiogram (EKG). Apple says the Watch Series 4 will be the first EKG product offered over the counter directly to consumers, and you simply open an app and put your finger on the digital crown to trigger the EKG.

              That is amazing. Apple is clearly all in on developing health and fitness features and incorporating them into the Apple Watch. Fitbit had a head start in the fitness tracker race but it doesn’t have the horsepower to keep up with Apple. What surprised me is that Google has ceded such a large head start in this race. They have the horsepower to keep up with Apple but I doubt that they have the horsepower to catch up with Apple.

Tidbits:

-It’s not you, it’s me

-Big Box Gyms: please be better than this

-Food, Fun, & Fitness

THE WEEKLY HOWL ISN'T BURNING HIS POSSESSIONS

Just Did It: Nike launched a new marketing campaign this week, centered around Colin Kaepernick. Needless to say, this has ignited a great deal of controversy. Some people have made a great show of destroying their Nike merchandise on social media, others are praising the move, and the President has decided that his own financial interests are what truly matters. This has led some to declare that this is a risky move for the athletic apparel giant, inserting itself into an extremely contentious political environment, and applauding Nike’s courage. The thing is, though, that this move isn’t nearly as risky as it appears at first glance. From Vox:

In 2017, Nike announced that the company planned to center its products and marketing on consumers living in 12 cities around the world: New York, London, Shanghai, Beijing, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Paris, Berlin, Mexico City, Barcelona, Seoul, and Milan. In a press release, the company said, “These key cities and countries are expected to represent over 80 percent of Nike’s projected growth through 2020.”

Also:

Young people living in big cities in the United States like Los Angeles and New York — cities that are generally more racially and ethnically diverse than the areas surrounding them — are also supportive of Kaepernick’s protest efforts and generally opposed to Trump, tending to be more left-leaning in general. That means that for companies like Nike, appealing to them — and not to their parents or to their Republican-voting older neighbor — makes sense.

              Winning an election and running a successful, multi-national company are 2 very different endeavors. Republicans are also over-represented in the electorate because older voters have much better turnout, the Electoral College and the Senate give greater representation to rural states, and the Republican Party has engaged in extreme gerrymandering over the last decade. Republican voters tend to be older and more rural. These are not the consumers that Nike wants to go after. They want young, urban consumers. They may not vote but they do buy. 

              The other thing is that if your brand is for everyone, then it’s for no one. Every brand needs an identity, which means that it won’t be for everyone. Nike wants to be a brand for younger consumers and understands that if it wants to get through to them, it needs to have a distinct voice.

But that’s not the message the company has put forward in its advertising, even before it became an athletic behemoth worldwide. In Nike ads, Nike is for people who want to fight the power and start a revolution. In fact, Nike used the Beatles’ song “Revolution” in an ad in 1987, obtaining the rights to the song from John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono.

In an interview with the Harvard Business Review in 1992, Knight said that marketing was the key to Nike’s strength and added, “We’ve always believed that to succeed with the consumer, you have to wake him up. He’s not going to walk in and buy the same stuff he always has or listen to the same thing he’s always heard.” He added that criticism of the company’s marketing strategy wasn’t a problem for him:

If the phone rings, that’s usually good. Although some of the calls will be negative, complaints tend to be in the great minority. Besides, we’re always prepared for some criticism because somebody will be offended no matter what we do. We don’t let that hold us back. Our basic philosophy is the same throughout the business: take a chance and learn from it.

              If this was such a risky move, then why were Adidas and Puma so eager to sign Kaepernick if Nike had let his contract lapse? From Yahoo Sports:

Whether that gamble pays off remains to be seen. But Nike apparently wasn’t the only shoe company that eyed a larger platform for Kaepernick. Industry insiders told Yahoo Sports that Adidas and Puma were among multiple brands that had conversations about potentially building around Kaepernick if Nike failed to renew his deal following a long stretch of endorsement inactivity.

“We talked about Colin in March. A lot, actually,” one shoe industry executive said. “We all know the specific kind of deals NFL players are on with each other. His deal was running out and he had a shoe commitment that hadn’t been done for whatever reason. I’m sure it was because of everything that was going on around him. But it looked like Nike was running out the clock on [his deal] because he didn’t have a lot of time left and nothing was really happening with him. So there were some discussions for us about what kind of an endorser he could be.

“It’s apparent that, you know, even though he isn’t playing, he’s still connecting with a lot of people. I also think he’s exponentially more popular, and in some cases unpopular, than he ever was in the NFL.”

              People also underestimate how tough it can be to boycott a company like Nike. Nike sponsors the University of Alabama (as well as Texas, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, USC, and the entire NFL). Are Crimson Tide fans going to forsake their school and not wear team gear this fall because of this? My guess is that they are not. Plus, the right wing outrage machine will move onto something else next week.

Metabolism: Vox published a piece on spending 23 hours in one of the National Institute of Health’s metabolic chambers. The chambers are designed to measure a person’s metabolic rate by tracking calories ingested, amount of sleep, activity levels, oxygen consumed, and CO2 produced. Researchers at the NIH are trying to figure out how human metabolism works in order to combat the obesity epidemic. The disheartening thing is that we still know so little:

 Many basic metabolism mysteries remain. It’s not fully known why two people with the same size and body composition have different metabolic rates. They also don’t know why people can have different metabolic responses to weight gain (where some people with obesity develop insulin resistance and diabetes, for example, and others don’t). They don’t know why certain ethnic groups — African Americans, South Asians — have a higher risk of developing metabolic disorders like diabetes, and why people with diabetes have a higher cardiovascular disease risk.

They haven’t even figured out how the brain knows what the body weighs and, therefore, the mechanism that controls our metabolic rate.

“If I knew how the brain is aware of how much the body weighs, and how to regulate how many calories it burned off, I could change that setting and help an overweight person burn more calories through an increase in metabolic rate,” NIH metabolism and brown fat researcher Aaron Cypess told me over the phone before my stay.

Cypess is using the chambers to work toward that, and figure out whether there might be a drug that can do what very cold temperatures do: help people burn more calories. These and other studies in the chamber are a gold mine for data on the metabolism’s mysteries — data that could eventually help uncover cures for obesity and diabetes.

              Is another drug really the answer? I know everyone’s body is different but I have never met someone whose body did not respond to exercise and better nutrition at all. That makes everyone healthier to some degree. I believe that this type of research is extremely valuable but I don’t think that the end goal should be more medications. The solution to the obesity epidemic is simple (we need to get people moving and eating less) but it is hard. Research in this field could help us develop better, more personalized exercise and nutrition plans for people. I don’t love the idea of a fat pill because (1) there are usually unintended consequences of putting foreign substances in your body for long periods and (2) the obesity epidemic is already a crisis of the lower class. An expensive pharmaceutical will only exacerbate that inequality.

Wearables: When I think of smartwatches, one brand comes to mind: Apple. A company that doesn’t come to mind is Google. The tech giant is a laggard in the field, which is a bit curious. From CNET:

Apple doesn't reveal sales figures for the device, but market researcher IDC estimates that nearly half of the 43.5 million smartwatches shipped this year will come from Apple. Google's Wear OS trails behind at 12 percent. And Android Wear, which is still used by some watchmakers, should total 18 percent of shipments. By 2022, Android Wear and Wear OS combined are expected to catch up to Apple.

"While Apple will undoubtedly lead in this category, what bears watching is how Google and its partners move forward," IDC analyst Jitesh Ubrani noted in June. He said that Wear OS has been "somewhat of a laggard," and even with its changes, it faces tough competition.

Samsung, Google's biggest Android partner, has shunned Wear OS in favor of Tizen, its own operating system for watches, TVs and other devices. Earlier this month, it introduced its new Galaxy Watch, which starts at $330 and should give Wear OS even more competition.

              Google has not only ceded ground to Apple, its main competitor in smartphones, it has allowed Samsung, its biggest Android partner, to break away and introduce its proprietary OS to consumers. Samsung would love to ditch Android and install Tizen on all of its devices but that it is a lot harder than it sounds. Smartwatches might not be a huge market yet but Google has allowed an opening to form.

In the first quarter of 2017, Tizen leapfrogged Google's Android Wear software to become the second biggest operating system for smartwatches with 19 percent market share, according to Strategy Analytics. Apple, with its watchOS, had 57 percent of the market.

"It makes sense for Samsung to say, 'Use Android where it does best,' but Tizen has a really useful role to play in wearables and other places where Android has fallen short," Jackdaw Research analyst Jan Dawson said.

              Most people still probably haven’t heard of Tizen but this means that developers will start to create apps for it and consumers will start to get comfortable using it. I’m not going to say that Google won’t recover in smartwatches but it’s surprising to see Google drop the ball like this. Even if they weren’t big believers in smartwatches, they aren’t many new categories in consumer electronics anymore. It seems pretty egregious to neglect smartwatches as you see Apple gearing up to dominate the market. Perhaps they are too focused on Google Glass Enterprise.  

CrossFit: The first qualifying event for the CrossFit Games has been announced and, not surprisingly, it is the event formerly known as the Dubai Fitness Championship. Going forward, it is the Dubai CrossFit Championship. From Morning Chalk Up:

Just one week after we broke the news about format changes coming to the CrossFit Games season, which included new official sanctioned events, CrossFit announced the Dubai CrossFit Championship as the first ever sanctioned event. 

“The Dubai CrossFit Championship marks the beginning of a new chapter for CrossFit,” said Greg Glassman, CrossFits Founder and Chairman. The miracle of CrossFit happens in each one of our affiliates that help people get healthy and stay that way. Partnering with organizations like the folks in Dubai means we can really focus on that core mission. Through CrossFit sanctioned events like the Dubai CrossFit Championship, we’ll be able to keep pace with the growth of this international sport.”

The Dubai CrossFit Championship, formerly known as the Dubai Fitness Championship, is a four-day official CrossFit competition in Dubai which will take place the second week of December.

I think that it’s significant that CrossFit is letting the qualifying events put CrossFit in their title. Prior to this, CrossFit was very clear about drawing a line between official CrossFit events and the plethora of CrossFit-inspired fitness competitions that have sprung up over the last few years. This is a huge incentive for event organizers to affiliate with CrossFit and become a qualifying event. There were some skeptics that didn’t think that events would want to sacrifice some of their autonomy in order to be a qualifying event but I doubted that before and even more so now. I think that if you’re an event organizer and your event isn’t an official CrossFit event, then your event will be considered 2nd tier. There may be some trepidation right now because there is so much uncertainty but I think that this will get competitive. I am interested to see how much CrossFit fosters that competition or if they mostly stick with the events that signed up early.

Update: The Granite Games has been announced as the 2nd qualifying event. There was no mention of changing the name of the event.

Tidbits:

-UVU, the outdoor training collective, has partnered with PUMA

-The Rise of the Ninja-Warrior Gym

-How to Build a Business in your Backyard

-“It’s one thing when hotels open fitness centers, but quite another when fitness centers open hotels”

THE WEEKLY HOWL HAS FOUND THE HOLY GRAIL

Going Digital: When it comes to strength-training, I am an old-school kind of guy. The best form of resistance is a piece of iron or your own bodyweight and so I approach any attempt to re-invent resistance training with a healthy dose of skepticism. So when I started seeing some press about Tonal, a new home strength-training system, I was a little dubious. From Fast Company:

But Tonal, a new strength training device that uses an engine to create resistance instead of heavy metal disks, looks just like a vertical flat screen television and wouldn’t be out of place on the wall of your apartment. When you’re ready to work out, you turn on the device and pull out two adjustable arms that enable you to do 200 different exercises. After the trainers on the screen run you through an initial baseline test, Tonal pre-sets the weight, up to 200 pounds, for every exercise, automatically cataloging and tracking your progress as you curl, lift, and squat.

It’s similar to Peloton, which sells digitally connected spin bikes and runs group classes on a screen, but for weight training. By acting like both your personal gym and your personal trainer, Tonal sits at the vortex of today’s fitness trends: particularly online content, the likes of which you’d find on YouTube or a myriad of fitness apps, and health tracking, whether it’s heart rate or steps counted, a la Fitbit and other fitness trackers. Designed by the studio behind Brita pitchers, Google’s Chromecast, and Nest Dropcam cameras, Tonal is a clever piece of engineering that aims to bring home fitness, personalization, and tracking together while also re-imagining what workout machines could look like. Given Peloton’s success–the company recently raised $550 million with a valuation of $4 billion, ahead of an expected IPO–Tonal is betting that this is how people want to work out in 2018.

              I think that we are at the stage where every fitness startup is trying to be “Peloton but for…”.  Peloton is going to be hard to replicate because Peloton is the answer to SoulCycle. You want to do SoulCycle but if you can’t consistently get into a class or you don’t live in a city that has a SoulCycle, then Peloton is for you.  In order to be the new Peloton, a new company needs a SoulCycle.

              Tonal has a few things going for it. I am impressed with the design and the integration of technology. However, the price point is very high.

Of course, there’s a hitch: The price. Tonal costs a whopping $2,995, plus a $49 monthly subscription for the workout content. To access all 200 exercises, you need a $495 extension kit, which includes a sensor-laden bar and bench (you can do 85% of the exercises without it). There’s also a $250 fee for someone to install it for you. The company offers a payment installment plan where you can pay $175 per month for two years until you pay it off–which, combined with the content, is more akin to a luxury gym membership. Roughly speaking, these prices are on par with Peloton’s. However, if you’re accustomed to using YouTube videos paired with simple home gym items like a set of adjustable weights, that’s a tough price to swallow.

              That’s a lot of money to pay because you don’t feel like driving to the gym. You’re paying close to $4000 upfront and then $49 a month. Tonal looks pretty cool but will the type of person who can afford it want this in their living room? I don’t know. And will Tonal be as effective as a workout with free weights? From Inc:

Chang, who lifts weights regularly, was most impressed by the fact that the system can adjust weight in real time, essentially acting as a built-in spotter. It can also increase resistance on the negative portion of your repetition--the part of the rep in which you're being aided by gravity--which is a great strength-building exercise but one that's difficult to execute.

"That's a capability no machine or trainer has ever been able to deliver before," he says. "Often you have to pay a coach or trainer by the hour to remove plates for you, and even then they couldn't adjust the difficulty on the negative part of the rep. For me, that was it: Holy shit, this does something that nothing could ever do before."

              Wow! Why don’t they lead with this? You can adjust the resistance on the negative? If true, that is amazing. An exercise where you work equally hard going both ways is the Holy Grail of resistance training (at least in my mind). Imagine doing an overhead press going one way and a pull-up going the other way. Tonal suddenly became very interesting. The only problem is that I can’t afford it.

More CrossFit Fallout: Last week it came out (there has not been an official announcement yet) that there will be big changes to the sport of CrossFit. The Open is moving to November, the Regionals will cease to be, and a lot more people will be competing at the CrossFit Games. This has freaked people out to the point where some are wondering if the sport is dead. Of course, this is not the end of CrossFit, it’s just change and change freaks people out. Things will be different and some will benefit from the changes and some will suffer but everyone will adjust. And this will make the sport stronger in the long run. But in the meantime, there are a lot of questions. From The Barbell Spin:

 According to Glassman, Regionals will no longer exist. To qualify for the CrossFit Games, an athlete could qualify directly from the CrossFit Open or through one of 16 CrossFit-sanctioned events. Some have rumored that these sanctioned events would include competitions like Wodapalooza, Dubai Fitness Championship, etc. What is interesting, however, is that we are hearing that CrossFit HQ has not reached out to the organizers of these existing competitions.

So it is unclear if Glassman is thinking they would create 16 new competitions to facilitate this vision. If it really costs $1 million to run the Latin America Regional, it seems unlikely CrossFit would want to run 16 of those rather than the current nine regional competitions. If the broadcasting cost is the concern, adding seven more events does not help contain costs.

              There is plenty of time to contact the organizers of existing competitions. These changes are not going into effect until the 2019-2020 season. CrossFit hasn’t even made an official announcement yet. Greg Glassman is probably feeling confident that he can find 16 events that will want to be a part of the CrossFit circuit and he should be.

Some believe that the Games could be like a golf tournament where there is a cut (or cuts) throughout the week to dwindle the competition down to a manageable number. Sounds interesting in theory, but what events are before the cut that are fair and make sense? And if you are a fringe athlete, would you want to spend thousands of dollars knowing you will be cut after one event or a after a day?

              How about an endurance event (10K row), a strength event (Max C&J or Snatch), and a Girls WOD on Day 1? That would be pretty fair and make sense. It’s not that hard.

Remember the OC Throwdown? Remember the high jump event that injured a lot of athletes? Or what about when athletes pulled a car and ran over an athlete at the Sac Town Throwdown (video below)?

Leaving a qualifying event with ramifications of qualifying for the CrossFit Games in the hands of the current event teams could lead to more outrageous (and unsafe) events.

So does CrossFit take over the programming? It is hard to believe that those in charge of the Dubai Fitness Championship want to hand over control to Dave Castro or someone else at CrossFit HQ.

There are a ton of logistical questions that having this type of qualification create. The PGA Tour and NASCAR are highly involved in each of the events. Don’t expect CrossFit to sit back and just accept whatever the 16 qualifying competitions want to do.

              This is an opportunity for CrossFit to standardize the sport. Right now, event organizers are motivated to come up with outlandish (and potentially unsafe) events in order to attract attention. The new motivation will be to have a professional, well-run event that adheres to good safety standards so that it can become an official CrossFit event. And yes, as a part of that, these events will have to work with Dave Castro on the programming. They might not like it but it will probably be the cost of doing business with CrossFit.

Mat Fraser likely qualifies. However, the Open is a wildcard and is not always a guarantee to finish in 1st place. What happens if Noah Ohlsen crushes it again and Fraser takes 2nd? Does he now have to travel around the country (or world) to earn his ticket to Madison?

The cost of doing that is very cost prohibitive to many athletes. Only two athletes earn more than $100,000 at the CrossFit Games each year. Dropping thousands of dollars chasing a qualifying spot for a minimal payout at the Games does not sound appealing.

              Athletes already pay to travel to Regionals. Under the new system, they will have to pick their spots. It won’t be feasible from a training or monetary stand point to compete in 5 or 6 competitions in 1 season. 2 competitions might be more realistic. And that’s not all that different from athletes who compete at Regionals and another event like Wodapalooza.

This is a very valid concern. With the massive number of athletes getting caught at Regionals this year, drug testing has to be a high priority for the sport going forward. Spreading out the competitions over the course of 10 months and adding seven more qualifying events makes that task even more difficult.

Right now the regional/international off-season competitions like Wodapalooza and Dubia Fitness Championship do not drug test. CrossFit HQ did visit these competitions and conduct their own drug testing, but it is unlikely the existing competitions have a budget to drug test their athletes.

And let’s not get started about the Open. It would be impossible to drug test the top athletes in every country during the Open. Again, if costs are the concern, this would not reduce expenses to CrossFit.

              This is a false equivalency. Staging all the Regionals costs money. Drug testing all the athletes costs money. But drug testing costs a lot less money than Regionals. The Brazil Regional cost $1 million all by itself. That’s a lot of drug tests. There’s most of your budget right there.

               The old format was clear-cut, this new format (whatever it ends up looking like) will be less so. This will complicate things for the athletes but they will figure it out and adjust. And the sport will be stronger in the long run because of these changes. Not just because it will allow CrossFit HQ to invest more in the affiliates but because it will make the sport more interesting. It will create more intrigue for the fans and there will be a lot of drama. Fans love a circuit and each event will have its own personality. It will also keep the sport in the headlines:

What is interesting is that if you start the first qualifying competition two weeks after the Open with an event every other weekend, the 16th and final competition would be June 12-14. That is not too far off the existing Regional schedule where the final week of Regionals is the first weekend of June.

And based on a tweet by Russ Greene, the every other week schedule might be exactly what we see for the 2020 CrossFit Games season.

Looking at the calendar and beginning two weeks after the Open concludes, you can see this could work.

Comp #1: November 15-17, 2019
Comp #2: November 29-December 1, 2019
Comp #3: December 13-15, 2019
Comp #4: December 27-29, 2019
Comp #5: January 10-12, 2020
Comp #6: January 24-26, 2020
Comp #7: February 7-9, 2020
Comp #8: February 21-23, 2020
Comp #9: March 6-8, 2020
Comp #10: March 20-22, 2020
Comp #11: April 3-5, 2020
Comp #12: April 17-19, 2020
Comp #13: May 1-3, 2020
Comp #14: May 15-17, 2020
Comp #15: May 29-31, 2020
Comp #16: June 12-14, 2020

              This looks like a real season. The thing about sports is that it’s all arbitrary, someone makes up some rules and everyone figures out how to play the game. Is it fair that under the old system, getting injured at Regionals meant that the whole year could go to waste? No but that’s just the way it worked and everyone dealt with it. Even small tweaks to the rules can completely change the way any sport is played. Imagine if the NFL required players to play both ways. Tom Brady would not be the GOAT and Tim Tebow would be a Pro Bowler (QB/MLB). What if the NBA never instituted the 3 point line? Steph Curry would be a nobody instead of being one of the best players in the world. I am sure that this will change the sport to some degree but this is not the end. The sport of CrossFit has a bright future ahead of it.

Sneaker Wars: Earlier this summer, it came to light that CrossFit was suing Reebok for stiffing them on royalty payments. This week, CrossFit announced that the 2 companies had come to a settlement and that’s everything’s hunky-dory now:

CrossFit, Inc. and Reebok International Ltd. are pleased to announce today settlement of all litigation related to their licensing agreement and that they look forward to continuing their work together as partners mutually dedicated to improving individual health and fitness globally.

While the details of the settlement remain confidential, the settlement includes a payment to CrossFit for disputed royalties.

"Every partnership confronts challenges from time to time. Great partnerships learn from them, overcome them, and become stronger in the resolution of them," said Jeff Cain, Chief Executive Officer at CrossFit.  "Our shared resolution is a victory for CrossFit trainers, affiliates, and athletes."

              Common sense tells me that this relationship has been damaged. We just don’t know how much it has been damaged and it’s hard to tell because it is in CrossFit’s interest to pretend that the relationship is in great shape. The licensing deal expires in 2020 which means that negotiations for the next deal will probably start next year. There are only 3 legitimate contenders for the CrossFit deal in 2020: Nike, Reebok, & Under Armour. There are 3 major athletic apparel companies in the world (Reebok is owned by Adidas) and it’s hard to imagine anyone else becoming a serious player (Puma?). Nike is making a big push into CrossFit and has very deep pockets and Under Armour doesn’t appear to be all that interested in this space. CrossFit will want a bidding war so that it can maximize the size of the deal. This means that it can’t afford to have Reebok ruled out because then it would just be Nike vs. a less than committed UA. Even if the relationship is damaged beyond repair, CrossFit is going to pretend that everything is fine because they need to use Reebok to play against Nike. My prediction is that we’ll be seeing Nike CrossFit gear in 2021.

Military Fitness: In my former life as a naval officer, twice a year I was subjected to the PFT (Physical Fitness Test). I know what you’re thinking: you have a fitness website, you should have loved running the PFT. But I didn’t and not because it was hard. I hated doing it because it was a waste of time. The Navy PFT is push-ups, curl-ups, and a 1.5 mile run.  The pushups and curl-ups aren’t great tests for upper body and core strength to begin with and they are a nightmare to police. At one of my duty stations, the PFT coordinator didn’t even try to monitor the pushups and curl-ups because he didn’t have anywhere close to the manpower to do so. You would pair off with someone and that person would report your numbers. Cheating was rampant. People would offer to life for you even if you had no problem maxing out the pushups and curl-ups. It was just what everyone did. The PFT coordinator’s rationale was that he couldn’t fix the culture and that the run kept everyone honest. Why am I bringing this up? Because the DOD seems to be waking up to the fact that its system for testing service members’ fitness is deeply flawed and it’s finally doing something about it. The Army is in the process of rolling out a new, comprehensive fitness test and now the Air Force is testing one as well: 

Dr. Neal Baumgartner, chief of the Exercise Science Unit, said unlike the Tier 1 test, which measures overall general health to meet Air Force-wide standards and perform daily tasks, the Tier 2 test would examine specific critical fitness capabilities of Airmen with specific jobs. EOD, along with AF battlefield careers, are the first to begin executing the Tier 2 test.

The Tier 1 test is the current AF-wide physical fitness test consisting of a 1.5-mile run, waist measurement, push-up and sit-ups.

For the Tier 2 test, the ESU analyzed EOD’s critical physical tasks required for mission success and designed 10 specific components to determine total force standards for its future implementation.

EOD Tier 2 Physical Test components:

• Run, 1.5 miles

• Row Ergometer, 1,000 meters

• Grip Strength

• Medicine Ball Toss, Back, Side and Log 20 pounds

• Trap Bar Deadlift, five repetition maximum

• Pull-up

• Extended Cross Knee Crunch, metronome 56 beats per minute

• Farmer’s Carry, 4 x 25 meter, 100 meters

              This is a pretty good test. It’s nice to see the Armed Forces get away from the pushups/sit-ups/run combination and incorporate some lower body strength tests and anaerobic tests. Also, pull-ups are a much better test of upper body strength than pushups and much easier to police. The one exercise that I would love to see make an appearance is parallel bar dips.

Wearables: I often like to say that the fitness tracker market is going to end up like the smartphone market. A barbell market, dominated by Apple on the high-end, a rash of competitors fighting over the low end, and everyone in the middle getting squeezed. The one thing that I am surprised about is that Android doesn’t seem to be much of a player in fitness trackers. From CNET:

A year ago, Google and its smartwatch partners like Fossil Group leaned on fashion over fitness features, a decision that led to a wave of watches that felt feature-generic. This year, the plan's changing. "Most if not all the watches released this year will have heart-rate sensors," Barr says about Wear OS smartwatches. The just-announced Skagen Falster 2 is a good example: It has a full set of fitness features, as opposed to last year's sparser model.

It makes sense, since Google Fit -- the fitness-tracking portion of Wear OS -- has just been revamped with new Move Minute and Heart Point goals, designed to meet World Health Organization and American Heart Association metrics for daily fitness. That brings Google's offerings closer to what Fitbit, Apple, Garmin and others have on their fitness trackers. The two-ring fitness readout can be quickly checked with a swipe-left gesture. Heart Points are calculated using heart rate readings, although Google's also developed an algorithm to estimate Heart Points on Wear OS watches without heart rate.

There isn't any smart coaching, though... not yet, at least. According to Barr, this update to Wear OS is more about getting people familiar with the new fitness metrics. Google's head of Wear OS, Dennis Troper, previously suggested smart coaching is one of the upcoming features in Wear OS watches with Qualcomm's next-generation smartwatch chip. That could end up being an announcement in a few weeks at Qualcomm's Sept. 10 event.

              It took Google this long to figure out that smartwatches are going to be driven by health & fitness, not fashion? That puts them a couple of years behind Apple. I have to wonder how committed Google is to smartwatches because they are not certainly not dumb. I wouldn’t count them out if they get serious about watches but it doesn’t appear that they are right now. At least not compared to Apple.

Tidbits:

-Over 10,000 pull-ups in less than 20 hours

-If you’re building anything in Miami, you better include some health & wellness features

-The story of Zumba

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS TRYING TO MAKE ATHLUXURY HAPPEN

Black Tuesday: Last week, CrossFit laid off a lot of people. By a lot, I mean about one-third of its corporate staff in Northern California. From Boxrox:

Last Tuesday more than 40 CrossFit Staff were fired. This is close to 30 – 40% of the members of CrossFit’s Santa Cruz, CA office.

The vast majority of these individuals were from The CrossFit Games media team working in video, photography, graphic design and logistics for The CrossFit Games.

              Fast-growing companies aren’t the first thing that you think of when it comes to layoffs but it’s not unheard of. The downside of fast growth is that it can be very difficult to manage that growth well, particularly when it comes to managing costs and headcount. What’s interesting about these layoffs is that they seem to portend a complete change in strategy. The layoffs were concentrated in multi-media positions, i.e. the people that document the CrossFit Games. Of course, this means that major changes are afoot for the Games:

Our sources tell us that this is part of a move by Greg Glassman away from concentrating so much on The CrossFit Games, to shift the Media focus towards ‘CrossFit Health’, and to pay more attention to health rather than competition. One source told us that Glassman is ‘anti-games’, seeing the spectacle to showcase the sport in a dangerous way. 

Also:

According to our sources, there is a strong chance that the Regionals format that we all know and love will completely change! It looks like there will be a series of different events that will now count towards qualification for The CrossFit Games. Rumours have talked about competitions such as the Dubai Fitness Championship amongst others. 

It looks like Greg Glassman wants more focus on the affiliates and less focus on the Games. The question is whether CrossFit is a sports company or a fitness company? Up until now, the answer has been a fitness company that does a lot of sports marketing. But no one has infinite resources which means that tough decisions have to be made sometimes. From Morning Chalk-Up:

Today, CrossFit has more than 15,000 affiliates worldwide; more than half of those are located outside the United States. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that Glassman has more affiliates in the U.S. than Howard Schultz has Starbucks.

Yet a significant portion of CrossFit’s financial resources goes to building and supporting a competition for the 0.01% of athletes, resources which could be going to support training and equipping these affiliates on the front lines in the fight against chronic diseases.

“We chose to make these changes to refocus our efforts towards the core of CrossFit: our affiliates, seminars and certifications, and our core mission: preventing and reversing chronic disease,” an anonymous source within CrossFit said.

Assuming that Glassman sees CrossFit as a fitness company, then it could make sense to outsource a lot of the Games work. CrossFit could probably convince CBS Sports to produce those documentaries for them. The cable sports networks need a ton of content to fill the air waves with. Let CBS Sports do what they do best (create content) and save a ton of money in the process. Then, get rid of Regionals. Right now, there are 3 rounds of CrossFit competition (the Open, the Regionals, and the Games). The Open is pretty cheap to conduct, all the competitions take place in the affiliates. Plus, it’s a big deal to the affiliates and a great way to promote and grow CrossFit. I can’t see them getting rid of the Open. The Games is the showcase of the sport and fitness in general. It has to be expensive to put on but they sell a lot of tickets, have a ton of sponsors and a TV deal. They’re not getting rid of the Games. The Regionals have to be more expensive than the Games (they hold 9 competitions all over the world) but without the same revenue streams as the Games. This they could get rid of. So how would athletes qualify for the Games? Use other competitions as qualifying events. Create a circuit of competitions in which athletes earn points. Earn enough points and you’re in. That way, CrossFit isn’t footing the bill for all of these competitions. And I am sure that competitions like the Granite Games would be more than happy to serve as a CrossFit Games qualifying event. This way, CrossFit can serve as more of a governing body for the sport. It can set the standards and hold the championship. This also might encourage more people to invest money into fitness competitions with the dream of becoming an official CrossFit event. The season would start with the Open in February, have a circuit of qualifying events through the spring and early summer, and then culminate with the Games in late summer. It might even be more fun than the current setup. The qualifying events can develop their own history and feel.  The downside to all of this is that you lose some control over your brand but that is something that CrossFit has never been afraid of. This is a company that uses an affiliate model instead of a franchise model. Yes, CrossFit will lose some control over its brand but this will free up a lot of cash that can be invested in growing/supporting the affiliate base.

Update:

-The Open is moving to November

-From the Open, every country with an affiliate will send one man, one woman, and one team to the Games

-The Regionals are out, there will be 16 qualifying events, win one and you’re in the Games

-The CrossFit Invitational is out

Good Old Days: Deadspin published an oral history of the original Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach this week. It is a good read and I highly recommend it but one paragraph stuck with me:

Charles Gaines (author of Stay Hungry and co-author of Pumping Iron): Among other things that’s not widely understood about bodybuilders, I think, is how good they feel. Working out they have these endorphins cascading their bodies. They’re eating enough meat for a male lion every day, and lying in the sun and screwing whoever they want to screw. It was a kind of paradise. They’re always tanned and they’re in great shape. That sense of physical well-being and pure physical pleasure was a big part of that scene.

              It’s a little provocative but this isn’t this why we all work out? Because it makes us feel good today. You feel good after your workout, it feels great to be in shape, and you’ll be more attractive to whoever it is you want to attract. These guys were just some of the first ones to get that and they built their lives around it. There was no money or prestige in it back then. They were bodybuilding bums who wanted to see how much they could transform their bodies. It’s crazy to think that this little hole in the wall gym in Venice Beach helped create the fitness culture in America but it did. And it sprung from a desire to feel good through exercise.    

Real Estate: If you want to run any kind of retail business, then finding the right location is critical. You want someplace with good visibility but you don’t want to get killed on rent. And it needs to be the right size and type of space. All of that gets harder when you opening up a gym (although it has been getting easier lately). And it gets even harder when you’re opening up a climbing gym. From Curbed:

The number-one challenge to developing a climbing gym is real estate, says Helt, and finding the right property, one that’s both big enough for a multimillion-dollar rehab, and, in the case of facilities that offer rope climbing, tall enough—often needing 45-foot ceilings or more.

What’s been especially interesting, and in some cases frustrating as the industry grows, is how climbing’s emergence runs parallel to both the post-Recession real estate recovery and a seemingly insatiable desire for warehouses and post-industrial properties for a variety of industries, including residential and commercial development, microbreweries, e-commerce such as Amazon, and in some states, cannabis growers.

“I think the word is out on how cool industrial warehouses can be and everyone wants it,” says Lance Pinn, co-founder and president of Brooklyn Boulders, a chain of climbing gyms with four locations in the New York, Boston, and Chicago area. “Once upon a time, there was a sweet spot when it came to cost and availability. For our first few facilities, we caught them just in time. But now, that ship has sailed.”

              There has been a lot of press coverage on the retail apocalypse and the death of the shopping mall. There has not been much coverage on the growing demand for industrial spaces (or the evolution of the warehouse gym). This has made finding a good space for a climbing gym very tough.

That’s one of the real challenges facing climbing gym developers; Finding massive spaces for adaptive reuse close enough, or soon to be close enough, to a large customer base, but before the real estate gets too expensive.

That’s led gym developers to focus on transforming any spaces that fit the bill, no matter how unique. Everything from churches to movie theaters to a hospital power plant have been remodeled for climbers.

              Most businesses just have to worry about square feet, not cubic feet. There is one bright spot in all of this.

Helt believes the challenges of funding and finding a new space actually work to the industry’s advantage. It’s hard to burst a bubble when it takes so long to open a new facility. He sees opportunity in places like the Dallas and Houston metro areas, with millions of potential climbers and less penetration.

              They don’t even get into the expense of opening up a climbing gym. It is not a cheap endeavor.

Stop trying to make Fetch happen: Athleisure has been the hot trend in athletic apparel the last few years but the industry leader has been resisting. Now it appears that they’re giving in. From Vogue:

 Throughout Nike’s 47-year history, athletes have always come first. That’s been a long-standing advantage for the brand—ultimately, it’s hard to argue against LeBron James and Serena Williams picking up trophies while wearing that swoosh. But as the lifestyles of the well-off pivot to a more natural fusion of exercise and daily life, and as athleisure becomes a fashion statement, Nike has lagged where other activewear monoliths have thrived. That’s about to change with its newest womenswear launch, Nike City Ready, a collection of athluxury pieces that targets the modern woman in an urban center, the woman who sees Bella Hadid leaving a training session in high-waist leggings and a bodysuit and wants to do the same.

              I think that Vogue understates how big of a deal this is. Nike prides itself on being a sports company that designs its products for elite athletes. They believe that this is their competitive advantage. For example, their running shoes are all designed for runners with narrow feet and good biomechanics. That is not most people. New Balance has been selling shoes in both lengths and widths for decades. It is not a radical idea that the size of someone’s foot could vary by both length and width. But Nike has resisted selling anything that an elite runner would not run in. Which is why it’s so weird to see them give in on athleisure. They have some very aggressive revenue goals that need to be met but still. Athleisure is the exact opposite of what Nike believes is a pillar of its success. They must think that athleisure isn’t going away anytime soon and that they can’t afford to be left out of it. 

The 7 Z’s of leadership: As a business school graduate, I have been trained to be a sucker for wisdom dispensed in a particular alpha-numeric format. Which is why I got excited about this article in Inc. 3 C’s? I am in.

Beyond the wellness movement, Geisler sees three key drivers of the boutique boom. You could call them the three C's: consistency, community, and constraint. Consistency is at the heart of any chain's appeal; like Levey, who was frustrated by how all-over-the-place yoga classes could be in their approach, consumers want to know what to expect from a business, no matter which location they enter. Geisler, a fan of Starbucks, makes sure that in all his studios little things like the layout of the bathrooms (and the free toe socks at Club Pilates) don't vary from one location to the next.

Community is the social aspect of working out. Exercisers want to get some of the same feeling they get from going to a cool bar or nightclub. The candlelight and loud dance music at Y7 certainly create a club vibe, but Levey says the rigor of the sessions themselves is what inspires bonding. "There's a sense of camara­derie," she says. "You're going through this difficult workout together."

A sense of shared affinity helps explain why people will pay more for membership at a single-purpose boutique than they would for a full-featured, big-box gym. "People who have dogs go to dog parks. Why?" asks Geisler. "Because everybody at the dog park has a frickin' dog. We're animals. We like to go to the watering hole together."

And we prefer the most popular watering holes. Hence, another aspect of boutiques' unlikely appeal: constraint. Small studios make for small classes that fill up fast, and when classes are frequently booked up or oversubscribed, it's a lot easier to charge $25 or $35 for a spot. "Look at the old nightclubs. People waited in line for hours," says Geisler. "Everybody wants to be part of that."

              The first 2 aren’t anything new but I am intrigued by the third C: constraint. The comparison to night clubs is interesting since fitness studios are the new night clubs (according to some). I have a hard time wrapping my mind around it because I’ve never been a night club guy. I hate waiting in line so I can stand in a loud, crowded space and be over-charged for drinks. Exclusivity in the form of long lines does not appeal to me. I have always thought that the hassle of booking SoulCycle classes sounded exhausting as well. But everyone is not like me and exclusivity definitely sells. Personally, I’m more of a Peloton guy.

But not everybody has time. Peloton's founder, John Foley, had worked at Barry Diller's IAC, Barnes & Noble, and Evite when, in 2011, he found himself getting frustrated by how hard it was to get a spot in a spin class. In Manhattan, where he lived, SoulCycle and Flywheel classes led by popular instructors were often booked up a week in advance. "I was thinking, if 2,000 people want in and only 50 people can get in, that, to me, screams distributed technology," he says. 

              What would that make Peloton? The equivalent of an intimate gathering of friends? You can just show up whenever you want and you’re guaranteed someplace to sit. And you don’t have to have your ear drums assaulted by music that is way too loud.

Tidbits:

-The women only model comes to CrossFit

-Google Fit gets an overhaul

-Online coaching is on the rise

-The ghosts of gym class truly haunt us all

-A gym designed for Instagrammers

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS

Gurus: If you have heard of Ido Portal, there is a good chance that Conor McGregor is the reason why. The MMA superstar retained Portal as his movement coach in 2015 and, as with everything in McGregor’s orbit, brought a tidal wave of publicity to the enigmatic Israeli. The Atlantic profiled Portal, asking the age-old question that must be asked of every would-be fitness guru: are they the real deal or just another huckster?

Star athletes reportedly pay Portal six-figure sums for two weeks of in-person training. He spent chunks of the past year doing “movement design” (something akin to choreography) for a multi-million dollar Bollywood film, and is set to star in a mini-series in which he works with elite athletes in sports ranging from surfing to fighting. (Some of his closest students have landed similarly glitzy gigs, with two recently serving as advisers to the current season of Israeli Ninja Warrior.) Portal has been called a “guru” and a “movement master” more times than I can count; one interviewer even called him “the smartest man in the world.” But the question—hotly debated on Reddit and on MMA blogs—endures: Is there value in the movement, or is Portal simply slinging snake oil?

              The thing that drives me crazy about these type of arguments is that people usually fail to define what they’re arguing about. Is there value in Portal’s teachings? Of course, there is. The more relevant questions are whether they are worth the price tag and whether they are the best use of someone’s time. To an extent, almost everything in fitness works. You just have to figure out what that particular exercise or methodology is supposed to do. For example, body-building absolutely works. It does exactly what it is designed for: muscle hypertrophy and achieving a certain aesthetic. But it is a fool’s errand to use body-building as a method to improve sports performance because that’s not what it was designed for. Portal is not selling snake oil but what exactly is he selling?

But such personal transformations aren’t accessible to just anyone. Portal makes no bones about the fact that involvement in the community requires a significant investment of both time and money. In a 2013 Facebook post, he wrote that his movement camps were for the “got money and a ton of motivation and willing to travel kind of person” (for the “no-money, little motivation, want to fuck around kind of person” he recommended Zumba). In 2015, he lost fans in the parkour world and beyond when he announced he wouldn’t train vegans, saying they wouldn’t be able to keep up with his meat-eating “tribe.” The dozen or so movement schools that have cropped up in these past few years have made Portal’s methods more readily available. But even now, those wishing to take part in one of his camps are required to sign non-disclosure agreements and fork over between $600 and $1000 for two to three days.

“I’m willing to elevate the crowd by providing them with some of the things I’ve found to be useful. But I’m not willing to be pulled down by them into some watered-down thing—some P90X, some CrossFit-certification weekend event,” Portal told me, when I asked if he seeks to spread his method further. “If [the public] come with me, that’s fine, but I’m not going to them.” He added: “Sometimes I think, let’s let the trend die already for God’s sake, and have only the really hardcore practitioner group.”

 When we spoke, Portal kept emphasizing that his approach has to be experienced, not just described. “It sounds very vague because there is nothing that I can say beyond these descriptive words,” he said. Maybe Portal’s elusiveness is just a way to convince outsiders he’s offering something new and revolutionary, as some have argued. Maybe movement just another cultish fitness fad with a short shelf life. Maybe you could achieve similar results, and the promised “paradigm shift,” training some other discipline multiple hours per day—like dance or martial arts.

              Portal appears disinterested in bringing his methodology to the masses. He doesn’t want to make it something that the average person can fit into their life. He’s selling to the “hardcore practitioner” who wants their existence to revolve around this stuff. Part of me feels that if you need to do it for 6 hours a day for it to be effective, then you are not the real deal. That is completely unrealistic for 99.9% of the population. Even professional athletes need to practice their actual sport. Fitness should make our lives better, not subsume our entire lives. There is another part of me that feels that Portal is being upfront about this and we should just take it for what it is: something that is for a very small group of people. Of course, history tells us that eventually someone else will try to bring Portal’s teachings to the masses, probably without Portal’s consent. We will have to wait to see what that looks like.

Stay frosty: Brrrn has been getting a lot of press lately. The boutique studio prides itself on being the first gym to use cold temperatures as a way to…do something. They’re not so sure what exactly the benefit of exercising in cold temperatures is but they have some theories. From Fast Company:

“The hardest thing to do in the boutique space is to encourage movement,” explains cofounder Johnny Adamic, “and there’s nothing better in our opinion than to turn the thermostat down and just be completely in the moment–not feeling like your body has to sweat profusely to cool off.”

Theory 1: you need to turn down the thermostat in order to encourage people to move. People who have just paid $34 to get a great workout. Sure.

Cold, he argues, actually has a bounty of benefits. Research found that cooler environments boost alertness and performance, better serves heart health, helps you sleep better, and perhaps most relevant to fitness, burns more calories.

Theory 2: Being cold burns more calories. There is science to back this up but how much difference does 1 hour of the day make? Plus, once you start exercising, your body will warm up. The rule of thumb is that it will feel 20 degrees warmer once you start exercising. So, you’re not really getting that benefit. You’ll just sweat less.

Not to mention, as the body heats up during exercise, outside heat often just makes movement unbearably uncomfortable. It’s why marathons are held during the spring and late fall.

 Martin likens working out in the heat to trying to have two conversations at once. He says the body can’t acutely focus on exercising if it must simultaneously cool itself. In colder (but not too cold) spaces, “All your body has to worry about is performing because it’s not working hard to dump heat to cool your body.”

Theory 3: This is the optimal temperature for running a marathon. In a long event like the marathon, the benefits of warmer temperatures (loose muscles) is outweighed by the benefits of cooler temperatures (less chance of overheating). But a HIIT class is not a marathon. Wouldn’t a slightly warmer temperature be ideal?

Western society essentially engineered cold out of our lives, but that thermal cocoon of comfort might be partially to blame for our nation’s obesity epidemic (along with overfeeding ourselves). Mild cold (55 to 65 degrees), claims Cronise, could reverse some of those effects. (Studies are still in the infant phase, with researchers conflicted on end results.) It’s part of a larger trend in the last few years that has seen the wellness industry adopt colder pursuits once reserved for elite athletes, such as cryotherapy, ice baths, and “fat freezing” centers.

Theory 4: This is somehow related to using cold-based recovery techniques. The goal of an ice bath after your workout is to reduce the inflammation in your muscles and hasten your recovery. Are they trying to imply that participants will experience less inflammation because they were exercising in cooler temperatures?

              If this doesn’t set off your BS meter, then I don’t know what would. They can’t even settle on one coherent selling point. They are just throwing stuff at the wall and hoping that something hits. The good news is that none of this is harmful. People will just sweat less. But this is marketing gobbedly-gook that Brrrn is using to differentiate itself from all the other boutiques in NYC.

What me worry?: Technology is eating the world. It’s transforming everything about our lives and the world that we live in. That includes the way in which we exercise as well. It has enabled a host of companies to offer increasingly sophisticated home fitness solutions. Could this replace traditional, brick and mortar gyms? From Racked:

This is all just the next version of at-home workouts that have been around since Jane Fonda pioneered them via VHS tapes in the ’80s. That progressed to DVDs from Cindy Crawford and Elle Macpherson, then to the Tae Bo hype of the ’90s. Finally, we got YouTube fitness content. But this new generation of live-streaming differs in some important ways that should make traditional gyms very nervous.

Live-streaming, or even rewatching live classes that have been recorded, offers an experience that’s actually really similar to the experience of being there live. The unscripted constant chatter and encouragement of a teacher and the presence of other people on bikes or mats working out in the background gives a sense of connection and community. That’s what draws so many people to group fitness classes in the first place. Many need the motivation and camaraderie.

Then there’s the variety. Macpherson was inspirational and all, but you can do the same canned workout only so many times. With tens of thousands of classes all taught by different teachers to choose from on any given day, there’s little room for boredom to set in. Users are also not bound to traditional gym schedules.

Also:

What this all means is much less need for anyone to leave their homes to work out, which should make traditional gyms very, very nervous. Some have already figured this out. Gold’s Gym offers streaming audio workouts à la Aaptiv. Crunch also offers class live streams. Both cost $9.99 monthly.

Traditional gyms should theoretically have a leg up on the startups because they have the talent and programming part done. More gyms need to figure out the tech part, because if they don’t go virtual soon, they could wind up just like that NordicTrack your aunt has gathering dust in her basement.

Fitness is far from a mature industry, there is still tremendous room for growth. We are far from the point where companies need to worry about stealing market share from one another. The biggest competition for everyone in the industry is still the couch, doing nothing. Success is all about developing solutions that make working out as convenient as possible for people. That might mean building out multiple, easily accessible locations or it could mean making working out at home as easy as possible. And here’s the other thing: everyone doesn’t want to work out at home. There are a lot of people that prefer going to the gym. They’re out of the house, they’re not sweating up their living room, there’s more energy there, there’s better equipment there.

I’d also love to see some stats on how many people participate in home fitness solutions and belong to a traditional club because I suspect that it’s pretty high. Let’s say that you are a Peloton rider. You dropped $2000 on a bike and pay $39/month. You’re not averse to spending money on fitness and you obviously have disposable income. You can get a membership to a big box gym for $30/month. And Peloton is great cardio but what about strength training?

Gyms need to evolve. They don’t want to be that old Nordic Track. Because if they don’t evolve, then someone else will take their place. You don’t see a lot of Nordic Tracks anymore but there are a bunch of companies selling cardio machines and doing well. 

Happy Hour: The media loves to blame millennials for the downfall of well, everything. As if it’s their responsibility to like the same dumb stuff that their parents did. Case in point: nightclubs and bars. From The Guardian:

In fact, for some, the gym is replacing boozing. Young people are drinking less than ever before: according to one survey, more than a quarter of 16- to 24-year-olds are teetotal. A quarter of pubs have closed in the past 35 years, and those that survive largely do so through their food offerings.

In contrast, gyms are booming. The UK private health and fitness market is now worth £3.2bn after growing 20% between 2015 and 2018, according to Mintel. Adjunct industries, such as sports nutrition and athleisure clothing, are also bulking up (the sports food and drink industry grew by 11.5% to £77m in 2017-18). Fifteen per cent of the UK population has a gym membership, and that doesn’t include the premium, pay-as-you-go studios such as Frame, F45 and Psycle that are springing up.

In an agricultural/manufacturing economy, work was active so leisure was usually sedentary. Retiring to a pub to down a few drinks after a long day of work was a natural reaction when work was farming or toiling away in a factory. The information economy has turned that on its head, now work is sedentary so leisure needs to be active. After sitting in an office all day, doing something to get your body moving is a natural reaction. Millennials might be the first generation to understand this. Their parents didn’t quite figure this out and have paid the price for it with their bodies.

The other thing about leisure time is that people want it to have a social component. They want to do it with other people. So they go to a bar instead of just drinking at home. And they’re looking for their gym time to have a social aspect to it as well. Perhaps that’s why fitness companies that have tried to build a sense of community have experienced the most success the last few years.

 

 

Fitness Marketing: There has been a rash of fitness/music deals being made this year. I was aware of the trend but seeing it all condensed into a couple of paragraphs was eye-opening. From Forbes:

Consider this timeline: On May 22, licensing and rights-verification company Rumblefish (owned by Simon’s HFA) announced that it would be working with ClassPass, the health-club subscription service that just raised $85 million in a Series D round, on music rights administration support for on-demand fitness content. Just over a week later, B2B music-streaming provider Feed.fm announced its brand-new spinoff product Fitness.fm, which is already crafting custom music experiences for popular mobile fitness apps like Daily Burn, ASICS Studio and Pear Sports.

The end of June saw yet more fitness and music deals. First, audio-workout startup Aaptiv raised $22 million from investors including Warner Music Group, and it later revealed an additional strategic investment from Bose Ventures. One week later — to come full circle — Peloton announced its acquisition of B2B music aggregator Neurotic Media, whose team will be tasked with building new music features for the unicorn cycling startup.

              Fitness classes are becoming the new place to discover new music. Music has always been a part of the fitness experience. Who doesn’t like to listen to music while they work out? This is another example of fitness marketing, advertisers using fitness as a platform to reach young, affluent consumers. And it’s a symbiotic relationship.

The right music can keep these users even more engaged in the long term: new research released this week from Feed.fm found that users of fitness apps with specialized music curation were 2.2x more likely to return the following month and 2.8x more likely to return the following quarter

              Companies like SoulCycle understand that they’re selling an experience as much as they’re selling a workout and that music is a big part of that experience. This creates pressure to curate the right music for its consumers so these companies are seeking out partners to help them with that. Being in the fitness business is starting to mean that you’re in the music business as well.

Tidbits:

-Cookeville, TN will now be the home of the World’s Fittest Man and Woman (plus Rich Froning)

-Equinox is accused of ignoring an attempted rape in one of its clubs

-Hollywood is working out with its kids

-Google is going to launch an AI trainer

-The DOD finally bans service members from using geo-locating fitness apps

-Here’s an alternative to Planet Fitness

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS WATCHING FRIENDS

Reebok: A few years, Reebok was struggling. The brand was on life support and investors were calling for parent company Adidas to sell it off. Reebok decided that it had to get back its roots as a fitness brand. So it signed deals with CrossFit, the UFC, and Spartan Race and ditched pretty much everything else including running. Now it wants to get back into running and the timing is interesting. From Letsrun.com:

Reebok is back in the running game.

Later today the sportswear manufacturer will announce the formation of the Reebok Boston Track Club, naming former Syracuse University coach Chris Fox as head coach. The team’s first major signing is Justyn Knight, who put together an illustrious career under Fox at Syracuse that saw him win the 2017 NCAA cross country individual title, the 2018 NCAA indoor 5,000-meter title, and finish 9th in the 5,000 meters at the 2017 World Championships for Canada.

Reebok opened its new global headquarters in Boston’s Seaport District last year, and while the team will spend some time in its namesake city, Charlottesville, Virginia, will serve as the group’s main training base, where the team plans to use the University of Virginia’s track for workouts. In addition to Knight, the Reebok Boston Track Club will also include at its inception Jamaican Olympian Kemoy Campbell (13:20 pb) and American steeplechaser Tori Gerlach, the NCAA third placer in 2017 (9:46 pb), both of whom will be moving to Charlottesville. Martin Hehir (13:29/28:08), a teammate of Knight’s at Syracuse, will also be on the team, though he will remain in Philadelphia, where he is currently attending medical school.

Reebok is planning on adding more athletes by the end of the year; Fox said he expects the group, which will contain both men and women, to eventually include eight to 10 athletes, who will compete in events from the 1500 up to the marathon. Fox’s experience coaching marathoners is limited in number but not accomplishment, as he coached his wife Kristy Johnston to a second-place finish at the 2000 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.

Also:

Reebok’s formation of a new elite pro track club marks a stark reversal from what the brand had been doing over the last decade. While the company sponsored the Reebok Enclave team in the 1990s and numerous pros in the 2000s, it made huge cuts to its running department in 2009. In 2013, it went further and basically got out of pro running altogether, forcing Reebok-sponsored pros like Olympic 1500 medallist Nick Willis to switch over to adidas, which owns Reebok. Aside from its sponsorship of developmental group ZAP Fitness, Reebok had been out of the professional running game since then. So why start a professional group now?

              The turnaround of Reebok over the last 5 years has been remarkable and it’s been driven by CrossFit. The deals with the UFC and Spartan Race have underwhelmed while the relationship with CrossFit has over-achieved. Reebok must realize that its relationship with CrossFit has soured in light of the lawsuit alleging that Reebok lied and withheld money from CrossFit.  If Reebok fails to re-sign with CrossFit in 2020, then the brand will be in serious trouble and it doesn’t look very likely that it will be able to sign another deal. Nike is waiting in the wings and appears more and more interested in CrossFit. They sponsor several high-profile athletes (including Mat Fraser) and keep releasing new iterations of its Metcon shoe line. Losing CrossFit could be a death blow for Reebok so they need to diversify. I think that this re-entry into running is their first move to prepare for a future without CrossFit.

It’s all about the shoes: Nike has always wanted us to believe that its shoes could make you run faster and jump higher and be more like Mike. Nike’s success is based on this marketing but what if they finally did it? What if they actually designed a shoe that could make you run faster? From the NY Times:

Nike says the shoes are about 4 percent better than some of its best racing shoes, as measured by how much energy runners spend when running in them. That is an astonishing claim, an efficiency improvement worth almost six minutes to a three-hour marathoner, or about eight minutes to a four-hour marathoner.

And it may be an accurate one, according to a new analysis by The New York Times of race data from about 500,000 marathon and half marathon running times since 2014.

Using public race reports and shoe records from Strava, a fitness app that calls itself the social network for athletes, The Times found that runners in Vaporflys ran 3 to 4 percent faster than similar runners wearing other shoes, and more than 1 percent faster than the next-fastest racing shoe.

We found that the difference was not explained by faster runners choosing to wear the shoes, by runners choosing to wear them in easier races or by runners switching to Vaporflys after running more training miles. Instead, the analysis suggests that, in a race between two marathoners of the same ability, a runner wearing Vaporflys would have a real advantage over a competitor not wearing them.

              This is amazing. A 4% improvement in running performance is enormous. Running has never had to deal with an issue like this and the governing body is completely unprepared.

The International Association of Athletics Federations, track’s governing body, has rules about shoes, but they are vague: “Shoes must not be constructed so as to give athletes any unfair assistance or advantage.” It does not specify what such an advantage might be.

The rules also state that shoes “must be reasonably available to all in the spirit of the universality of athletics.” The Vaporflys sell out quickly; on the secondary market, a pair can cost $400 or more. Nike’s newest version of the shoe, the Elite Flyprint, was sold to a limited number of runners in London for the 2018 London Marathon at a cost of £499, or about $650.

When asked whether the shoes conform to track and field’s rules, a spokesman for Nike wrote in an email that the shoe “meets all I.A.A.F. product requirements and does not require any special inspection or approval.”

Yannis Nikolaou, a spokesman for the I.A.A.F., said that while it’s accurate to say that the Vaporflys are legal, it’s actually more accurate to say there is no evidence they shouldn’t be.

“We need evidence to say that something is wrong with a shoe,” he said. “We’ve never had anyone to bring some evidence to convince us.”

              Basically, the IAAF has never had to think about this before. Other sports have dealt with this issue before by clarifying what type of gear or accessories constituted an unfair advantage. Anyone who watched the Olympics remembers the full body suits that nearly every swimmer was wearing during the Beijing Games but were nowhere to be seen in London since they were banned in 2010.  I can’t imagine the IAAF doesn’t follow suit here, eventually ban the Vaporflys, and clarify what a running shoe should and shouldn’t be. It’s not good for the sport to have it go down this path. Track & Field is one of the few truly global sports partially because the barriers to participation are so low. The Vaporflys could change that perception. But if you have been training to hit a certain time, you don’t mind a little help, and have a few hundred dollars burning your pocket, then you might want to purchase a pair.

Sound the Alarm: One of the biggest stories in fitness over the last few years has been the growth of Planet Fitness. The New Hampshire-based company has pioneered the low-cost gym and launched a slew of imitators that have struggled to copy its success. The Detroit Free Press published an article on the growth of the industry in the state of Michigan and had a couple of interesting nuggets on Planet Fitness.

All Planet Fitnesses, including forthcoming Garden City and Wayne locations, are equipped with the gym's famous "lunk alarm," a loud siren and flashing blue light for chastising members who grunt, drop heavy weights or exhibit other poor etiquette that may intimidate other members and put off women.

The lunk alarm helps Planet Fitness locations maintain their ideal 60/40 gender ratio that skews female, according to Rief.

"It works great," he said of the alarm. "We insist that our staff use it."

              I didn’t realize that Planet Fitness had a target gender ratio. This is something that its imitators don’t understand: Planet Fitness knows exactly who it wants as members and who it does not want. It is not trying to be all things to all people. It is going after a specific type of member and wants to actively dissuade other types of people from joining.

"I think the reason that there is still room to grow and not oversaturation is that Planet Fitness and the others are really attracting first-time gym members," said leasing agent Alex Bieri of Detroit-based Stokas Bieri Real Estate, who helps Planet Fitness with site selection.

“For $10 a month, even if they’re not using it that much, people can stomach it," he said.

              Alex, you’re not supposed to say that out loud. That’s the dirty little secret at the core of Planet Fitness’ success: $10 a month is low enough that people will keep paying it even if they’re not going to the gym. I would bet $10 that Alex got a call from Planet Fitness after this article went live. This is not something that Planet Fitness wants to be articulated.

Revenge of the Machines: For decades, gyms were ruled by the machines. Companies like Nautilius churned out expensive strength-training machines designed to isolate muscles and gyms bought them up. Now those machines are being replaced by free weights, barbells and benches and squat racks. But everyone is not happy about this. From WBUR:

In his latest study, Westcott looked at 45 subjects who worked out on strength machines and got aerobic exercise twice a week as part of a post-diet weight maintenance plan. It found the program effective at keeping the weight off and protecting the subjects' muscle mass from the shrinkage a diet typically causes.

Machines target major muscles in ways that strengthen them for all movements, Westcott argues. Take the back machine that my gym did away with: "The lower back machine is the best possible exercise for strengthening the lower-back muscles," he said. "It puts it through the full range of motion, hopefully with the appropriate strength curve. Nothing does that better in a progressive way, where you can add a little bit of resistance as you become stronger."

Similarly, he said, the shoulder machine and the ab machine should not be spurned. "Any machine that moves a muscle to its full range, with an appropriate strength curve, with appropriate resistance, is the best possible way to condition that muscle, to make it stronger," he said. "And once you condition the muscle, it is stronger in any movement you want to make."

Westcott is by no means against squats or push-ups or any of the staples of functional fitness-style boot camps, he said — only against the trend among many trainers to diss machines.

              In lieu of the lower back machine, I would recommend seated good mornings. It is the free weight version of that machine. It’s not that machines are bad, it’s just that free weights are better. I understand the frustration of listening to people who don’t recognize that distinction and instead label the lesser option as a negative one. Beyond the physiological benefits of lifting free weights, there are also the business concerns. Free weights are more versatile than machines. I can work every muscle in my body in a squat rack. And that takes up roughly the same amount of space that a machine does. It’s cheaper and doesn’t require the same amount of maintenance. A gym operator doesn’t have to worry about getting the latest and greatest when it comes out and the versatility removes the guessing game of trying to figure out the right mix of machines. Maybe a weak analogy will help us understand this issue better.

Ultimately, Schoenfeld said, eschewing machines in fitness is like "telling a carpenter, 'Just use a saw and a hammer. You don't need the saber saw.' Or telling a painter to limit the colors on a palette.

"The more tools you have at your disposal, the more you can tailor your programs to the individual," he said.

              A saber saw costs a fraction of what a strength training machine does and takes up much less space. The carpenter doesn’t have to make that kind of hard decision. Ditto for the painter.

Of course it's easier to strike a balance when, like Maloney, you run a fantasy fitness center in Indianapolis that measures 65,000 square feet. That's plenty of room for rows of machines and functional-fitness space. The real either-or is the zero sum of limited space.

              This is the real issue. Space is limited and machines are expensive and not as versatile. That doesn’t make machines bad.

I want to quit the gym: If you grew up watching up Friends (or if you binge watch it now on Netflix), then you’re probably familiar with the episode where Chandler wants to cancel his gym membership. Needless to say, it is quite the ordeal. And like all great comedy, it is based on reality. Big box gyms are notorious for making it difficult for members to get out of their memberships. And members are also notorious for the lengths that they go to circumvent that process. From US News:

But a few months in, Poindexter-Jenkins fell out of her routine for a day, then a week, then a month. By the time she'd been a member for five or six months, she'd gone into debt and realized Equinox was one expense that had to go. Equinox disagreed. Because she had signed on for a year, her choices were limited: Show proof from a doctor that she was too injured to use the gym fox six months, prove that she was moving somewhere more than 25 miles away from the closest Equinox or show that she'd lost her job.

So Poindexter-Jenkins did what any broke recent grad and disillusioned New Yorker would do: She lied. "I told them I got laid off and am moving back home," Poindexter-Jenkins says. Her mom sent her bills from their home in Virginia and her colleagues helped her photoshop her name onto them. All in all, she estimates she saved more than $1,000 bucks by bailing early.

"It's the worst type of brand loyalty because it's forced and then they actually rob you when you finally get out," says Poindexter-Jenkins, who now belongs to a Pilates studio she loves that charges three months at a time for unlimited classes.

              This person will never re-join Equinox when her financial situation improves nor will she ever recommend Equinox to anyone that she knows. That’s the price for making it so difficult to cancel. Four years later, her financial situation has improved and she is now a member at a Pilates studio, not Equinox. This is a woman who believed that Equinox “wasn't only a gym; it was a lifestyle” when she moved to New York. Now she basically hates it. How is that good business? But what do the gyms have to say about it?

Of course, many fitness facilities view such policies as reasonable for consumers who've signed contracts and as necessary for their bottom lines. "At the end of the day, these facilities ... aren't really trying to make it that much more difficult," Leve says. Like signing up for cable, he adds, "a consumer needs to understand they are signing an agreement for services and what's important to note is that all the cancellation lingo is always contained within the contract when you first sign up."

              If your defense is that your policies are like the cable industry, then you’re in trouble. The Cable industry is the most hated industry in the country. They should not be anyone’s role models. This feels like a customer service policy that has failed to keep pace with the times. Fitness facilities are also wising up to the fact that today, poor customer service experiences can quickly become public relations nightmares, Leve finds. "Savvy business owners are making things more transparent due to the overwhelming amount of negativity that can come via social media," he says. "Service is king these days and in a very competitive market, the businesses that are upfront about fees and communicate clearly – their policies will win out in the end."

              The companies that bend over backwards to please their customers are the most successful. The two most valuable publicly-traded companies in the world are renowned for their desire to delight their customers. Gym operators need to start thinking like this too. 

Tidbits:

-There’s a limit to the judgement free zone

-Gold’s Gym is for sale

-Fitness tracking cheating is a thing in China

-CNN profiles Katrin Davidsdottir

-Get ready for 4 person deadlifts

-It’s like Airbnb but for garage gyms

-Equinox and SoulCycle are launching a talent agency

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS GOING TO CAPITOL HILL

Get PHIT: We have an obesity epidemic in this country. We also have fitness inequality in which the least affluent are generally the least fit. Paying for fitness goods and services is a major obstacle for most people and a big driver in that fitness inequality. Miraculously, Congress might actually try to do something about that. From Club Industry:

The Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act has been introduced in both the House and U.S. Senate numerous times in the last decade, with the House bill being most recently introduced by Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO) in March 2017. It currently has 135 bipartisan sponsors.

On July 12, the act passed through the committee with a vote of 28-7.

“This is tremendous news, and it’s encouraging that our voices are being heard in Washington, D.C., by our national legislators,” PHIT America founder Jim Baugh said in a media release. “Passage of the PHIT Act will make physical activity more affordable for all Americans, especially families.

The PHIT Act would amend the existing IRS code to allow for a medical care tax deduction on qualified purchases for up to $1,000 per taxpayer or $2,000 for married couples filing jointly or heads of household, according to the proposed bill.

Under these revisions, physical activity expenses—including gym memberships and youth and adult sports registration fees—would become reimbursable through pre-tax dollars via health savings accounts (HSAs) and flexible spending accounts (FSAs), allowing consumers to deduct related costs after meeting the 10 percent of income threshold on medical expenses.

              Despite the fact that this bill enjoys bipartisan support in a political environment in which virtually nothing else does, this idea has come under some intense criticism. From Slate:

But the bill is more than just joke fodder. It’s also symptomatic of a long-standing sickness in American policy making: American politicians, including Democrats, are absolutely addicted to hiding pieces of the welfare state inside the tax code, rather than just spending directly on public goods and services. We deal with retirement savings through 401(k) accounts and health care with FSAs and HSAs and education through 529 accounts and offer commuter benefits and on and on. As a result, positive public policy goals—like helping Americans get fit—get channeled toward silly giveaways for wealthy corporations and upper-income families that don’t really achieve what they intend, because they’re not targeted well toward the people who need help. The fact that these ineffectual ideas are some of the only things that can still get bipartisan support is just one more sign of how broken our politics actually are.

              People are concerned that this will not motivate people to join a gym but only reward those who already do. I disagree with that because people love tax write-offs. My concern is that while this bill may encourage an affluent person to join a gym (or not cancel an existing membership) now it’s a tax break, it won’t encourage a low income person to do so because they probably don’t itemize their taxes or have a health savings account. In other words, this could address the obesity epidemic but not fitness inequality. But it’s better than doing nothing. The PHIT Act isn’t going to the silver bullet because nothing is. We need a suite of solutions to address our fitness problems. This can be one of them but it can’t be the only one. This is not a perfect solution but the perfect is the enemy of the good. Let’s do something! What’s the alternative? Keep doing what we’re doing (Nothing!) because that is not working. If anyone has a better idea, I would love to hear it because I’m not hearing anything. This is not the sign that politics is broken in this country. Enacting policy through the tax code is the path of least resistance for Congress. Taking the path of least resistance is human nature not a sign of the apocalypse. At least, we’re moving in the right direction for once.   

Drugs: CrossFit is cracking down on PED cheaters. The functional fitness giant announced that 10 athletes have tested positive for PEDs and will be sanctioned from competition. From BoxRox:

 

Don’t tell me that CrossFit isn’t fearless. This is what trying to clean up a sport looks like. The problem is that the American sports media does not get this. They think that catching a bunch of athletes means that the sport is dirty. The reality is that every sport is dirty, every sport has an issue with PEDs. If you’re catching anyone, then it means that you have your head in the sand. You’re encouraging your athletes to dope. The major sports organizations in this country (NFL, MLB, NBA) rarely catch anyone because they don’t want not because the athletes aren’t doping. And the sports media buys into it. Remember when they were referring to the “Steroid Era in Baseball” in the past tense as if MLB had miraculously fixed the problem. That all stopped when the Biogenesis story broke in 2013. MLB wasn’t really looking so they weren’t finding anything.

               And these sanctions have some bite to them. These are not slaps on the wrist. CrossFit denied one athlete’s TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption) request and I suspect that Emily Abbott (the most high-profile athlete to get banned) is going to say the same thing. They’re setting a zero-tolerance policy here, which I think is the best one. It’s harsh but the athletes will adapt. If you are a pro athlete, then you need to pay attention to everything that goes into your body. You need to be paranoid about it. Carry around a list of banned substances, test all of your supplements, and think about everything that you put into your body. Is this a huge pain in the ass? Yes! But that’s the price to pay to compete in a somewhat clean sport.

TUEs are tough because there are legitimate reasons to have a TUE but athletes have abused them in the past. CrossFit leadership may have looked at the TRT (Testoterone Replacement Therapy) Era in Mixed Martial Arts and decided that they weren’t going to go down that path. I am sick and tired of the tainted supplement excuse. Athletes have to be responsible for whatever ends up in their system, whether it is inadvertent or not. Supplements aren’t regulated, they are the Wild Wild West. Test your supplements or don’t take any. I know that people are going to say that this is too harsh. I have sympathy for anyone in this group who inadvertently took a banned substance because I don’t think that CrossFit had established this hardline stance prior to this. It sucks to be the first one through the door but CrossFit has to start somewhere. Going forward, everyone should realize that this is the standard and act accordingly.

Boutiques: Orangetheory is on the cusp of opening its 1000th location which is fantastic growth for a company that is only nine years old. It celebrated with a profile in Fast Company that was full of interesting facts. For example, I did not know that work-outs are kept secret until members actually show up at the gym.

Orangetheory puts a unique spin on the practice by combining it with technology and behavioral psychology, then adding a dash of spontaneity. To start, club members never know what to expect at each class–it can be speed-focused, endurance training, or more strength-based. There’s no detailed schedule, just the element of surprise; clubs constantly vary modalities–split between cardio and weight-lifting–to avoid the dreaded fitness plateau. (A 26,000-strong Reddit community is devoted to dissecting every day’s mystery workout.)

“That constant changing of stimuli keeps your body adapting over the course of time and not just getting into the rut of doing the same thing every day,” says Orangetheory director of fitness Michael Piermarini. “That helps your body achieve results a bit more quickly.”

              That sounds like it was lifted straight from the CrossFit playbook. Orangetheory also relies upon the competitive spirit to motivate its members:

The heart rate monitors, meanwhile, track one’s anaerobic threshold, i.e., “afterburn,” the point where you reach 84% or 85% of your maximum heart rate and thereby increase your metabolism for the next 24 to 36 hours. This is what they deem the “orange zone.” The goal of each 60-minute class is to accumulate 12 minutes or more in this zone. Huge screens display where each member lies on the color board: blue (61%-70% of your maximum heart rate), green (71%-83%), orange (84%-91%), and the elusive red zone (92%-100%).

Fitness gamification–the art of applying competitive points during your workouts to encourage motivation–is nothing new. The behavioral strategy is the basis of cult favorites like indoor cycling club Flywheel, home app Peloton, and of course, Fitbit. It’s been called the future of health and wellness, the savior of boring workouts, and the only thing to get millennials off their tushes.

              It’s interesting that Flywheel and Peloton are mentioned but not CrossFit because Orangetheory’s training methodology has a lot more in common with CrossFit than it does with cycling classes. Then there were this little nugget:

Orangetheory isn’t slowing down: The Boca Raton-based company will soon open its 1,000th location in Portland, Oregon. California and Texas have the most locations. In 2017, it saw over $738 million in profit, a nearly 40% increase from the year prior. Females compose 80% of members, but the company sees rapid growth with men, many of them CrossFit devotees.

              I can only assume that they meant CrossFit refugees. People who started off doing CrossFit but may have found it too intense or competitive. Positioning themselves as CrossFit Lite (or a kinder, gentler CrossFit) is a good place to be and that’s obviously working out for them. The relationship between CrossFit and Orangetheory will be interesting to watch. Orangetheory might benefit from taking in CrossFit refugees but will Orangetheory also serve as a gateway drug to CrossFit?

Tanning: One of the unappreciated aspects of mission statements is that they define a company’s purpose. This might sound unnecessary to you but it can be surprisingly easy for a company to lose its way. For example, should a gym have tanning beds? From UConn Today:

Gyms are places people go to get healthier. But nearly half the gyms in the U.S. contain a potentially addictive carcinogen – tanning beds, report UConn researchers in the July 18 issue of JAMA Dermatology.

Exercise reduces the risk of every cancer except one – melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. People who exercise heavily are at greater risk of skin cancer, and yet many gyms in the U.S. have tanning beds. In other words, tanning beds in gyms are targeting people who are already at higher risk of skin cancer.

Exercise and tanning are both activities people use to improve their appearance; and people who tan in gyms tan more often – and more addictively – than other people who use tanning beds, according to a study run by UConn psychologist Sherry Pagoto.

              What is the mission statement of a gym? Is it make its members healthier or to make them look better? Most of the time, there is not a huge distinction but tanning beds brings that issue to the fore. If the mission is to make people healthier, then there should be no place for tanning beds in that gym. If the mission is to make people look better, health be damned, then tanning beds in a gym make sense. You can guess where I come down on this issue. Every gym’s mission statement SHOULD be to make people healthier. Therefore, tanning beds don’t belong in gyms. It’s all about the mission statement.

Trends vs. Fads: For some reason, USA Today decided that its readers would want to know what the biggest fitness trend was in the year that they were born. So they did the research and compiled a list starting in 1956 and going all the way to the present.

America’s obsession with physical fitness may have started with President Dwight Eisenhower’s creation of the President’s Council on Youth Fitness in 1956. The program was created as a response to some alarming statistics relating to the physical strength of America’s youth. Specifically, some 60% of American children had failed a physical fitness test, compared to just 9% of European children.

The average amount of calories Americans consume on a daily basis has increased by hundreds over the past few decades, making it harder to stay in shape. While exercise is important, diet is the primary factor in weight gain or weight loss.

As American waistlines expanded, an array of products hit the market promising to be the best, fastest way to help people slim down. Many relied on celebrities who were already in shape or other so-called “fitness gurus” to sell. Upbeat hosts told people how to best work their bodies on television, then VHS tapes, and now on DVDs and online classes.

As technology advanced, many workouts became more high-tech. Americans quickly moved beyond barbells. Hula hoops were one of the first new fitness products to hit the market. Other machines like the treadmill, stationary bike and NordicTrack took activities normally reserved for the outdoors and allowed consumers to get the same type of workout without leaving the home.

While there is no way to determine how many people were embracing an exercise fad in any given year, we attempted to match each fad with the year that it first appeared or the year it became one of the most popular ways for Americans to exercise.

              The first thing that struck me was how all over the place this list is. The invention of the treadmill was the biggest exercise fad of 1978 while two years later, it was gravity boots. The fact that major media outlets are comfortable categorizing everything as a fad is a real problem for the perception of the fitness industry. Some of the things on this list are advancements in technology or proven programs. Other things are the Shake Weight. This is the perception that the fitness industry needs to change: that every new idea in fitness is just another fad. There is a negative connotation to fad and that diminishes the whole industry.

              The thing that I always tell people is that there is a difference between a fad and a trend. A fad fades quickly. A trend sticks around, changes the industry, and is bigger than the brand that popularized. Group exercise classes aren’t a fad but you could say that Tae-Bo was. USA Today could have written that it was determining what the biggest fitness story was the year that you were born. But I think it’s reflexive for people to refer to everything in fitness as a fad and that creates a negative perception. I’m not sure how we change this but we need to.

Tidbits:

-Does pregnancy make women run faster?

-The European fitness market is bigger than the U.S. one

-Garmin and Golds Gym are partnering up

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS FEELING PATRIOTIC

Stay in shape: The life of a professional athlete is a demanding one.  A big part of those demands are the physical requirements of each sport and the training required to excel in those requirements. After retirement, it is common to see athletes abandon their training and let themselves go. This has always made me a little sad. I hate to see the most physically gifted of us let their bodies fall into ruin. That’s why I was excited to see this article about former NBA player Mike Bibby in GQ:

GQ: Okay, start from retirement and take me to today. How did this happen?
I’m always in the gym. From like 7 A.M. to noon, I’m working out, training others, and playing basketball. After that, I’ll go back home, where I have a training gym. I'll train kids some more, and I can work on my basketball skills at the same time. I always try and learn new things because I want to be a coach, so everything plays into that.

People aren’t used to seeing me like this. I’m not really as big as the picture made it seem. But if I were out of shape and fat, someone would say something about that. People are going to say something about you regardless of how you look, so I try to eat well and take care of my body as much as I can.

In what ways did you change your diet?
After the BIG3 Combine, I started weighing all my food. I eat small portions, and more frequently throughout the day. I’ll have a protein shake in the morning with a protein bar to start off, and work out until about noon. Then I’ll go and have some breakfast food, like egg whites, toast, and turkey bacon, just to keep some protein in me. My lunches and dinners are a lot lighter now, since my food is getting weighed. I keep the carbs low and eat very little sugar. Since the combine, I’ve probably lost 25 pounds. I’m still strong—it’s just less fat. I knocked that off, and I feel good.

What about the lifting? It appears that there is some lifting.
I’ve always had this build, and I’ve always loved lifting weights—it’s just that when I played, teams didn’t want me to lift heavy like that. Every summer when I came back for training camp, teams would always get mad because they said I looked like a linebacker. So it was just always just one set here, one set there—that was all the lifting I did.

Once I retired, I had all the time in the world. Now I can lift heavier. I drop my kids off at school, and I’m at the gym until they have to get picked up. Plus, think about it—no one is really going to want to train with me if I’m 300 pounds and can’t get through a workout. I have to make sure I’m getting right for my next coaching job.

              I love this. I realize professional sports is its own thing but sports is supposed to be about getting people active. Former athletes should be leading the charge in getting people active. Perhaps the fact that they don’t says something about the intensity needed to compete at the highest level and the burnout that follows from it. But then you read something like this and see someone with a true passion for fitness. This guy wanted to work-out more while he was a player, his coaches had to hold him back.  I love the passion!

I also love seeing a coach who wants to lead by example; it drives me crazy how many coaches in professional sports are overweight or obese. These are guys who work in sports, have convenient access to the best equipment, demand that their players subject themselves to grueling work-outs, and they can’t be bothered to stay in shape. We need more Mike Bibby’s in the coaching ranks.

Army Strong: The U.S. Army has been testing a new concept for its Physical Fitness Test (PFT). The old test is a 2 mile run, pushups, and situps. The new test will be deadlifts, standing power throw, hand-release pushups, a 250 meter sprint/drag/carry, leg tuck, and a 2 mile run. If that wasn’t a drastic enough change, the Army has announced it will also do away with age-specific scoring. From Military.com:

If you're an infantry platoon sergeant, it doesn't matter if you're 25 or 55; all will be held to the same fitness standards with the future Army Combat Fitness Test.

The new test does away with age-specific standards and sets requirements based on job demands instead, Army officials said.

The current Army Physical Fitness Test is based on a scoring scale that does not require older soldiers to perform as well as their younger counterparts.

The new ACFT, which is scheduled to replace the APFT in October 2020, will consist of a scoring scale that's based on standards soldiers need to meet to survive in combat, according to Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost, who is overseeing the ACFT as commanding general of the U.S. Army Center of Initial Military Training.

"The bottom line is combat does not discriminate, bullets coming at you don't discriminate, the enemy coming at you does not discriminate ... by height, by gender, by age, and, quite frankly, by what uniform you are wearing," Frost said.

              The way that the current system works is that there are different scoring systems for pre-determined age groups. So if you’re in the 42-46 bracket, the standards are easier to meet than if you’re in the 22-25 bracket. Doing away with age-specific scoring will make it harder for older soldiers to meet those standards. This is most interesting at the two extremes: those struggling to meet minimum standards and those trying to ace it. For those on the low end, it’s hard to argue with this decision. The enemy will not care that you’re a 35 year old E-6 and cut you a break. On the high-end, this has the potential to affect people’s careers. Performance on the PFT factors into the evaluation process and strong performers at the more senior levels will have a harder time achieving high scores. You could argue that it will all balance out since most people in any pay-grade are roughly the same age but this will disadvantage anyone who joined the Army later than the average age. Plus, it will still not seem as impressive to not have a perfect score on the PFT. 

Privacy: Another day, another data privacy scandal that has compromised national security. This time, it’s Polar which may have inadvertently doxed a whole bunch of intelligence officers. From ZDNet:

Although the existence of many government installations are widely known, the identities of their employees were not.

But now, an investigation by Dutch news site De Correspondent and Bellingcat found that Polar Flow exposed their fitness tracking data. The company's developer API could be improperly queried to retrieve fitness activities, like each running and cycling session, on any user.

With two pairs of coordinates dropped over any sensitive government location or facility, it was possible to find the names of personnel who track their fitness activities dating as far back as 2014.

The reporters identified more than 6,400 users believed to be exercising at sensitive locations, including the NSA, the White House, MI6 in London, and the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, as well as personnel working on foreign military bases.

Names of officers and agents at foreign intelligence services, like GCHQ in Cheltenham, the French DGSE in Paris, and the Russian GRU in Moscow, were also found.

Staff at nuclear storage facilities, missile silos, and prisons were also spotted.

De Correspondent shared some of the data with ZDNet to examine.

Not only was it possible to see exactly where a user had exercised, it was easy to pinpoint exactly where a user lived, if they started or stopped their fitness tracking as soon as they left their house.

Because there were no limits on how many requests the reporters could make, coupled with easily enumerable user ID numbers, it was possible for anyone -- including malicious actors or foreign intelligence services -- to scrape the fitness activity data on millions of users.

But they also found they could trick the API into retrieving fitness tracking data on private profiles.

              This is bad. Why any security service still allows its officers to use fitness trackers is beyond me. And any civilian who uses one should take a long, hard look at privacy settings. It is interesting to watch society-level attitudes towards privacy change so quickly. People are much more comfortable with having their information out there than they were in years past. Tech optimists would say it’s because they feel that the benefits of technology outweighs the costs. Cynics would say that we’re the frog in the pot and that the water is being heated up so gradually that we won’t realize that we’re being boiled alive.

Freedom isn’t free: Patriotism is in these day yet there is a struggle to properly express that sentiment. Most people just disrespect the American flag and call it a day. What if the best way to be a patriot was to work-out? From the Military Times:

It was the fitness that provided the fuel for our nation’s freedom. More than a century and a half later, the Victory Corps of the 1940s recognized that fitness remained essential for maintaining that freedom. The plan was “Victory through Fitness” at the youth level, and as one general put it, “Young people in high school must be trained specifically to become better warriors.”

And now? We’ve gotten soft. Three out four military-age young adults are physically incapable of serving in the military. And the fitness of those who can and do serve isn’t much more encouraging. Consider:

·       For the amount of money the military spends on treating weight-related diseases every single year, it could buy the Chicago Cubs.

·       While rogue nations and terrorism are in the national security spotlight, our biggest threat is our own culture of idleness and excess.

·       While all this is going on, our grandparents are rolling in their graves, secure in the knowledge that they surely could and would kick our ass.

The time for resting on our laurels is over. Do you consider yourself a “tactical athlete”? Do you consider yourself a patriot? If you are deconditioned and dormant, you are neither.

Instead, you are a liability — a liability in a tactical situation or a liability on a health care system. You have drastically increased the odds that someone or some sickness will be able to kill you. The same sedentary lifestyle and poor dietary habits that will destroy your arteries will also distend your shot groups when it counts.

              This is an underrated concept. Fitness is freedom, in both the larger and smaller sense. Nick Barringer tackles it from the larger sense: in order for a society to remain free, it will have to be able to fight for that freedom and in order to fight for that freedom, its citizens will have to be fit. Fitness is also freedom in the individual sense. The number one thing that elderly people complain about is their loss of mobility. Being dependent on someone or something else to move equals a loss of freedom as well. And the best way to avoid that is by staying active and keeping your musculoskeletal system strong. Fitness can also be freedom from becoming dependent on medication to stay alive. If you want to be free, you need to be able to do stuff on your own. In the individual sense, that’s being able to move and lift heavy things. In the nation-wide sense, that’s being able to defend our own country. In both cases though, fitness = freedom.

Blast from the Past: Workout videos are nothing new. They’ve been around as long as the VCR. And you can still buy them. From Vogue:

And sure enough, a quick Google search brought me back to 1982, when the Oscar-winning actress released a VHS called Jane Fonda’s Workout, which was based on her exercise book that had, by that point, been firmly planted on The New York Times bestseller list for two years. The tape went on to become one of the most popular of all time—selling more than 17 million copies worldwide. “I think we all did it at some point of our lives,” my mother said when I asked her if she was familiar with it. I found it on Amazon Prime Video priced at $9.99, immediately downloaded it on my laptop, threw on my high school workout clothes, and gave it a shot.

Before things get rolling, a contemporary Fonda shows up (in a millennial pink moto jacket) to give the audience a brief intro on her revolutionary video, explaining that many moons ago, “gyms were predominately for men,” and that she mainly started this video for women to be able to have a quality workout on their own terms in the privacy of their own homes.

              I find it very interesting that Amazon has digitized old Jane Fonda workout videos. They must believe that there is demand for them amongst the type of people who would want to digitally download their workout videos. It is a common adage in Hollywood that you’re not only competing with whatever other movies are currently in the theaters, you’re competing with every movie ever made. Because the consumer has access to everything now and they might choose to watch the French Connection instead of heading out to the theaters for Mission Impossible 6. I wonder if we’re going to see a similar attitude take hold in fitness. Everything that has put on film is now at the consumer’s finger-tips. Even old Jane Fonda tapes.

Tidbits:

-Who’s winning the offseason workout video war?

-The CrossFit Games is going to include road cycling this year

-Outside Magazine profiles ultrarunning/climbing wunderkind Killian Jornet

-The Tour de France is too damn hard

 

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS BODYBUILDING IN MIAMI

Steroids: The Miami New Timespublished an article on the self-described “Pablo Escobar of steroids”, Richard Rodriguez, this week. It is a wild read. Rodriguez made millions selling steroids online and lived a lavish lifestyle in South Florida.

In fact, as the feds soon laid out in court, Rodriguez had built one of the largest online steroid operations in U.S. history. While celebrity bodybuilders flexed on Instagram inside his gym and hawked drugs from his website, Wellness Fitness Nutrition — WFN for short — Rodriguez sold nearly $10 million worth of steroids in two years. He bought a McLaren and a Mercedes-Benz SLS, gifted his wife Cartier jewelry and trips to Europe, and became famous in pro bodybuilding, where he was widely known as Dr. Rodriguez even though he had no medical degree.

Now, after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and awaiting sentencing, Rodriguez has offered New Times an unprecedented look at how a steroid operation works today.

Interviews with the steroid kingpin and his associates, hundreds of pages of court filings, and thousands of sales records from his business make two things clear: Scores of clients, from attorneys to medical doctors to cops, brazenly bought his illegal products online before he was busted, and five years after New Timesexposed the Biogenesis steroid clinic — which eventually led to an unprecedented round of suspensions in Major League Baseball — Florida authorities still have little interest in slowing the rise of unregulated steroid clinics in the state.

With drugs shipped in bulk from China and then mixed in legal pharmacies or Rodriguez's own labs, it was almost comically easy for WFN to sell powerful compounds banned by the FDA for human consumption. If a pair of snitches hadn't ratted out Rodriguez to the feds, he might still be lording over a musclebound Miami empire rather than spending his days in a New York prison cell.

"Florida is a vanity-driven state where the market for steroids is enormous," Rodriguez says. "Most of our profit didn't come from power builders or pro athletes; it was just regular guys like you and me."

Some thoughts:

-The next time that someone tries to claim that their sport does not have a PED (Performance Enhancing Drug) issue, just remember how many people are willing to take steroids just to look good. No imagine that there is money and glory at stake and no one is willing to do what it takes to gain an edge on their competitors. 

-Bodybuilding has got to have the worst culture when it comes to PED’s. It has to be the only sport that has separate drug-freecompetitions. And there are a lot of people who doubt whether the athletes competingin natural bodybuilding are really clean. It’s just accepted that everyone involved in the sport is taking a ton of PED’s.

-Prior to 2000, the fitness culture in the U.S. was dominated by bodybuiding. Since then functional fitness has growing and gaining influence and I think that it is a great thing. Bodybuilding’s relationship with PED’s and obsession with aesthetics at the expense of function always troubled me. That kind of culture should not dominate the fitness landscape. 

-Read the article. It’s amazing how quickly this guy built an online steroid empire and how fast it all fell apart. 

Manage your time: Fitness apps are all the rage these days and POPiN has been getting more than its share of attention. The app is a way to purchase gym time by the minute instead of paying for a membership or a day pass. Business Insiderdid a profile of POPiN and one paragraph stood out to me:

The app also emphasizes that time truly is money. Knowing that I was paying by the minute, I was hyper-aware of the quality of my workout and didn't waste time scrolling through my phone or dawdling like I normally would. Each action or repetition felt more intentional — it'd be wasteful otherwise. 

            This is how you should always workout. I don’t think that the existence of pay by the minute services like POPiN will change the way that everyone approaches fitness but it would be great if it did. It drives me crazy to watch people who waste their time in the gym because I imagine that they bemoan the fact that they spend all this time working out yet fail to get the results that they want. Now I will want to read this paragraph to them. 

Business to Business: Subscription models have always been the envy of the business world.Lately, entrepreneurs have dedicated themselves to bringing that business model to new industries. One of the more high-profile ones has been MoviePass, an attempt to make movie theaters a monthly subscription. The company has been struggling to reach profitability, in fact it loses money on every subscriber. Now AMC has announced its own competitor service. Forbespublished an article on and decided to make a comparison to the fitness industry:

MoviePass has built a money-losing business on monthly memberships for unlimited movies. Now AMC Theatres is coming out with their own entry in that business model, A-List, which will cosst $19.99 per month for three movies a week. These movie membership plans have much in common with gym memberships, but also some important differences. A closer look reveals that MoviePass looks unsustainable, but AMC can probably make their membership plan work.

Gyms that rely on monthly membership build their business model on the knowledge that a large number of people will sign up (many of them right around New Year Day) and then rarely cross the doorway to the gym. In fact, some estimates suggest that two-thirds of gym members never use the gym to which they belong. That lets them keep average costs lower because they don’t need to stock the gym based on their actual paying membership, instead they can size their facilities to the ones that actually show up.

MoviePass has one membership plan that allows you to watch a movie a day for $9.95, plus a more limited option of three movies a month for $7.95. However, unlike gyms, MoviePass has to pay when a member uses their membership. A gym is just crowded if more members than expected get dedicated. In contrast, MoviePass has to pay the full ticket cost for every movie their members go see, so higher usage is much more expensive to MoviePass than to a gym. This difference is not a trivial one; thanks to those costs, MoviePass is losing $40 million a month, and those loses are expected to increase. Unless MoviePass can find a new revenue stream, somehow monetizing the data from its members at an incredibly high rate, it seems doomed.

            Yes, there are a lot of people who pay membership dues and rarely use it. The problem with this is that people don’t like to pay for something that they never use. So they cancel their memberships and now the gym has to acquire a new customer to replace the one that left. And it is always more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain a current one. I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for the fitness industry but it always irks me when people assert that gyms have some magic formula. Subscription models are nice but there is nothing magic about high churn rates. 

The rich get thinner:There is a national conversation about income equality but less well-known is fitness inequality. And the two appear to be correlated. From the Washington Post:

We found that, overall, median household income does the best job of predicting physical fitness out of the variables we looked at: The more money you have, the more exercise you get. You need disposable income to buy a gym membership or running shoes, after all.

The CDC study takes this relationship one step further by looking at the types of jobs people have in each state. States with higher percentages of people in managerial and professional roles, which tend to pay more money, have higher rates of physical activity.

We also turned up an interesting correlation between religiosity, or rather the lack thereof, and physical fitness: States with higher numbers of nonreligious people had higher rates of exercise. As the Public Religion Research Institute has reported, cities tend to be “hubs” for the religiously unaffiliated, and they're often full of the types of high-paying jobs that the CDC links to higher rates of exercise. There may also be a simple mechanism at work by which people who don't go to church have more time to exercise on the weekends.

Conversely, fitness is negatively associated with the share of people in a state who voted for President Trump in 2016. This is where we need to point out, emphatically, that simple correlations like these don't tell us much about causation. It seems highly unlikely that pulling the lever for Trump would somehow make a person decide to hang up her running shoes. More likely, Trump support is related to a whole host of other structural factors, like income and demographics, that also relate to rates of fitness.

            First off, correlation is not causation. The Post acknowledges this but seems to want to find a cause in their data. I believe that it’s a cultural issue. Educated people who live in urban areas are more likely to value fitness. There are a thousand articles about millennials who can’t really afford SoulCycle but value it so much that they find a way to pay for it. That type of person is also less likely to attend religious services and support Donald Trump. 

It does take money to exercise but not as much as people think. Fitness can be as cheap and low-tech as you need it to be. The biggest financial issue holding people back is a lack of walkable/runnable neighborhoods. But that’s more of an inner city issue than a rural one. Although if you’ve ever tried to run in a rural area, you may have found that it’s not always a friendly environment for runners.  

We have a lot of divides in our country. I think that this is another by-product of our diverging cultures.             

Real estate: Once upon a time, landlords did not like gyms. That is no longer the case. The commercial real estate industry has embraced gym operators and they are snapping up some of the best locations. GlobeSt.comtalked to CBRE about this development:

GlobeSt.com: Why have fitness tenants become such active retail occupiers? 

Petra Durnin: Fitness clients seek more experiential retail options that extend beyond the workout period. Fitness centers provide a service that is internet proof, occupy much of the space left behind from big box/department store closures, fill non-peak retail hours, and attract new customers willing to travel farther for unique fitness experiences. The natural partnership between anchor tenants such as grocers is formed due to the trend towards healthy living. Nearby amenities such as restaurants, coffee shops and personal services attract gym goers, increase foot traffic and sales.

            Landlords used to dislike gyms because they didn’t believe that gym-goers were the right kind of foot traffic, i.e. shoppers. A lot has changed in the last few years. Beyond being “internet proof”, gyms attract affluent consumers multiple times a week. It’s hard to imagine how landlords ever considered that a bad thing. What else might change in the coming years?

GlobeSt.com: Is this a lasting trend? What is your outlook for fitness center activity? 

Durnin: A future trend could be for fitness clubs to locate near residential communities or medical/hospital complexes. They could partner with mixed-use and lifestyle centers with a larger experiential platform instead of traditional retail centers. Boutique fitness clubs could look to diversify further to provide an even more personalized experience with unconventional offerings such as trampoline parks and skydiving centers.

            That was very vague. It’s I don’t think that CBRE has a good sense of where the fitness industry is headed. Have you ever been to a trampoline park? You could fit at least 5 boutiques into one trampoline park. That is not something that you offer on the side. Neither is indoor skydiving. 

 

Tidbits:

-So you think that your hamstrings are strong?

-Reebok tries and fails to have evidence from its lawsuit with CrossFit sealed

-You  pre-order Dave Castro’s book

-The CrossFit Games are staying in Madison through 2021

-BuzzFeed goes long on Russell Berger