THE WEEKLY HOWL IS THE PELOTON OF BLOGS

Wearables: If you receive health insurance through John Hancock, you may be eligible to receive an Apple Watch for only $25. Sounds like an amazing deal, doesn’t it? Any drawbacks?

This is kind of creepy for a few reasons. Knowing your personal activity stats could encourage you to stay healthy (though some research has questioned this). But basing benefits on physical activity could inadvertently penalize people who have less time to make it to the gym, like lower-income people or new moms (and participants may wind up having to pay more than the $25 for their watch if they do not meet certain goals). Not to mention that, while you may not realize it, information like how many steps you have taken in a day can wind up being abused or used against you in the wrong hands.

Court cases now regularly include evidence gleaned from fitness trackers. In 2014, in a first-of-its-kind case, a Canadian law firm used Fitbit history to assist in proving a client’s personal injury claim. And in 2015, data from a Fitbit was used to undermine a woman’s rape claim. Just this year, a man’s pacemaker put him in prison for arson. Reached for comment, a spokesperson for John Hancock did not respond to a request for specific details on how much policyholder data it would have access to under the program.

Maybe you would be better off shelling out the extra $300+ yourself. I understand that using a fitness tracker that you purchased yourself does not insulate you from having your data abused but you’re probably still better off not sharing it with your insurer. This program doesn’t even give you any sort of discount on your insurance. You have to earn it through exercise otherwise John Hancock can stick you with the bill:

As long as Vitality members exercise regularly for two years, they will be allowed to keep the device for free. If they don't, they'll have to pay it off in installments. The Series 3 costs upwards of $299.

That is not a good deal for the consumer. Is it even a good deal for the insurers? Baby boomers might not be able to figure out how to work the Apple Watch.

A 2015 study from the interest group AARP asked consumers over the age of 50 to sport a wearable for six weeks and report back on their experiences.

Despite high levels of interest from this population, which accounts for 1 in 3 Americans, many reported usability issues. Eighty-nine percent shared frustrations with the setup process, and many also struggled with the data inaccuracy, the lack of instructions, and the challenges with putting on the device.

Most damning of all is that many users didn't even finish the six-week study, opting to abandon their wearable after a month (the average participation was 32 days).

Not great Bob. We are still not there on fitness trackers.

Gym Etiquette: Men’s Health conducted a Twitter poll for the worst breaches in gym etiquette.

6,292 Twitter users responded to our poll this week, and 40 percent of you answered "Machine hogging" as the number one gym offense. You guys are dead on. There is absolutely nothing worse than waiting longer than your entire workout was supposed to last for some dude to get off the only damn leg extension machine in the entire gym. If it seriously takes you longer than 10 minutes—and that is generous—to move on from an exercise machine, you're doing it wrong, man.

Bottom of Form

"Not wiping down machines" came in a close second, at 38 percent, followed by "Machine lurking" at 14 percent. "Using closest treadmill"—you know, when someone takes the treadmill right beside you, even though there are plenty of others available—got 8 percent.

Interesting that machine hogging and machine lurking both made the top 3. Isn’t lurking a response to people who camp out on a piece of equipment? I think that my biggest pet peeve is people who take up a piece of equipment without even using it. I’m talking about the person who uses a plyo box as a table for their phone and water bottle. Or the person who uses the dip bars as a towel rack. Or all the people that do floor exercises underneath the TRX straps.

The Cycling Wars: This is a little old but somehow I missed it. SoulCycle is branching out beyond cycling. The company is opening a new studio in Manhattan called SoulAnnex. From Well And Good:

According to its website, Soul instructors will teach classes in three modalities: Move, energetic classes where you can “embrace the rhythm”; Define, Soul’s take on HIIT; and Align, classes that promote active recovery.

This is an interesting move. I’m a little surprised that SoulCycle isn’t trying to move into the home cycling market like Flywheel is. For a publicly traded company, that seems like a better avenue to growth. Not to say that SoulAnnex won’t be a success but they will probably end up opening up studios in the same cities that SoulCycle already has cycling studios. They need to find a way to get into the country outside of NYC, LA, SF, and Miami.  SoulAnnex is doubling down on the markets that they already own.

Speaking of home cycling, Peloton has introduced a new financing program. From the Wall Street Journal:

Peloton is now shifting gears with a new financing program ($97 per month for 39 months for both the bike and subscription service), an ad campaign that’s more relatable to a diverse consumer base and an NBC Olympics sponsorship. Peloton counts NBCUniversal among its investors, and has raised nearly $450 million in total funding to date.

“We had this idea of a very affluent rider who many of our early adopters were,” she said. “We realized, through conversations with our community, that there was a huge opportunity with people who thought $2,000 was a huge investment but were [buying] it over and over again because the product is so important to them.”

                Peloton has IPO ambitions of its own and this is a smart move to expand beyond very affluent people who can easily drop $2000 on a piece of exercise equipment. Making Peloton $97/month also brings it back to a framework that most Americans have been trained to think about fitness costs: the monthly membership dues. That is still very expensive relative to a big box gym but pretty cheap relative to a boutique. Plus, you are guaranteed a seat.

                In a sign that Peloton has hit the big-time, other startups have begun pitching themselves as the Peloton of their sport. From Forbes:

 Thus, Baptiste made it his mission, at the start of 2017, to create a platform that makes running on a treadmill more enjoyable for all. The result of his efforts is Studio, a mobile app being referred to as the "Peloton for running," which is now live in the App Store, offering "boutique fitness style running classes" that can be used on any brand of treadmill.

"Think of it like Netflix or Spotify," says Baptiste. "It cost $15 per month for unlimited access or $99 if you pay up front for the year. At $15 per month, that's less than half the price for a typical SoulCycle or Barry's Bootcamp class up in New York."

                It’s not the Peloton of running unless you’re also selling the treadmill. That’s a big part of their business model. And Studio must be the blandest name that they could come up with. I assume that they have ambitions beyond running but still. How soon until someone launches the Peloton of rowing?

Competitive Fitness: Fitness has been getting more competitive. CrossFit was founded on the principle of being able to compete with everyone else and turned fitness into a sport. FlyWheel’s defining feature is the torque board, a monitor at the front of the room that displays exactly how hard everyone is pedaling and turns every class into a race. Even Orangetheory gamifies their classes, participants wear heart-rate monitors and the number of orange zones achieved are transmitted to overhead screens. Which is why it is interesting that Barre3, led by founder Sadie Lincoln, has gone in the opposite direction:

In her boutique classes—a fast-paced mixture of cardio, yoga, and pilates—attendees are constantly told to modify movements and, more or less, express their individuality.            

“Everything we do in class is a mirror of how we want to live life,” she explains to attendees. “We’ve been told this big fat lie in the fitness industry [of]  ‘do this and you can be like this’… What happens in the 60 minutes [of class] isn’t what shapes you or changes you–it’s what you learn and how you to apply that to the rest of your day”

It’s why, during any one class, you’ll see someone stretching their legs by the barre, while the remaining attendees are positioned in a downward dog. When the instructor commands a 30-second plank, more than a handful have no qualms giving it less than half that time–or sometimes more.

                Competition is a powerful tool in motivation and it is no surprise to see so many companies baking it into their DNA. The drawback is the lack of personalization and the risk of burnout and injury. I am always skeptical of one-size-fits-all programs so it is good to see a company have success with this formula as well. It is much more laid back and therefore not as attention-grabbing as competition-based systems but I’m glad to see that there is still a place for this in the fitness world.

Motivation: The CNN Health vertical had a good piece on the link between Type A personalities and struggling with fitness and nutrition plans. Their thesis was that the hallmarks of a Type A can work against them when trying to implement a fitness plan.

 Type A personalities are known for being punctual, all-in, organized, competitive and rule-following.

These qualities also mean they can get frustrated with mainstream diets and workout programs when they don't work.

The problem is that weight loss programs have a one-size-fits-all structure to appeal to the masses. So for Type As committed to a program and following it diligently but frustrated by failure, it may be the program that's a failure, not them.

 

                It is an interesting idea. I can see where a Type A might think that if they cannot follow the plan to the letter, then it’s not worth doing at all. And I see this attitude all the time! People miss a day or cheat on their diet and they get completely derailed by that one little mistake. They abandon their plan because they’ve “failed” and end up starting from scratch a couple of weeks or months later. I also see it when people begin their fitness journey. They want to go from 0-60 right away and when that leaves them exhausted and sore, they lose their motivation to continue. I hadn’t considered how personality type might play into it though. The author of the CNN article advocates becoming more flexible and adaptive. That’s not bad advice but I wonder how easily a Type A personality might find it to follow that advice. Maybe fitness and nutrition plans are the ones that need to change and include ramping up periods and allow for missed workouts.

Athleisure: At the Fast Company Innovation Festival, Andrea Bell, the director of consumer insights for WGSN, claimed that they predicted the athleisure trend back in 2007. I’m more interested in their reasoning for their claimed prediction:

But the real origins of the athleisure trend, Bell said, date to the body-image ideals of the fashion world earlier this century. By 2007, WGSN saw athletic wear as a possible trend in the making. Then came the financial crisis of 2008, which led to a new preference for “stealth wealth.” Rather than indulging in flashy luxury items, Bell said, “people…wanted it to be seen they were going to the gym and juicing.”

By 2010, stealth wealth had morphed into a general “anti-hedonism” sentiment among millennials. And in 2011, the fashion business embraced athletic wear, fulfilling the vision that WGSN had anticipated a few years earlier. Since then, it’s not only grown even more mainstream but also spun off sub-trends such as doggy athleisure.

                I don’t doubt that “stealth wealth” in the wake of the financial crisis was a factor but it’s a mistake to discount the rise of fitness as a luxury product. Health is the new wealth and people are splurging on SoulCycle and LuluLemon. Participating in the most challenging fitness classes is now a status symbol. It is inevitable that people would want to signal their devotion to fitness by wearing athletic apparel. It is similar to the way that Ralph Lauren built a fashion empire based on an image of polo and sailing. Those were the past times of the wealthy and people wanted to be associated with that. Now it’s hipper to hit up FlyWheel or CrossFit and people want to be associated with that. I’m sure that at some point fashion will trend back to a more formal look because fashion is cyclical but people will still be working out. 

Too Much of a Good Thing: Every now and then, the exercise science community throws the media a bone. The bone is a study that can be misconstrued to contradict commonly held perceptions about fitness. Maybe chocolate is actually a health food. Maybe working out will make you fatter. The latest one is that fitness may actually be bad for your heart. From the Sacramento Bee:

To reach their results, researchers analyzed the workout patterns and health of 3,175 black and white men and women aged 18 to 30 over a span of 25 years. The subjects were participants in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study, in which they self-reported their health and exercise in eight follow-up examinations over a quarter of a century.

Subjects were also given heart scans so researchers could look at the state of their arteries.

The findings suggested that white men who work out around 8 hours a week or more have nearly double the chance of suffering from heart disease than those who exercised less than two-and-a-half hours a week.

            Why do I hate this? Because it gives people an excuse to not work out. Very few people will read these articles carefully. They will skim a headline and now the waters are muddied. They’ve been told for years that they need to work out for their health but now maybe that’s not true. And if you’re pre-disposed to not want to work-out, this is all you need.

            Of course, you can overdo it. Elite runners will run over 100 miles per week for years on end. That’s not actually good for your health. It is completely overdoing it from a health perspective. But it shouldn’t lead you to tell people that running is bad for them. You can overdose on water but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t drink water. It’s not even clear that this would lead to any heart issues. From Time Magazine:

"This [study] doesn't apply to 99% of people," says Dr. Deepak Bhatt, executive director of interventional cardiovascular services at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "Most people are not getting into this range of exercise. The problem in the U.S. is the exact opposite, that most people are getting nowhere near the recommended amount of exercise."

Even if hardcore exercisers do have more calcium buildup, it's still not clear if that's damaging the heart, says Dr. Aaron Baggish, director of the cardiovascular performance program at Massachusetts General Hospital. While the results are intriguing, the study doesn't actually show that people with a heightened risk of CAC went on to have heart attacks or other health problems, Baggish says, and that means it's too soon to say whether extreme exercise is actually causing heart issues.

While doctors know that calcium buildup in the hearts of sedentary people is a bad sign, Baggish says it's not clear whether that's true of very active people, too. The body deploys calcium to repair injuries and inflammation, so marathon runners, endurance athletes and other regular exercisers may accumulate calcium as the body recovers from stress, he says—but that doesn't necessarily mean it's causing problems.

            So extreme exercise will stress the cardiovascular system which may or may not cause any health problems. Unfortunately, that is not nearly as compelling of a headline.

TidBits:

-The U.S. Army is testing its new physical readiness test

-CrossFit on the Great Wall of China

-What’s the toughest workout class in LA?