THE WEEKLY HOWL DOESN'T WEAR HIS WEDDING RING TO THE GYM

State of the Industry: Market Watch had a good overview of the fitness industry this week. Let’s summarize:

-Growth in the fitness industry is coming from boutiques on the high-end and low-cost operators on the low end

-Mid-market, big box gyms have responded by introducing “tiered membership-pricing strategies that limit access to certain amenities (pools, courts, etc.).”

-Boutiques face 2 major challenges going forward:

-charging on a per-session basis runs the risk of falling prey to fickle customer loyalty

-the high price point limits opportunity for growth going forward and could make them extremely vulnerable in an economic downturn

-Big box gyms have taken advantage of store closures to snag attractive retail space at favorable terms

-YogaWorks will need to expand to “as many as 350 to 400 studios to break even or achieve positive free-cash flow”.

                Right now, YogaWorks has just over 50 studios. So they need to achieve 7X growth just to break even? I wish I had the time to dig into their financial statements because this sounds weird. Gyms aren’t really subject to economies of scale. Your big costs are rent and payroll. Having more gyms doesn’t typically bring down the cost of either. What’s going on with YogaWorks? Also, a company with 53 studios shouldn’t be publicly traded.

Keeping it cheap: You don’t need money to get fit. Having money can certainly make it easier but it not a necessity. Part of the beauty of fitness is that the most basic equipment is the most effective. Even as technology is rising to science fiction levels, the cutting edge of the fitness industry in the last decade has been hunks of iron. You need aerobic or anaerobic fitness, get out there and run. Put one foot in front of the other and repeat as many times as necessary. You need to get stronger, lift something. Maybe that’s a barbell or kettlebell or maybe it’s your own bodyweight.

The residents of the island of Tuhen in the middle of Kiev have figured out a great way to keep fitness cheap: use scrap metal from the Soviet era to build an outdoor gym. I highly recommend clicking through to this article. This is low-tech fitness at its finest. Gym-goers lift “up-cycled hunks of military vehicles” and use stacks of old tires as punching bags. The gym is of course free and attracts “old and young” as well as “rich and poor”. And after a hard workout, instead of a cold shower you can go jump in the Dnipro River.

Rings in the Gym: Should you wear your wedding ring to the gym? From the Good Men Project:

Most wedding rings are made of precious metals like silver, gold, or platinum, which are considered “soft” due to their properties. Working out while wearing a ring can cause it to become misshapen or even break, not to mention the risk of a bending a claw holding in a gemstone and having it fall out.

Some suggest only wearing a simple band to make up for the loss of the ring for the time being so you don’t miss the feeling of it (as well as alert others that you’re married or engaged), but this can pose some problems. If a weight or handle were to fly out of your hand after losing grip, there’s a possibility for your ring to catch it as it leaves you. If this were to happen, it could cause major damage to that finger as well as potentially destroy the band.

                If you’re reading this, please never wear your wedding ring while you’re working out. It may sound unlikely but you can lose part of your finger. I knew a guy in the Navy who lost part of his finger doing Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure operations. The ring caught on part of the ladder that he was climbing and his finger went with it. If you really can’t go without your ring for even one hour a day, then get a silicone band. There are numerous companies selling them now and you don’t have to worry about damaging them or yourself.

Advertising: The Insider ran a piece about fitness advertising and body-shaming. It started with an advertisement for a local gym.

Every time I go to the grocery store, I walk by an independent gym in my neighborhood. It seems like a fine establishment and it offers workout classes that look like fun. But I always get an awful feeling when I see the gigantic ad that's posted in the window.

"ISN'T IT TIME YOU FELT CONFIDENT TAKING A FULL BODY 'SELFIE'!!?" it reads (yes, in all caps). The ad features a photo of a thin, muscular blond woman wearing a sports bra and underwear.

                Is this really body-shaming? It’s not casting judgement on anyone’s appearance, just selling the idea that you can look better than you do now. You don’t have to be ashamed of your body in order to want to look and feel better. It’s not a mutually exclusive thing. That said, the article did hit upon some advertisements that definitely were body-shaming.

Sometimes the more egregious examples make headlines. Last August, one gym ran an ad that showed a photo of a pear with the words, "This is no shape for a girl." The same month, a gym chain in the UK put up a billboard depicting an alien and UFO with the words, "They're coming ... and when they arrive they'll take the fat ones first."

                Yeah, that’s pretty bad. Also, who is that for? Take a woman who is overweight and self-conscious about her appearance. Now you shame her for her body composition and think that she will want to join your gym. A lot of people already find the gym to be an intimidating place. Planet Fitness’ entire business model is built around that. Body-shaming is only going to make the odds of that person joining any gym go down. The next question is whether focusing on physical appearance is a sustainable model for retaining your existing members.

In 2007, another study linked appearance-based motivation with lower self-esteem and body satisfaction. Other researchers have reached similar conclusions.

It makes sense on a non-scientific level, too. You can always improve your health by exercising. But you may not be able to morph your body to match that thin, toned, idealized appearance propagated on Instagram or in advertisements.

If that unattainable "ideal" appearance is your primary motivator for working out, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment.

                I believe that you can promote looking better without shaming people. But if you’re going to do that, then you should probably have a plan for shifting your members’ focus to health or performance once they’ve signed up. We all can’t look like fitness models no matter how much we work out but we can become better versions of ourselves. 

Wearables: Fitness trackers are at a weird crossroads right now. Everyone seems convinced that they are the next big thing and everyone wants to get in on the action. From CNBC:

While devices made by market leaders such as Fitbit, Apple and Xiaomi have become ubiquitous, the latest products from start-ups cater to specific sports.

One of these is a "FitBit for fighters" created by Finnish start-up Kick.Ai. Its founders, who are avid Taekwondo practitioners, told CNBC that they have come up with the world's first consumer wearable which measures data on martial arts kicks.

            Why? This segment hasn’t even really taken off yet. No one has become a billionaire on their wearables start-up so why are we already at the point of super-specific niche versions? Consumers haven’t quite decided whether they want to embrace them. Some of the largest companies in the world have crashed and burned or exited the market (Google Glass, Nike Fuel Band). And just like smartphones, all the money is flowing to either Apple or cheap manufacturers. Mobile devices have been devouring other electronic devices over the last 10 years. Remember GPS units and cameras. Smartwatches are already starting to devour fitness trackers. If I was a prospective investor, the first questions I would ask is why Apple isn’t doing this yet? The second question is what will you do when Apple does decide to do this? Why would you want to compete with Apple in hardware? Maybe you don’t?

Both startups, which were exhibiting at the Slush technology conference in Singapore last week, will be hoping to replicate the success of fellow Slush alumnus Beddit. Beddit, a startup producing a sensor which tracks sleeping patterns, announced that it had been acquired by Apple in May. The tech giant has been growing its wearables business, posting a nearly 50 per cent growth in market share for the second quarter of this year.

                Apple doesn’t make many acquisitions for a company of it size but hey you never know.

Extreme Fitness: In the last few years, there seems to have been a shift in the way people approach fitness. It wasn’t that long ago when it seemed that people wanted results but didn’t want to have to work for them. The human body doesn’t work that way. It responds to the stimulus that you expose it to. In other words, you have to work for it. I don’t hate this change in thinking but has it gone too far? From the Guardian:

These days, hardcore fitness sells. Even Nike, which made its name with that inclusive Just Do It tagline, has taken to lambasting joggers in its latest ad campaign: “If You Like It Slow, Jog On”, or “You Win Some Or You Win Some”, proclaim its new billboards. Gyms run “go hard” promotions, with discounted packages for those taking up unlimited classes for short periods of time, such as 10 classes in 10 days – the kind of training that many dub “binge workouts”.

But nowhere is full-on training more powerfully advocated than on social media, where inspirational quotes such as “Pain is Weakness Leaving The Body” and “Sweat Is Your Fat Crying” are liked and shared millions of times. In the age of “wellth”, a well-honed tricep is more desirable than the latest pair of designer shoes. The so-called world of “fitspo” began as a niche way for gym nerds to share tips and document how their bodies changed, before spreading into a whole lifestyle movement. Instagram’s short videos lend themselves to fitness content; people started following routines in the gym.

                The downside to this is that people want to go hard all the time. The human body doesn’t work that way either. It needs varying levels of intensity and even <gasp> rest. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak. It’s easy to get a person motivated but it is hard to build the body up to handle a high level of training. Social media is not always helpful in this regard because the incentive there is to show the highlights not the lowlights. It’s just like your friend only posts pictures when he’s at that new trendy restaurant and never when he’s sitting at home in his pajamas. Except, fitness personalities are only showing you the really tough workouts and not the active recovery that they’re doing the next day. It can be very easy to think that they’re going hard every single day and they’re probably happy letting you think that.

Vacassin adds: “In our gym, we have gym standards. People undergo an assessment before they get a programme. Hiit [high intensity] training and complicated exercises under fatigue should not be in 90% of people’s fitness regimes because they don’t have the physical capability. These online accounts trick people into thinking this is easy. No one posts a bad workout. No one posts the workout they missed. No one posts the depression they have when they get injured or the relationships it costs them. All you see is the good stuff.”

                The Internet has democratized information but that’s not always such a great thing. There is so much noise, it can be hard to figure out who the experts actually are. Be careful out there.

TidBits:

-Reebok wants to have the best corporate gym in America

-Motiv is taking the fitness tracker from the wrist to the finger

-Ricky Garard, 3rd place finisher at the 2017 CrossFit Games, has tested positive for PED’s

-“Never do deadlifts in the sand”