THE WEEKLY HOWL IS BOOKING A ROOM AT THE GYM

Anti-Fragile: PopSugar had an intriguing piece titled “Here’s Why the Gym Might Be Hindering Your Fitness Journey”. I’m surprised that I clicked on it because that title seemed to suggest that it was one of those articles bashing the fitness industry and everyone involved in it. But it wasn’t and it touched upon one problem that I see all the time: the lack of adaptability in people’s workout routines.

There's nothing wrong with getting a buzz just at the thought of hitting the gym. But if your love for the gym means you can't commit to working out in alternative environments, you might find yourself skipping sweat sessions because of your attachment. A successful fitness journey is an adaptable one, so start out by downloading a fitness app, and try slipping in a home workout every once in a while.

                There is a paradox at the heart of fitness. You need to be disciplined and regimented in order to see results. In order to find that consistency, you probably need to workout at the same time and in the same place every day. Your will and your routine must be iron. But what happens when your daily routine is disrupted? You’re traveling, work is crazy, there’s a family emergency, it’s the holidays and your gym is closing early. If you’re slavish to your routine and particularly to a specific mix of equipment, then these disruptions will completely upend your workouts.

                Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of The Black Swan, wrote a book titled Antifragile. It is based on the idea that in order to survive, organisms and institutions must not only be able to survive disruption but thrive because of it:

The core idea behind this book is simple and quite enticing. Nassim Nicholas Taleb divides the world and all that's in it (people, things, institutions, ways of life) into three categories: the fragile, the robust and the antifragile. You are fragile if you avoid disorder and disruption for fear of the mess they might make of your life: you think you are keeping safe, but really you are making yourself vulnerable to the shock that will tear everything apart. You are robust if you can stand up to shocks without flinching and without changing who you are. But you are antifragile if shocks and disruptions make you stronger and more creative, better able to adapt to each new challenge you face. Taleb thinks we should all try to be antifragile.

                Your fitness has to be antifragile. This means that you may need A, B, and C plans. Plan A could be at the gym, Plan B at home, and Plan C on the road. Cardio Plan A might be using the Ski Erg and Rowing Machine in the gym, Cardio Plan B running from home, and Cardio Plan C jumping rope in your hotel room. That’s the survival side of it, what about the thriving part? This forces you to learn and master new skills. Why is that beneficial? Because just as challenging your body in a new way can yield physical results, it turns out that it will also benefit your mind. From Business Insider:

By putting away our usual tools and trying something completely different, we're able to challenge the body — and brain — in a novel way. A recent study published in the journal Psychological Science found that older people who were assigned to learn a new skill like quilting saw gains in memory that were still present more than a year later. This suggests that taking up a new exercise hobby, whether it's cycling, dancing, yoga, or kickboxing, could help not only increase your workout motivation but also benefit your mind.

                Location is a problem but so is time. I’ve seen people who have crafted 90-120 minute gym routines that they then view as absolutely essential. But when your workout is that long, it is incredibly easy to disrupt. I always try to keep my workout around 60 minutes because it is doable on a daily basis to get that done. But I also have shorter options that I can use when I don’t have a lot of time. For example, Cardio Plan B for time might be fan bike sprints. 

Real Estate: For everyone who has ever said that they would live in the gym if they could:

The hottest new hotel in Chicago is an anomaly. It’s far from the Magnificent Mile and booming West Loop, the heart of the city’s tourism and business traffic. Since it edges up against a major expressway and residential neighborhoods like Logan Square and Bucktown, it’s the only proper hotel for at least a mile (save for The Robey in Wicker Park). There’s no doorman to greet you on the street, either: the hotel is inside a fitness club. But for active travelers heading to the Windy City, the new 55-room Hotel at Midtown—debuting today inside the recently opened Midtown Athletic Club Chicago—promises to be a huge draw.

Billed as the largest health and fitness property in the U.S., the club itself opened in September following an $85 million upgrade, transforming the formerly industrial tennis complex into a six-story, 575,000-square-foot sports resort. Featuring long, sleek lines and a reliance on natural materials like wood panels, glass, and concrete, today, it reads more as an urban wellness retreat than anything else. And while tennis may still figure prominently (there are 16 courts), the club’s impressive assortment of boutique fitness offerings are the new attraction.

                Real estate is going through a phase in which the distinctions between spaces are blurring. I just listened to a Marketplace piece on a bank in Berlin where you can eat lunch. WeWork went from co-working to co-living and now to gyms. And now Lifetime Fitness Inc. has dropped the fitness from its name and is expanding into co-working and healthcare:

 Moving forward, nearly all of the company’s fitness centers will be called Life Time Athletic. Locations in the Minneapolis, Boston, Las Vegas, Sacramento and Philadelphia areas already have healthcare components on site, with physical therapists, chiropractors and even family practice-style doctors with basic diagnostic tools such as blood work and X-ray machines.

Those, and locations near Nashville and Charlotte opening before the end of this year, will be labeled as Life Time Proactive Care wings.

While healthcare may seem a logical extension of a wellness brand, co-working is a more ambitious jump. The first Life Time Work will be part of a location opening in early 2018 in the Philly suburb of Ardmore, as a co-working space “fully integrated” with the fitness component, Thunstrom said. Of the four-story, 80K SF building, the fourth floor — about 15K SF — will be devoted to Life Time Work.

                This focus on integration will benefit fitness in that for the first time, fitness will not be an afterthought. No more poorly designed hotel and corporate gyms crammed into a tiny room in the basement. From the business side, I’m wondering what effect this will have on the fitness industry. Right now, fitness flies under the radar of Wall Street. There are only a handful of publicly traded fitness companies in the U.S. and as a result, the industry does not get a lot of attention. However, if fitness becomes more of a focus for big real estate companies, then we could see some momentous changes. Whether those changes will be positive or negative, we will have to wait and see. In the meantime, go ahead and book a room at the gym.

Fitness Inequality: I have to admit that I hadn’t heard the term “exercise desert” until a couple of days ago but I knew exactly what it was when I did. From WFPL in Louisville:

And in an area of town with low life expectancy, where health issues like obesity and diabetes are prevalent, where many older residents are dealing with the physical repercussions of years of labor, and some may not feel safe going for a jog, Break the Mold is helping fill something of an exercise desert.

Break the Mold isn’t the only place near Hallmark to exercise — there’s the downtown branch of the YMCA, classes at the Flaget Senior Center, St. Peter’s Church of Christ near Portland and the California Community Center. But compared to Louisville’s more affluent neighborhoods, there are fewer exercise opportunities here.

Combine that with parks that aren’t kept up and higher rates of gun violence, exercising is not an easy choice to make.

“We talk about trying to make the healthy choice the easy choice. And in low-income neighborhoods, the healthy choice is often the hardest thing to do,” said Steven Wallace, a professor of community health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “And in an affluent neighborhood, the healthy choice is often easy.”

                Most gyms are a business and they locate themselves in fairly affluent, population-dense areas. That leaves huge swaths of the country that don’t have access to a gym. I am an advocate of cheap fitness, the idea that you can get in shape for as little money as you need to. But even that idea is based on access to outdoor spaces in which it’s safe to walk or run and not everyone has access to that either. Food deserts have been getting more attention over the last few years. It’s time for exercise deserts to get the same attention. One possible solution: build more outdoor gyms in public parks. From the Lansing State Journal:

The large yellow and green elliptical stationary bike sitting on a concrete slab in Sharp Park may seem like it belongs inside a gym.

You'll find it along the paved walking path on the nearly 58-acre park just south of the Lansing Mall. 

Wednesday it was one of five pieces of exercise equipment installed on the 1,200-square-foot slab, including a bench and leg press, all part of a new public outdoor gym, the first in Eaton County.

The year-round $25,000 gym is expected to double in size as funding allows, and is free to anyone who wants to use it.

                Somewhere along the line, we seemed to decide that gyms had to be indoors but if you travel to other countries, you are likely to see outdoor, public gyms. That idea is starting to gain some traction country but its slow growing. We need more of these. Fitness should be readily accessible to everyone.

 

Streaming: Well+Good conducted a panel with several fitness entrepreneurs to discuss the future of fitness. They were bullish on boutique fitness despite the inroads made by digital offerings. John Foley, the CEO of Peloton, made an astute observation:

Think American culture is wellness obsessed now? Foley points out something really interesting: “Fitness wasn’t a category that existed in the ’60s,” he said. “It wasn’t until the ’70s that jogging became a trend. This is still a young space.” Sure, you and your friends may be all about the hot instructor at your bootcamp class, but many, many people still live in towns where there just aren’t that many cool classes happening.

“Six years ago, SoulCycle was the hottest [place] around and the classes would sell out in, like, 20 seconds,” Foley said. “My wife had to plan her week based around when she got into a class. And I wasn’t willing to do that, so I went around feeling like a second-class citizen because I was working out at the gym.” It was his “aha” moment: If that many people wanted to book a class, what would happen if it became possible for 500 people to book it? Or even 1,000? And today, that’s exactly what happens with Peloton’s at-home streaming.

                The fitness industry is a young, immature industry. There is tremendous room for growth because the majority of the population are not consumers. Many people live in towns in which there is no gym at all. Boutique fitness may be a sizable piece of the fitness pie but it is probably not destined to be in every city and town. I agree that boutique and digital fitness will be complement each other. More specifically, I think that the boutiques in New York and California will be the incubators of new ideas. After those ideas are developed and become the newest craze, they will spread through the digital fitness world. It’ll be kind of like the fashion world. The innovation happens in Milan, Paris, and New York and most people consider it wildly over-priced. Then it slowly filters down to the masses spread all over the world. The boutiques will always be the ideas factory but digital will bring those ideas to the world.  

Technology: I am always a bit skeptical of technological innovation in fitness. The best fitness is old-school fitness but there will always be people who want to sell you the new thing. Forbes highlighted “the most innovative gyms, exercise classes and fitness equipment” of 2017. Let’s talk about a few of them.

(1)    Virgin Active’s altitude chamber spin class. This is pointless. You just go slower. The magic of altitude is when you live at altitude. That forces your body to become more efficient at processing oxygen when you’re not training. Training at altitude and living at sea-level is the exact opposite of what you want to do.

(2)    The Tier X program at Equinox. They 3D scan your body, measure your metabolic rate, and analyze your breath. I wonder how well they use all that data in designing a fitness & nutrition plan but this sounds intriguing although very expensive.

(3)    PRAMA. This is the first time I have seen this. It looks a technology in which the floor lights up in order to highlight what exercise you should be doing. This strikes me as something that is extremely fun the first few times you do it and then you get bored of it. Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon.

(4)    E-Pulsive. The latest attempt to convince people that EMS (electric muscle stimulation) is the easy path to getting ripped. The idea here is to condense a 90 minute workout into 20 minutes using EMS. There is no evidence that EMS does much of anything. Just contracting the muscle without any resistance isn’t going to do much. Try flexing all day and see if you get the same results as lifting weights. EMS was designed to improve flow to the muscles to aid in recovery. It was not meant to up the intensity of your workout. Self Magazine went in-depth on EMS training and spoke to Bob Girandola, a biology professor at USC:

Although EMS can be good for sending blood flow to the muscles to prevent swelling and inflammation, Girandola says it likely won’t help with muscle growth. “If you want to get a muscle to get bigger and you do muscle contractions, it doesn't get bigger unless you put a resistance to it,” he explains. In other words, simply squeezing your muscle won't increase its size—you actually need to add enough of a challenge to stimulate muscle growth. (This doesn't necessarily have to mean lifting weights, either. Using your bodyweight, as you do during a pushup or squat, can be an effective form of resistance, too.) 

        There is no getting around doing the work required to get stronger and fitter. Unless it involves altering your genetic structure, don’t believe anyone that wants to sell you a magic pill in any form.

TidBits:

-Apple’s GymKit made its debut in Australia

-A step by step breakdown of how to pay for your gym time by the minute

-YogaWorks is still expanding but revenue growth is flat

-Workout on your way to work

-Shopping for a new gym bag?

-Allison Brie really likes talking about fitness now