THE WEEKLY HOWL IS EXPANDING INTO EUROPE

Cycling: SoulCycle has a lot going on right now. They’ve opened up SoulAnnex, a bike-less boutique, in the Flatiron district of Manhattan. CEO Melanie Whelan on the decision to expand into other fitness disciplines:

A lot of riders have been with us for 10, 11 years, and so they’re looking for different challenges. We’ve been listening to our riders, whether it’s anecdotally in the lobbies of the studios—they’re telling Janet, they’re telling Rique, “I want to spend more time with you”—all the way to doing quantitative research. We have 700,000 people in our ecosystem and we ask them, “What are you looking for from us? What should we change?” They’re obviously doing things other than SoulCycle. What are they, and what can we learn from that?

                I find it interesting that SoulCycle is trying to capture a greater share of its existing consumer’s fitness spending while Flywheel is going after all the people that don’t live in New York, California, or Miami. SoulCycle is the company with declared IPO aspirations but Flywheel has the better strategy for an eventual IPO. There’s nothing wrong with SoulCycle’s strategy but it is definitely the more conservative one. Staying in your lane and being a profitable company is a great thing but it is not the path to IPO glory. But maybe they haven’t ruled out a home bike option either:

I think that people want to extend their relationship with SoulCycle, and I think there is an opportunity to do that. Because, again, what we’re competing against is time. And so if there’s a way for us to meet our riders where they are and deliver an experience that makes them feel the way that they feel when they’re at SoulCycle or in a SoulAnnex class, then it’s something to be considered.

                I’m not sure if this is just CEO boilerplate talk or if SoulCycle is really considering this. If it’s the latter, then I am concerned. Strategy is about making choices. SoulCycle has made the choice to stay in brick and mortar gyms but expand into other forms of fitness. Trying do everything at once isn’t a strategy, it’s throwing things against the wall and hoping something sticks.

                Speaking of brick and mortar gyms, SoulCycle will be crossing the pond and opening up a 3 locations in London in 2019. If they stick to physical locations, they will have to make a big international push. There are only so many cities that could support SoulCycle. They’ve probably hit the limit in the U.S. so they need to go abroad in search of growth.  

                Last but not least, American Express has announced that SoulCycle will be a wellness perk for premium card holders. What does that mean exactly?

 So how are they doing that? With three gratis classes for every 20-pack of classes purchased by premium card holders, plus 10 first-class-free passes to give away to some lucky pals. Will other credit card companies follow suit and offer up wellness goodies—instead of industry standards like airplane miles—in the coming months? Please say yes, Visa, Mastercard, and Discover!

                In case you had any doubt that companies view fitness as a way to connect with young, affluent, urban consumers. 

Technology: 3D Scanners have started to show up in high-end gyms. It’s an interesting piece of technology since it could replace the often tedious process of measuring bodies with calipers and tape measures. It should also be more accurate which would be a good thing. However, I am already concerned that people don’t understand how it should fit into a person’s relationship with fitness.

                WYSO published an article about 3D body scanners titled “Need Motivation to Hit the Gym? 3D Body Scan Fitness Tech Aims to Help”. That is an incredibly deceptive headline because that is not what Frequency Fit, the gym that WYSO visited, said that they want to do.

It’s a health-club machine that harnesses the power of 3D technology.  

It's a simple idea, says Frequency Fitness gym owner and personal trainer Ben Heal.

"The last thing you want to do, when it comes down to structuring your body, is to get six months, eight months, one year into a program and not know what it's doing to you until it's too late, and then you have to reverse those conditions," he says.

Also:

For many people, the thought of seeing their bodies replicated on a computer screen is intimidating. It can even be depressing.

“What you have to be careful of is letting those thoughts or feelings creep into your head, that you don’t look good or that you're not good enough. You have to have a realistic outlook on your physicality and if there's things that you want to change you should address that with a physician or a trainer who can help you make those changes in a healthy manner,” Heal says.

And that’s what the 3D scanner is designed to do, he says: arm people with more accurate information so they can make faster progress toward their fitness goals.

                The scanner is not about motivation, it is about measuring results. Frequency Fit understands this and also seems to understand that focusing too much on appearance can be problematic. The article is fine, it’s only the headline that implies that 3D scanners should motivate you to workout. Lasting motivation is going to come from an intrinsic place. Focusing on what your body can do rather than what it looks like is a good start. 3D scanners can be a great tool but they shouldn’t be relied on for motivation.

Wearables: Under Armour announced that they are discontinuing their fitness wearables line. That is generally thought of as a good idea as it was burning through cash. Now the Trefis Team at NASDAQ thinks that UA should exit connected fitness altogether by shuttling their software division:

UA's Connected Fitness business generated less than 2% of the total revenues during the first nine months of 2017. While the company continued to record heavy increases in users across its platform, the segment consistently recorded losses over the period. This was primarily because the company's digital ecosystem was heavily fragmented. Many of the users only tried out the free versions of the apps instead of the paid ones with premium features. Further, combining this business with a growing inventory of hardware products like HealthBox have helped create a very undesirable position for the company, at a time when even market leaders like Fitbit are struggling to make ends meet.

UA spent heavily to acquire several companies which it then cobbled together to form its Connected Fitness division. The original vision was to transform UA into a tech company that would eventually usher in the age of smart clothing. That dream appears to be dead and now UA has to figure out what the plan for Connected Fitness is. They shouldn’t expect Connected Fitness to be a money-maker. Connected Fitness could be a way to collect data and keep the UA brand top of mind. The problem is that they didn’t develop these apps in-house. They spent millions of dollars (which now need to be recouped) and the apps have their own branding, not UA’s. Does this mean that I think that UA should completely shut down Connected Fitness? No, there’s a reason that Nike and Adidas have dropped the hardware and are focusing on software. I think that UA needs to figure out what they’re doing here and should think about creating a united brand for these apps because it is not clear right now.

All or Nothing: Jen Ator, the fitness director for Women’s Health, has a book coming out and needs to promote it. So she shared some of her fitness tips and hit the nail on the head:

Too many women fall into an all-or-nothing mindset with diet and exercise. When they're feeling motivated to see results, they flip the switch on and jack it up all the way—hitting the gym every single day, nixing every "bad" food in the book, logging every cal. Straight superhero-fit status. The problem? As I discuss in Fitness Fix, anyone can suffer through a brutal month of overtraining and calorie restriction and lose a few quick pounds, but research has continually proven that it's simply not sustainable long term, physically or mentally. Hit a single roadblock—like a week off from the gym or that pint of Haagen-Dazs you swore you would eat just a quarter of—and the wheels come off. That one slipup is perceived as a complete failure, and you flip the "being healthy" switch back off and give up. Whomp.

                I see this all the time, from both men and women. This may be the single biggest mistake that people make. I don’t know why everyone is wired to think of fitness this way: that you have to go all-in right from the start. Maybe they’re scared that if they don’t see results right away then they’ll lose motivation.  I don’t think that I have ever seen someone make it work that way. First off, it’s so much change all at once. My diet is far from perfect but I have no desire to change everything one day. I make small changes, one at a time. That way nothing seems too daunting or disruptive to my life. And once I have a handle on that change, then I think about the next one. She also hit upon the other problem: sustainability. The most hardcore program in the world is not going to work for you if you can’t sustain it. Look at anyone who is constantly starting and stopping. Are they getting results? It’s the people that are consistent that get results.

Just Eat Food: Low-carb diets have been in vogue for years now. Switching to one can be unpleasant though as the body adapts to not having access to carbohydrates. Ketone supplements are supposed to bridge this gap and make the transition easier. But apparently, they bring their own problems along for the ride. Some researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport decide to see how ketone supplements would affect elite cyclists.

The results were unanimous. Every rider performed worse after drinking the ketone supplement. Their times were about 2 percent slower and their power output almost 4 percent less, declines that, in actual competition, would drop them from contention for medals.

Every rider also reported some degree of gastrointestinal upset after drinking the ketone supplement. One experienced such “prolonged vomiting and dizziness,” the scientists reported, that he could not start the time trial. Others had symptoms ranging from dry retching to relatively mild nausea.

Not surprisingly, the riders all guessed during which trial they had the ketones, based on their stomachs’ reactions. But most told the scientists that they thought they were riding faster during that trial, because the pedaling had felt so difficult. Told that their performance in fact had declined, almost all announced that they were no longer interested in using ketones for performance enhancement.

                Just eat food. If you need a supplement to make your transition to a new diet, then maybe it’s not a good idea. You’re robbing Peter to pay back Paul. This reminds me of people who drink caffeine all day to stay awake and then have to drink alcohol at night to come down so they can sleep. The less drugs or supplements that you put into your body, the better off you will feel.

That is so Fetch: Stop trying to make EMS happen! It is not some magic way to get the benefits of exercise without actually exercising. EMS is Electrical Muscle Stimulation. The idea is that the electrodes make your muscles contract (even though there is no resistance) and that muscle contraction will lead to growth and increased strength. The problem is that your muscles aren’t contracting very hard. Men’s Health sent Ebenezer Samuel to see what all the hype was about but the trainer he went to was quick to say that EMS didn’t have any “muscle-building or fat-burning magic”. He did predict that “by next year, you’ll see SoulCyle-esque EMS gyms offering ‘group’ workouts” though. So what did Samuel learn?

Two 20-minute EMS sessions have me convinced that this won’t revolutionize your training life. BUT What EMS can do well is what Elzomor claims: it can support your other gym efforts by enhancing your mind-muscle connection. He says he trains many of his clients with standard gym practices, then supplements that work with twice-a-week EMS sessions. “You need to do more than EMS [to see a difference],” says Elzomor. “You still have to go to the gym.”

EMS can also potentially enhance your ability to make certain muscle groups "fire." Often, desk jobs and sedentary lifestyles cause underutilized muscles to become less responsive; if you work in an office and don't regularly work out, there's a good chance that your lats and glutes, muscles that lengthen during sitting, aren't as "active" as they should be, which can hurt your posture. 20 minutes of EMS can help activate those muscles and build body awareness.        

                Using EMS as a means to identify muscle imbalances seems reasonable although very expensive at $145 per session. But how are “SoulCyle-esque” classes going to work? I feel like this trainer is trying to have it both ways.

TidBits:

-“Don’t worry about it and you’ll be great, said nobody ever”

-Bloomberg reviews the FitBit Ionic

-Looking for a yoga app?

-One of the co-founders of SoulCycle has joined WeWork as Chief Brand Officer

-Train your brain

-Malls like gyms now