THE WEEKLY HOWL IS TRAINING FOR 2020

Wearables: For some reason, I had assumed that Adidas had already exited the wearables space. Well, I was wrong. The Germans announced this week that they were doing so. From WWD:

Adidas has discontinued its Digital Sports business unit, calling into question 74 staff jobs.

The business unit was the driving force behind the development of wearable technology, consisting of technology experts in the fields of data science, experience design, algorithm development and software and hardware engineering. Adidas first ventured into the wearable area in 2001 with the launch of sensor-enabled footwear.

                  And guess what? Adidas wants to ditch hardware and focus on software:

The redefined strategy is in line with Adidas chief executive officer Kasper Rorsted’s plans for more digital experiences. The realignment will entail the company consolidating some of its apps to focus on its two most powerful platforms Runtastic and its relaunched Adidas app. The latter is an AI-enabled shopping app that is meant to offer a more personalized consumer experience that was introduced last month at Dreamforce.

                  It seems like this move is long overdue. Adidas hasn’t released a new watch in 2 years, which is probably why I thought that Adidas had already pulled the plug on wearables. And they announced that they will be partnering with FitBit on a new smartwatch coming out in 2018. The path for athletic apparel companies seems very clear here. Develop or acquire your own fitness tracking software and partner with a hardware manufacturer on smartwatches/fitness tracking wearables. The only question for Adidas is how Reebok fits into this. Reebok has made a successful pivot back into a fitness brand with its sponsorship of CrossFit, the UFC, and Spartan Race. Fitness tracking is a logical extension of that brand but will Adidas decide to keep that to itself?  

                  Speaking of wearables, it is important to remember that the future of fitness tracking is far from settled. Perhaps the ultimate form will be something completely different from what we’re seeing right now. Perhaps we are all underestimating the significance of the ear. From CNBC:

"I always say that there are two places where we can measure everything," said electrical engineer Steven LeBoeuf. "The ear and the rear."

The rear is an unlikely target, but the ear is increasingly garnering interest and attention from the largest technology companies.

LeBoeuf is co-founder and president of Valencell, which develops bio-sensors for companies such as Samsung and Jabra. Many of these clients are finally looking at the ear, after years of focus on putting sensors into wrist-worn applications, such as watches and bands, that were considered more trendy. (Apple is not currently a Valencell client.)

There are a few reasons behind this shift, according to LeBoeuf.

The ear is an ideal spot for measuring vital signs such as heart rate, temperature and pulse. Unlike wrist-worn devices that are constantly shifting around, which affects accuracy, the ear is more stable.

The blood flow signal is also stronger from the ear, which makes it easier to track heart rate.

Another factor is the ubiquity of earpieces, from hearing aids to wireless headsets, which are increasingly popular with runners and gym-goers. Companies including Bragi, Samsung and Jabra all have health- and fitness-tracking features in their ear accessories, which are sometimes referred to as "hearables."

                  And hearables is projected to grow! From Wareable:

Then there are hearables, which IDC says will increasingly offer either fitness tracking or audio augmentation. That segment is set to go from 1.7 million shipments in 2017 to 10.6 million in 2021. Smart clothing is also set to grow, going from 2.4 million in 2017 to 11.5 million in 2021, but IDC warns that the primary driver will be step-counting shoes. Sensor-laden clothes, like the Levi's Commuter Jacket, will still have potential, but they're likely to have limited use that mimics features people already have on their smartwatches and hearables, making them a tough buy for most people.

                  This could be a major driver for audio-based training systems like Aaptiv. If we are already wearing a hearable to track our fitness, why not add an AI-based trainer to tell us what to do?

Cross-Roads: The sport of weight-lifting is in a weird place. It is on the verge of losing its status as an Olympic sport due to a rash of performance enhancing drugs scandals. Ratings have never been good and that is something that the IOC very much cares about (probably a lot more than doping violations). Weight-lifting has never been one of the glamour sports of the Olympics, it is practically invisible outside of the Olympics, and most Americans couldn’t even tell you what it is. But there is hope: the CrossFit effect.

                  Weight-lifting has always toiled in obscurity in the U.S. It is not one of the standard high school sports and body-building’s takeover of fitness culture at the close of the 20th century relegated it to the fringes. And then CrossFit came along. The clean & jerk and the snatch are crucial components of the CrossFit methodology and CrossFit’s explosive popularity has brought weight-lifting in front of millions of people.  That increased level of participation means that the sport now has a bigger talent pool and some stars are emerging. From the WSJ:

 Like Ms. Rogers and most of today’s lifters, I learned the snatch and clean-and-jerk through CrossFit, which, any coach or athlete will tell you, has been the single most important force in popularizing the sport. Between the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, membership in USA Weightlifting (USAW) more than doubled, from 11,000 to over 26,000. But those numbers only account for people actively competing at local and national meets. Because of CrossFit, which incorporates the lifts, many hundreds of thousands of others are now engaged in weightlifting as part of their exercise routine.

                  There are promising young stars like Mattie Rogers and C.J. Cummings. Mattie Rogers in particular has proved adept at utilizing social media to connect with fans. And weight-lifting may prove to be a sport suited for the online age.

So, too, should the decline of television. Weightlifting has never thrived on the networks, but, as Ms. Rogers’s 475,000 Instagram followers suggest, it’s a smash hit on social media. Instagram and Facebook not only highlight weightlifting’s elegance and explosiveness, they allow you to share a single particularly spectacular lift and watch it repeatedly. Social media also inserts the fan into the athlete’s story, letting us follow our favorites as they train, warm up and react backstage.

Being able to plug in to weightlifting at any odd moment, combined with the rising number of people actually doing the lifts, has caused its audience to ripple outward in expanding waves. Those who take a few minutes to tune into the World Weightlifting Championships next week—they’re not on TV, only streamed live on the internet—may just be inspired to pick up a barbell themselves.

                  The popularity of sports has always been defined by the medium in which people followed it. Baseball was the sport of the radio age with its slower, more methodical pace and focus on subtle strategy. Football has dominated the television age with its constant bursts of short, intense action. It is still unclear which sports will dominate the online age. I believe that sports with shorter run times (there has never been more competition for our entertainment & leisure hours) and impressive highlights that can go viral will thrive. Weight-lifting definitely fulfills the latter requirement. But there is still that drug problem. From ESPN:

When a new, more sensitive test for steroid metabolites became available in recent years, the IOC targeted weightlifting in its stored sample retesting program for obvious reasons. Thirty Olympic medalists have since been stripped. The men's 94-kg weight class at the 2012 London Games was so decimated by disqualifications that the fifth-place finisher became the gold medalist. Lidia Valentin of Spain, fifth in the women's 75-kg weight class at the Beijing 2008 Olympics and fourth in London, is now the 2008 silver medalist and 2012 champion.

Canada's Christine Girard finished fourth in the 63-kg class in Beijing, a result she says was both devastating and encouraging to an athlete who rejected drug use. "I knew then it was possible to get a podium while being clean," she says. "But it was still my biggest failure." She missed her last two lifts. Had she made them, she would have won Canada's first medal of the Games and its first women's medal in the sport. "It was hard to take then, but harder to take now," she says.

Girard retired on a redemptive note after a bronze medal performance in London. In the summer of 2016, retesting bumped her to the bronze medal position for Beijing. Her London bronze was upgraded to silver, and a gold is pending. "I don't want to lose myself in the what-ifs," she says. "I learned I will never really know how good I was."

            It is very difficult to root out a PED problem when it is has become so ingrained in the culture of the sport. If the television ratings were strong, the IOC wouldn’t be talking about removing it from the schedule. Cycling has gone to hell and back with its PED issues but I never heard any talk about removing it from the Olympics. But after the backlash they received from trying to remove wrestling, I suspect that this will be the excuse that the IOC uses.

            So what’s next for weight-lifting? I have no idea. Maybe all those CrossFitters tune in to weight-lifting in 2020. Maybe the IOC starts to appreciate online eyeballs a little more. Maybe weight-lifting is removed after 2020 but makes a return when CrossFit becomes an Olympic sport in 2028. No matter what happens with the Olympics though, CrossFit has given weight-lifting a new lease on life.

Epidemic: Obesity is an epidemic in this country.  There is no getting around that. And there will be consequences. From Strong Nation:

The new Citizen-Readiness Index shows that, nationwide:

• 12 percent of adults aged 17-24 have been arrested at least once.

• Approximately 1 in 8 young adults aged 16 to 24 are neither employed nor in school.

• More than 70 percent of those between the ages of 17 and 24 cannot qualify for military service due to problems with obesity, education, drug abuse or crime.

 

                  Holy crap! 70% of young people can’t qualify for the military. That is a scary problem. What the hell would we do if we had to institute the draft? This is an issue of national security. And its not a problem that can be easily fixed. By the time that we come to terms with this, it will probably be too late. Please teach your kids how to be active and how to exercise. We need to bring the Greek ideal back: strong and balanced in mind and body. If you’re reading this then I assume that you have a strong interest in fitness. So spread the gospel. Infect others with your passion.

When in India: It is no secret how the development of our economy and our society has contributed to the degradation of our bodies and created the need for the fitness industry. Now we are watching the process repeat itself in other less developed nations but in hyper-speed. People are going from under-nourished to obese in a single generation. From Bloomberg:

In the 1970s, India was so concerned about malnutrition that it established daily caloric minimums. Now, three decades into an economic boom, large sections of the country have gotten fat. According to a 2014 study published in the Lancet, male obesity in India has increased almost 2,500 percent since 1975, and the country today has the world’s third-largest population of obese women. The Indian Heart and Stroke Association reports that a quarter of all male heart attack patients are younger than 40. As much as 9 percent of the population has diabetes—119 million people.

                  As a result, India is showing signs of a burgeoning gym culture. And it is partially driven by Bollywood.

Prashant Sawant was working at a Talwalkars competitor when he obtained, by chance, a superstar client: Shah Rukh Khan, an actor known as the King of Bollywood, who needed help rehabbing a leg injury. Khan was slim, with a bulbous nose and piercing eyes, and had built a career largely on playing relatable love interests. In 2007, when he was 42, he told Sawant he’d decided to take a radical step. For his next movie, Om Shanti Om, a meta-romantic thriller set in the film industry, he “wanted to get ripped.”

A kind of abdominal arms race ensued, with Bollywood directors insisting that stars transform themselves for suddenly requisite shirtless scenes. Emraan Hashmi—known as a “kissing star” because of his willingness to smooch actresses on-screen—says he first encountered the demand two years later. “I was given an absurd time frame and told I had to drastically cut down my fat percentage,” he says.

 

                  It is a fascinating article and I highly recommend it. Any country that wants to transition into an information economy will have to reckon with a rise in obesity. That will require the development of a fitness industry. I wonder if any governments will try to get ahead of this and build up a fitness industry before its citizens get fat. We’ve seen how this play goes, it is no secret anymore. Does anyone have the sense to prepare for it?

Motivation: It’s almost here. We are mere days away from the New Year and with it the onset of New Years’ resolutions, a disproportionate amount of which will focus on fitness. Which means that there will be a million articles about how to keep those resolutions past January. The NY Times has got the jump on it and already published something. Let’s check in on them:

4. Commit to a Date-Specific Goal.

Goals don’t need to be lofty to be effective, but it’s useful to sign up for an event such as a 5K walk, triathlon or ballroom dance competition. By goal-setting, preferably with a target just slightly outside your comfort zone, you’re more likely to stick with a fitness regimen. The best approach here is to jump right in, select a goal and register. Once it’s on your calendar you’ll know where you’re headed and can work to get there in time.

                  Great advice! Get past the vague (lose weight, get in shape, look good naked). Don’t focus on losing weight. Set a performance goal with a deadline. And it doesn’t have to be limited to endurance events. It could be to deadlift twice your bodyweight, perform 20 consecutive pull-ups, or compete in the CrossFit Open. There is a world of fitness events out there besides road-races and triathlons. And the great thing about performance goals is that you can always find a new one.

TidBits:

-Reebok releases the Nano 8

-Please don’t offer unsolicited advice at the gym

-Health & Wellness can be a weird industry

-Virtual reality boxing