Wearables: Under Armour is now saying that it is “the largest digital health and fitness community in the world”. Peter High, UA’s Chief Technology Officer, references their acquisitions of MapMyFitness, EndoMondo, and MyFitnessPal and the 215 million users that came with it to back up the claim. I find it very interesting that the athletic apparel giants are suddenly re-making themselves into software companies. Nike made a big splash in fitness trackers with the release of the FuelBand in 2012 before abruptly exiting the space in 2014. Now Nike’s participation in the wearables market is as a software provider and in co-branding on the sport version of the Apple Watch. UA lacks the chummy relationship that Nike enjoys with Apple and seemed to want to make up for that by acquiring a suite of fitness apps. (It should be noted that UA’s primary hardware partner, HTC, announced this week that it will sell its smartphone division to Google. At this point, we can only speculate what this will mean for future collaboration between UA and HTC) In this interview, High talked up the importance of data and referred several times to a “connected shoe” that will come to market in 2018. UA has also incorporated technology in its clothes and CEO Kevin Plank has been insisting for years that UA is a tech company. He sold MapMyFitness CEO Robin Thurston on the acquisition with a 60 second “ad” called Future Girl. In it, a woman wakes up and puts on her smart shirt. It tells her the time, weather, her schedule, and vital signs before changing color.   

When he first saw Future Girl, Thurston didn't think much of it, or the idea. He saw an advanced Garmin device. Now he sees something different. "She has a personalized yoga experience that morning," he says, "maybe because her heart rate has too high when she woke up, so she was stressed." Her meal plan is specific to her day, her mood, her context. So is her run. So is her clothing. Her universe is collecting, processing, and collating data constantly, feeding it back to her so she might live a little better each day. This, he says, is the future. "Every piece of clothing you wear is going to be connected, and someone's going to have to decipher that data and give that back in an organized way, for you as an individual, to help you in your life."

UA may have the most aggressive wearable strategy of any other company. Apple and FitBit want to sell you a smartwatch but UA envisions a future in which all of your clothes have some sort of tech in them. I have some thoughts on this:

1)      Who the hell will this be for? We are already drowning in technology. You already “need” to have a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop, a smartwatch, a smart TV, a smart speaker and none of that stuff is cheap. Now UA expects us to start buying smart clothes. Who will be able to afford all of this crap?

2)      We don’t need smart clothes. You don’t need technology to tell you that you didn’t sleep well the night before. Your brain already tells you that.

3)      I’m scared that UA will be successful in convincing people that you need a smart shirt and smart shoes in order to get in shape. We already have fitness inequality in this country. I am not a big fan of stuff that will increase that inequality. Fitness can be as cheap and low-tech as you need it to be. All the bells and whistles are great but you don’t NEED any of it. That’s what we should be telling people.

4)      If athletic apparel companies like Nike and UA start moving up-market into smart clothing, they could expose themselves to being disrupted by competitors a la the Innovators Dilemma. The Innovators Dilemma is that large companies pursue their most profitable customer in the high-end of a market but this allows competitors to establish themselves in the low end of the market. However once these competitors have established themselves, they start moving upmarket as well. Think Toyota in the automotive industry. They were considered junky cars when they first came to the U.S. but they kept improving the quality and later became the industry leader. I could see smart clothing, if successful, creating the same dilemma for Nike, Adidas, and UA. 

5)      Kevin Plank sees a future in which your clothing is constantly generating data about your physical state. Do we really want to create that much data about ourselves? From the NY Post:

“There are two kinds of companies in the world: Those that have been hacked and those that are about to be hacked,” he said. “Almost any device can be hacked, let’s acknowledge that and realize what’s at stake here.”

Information like the number of steps a user takes or calories they burn in a day may not be useful to a hacker, but the metadata from the device — or information that can be derived from the data — is valuable. Through wearable data, bad actors could see what time a user sleeps, where they go, and when they are out of the house. This could leave them vulnerable to theft and abuse.

Some devices also share and store sensitive medical data, putting people at higher risk if hacked, Llamas said. The recent hack of Equifax shows just how many places are at risk, he added. “Anything can be hacked,” he said. “And the more data you keep on a device, the more value it has to you and the more value it has to hackers. If it can happen to [Equifax], it can happen to you.”

                I am somewhat skeptical of the wearables category because we have not yet seen the killer app that will lead to mass adoption. And I do believe that wearables will need to have a killer app before we see an Apple Watch on every iPhone owners’ wrist. I don’t know what it will take before we’re all wearing smart clothes. It would be pretty cool that a shirt could change color at the tap of your finger but you can also change your shirt and save a whole lot of money. Maybe I’m old-fashioned.

Apple Watch: Self Magazine compared the new Apple Watch (Series 3) to the previous version (Series 2) and documented the upgrades:

-You can make phone calls with it

-You can stream Apple Music playlists

-It can track elevation changes

They also identified the upgrades in watchOS 4:

-The Workout app has a HIIT category now

-The Heart Rate app does a lot more than just read your current heart rate

-You can sync data with cardio machines

Sub2: The Berlin Marathon is this weekend. This is the first major marathon since Nike staged the Sub2 event in Italy in May. That was where Eliud Kipchoge ran an all-time best (but not officially recognized world record) of 2:00:25. Eliud Kipchoge is sponsored by Nike. The last five world records in the men’s marathon have been set by runners wearing Adidas. The last six world records have been set in Berlin. Do you think that Nike is eager for Kipchoge, the Olympic champion, to bring that record back to the Swoosh? There is still some talk of seeing a Sub2 here. It won’t happen, not this weekend or anytime soon in a real race. But the idea of it is spurring Nike and Adidas to innovation in their shoe design:

Nike custom-crafted Zoom Vaporfly Elite shoes for Kipchoge featuring an inch-thick sole made of a special foam for cushioning, a carbon-fiber plate to increase stiffness and provide propulsion, and an aerodynamic heel to reduce drag. The shoes retail for $250—if you can get them. Nike is keeping a lid on supplies to create buzz for its $5.2 billion-a-year running gear business. Getting below two hours is “the last big, once-in-a-generation barrier,” says Sandy Bodecker, the Nike executive overseeing the effort. He has 1:59:59 tattooed inside his left wrist.

                It also got Vodafone, the British telecom giant, to get involved in sports:

Vodafone, meanwhile, is working with Yannis Pitsiladis, a sports professor at Britain’s University of Brighton who in 2014 started planning a project aimed at breaking the two-hour barrier within five years. He estimated the cost at perhaps $30 million and asked Nike and Adidas to back the effort. While both rejected his appeal—and then launched their own programs with the same goal—Pitsiladis has assembled a team of scientists and technology companies to work on improving nutrition and training, using sensors to monitor biomarkers such as heart rate and body temperature. Since Vodafone joined last spring, it’s developed an app for a smartwatch from China’s Huawei Technologies Co. that Bekele wears, sending data to coaches in real time during training runs (in competition, electronic communication with coaches is barred). “We’re using science and technology to provide athletes everything they need to improve their performance,” Pitsiladis says. “It’s very, very different from the two other projects. We understand that a shoe is going to be important. But it’s just a shoe.”

                I am a little puzzled by the sudden interest in a Sub-2 marathon. The world record is 2:02:57. Three minutes is a very long time to carve off the record without some kind of secret sauce. So now companies are spending millions of dollars trying to create that secret sauce and cash in on the publicity. It just seems like they all jumped the gun on Sub-2 and now they have to come up with some crazy innovation. To be clear, I’m not complaining about any of this, I think that we may see some very interesting technology emerge from this. I just think the sudden and premature obsession is a little strange.

Creepers: Gyms are full of scantily clad people putting their bodies through the full range of human motion. Some of these positions can be awkward, compromising, or even suggestive outside of the realm of exercise. Gyms are also full of people with smartphones, devices that can take a photograph and post it online. This is a powder keg that I am surprised hasn’t blown up yet. Not that there haven’t been incidents. DCist documented one such incident in which a gym-goer had their posterior photographed and posted online by another member. When the victim complained, this gym did not handle it all that well:

Thomas Circle Balance released a statement on Tuesday afternoon, after the incident was publicized, saying that the facility does "not allow members to take photos of others without their permission, for any purpose. We are committed to protecting the privacy of every member who wishes not to be photographed or videoed."

While that policy is part of the contract that members sign to join the gym, there is not any standard punishment for violating it. The statement says that the facility is developing a new policy, which will be distributed to members.

However, Thomas Circle Gym also cast blame on the person who is publicizing the incident in its statement. "The image posted was in response to a member who felt the other party was being disruptive and intimidating to herself and friends. The member should have brought this to our attention immediately but instead posted to what she thought was a private group, which obviously was not the case. While these details do not make the situation right, it was something that we took into consideration and we were hoping to come to an amicable solution for both parties."

The gym-goer says this is the first they're hearing about being "disruptive or intimidating."

                Blame the victim, always a winning strategy. One person surreptitiously took a photo of someone else’s butt and posted it to Instagram with a mocking caption. You should have a policy that allows you to revoke the offending party’s membership. It’s surprising that there are gyms that have not figured this out yet. It’s also surprising how often people want to blame the victim for complaining in the first place.

Fitness Franchises: Entrepreneur published a piece on fitness franchising. They are pro-franchise in general so they talked up the potential in franchising with a company like Anytime Fitness or Crunch Fitness. They also keyed in on some of the factors that are going drive the fitness industry forward. #1 is the “death of retail” leading to an opportunity for gyms to grab prime real estate.

“Seven or eight years ago, it was much harder to get good sites,” says Rondeau. “We were fighting with Best Buy and Barnes & Noble. Now landlords are looking for new business to drive traffic, and we’re getting much better locations at cheaper costs.” In other words, gym-goers show up several times a week. That’s routine patronage that strip-mall and shopping-plaza landlords can use to entice other businesses to stick around. 

#2 is an increasing focus on fitness:

The second driver, Rondeau says, is wellness mania. People want to look and feel better, and to make that happen, they’re deploying wearable fitness trackers, meditation apps and services, weekend mud races, organic-food delivery services and fitness centers. But it’s not a zero-sum game. Rather than choose one service -- or one gym -- consumers are increasingly combining several tools and memberships to build a custom wellness plan. The piecemeal approach is what Bryan O’Rourke, a brand consultant with 20 years of fitness-­industry experience, calls “lifestyle design,” and it’s where budget models have an advantage: Consumers view $10 a month as a bargain, even if they only occasionally work out. 

                I am very interested in the last part of that quote. I have seen this idea thrown around but never any numbers to back it up. How many people are mixing boutique fitness with a membership at a low-cost operator? Because that seems to be what they are implying there. Planet Fitness goes after people who are intimidated by gyms (and probably won’t show up to Planet Fitness either). Studios go after the type of people that intimidate Planet Fitness members. I’d like to see some more details on this.

#3 is that there is huge potential for growth in fitness:

There’s also ample room for growth. For every person who belongs to a gym, there are four more who do not, and many of the latter group could greatly benefit from working out. “Despite the unbelievable growth in the fitness space, more Americans are unhealthy,” says Chuck Runyon, CEO of Anytime Fitness. “They are not eating properly, they’re not sleeping very well and they’re not moving very often.” While nobody is celebrating this situation, unfit people do create opportunity, along with a shared sense of purpose, within the industry. “Everybody realizes that we’re not fighting each other,” says Vince Julien, a 38-year industry veteran with 10 Crunch clubs in Georgia and Florida. “The competition is the 80 percent of people that we haven’t gotten off their asses yet.”

                As a fitness professional, your number one competitor is the couch. The thing that the fitness industry lacks is a true leader. It’s such a fragmented industry that it’s tough to name anyone. I bring this up because there is a commonly held view that the industry leader’s responsibility to grow the industry. It’s also a smart strategy because if you own the biggest slice of the pie, then the best way to grow is probably to grow that pie. There is so much opportunity to grow fitness but we don’t have anyone taking on that responsibility yet.

Video Killed the Workout Star: Do you follow any professional athletes on social media? If so, then you have probably noticed the proliferation of workout videos being posted in the offseason. You can watch Brian Orakpo push a truck, Odell Beckham catch tennis balls, or James Harrison lift absurd amounts of weight. Sports Illustrated explored the rise of the pro athlete workout video. Reason #1: It’s easy. Everyone has a smartphone and social media has made it a lot easier to upload video in the last couple of years. Reason #2: engage the fans:

Nearly every player interviewed for this piece talked about posting these videos, first and foremost, to engage and motivate fans. Seeing the athlete work in the offseason may encourage a fan to hit the gym. But here’s the question that follows: How necessary is all of this? What’s the point of Oakland running back Marshawn Lynch running in boots on a beach or Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart doing the ladder drill in Santa Monica if not to simply impress visually? It’s no secret that these videos are at least in part about looking good.

                Reason #3: let your team know that you’re staying shape even if you skip voluntary team workouts. Reason #4: promote your private trainer:

Trainers are an important element in this rise of the athlete workout video, not just because of the workouts they’re putting the athlete through, but because they’re a major reason why athletes post the videos in the first place. Every NFL player interviewed for this story mentioned his respective trainer by name, and most tag his trainer in the videos to help them get more clients.

Reason #5: Because they’re millennials?

But this is also 2017, and if you believe the news, millennials like to be liked. There’s some ego stroking involved when you’re pushing a $60,000 vehicle or running on a remote beach as the sun sets behind you, and you only post the videos in which you look good.

Right because previous generations don’t like looking good and having their egos stroked. Millennials must have invented that. Previous generations of NFL players didn’t work anywhere as hard as the current crop does in the offseason. Everything is way more competitive now. Talk about that for once.   


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