Running: Have you ever heard of Brooks? If you’re not a runner, then the odds are that you have not. Brooks is a running shoe manufacturer based in Seattle that appeals to serious runners. The running shoe market has always struck me as a little strange because the 2 biggest players (Nike, Adidas) seem indifferent to the needs of a large number of runners. Nike has always said that its products are for the athletes. For running, that means that they design shoes for people with good running biomechanics. The soles are narrow and stiff and there is little in the way of motion control. But everyone doesn’t have the biomechanics of an Olympic marathoner. So there is a market for shoes that correct for over-pronation (when the foot rolls too far inward) and there is a market for shoes in varying widths. This has allowed companies like Brooks and New Balance to succeed by serving those niches. Now Bloomberg is reporting that Brooks wants to get away from motion control and steal market share from Nike in the casual runner segment.
It’s no surprise then that in about 2009 a new trend, spurred by ultramarathoner Chris McDougall’s book Born to Run emerged: Maybe running was so natural and organic that shoes weren’t even necessary.
McDougall looked at injury rates and said, wait a minute, why were runners still wrecking their knees and getting shin splints as often as they did 30 years ago? What were these expensive shoes even doing? At the same time, several biomedical researchers published papers questioning the relation between pronation and injury. “When you tried to look at the science behind the shoes, there wasn’t any,” says Nick Campitelli, an Akron podiatrist who writes Dr. Nick’s Running Blog. “Companies talked about innovation, but they usually meant the shoe’s materials, not evidence-based biomechanical studies.” Born to Run became a best-seller; sales of traditional running shoes dropped. Suddenly, people started plodding through parks in a product from the Italian company Vibram SpA, which began making thin rubbery slippers with individual toe pockets that look a little like work gloves for your feet.
“I was like, Oh my God, nobody is going to run in our shoes anymore,” says Carson Caprara, Brooks’s director of global footwear product line management. Caprara, a marathoner, had read Born to Run but never thought its notions would catch on. He watched confusedly as these slippers grew to account for almost a fifth of all running shoe sales.
So Brooks’ reaction to the minimalist running shoe craze is to move away from motion control, focus more on design, and start doing some advertising. The company has long relied upon specialty running stores in which salespeople recommend shoes based upon in-store evaluations of customers’ running gait instead of traditional advertising. This could be a good move to make because if motion control has been de-bunked then Brooks needs to find a new niche. This could be a bad move because Brooks hasn’t found a new niche, they’re just trying to do the same thing that Nike is doing only with a lot less money and a lot less expertise in design and marketing. It’s easy for me to write that Brooks needs to figure out a new angle to appeal to serious runners ignored by Nike and Adidas and then use the specialty shoes to spread the gospel. It’s not easy to identify that angle.
Another thing that I found interesting is that Brooks seems to have the exact opposite attitude as Nike. Nike is well-known for promoting the idea that everyone is an athlete whether they realize it yet or not. Apparently Brooks doesn’t share that sentiment:
According to the people at Brooks Sports Inc., I’m not a runner. I’m what’s known within the company as a person who runs. “There’s a difference,” says Brooks Chief Executive Officer Jim Weber, who’s run three to five mornings a week, every week, for 35 years but apparently isn’t a runner either. When he says this, I give him a look, because, frankly, that’s ridiculous. I’ve been running for more than two decades. I run on business trips and vacations. I track my weekly mileage and voluntarily eat packets of electrolyte-enhanced goo that—why does no one talk about this?—tastes like mediocre cake frosting. In 2016, I ran my first marathon, an experience that melded transcendent euphoria and throbbing pain into an entirely new emotion I can’t really describe, other than to say it was both the best and worst thing I’ve ever felt. How am I not a runner?
“That’s a self-defined runner,” Weber explains, not a runner in the competitive, professional sense. And that’s all right, because—and here Weber lowers his voice like he’s gossiping about someone behind her back—“Running’s not really a sport.”
I don’t get this brand.
Real Estate: Fitness is now a luxury product. People want access to fitness facilities even if they never use them. From Mansion Global:
In a survey of renter preferences across the U.S., 82% of renters say an on-site fitness center is an important building amenity, with 55% saying they wouldn’t rent in a property without one. Yet 42% of the respondents say they rarely or never use their fitness center—a significant gap between people’s exercise ambitions and their follow-through.
The survey, conducted with the National Multifamily Housing Council, a nonprofit trade group, by real-estate research firm Kingsley Associates, was done in July 2017. In it, 272,743 residents of 4,795 rental communities across the U.S. were asked about what they look for in apartment developments and what they are willing to pay for certain perks.
“It’s all a question of what will get people to sign a lease,” says Caitlin Sugrue Walter, senior director of research at the NMHC. “If 82% say they need a fitness center, then most places will have a fitness center.”
I’d love to see how this has evolved over the years. Is this progress? Will we ever bridge that gap between the 82% who want a gym and the 40% that actually use the gym? Fitness is such a weird product in that people say that it’s important and are willing to pay for it but you have to twist their arms to actually use what they paid for. I can’t think of anything else quite like it.
Motivation: January is a busy time for the fitness industry. New Year’s resolutions leads to people flooding into gyms and new workout programs before losing steam and reverting to their old habits. Reegan Von Wildenradt from Men’s Health has some very useful advice:
This is where the #realtalk starts. It's going to sound harsh, but it's only because we care. You might not go to the gym 360 days of the year. Many, many guys just like you will not even go for more than 15 days. Our challenge to you is, don't be that guy going balls-to-the-walls every damn day, January 2nd to January 7th, only to never be seen again from January 8th onward...
...until the following January.
Don't be him. Instead, be the dude who starts small and builds. Don't start by going to the gym every damn day. Try going two times a week. Then three. Build up to five visits a week, because science says that's prime. Don't eat this shit after your workouts. Do workouts you enjoy. Lift some weights. Throw a little bit of cardio into the mix.
This is the most under-rated piece of advice in fitness. Don’t come roaring out of the gate and then fail to finish the race. Start slow and then build up. It’s unrealistic to expect that you will completely change the way that you live your life just before the calendar now reads January. Plus, it will be much easier to achieve your goals. Achieving those easier goals (going to the gym 2 time this week) and then setting slightly ambitious goals (going to the gym 3 times next week) allows you to build up momentum and confidence. I see people who go all out that first time back and then they are so sore that they dread going back. That reinforces the perception that working out is a torturous experience. The sorest that I have ever been was after the first week of track practice in 9th grade. If I all ever knew about fitness was recreating that experience every January, then I would probably hate working out too.
Fads: The caricature of the fitness industry is that it is nothing more never-ending series of stupid fads. Is there some true to this? Yes, there has always been a lot of stupid fads in fitness but that is not all there is. It’s just that the stupid fads are designed to suck up all the publicity. But they do succeed in perpetuating the caricature. What’s the latest stupid fad? Working out in your birth door suit. From Business Insider:
Hanson Fitness, a New York gym chain favoured by celebrities including Rihanna, has launched a new full body conditioning class at its Soho outpost — and it requires participants to be naked.
A spokeswoman for the gym told Business Insider that while the gym is unsure if it's the city's first ever naked exercise class, it's "certainly the first nude class for this type of exercise."
The nude class is designed to be a total body workout in which attendees use their body weight as resistance to work the glute, butt, legs, and core – "making you look and feel good naked."
Why? Just, why? What benefits could working out naked provide?
1. It releases endorphins.
"Sunlight on the exposed skin will lead to the body producing Vitamin D which aids in bone and muscle health," according to the gym. "Vitamin D also leads to serotonin production, the hormone responsible for our mood regulation."
Vitamin D is not an endorphin. And this isn’t an outdoor gym.
2. It increases body awareness and empowerment.
"While you’re in your birthday suit, you can see every inch of your body which makes it easy to see if you’re cheating on your exercises."
Because most people exercise in baggy sweats these days? Just get some workout apparel that fits properly.
3. It makes for unrestricted movement.
"While naked, there’s nothing at all holding you back. The only limitations are your own, not because you can’t move in a certain angle in your cute workout clothes."
What are they talking about? Who has workout clothes that inhibit their range of motion?
4. Less laundry.
I’ll give them this one but the need for added workout towels would probably negate it. This is yet another stupid fad that will go down in the annals of fitness as a pointless endeavor that its creator could not even create a coherent rationale for.
Trends: My standard defense against the fads accusation is that the fitness industry is driven by trends not fads. SoulCyle may be a fad but cycling classes are a trend that has been going strong for years. The industry is always evolving and it’s the trends that drive that evolution. So what are going to be the trends that drive the industry in 2018? From NPR:
Among the top findings: Many of us prefer quick fitness routines, perhaps because we're busier than ever. For the second year in a row, the survey's results show high-intensity interval training tops the list of fitness trends, according to Walter R. Thompson, a research physiologist at Georgia State University and president of the ACSM.
Typically, the high-intensity routines are simple, Thompson explains, involving short bursts of high-intensity exercise, such as sprinting or jumping rope, followed by a short period of rest or recovery, and can take less than 30 minutes from start to finish.
People are busier than ever these days. Designing workouts to be short and intense makes sense.
The No. 2 fitness trend as we head into 2018 might surprise you: group exercise classes, with minimal equipment.
Based on the new survey, Thompson says fewer people will be plugging in their earbuds and zoning out on fancy new pieces of electronic gym equipment.
"Commercial clubs are moving away from the shiny new bells and whistles into more basic kinds of exercise programs." This means more simple things like body weight exercises, lunges, pushups and planks.
If there is equipment, it is likely to be minimal, such as weights, body bars, kettle bells or jump-ropes, according to Amy Dixon, director of group fitness programming for Equinox Fitness Clubs, a global network of gyms.
The best fitness is low-tech fitness. Plus, it makes the logistics so much easier.
"In our clubs, those who work out in group classes are the most consistent," says Dixon.
Thompson says research suggests this "connection" to others in working toward a common fitness goal can make a big difference in being able to stick with a routine — which may be why personal training is less popular this year and group training is up.
"Wearable technology" as fitness aids — including activity trackers, smart watches, heart rate monitors and GPS tracking devices — certainly haven't gone away, Thompson says, they're just slipping in popularity, according to the survey.
At first, Thompson says, "everyone wanted to talk about wearable tech because it accurately counted your steps and heart rate; but it turns out, that's all it did."
They’ve pitted wearables against community, which is interesting. Headphone syndrome is definitely a thing but I hadn’t considered that having people glued to the tiny screens on their wrists during a workout could be as alienating as having people glued to their smartphones during the rest of the day.
Sweat to Win: Competition is the driving force behind several of the most high-profile companies in the industry (CrossFit, FlyWheel, Orangetheory). Those 3 workouts are serious and intense. What if someone designed a workout that was more like your grade school gym class? From WSJ:
IMPATIENT TO ESCAPE a mundane exercise routine of running, Andrew Feigelman stepped into Throwback Fitness in Midtown Manhattan, a retro gym that aims to make workouts a game—and felt like he was stepping back through time. Beneath a poster of Schwarzenegger hulking out in his ’80s action-star prime and Ferris Bueller in full recline, the New York native was greeted by a trainer decked out like a junior high Phys Ed. coach: crew cut, high socks, varsity tee, whistle around his neck. Pop music blared as Mr. Feigelman, 31, was introduced to intense variations on relay races, basketball and dodgeball inspired by the days of recess past.
The sweat session culminated in an unconventional game of basketball. Divided into two teams, players earned a shot on their opponents’s basket only by completing a quick circuit of push-ups, sit-ups and mountain climbers. The 45-minute workout left Mr. Feigelman gassed—and his team victorious.
Staring at the big board in a FlyWheel class or obsessing over Fran times isn’t going to be for everyone. But the spirit of competition and gamification can be.
“Competition shifts the main objective from the more obscure goal of general fitness to a simple one: Get more points now,” said Dr. Don Vaughn, a neuroscience postdoctoral fellow at UCLA. Gamification helps us transcend our “impatient biology,” Dr. Vaughn said, by giving us short-term highs—win or lose—that keep us motivated and determined to chase long-term fitness goals.
My only question is how would Throwback help people bridge that gap between the short-term (winning the class) and the long-term? Because the best competition is when you’re competing against yourself and that requires quantification. How do you quantify dodgeball?
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