THE WEEKLY HOWL IS JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS

Fitness Trackers: The media loves to cover the British Royal Family and right now, Prince Harry and Megan Markle are the center of attention. So it’s big news when Harry decides to start sporting a fitness tracker. Unfortunately, he chose to wear one that’s a ring. From Vox:

People magazine “exclusively” and excitedly identified it as an Oura ring, after much speculation on social media and in online publications. His is the $299 black Heritage version, though there is a silver version with diamonds that costs $999. It makes sense that he chose this trip to debut the ring; traveling from the Western hemisphere to Australia is a difficult transition for your body and sleep patterns.

The tracker focuses on sleep primarily, though it also reminds you to get up if you’ve been inactive for too long, and it tracks steps, workouts, and calories like any number of trackers out there. “The tiny ring also has Amazon Alexa support, so you can check your fitness stats using your voice, instead of having to faff around with the app,” writes the Evening Standard. Because who has time for faffing when you have people to hug!

              I am not excited to see that these ring trackers keep proliferating. There is not much awareness around ring avulsion right now but there should be. Wearing rings while engaging in physical activity is dangerous and should not be encouraged. A ring-shaped fitness tracker might seem like a great idea if you aren’t aware of ring avulsion but it is not. Everyone should take off their rings before they workout or do anything physical. Selling a ring that is designed to be worn during exercise is putting people’s fingers at risk. 

Home Gym: Working out at home is nothing new but it is certainly more attractive than ever. That means that the media has to start talking about whether this will lead to the DEATH OF GYMS. From Fast Company:

A new report from user insights platform Alpha looks at whether consumers are ready to bunker down inside, as well as the biggest obstacles facing the $14 billion home fitness equipment market. In their findings, analysts learned that 54% of Americans who work out at least once a month are interested in buying an at-home fitness system, but several concerns keep them from pulling the trigger.

Of those surveyed, 34% claimed they have “no room in their home or apartment” for the equipment, while 24% said the trendy systems were too expensive. In third place, 11% said they simply preferred the live environment of fitness classes.

While those all seem like reasonable objections, it’s interesting that the majority did not single out price, notes Alpha cofounder Nis Frome. “The rest of the objections seem easier to overcome than being too expensive,” says Frome via email. He also echoed what many industry insiders have said before: Prices will continue to drop as tech advances and adoption continues to grow.

              These reasons aren’t mutually exclusive. If you have no room in your house for exercise equipment, then you are going to reject the idea before you even get to the price. And how is lack of room easier to overcome? That is a bigger obstacle as real estate prices continue to rise. As technology evolves, it tends to become cheaper. As time goes on, real estate prices tend to rise.

              The other issue that they don’t address is whether people see something like Peloton as a complement to a traditional gym membership. It doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario. What about people who work out during their lunch break? Or people who don’t like taking classes. If gyms don’t exist, how will the point of entry be for consumers? A person who has never worked out before will just shell out thousands of dollars for something that they’ve never used before?

Fitness can be very personal. If you talk to anyone about their fitness routines, you learn a lot about their lives because we all have to fit it in around our careers and families. And we all have vastly different goals and preferred ways to workout. There will never be an iPhone of fitness, which is what I think Fast Company is trying to suggest.

Inequality: Here are 2 facts:

1)      The fitness industry is growing in this country

2)      Obesity in the U.S. is worse than ever

Now you take in these facts and start jumping to some ill-advised conclusions. If you’re Axios, you’ll

probably jump to the conclusion that this must mean that the fitness industry is full of false

promises and doesn’t work.

Between Soul Cycle, Fitbit, Whole30 diets and social media health gurus, the health and wellness industry is booming — but Americans are more likely to be obese today than ever before.

The problem: Despite promises made by gyms and fitness programs, physical activity does little to help people lose weight, says Ashkan Afshin from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. And Americans' diets are still terrible.

One key trend: The prevalence of diseases most attributed to obesity — high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol — has held steady or even fallen over the past few years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • But that's mostly due to increased treatment for those conditions, health experts say.

Meanwhile, obesity has created a thriving industry in the U.S., even though many programs have little medical or scientific backing.

The U.S. fitness industry is the most lucrative in the world, bringing in $30 billion worth of revenue in 2017, according to the latest report by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) — a global trade association for the fitness industry.

  • Since 2008, the number of gym members has increased by more than 33% in the U.S., according to the same report.

  • The commercial weight loss program market was worth $2.77 billion in 2016 and was expected to grow 9.4% to $3.03 billion in 2017, according to Marketdata.

  • Fitbit's consumers have grown from 500,000 to more than 25 million in just 5 years, according to data collected by Statista.

  • Fitness apps and wearables overall are projected to be used by 16.4% of people in the market by 2023, up from 15.7% in 2016, per Statista.

But food is the key problem when it comes to obesity, according to Afshin.

  • "Data shows there is increased availability, affordability and accessibility of high energy-dense foods," Afshin said. And many Americans are eating more than their bodies need.

  • More than a third of Americans eat fast food every day — an industry notorious for high caloric, low nutrition meals — and only 1 in 10 eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, per CDC.

  • Eat better, not less: Stanford argues that eating less isn't always the solution either. Some dietitians argue that the quality of the food matters more than the number of calories.

While the author is correct that food is as much to blame as lack of exercise, what they don’t seem to understand is that this boom in fitness is not evenly distributed. There are 2 Americas when it comes to fitness. In the first one, people spend money on gyms, exercise equipment, fitness trackers, and healthy food. This is the world of SoulCycle and CrossFit and Peloton. This is where all that fitness spending is coming from.  In the second one, people don’t belong to a gym, rarely exercise, and eat a lot of fast food. This is where the obesity is coming from.

This is fitness inequality. Health and wellness is turning into a luxury product. The obesity epidemic isn’t the failure of physical activity to help people lose weight.  It’s the failure of the fitness industry to reach most Americans. William Gibson once wrote that the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed. That is an apt description of the fitness industry right now. Fitness is still a young industry. Less than 20% of Americans are members of a gym. The majority of the country is not engaging in the fitness culture even though it appears widespread in the major cities. The story isn’t that the fitness industry is making false promises, it’s that most Americans are not engaging with it at all. 

Military Fitness: The Army is looking to launch its new physical fitness test in 2020 and in the meantime, it’s still tinkering with some of the technique requirements. From Military.com:

The exercises are locked in, but the mechanics may change to make them easier to grade, Whitfield East, the research physiologist for Center for Initial Military Training, told Military.com today at an ACFT demonstration.

"During the field test, we are refining the hand-release pushup," East said, explaining that event will either have soldiers raise their hands straight up off the ground before coming back up or extend their hands out to the sides and bring them back in again before coming up again.

The arm-extension version may be easier to grade, East said.

"More or less, the point of it is to ensure that they are totally resting on the ground. We don't want them in a low hover over the ground," East said.

The arm-extension also "engages a little bit of the ... muscles in the back," East said, adding that "it is good to link movements together, so a pull-type movement and a push-type movement."

Both techniques achieve similar physical results, said Lt. Col. David Feltwell, the command physical therapist for the Center for Initial Military Training.

"Biomechanically, and from a combat specificity point of view, both work pretty well, but we really want to make sure we are getting a gradable event," he said.

              I like the fact that they are designing it with grading in mind because pushups done in a military physical fitness test are generally garbage, at least in my experience. Doing something to slow them down is a great idea. The way that the Army is approaching this re-design seems well-thought out. It will be a drastic change (which is never without problems) but in the long run I think that it will be a positive one.

But why not parallel bar dips? They work the same muscles but are generally a more challenging exercise which is easier to grade. The increased difficulty forces people to slow down which makes it easier to keep count. Dips get no respect in the world of military fitness and I don’t understand why.

CrossFit: Morning Chalk-Up did a breakdown of CrossFit affiliate growth. Obviously, the numbers are impressive.

Since Greg Glassman opened the first affiliate in 2001 in Santa Cruz, CA, CrossFit has exploded globally. Currently there are more than 15,000 locations in 162 countries.

Not only is CrossFit the largest fitness chain in the world, comparatively speaking, it’s also one of the largest and fastest growing corporate chains.

  1.  Subway — 42,998*

  2. McDonald’s — 37,200*

  3. Starbucks — 28,720*

  4. KFC — 20,404*

  5. Burger King — 16,859*

  6. Pizza Hut — 16,796*

  7. CrossFit — 15,500 (2018 approximate data)

  8. Domino’s Pizza — 15,000*

It’s nice to see a fitness company breaking up the list of fast food companies. More interesting was how CrossFit is looking outside the U.S. for current growth.

The growth of CrossFit affiliates as a whole has slowed down in recent years. Since 2015, affiliate growth has slowed in the United States down to about 2%-5% per year. Of affiliates that opened from 2012 – 2015, only approximately 62% are still open today.

However, it appears that pace is picking up again, especially internationally.

In the past 12 months, 2500 new affiliates registered with CrossFit; 820 were in the United States (32.8%), 1680 were opened internationally. And today, for the first time in CrossFit’s history there are more gyms located outside the United States.

CrossFit’s recent changes and renewed focus on affiliate growth and expansion makes sense given the continued growth of the brand internationally and the need to support new affiliates opening overseas.

I’ll be more explicit here. CrossFit is seeing most of its growth coming from overseas and wanted to have more CrossFit events outside of the U.S. But they found that organizing events on other continents to be prohibitively expensive. That meant that they needed to find other funding (through issuing debt or selling equity) or find some partners willing to organize events. Greg Glassman probably found the idea of selling debt/equity repugnant while there was already an ecosystem of competitions that were CrossFit in everything but name. That’s why we’re seeing CrossFit add so many international events because that’s where the future of CrossFit lies.

In other CrossFit news, Brent Fikowski is quitting his full-time job to focus on being a professional athlete. I have two thoughts on this. The first is that it is remarkable that Fikowski had been an anomaly up until this point: a CrossFit Game athlete who did something besides CrossFit. It is amazing that a sport so young can already support so many people to pursue it full-time. The second is that Mat Fraser was a college student in 2014 and 2015 when took 2nd place 2 years in a row. Then he graduated and began to focus on training full-time and started to dominate. Will we see a similar jump in performance from Fikowski that allows him to challenge Fraser for the top spot?

Finally, Lukas Hogberg failed to qualify for the Dubai CrossFit Championship. This is only a few months after taking 3rd place at the CrossFit Games so it is a surprising development. And I don’t think that this will be the last time that we see something like this. This is all brand new to the athletes. They have to figure out what their qualifying strategy will be and then see how their bodies respond to it. My guess is that Hogberg’s fitness didn’t bounce back after the Games the way that he had expected it to. There is going to some trial and error in the first couple of years. All the more reason to save those at-large qualifying spots for actual CrossFitters.

Tidbits:

-The founder of Lululemon has written a book

-It turns out that you can’t have too much of a good thing

-Where are they now: Jackie Warner