THE WEEKLY HOWL IS GOING TO AUSTRALIA

Athleisure: The talk of the fashion world these days is athleisure. Clothes originally designed for the gym are bleeding over into casual wear and even office wear. While this may seem like a new phenomenon, Derek Thompson at The Atlantic has documented how almost everything we wear was derived from active wear.

Let’s look at a couple of specific examples beyond tennis shoes: sport coats, polo shirts, and shorts. For each item, the influence of athletics sticks out like a popped collar.

The first sport coats were adopted by 19th-century Europeans and Britons who enjoyed hunting or horseback riding but found such activities difficult in a typical suit jacket. Young American students borrowed the style with a few tweaks, sometimes pairing sport coats with non-matching pants to play outdoor sports like golf.

What we call a “polo shirt” was originally known as a “tennis shirt.” In the 1920s, the Frenchman René Lacoste was a Grand Slam–champion tennis player who was dissatisfied with the era’s typical athletic garb, which featured long sleeves. To make it easier to scamper around the courts of France, he designed a short-sleeved cotton shirt that could be loosened by unbuttoning part-way down the front, with a starched collar that players could turn up to protect their necks against the sun. (Most recognizably, Lacoste, who was known as “the crocodile” on the court, emblazoned the left breast of the shirt with an image of his nickname.) The shirt was a hit. Other companies, like Brooks Brothers in the United Kingdom, adopted a similar design for polo players, who sought the same breathable shirt. When Ralph Lauren launched his clothing line in the 1970s, he put an image of a polo player on the breast pocket. Thus, a shirt designed for French tennis was co-opted for British polo and gobbled up by preppy Americans, who now use the term polo shirt to describe, without a second’s thought, an everyday article of clothing that is as athletic in its origins as “yoga pants.”

Shorts were perhaps sportswear’s most popular offering, Clemente writes in Dress Casual, a history of early-20th-century American style. Shorts started as gym garb, adored by coeds and despised by their elders. In 1930, a group of newspaper editors at Dartmouth College organized a campus-wide Shorts Protest calling for men to “lounge forth to the supreme pleasure of complete leg freedom.” Readers were encouraged to “bring forth your treasured possession—be it tailored to fit or old flannels delegged.” They brought forth, alright. By mid-century, shorts on American men were nearly as ubiquitous as buzz cuts.

              It’s interesting to see how the function has shaped the form like that. As an active lifestyle is driven more by fitness than specific sports, it is interesting to imagine how much fitness has already influenced fashion and will continue to do so in the future. I don’t know enough about fashion to predict what the next trend will be. We’ve already seen sneakers, sweatshirts, yoga pants, and shorts. Maybe a bigger influx of stretchable and breathable fabrics.

Gym Class Hero: Gym class is kind of a weird thing and I don’t say that because it has been disappearing from schools. While I think that it is important for children to get some exercise during the school day, there should be a greater goal of education built into it. I love playing dodgeball as much as the next guy but it doesn’t teach our kids anything lasting. From The Chicago Tribune:

“You have a lot more control over what you do in gym class now,” she said. “You get to choose what kind of workouts work best for you and how you want to shape your health routine and your body.”

Gym class, she said, “is much more personalized.”

That, Airola said, is the goal.

Sandburg, in Orland Park, began the school year with 40 new spin bikes, newly purchased heart monitors for 1,500 kids and a redesigned class schedule.

“We’re trying to get away from some of the things we all went through (as kids),” he said. “Sports aren’t everybody’s thing.

“Kids need to be given an opportunity to try something new, something different,” he said. The activities they learn and confidence they master in high school, he said, can carry with them throughout their lives.

Also:

The district, one of only a handful in the state to offer SCUBA to its students, is currently piloting a course for freshmen at Shepard High School called “Connecting to Wellness,” that combines physical education and health.

“Students are with the same teacher all year and every couple of weeks they flip between the classroom and PE settings rather than taking one semester of PE and then one semester of health,” VanRaden said. “The hope is that students will be able to transfer what they’re learning in the classroom to what they’re doing in P.E. and vice versa.”

At Sandburg, Airola said students are using the heart monitors to adjust their workout.

“This technology helps them take ownership of their progress,” Airola said.

In strength and conditioning class, kids rotate among stations where they toss medicine balls, flip tires and whip battle ropes up and down.

“It felt like we were getting a little bit stale just doing a couple days of cardio and then three days of weight training,” Airola said. “We needed to spice things up, to get kids more engaged. So every other week, they do this at least once a week.”

              This is fantastic. Playing sports is fun but how many adults continue to play team sports on a regular basis. Most adults who want to stay in shape go to the gym so we should start exposing kids to exercises that they will actually use when they get older. I also love that they’re incorporating classroom sessions into this as well. Fitness is a black box to the majority of Americans. We need to de-mystify it and the best way to do that is by having some form of fitness education in our schools. The sad thing is that Illinois is the only state that still requires PE. Instead of reforming PE in our school, schools are eliminating PE because of funding issues.  It’s a shame because we need to be doing more to fight the obesity epidemic not less.

Boutiques: Fitness has never had much of a presence in publicly traded markets but there has been increased interest from private equity firms. Most of those firms have been acquiring fitness companies with the standard PE motivation of flipping the acquired company for a profit within a few years. TPG has taken a different strategy: amassing a portfolio of boutique fitness brands under the Xponetial Fitness banner. And this week, they picked up another one. From Health Club Management:

Xponential Fitness has acquired Pure Barre, one of the largest barre franchises in the US – making it the seventh business in Xponential's rapidly growing portfolio of fitness brands.

Founded in 2001 by dancer and choreographer Carrie Rezabek Dorr, Pure Barre has more than 517 studios throughout the US and Canada. The chain has expanded rapidly since launching its franchised operations in 2009.

"Pure Barre sets the standard for barre workouts not only in the US, but globally as well," said Anthony Geisler, CEO of Xponential Fitness.

"The addition of Pure Barre to our already robust portfolio of brands enhances our company and establishes Xponential as the number one curator of the best brands in the boutique fitness industry."

              Watching PE firms gobble up fitness companies is interesting because you think about the exit strategy. There isn’t a strong demand for fitness in the public markets and the industry is so fragmented that even the big players aren’t that big. That doesn’t rule out IPO’s but it doesn’t make them super-attractive either. And there aren’t many if any strategic buyers. That leaves flipping companies to other PE firms as the most likely exit strategy. Which is kind of like flipping a house and then selling it to another flipper. What is the next guy going to get out of it that the first guy didn’t?

              Xponetial is trying to create value by assembling this companies. That’s interesting because it’s different. No one else has brands in all the major boutique disciplines. The big question is how Xponetial will tie them together. The CEO has talked about attracting “franchisees who may want to own several different exercise “modalities” in a single market”. I think that there is potential to create some kind of umbrella membership, a closed garden version of ClassPass, so that people can train at multiple boutiques. Either way, this gives TPG a lot of options for its fitness holdings. Keep an eye on Xponetial.

Global Domination: Six more CrossFit sanctioned events were announced this week. Following the trend, there was a strong international representation in this batch as well. From Barbend:

1. Australian CrossFit Championship

This qualifier is set to take place in January 2019 in Queensland, Australia. For this competition, there will be an online qualifier to select the 32 men and women, and 16 teams who will be invited to compete. The top placing woman, man, and team will qualify for the 2019 CrossFit Games.

2. Asia CrossFit Championship

The Asia CrossFit Championship is set to take place in April 2019, and will be China’s first ever CrossFit Games qualifying competition. In CrossFit, Inc.’s press release Max Ma owner of One Nation Huaihai states, “With event programming from CrossFit Games athletes Austin Malleolo, Spencer Hendel and James Hobart, the Asia CrossFit Championship is not one not to miss.”

3. Reykjavik CrossFit Championship

This qualifier is set to take place in May of 2019 and Annie Thorisdottir is serving as the Championship’s director. The top placing man, woman, and team will earn a ticket to the 2019 CrossFit Games. Thorisdottir states in the press release, “Building on the tradition of Icelandic strongmen and women, the competition will be varied and exciting.”

4. Down Under CrossFit Championship

The Down Under CrossFit Championship will be taking placing in May of 2019 in Wollongong, Australia. The Down Under CrossFit Championship’s director Mick shaw states, “This year, the Down Under CrossFit Championship will incorporate some of the scenic settings of Wollongong into the events to create a diverse and challenging event.”

5. Pandaland CrossFit Championship (2020 CrossFit Games)

The Pandaland CrossFit Championship will serve as a qualifier for the 2020 CrossFit Games. This competition is set to take place in December 2019 in Sichuan Province, China. Pandaland CrossFit Championship Director Zhu Chen states in the press release, “We are ready to share our love of history, culture, and sport, and of course, celebrate the growth of the Chinese CrossFit community with the rest of the world.”

              The 6th event is the Rogue Invitational, a new event that will be held at Rogue Fitness HQ in Columbus, OH in May. Let’s check the 2019 breakdown by continent:

North America – 4 (Granite Games, Rogue Invite, Mid-Atlantic CrossFit Challenge, Wodapalooza)

South America – 1 (Brazil CrossFit Champs)

Europe – 5 (Strength in Depth, French Throwdown, Italian Showdown, Lowlands Throwdown, Reykjavik CrossFit Champs)

Asia – 2 (Dubai CrossFit Champs, Asian CrossFit Champs)

Australia – 2 (Australian CrossFit Champs, Down Under CrossFit Champs)

Africa -1 (Fittest in Capetown)

              There are also 2 events that will join the 2020 slate: Pandaland CrossFit Challenge and SouthFit CrossFit Challenge. The 2020 breakdown is as follows:

North America – 4

South America – 2

Europe – 5

Asia – 3

Australia – 2

Africa – 1

              2 events in Australia? That’s a strong representation for the forgotten continent. And it is surprising to see more events in Europe than there are in North America. And no Canadian event? From Barbend:

Let’s address the elephant in the room, but out of the 16 announced qualifiers, there have been none set to take place in Canada, and that’s got us wondering if there actually will be more than 16 sanctioned events.

After all, Canada has a very strong CrossFit community and has had multiple athletes place in the top three at the Games in recent years (ex: Brent Fikowski and Patrick Vellner). If CrossFit is trying to include every community across the globe, then it only makes sense that Canada hosts at least one qualifier, right?

              That would make sense. CrossFit made sure to include an event in Iceland, reflecting the small country’s outsized contribution to the sport. Perhaps there is another event to be announced in the Great White North. All in all, this seems like a blueprint for spreading CrossFit across the globe. The company has shrewdly used the sport of CrossFit to raise awareness and promote the fitness of CrossFit. Now they’re going to expand this strategy to the rest of the world. 

She Blinded Me With Science: One of my guidelines for learning about fitness is to take into account any bias or conflict of interest that the “expert” might have. This extends to researchers as well which is something that CrossFit has been exposing recently. Researchers need grant money and they often get it from companies that sell the thing that they are researching. Marion Nestle has written a book (Unsavory Truth) on the conflicts of interest in food science and she sat down for an interview with Vox:

Julia Belluz

You make a strong case in the book that the food industry has borrowed from the tobacco industry when it comes to using science for marketing purposes and avoiding regulation.

Marion Nestle

The tobacco industry, knowing full well that research linked cigarette smoking to lung cancer risk, embarked on a strategy to cast doubt on that research and stave off regulation. Cigarette companies gave gifts to researchers, funded researchers, found ways to support them so they would cast doubt on research suggesting harm and push the uncertainty. The companies worked behind the scenes to convince Congress that there were enough doubts about the research that regulations weren’t needed.

Food is much more complicated than tobacco, but some food trade associations have adopted the “cast doubt” playbook. The American Beverage Association insists that sugar-sweetened beverages have no role in obesity or Type 2 diabetes, for example, despite much suggestive evidence that they do.

Also:

Julia Belluz

What advice do you have for consumers who are bombarded with and trying to make sense of food and exercise claims? What should they look out for?

Marion Nestle

Please be a bit skeptical. If the title of a study suggests that a food is performing something miraculous, especially for multiple conditions, it’s good to ask who paid for it. No one food can perform miracles, alas. Diets are complicated, people are complicated, lifestyles are complicated.

Other things that should set off red flags: “breakthrough” and my favorite, “Anything you thought you knew about nutrition is wrong.” That’s not how science works.

If you want to eat healthfully, it’s not very hard. Eat your vegetables and fruits, don’t eat too much, and don’t eat a lot of junk food. And, of course, don’t smoke cigarettes, drink too much alcohol, or take drugs.

Variety and processing are the big issues in food. The best advice is to eat as wide a variety of unprocessed foods as possible and to stay active. That’s all it takes to get the nutrients you need and do what you can to stay healthy.

            The one thing that she left out was if something seems too good to be true, then it’s probably not. This is where “A couple of alcoholic drinks a day are actually good for you” comes in. This is also a good way to think about fitness. There are a lot of people that want to sell you on some exercise(s) that will perform miracles. Always think about their motivation and take whatever they say with a grain of salt. It’s very hard to come up with a breakthrough in fitness. The most effective stuff is the old school stuff.

Tidbits:

-You can buy fake weights on the internet in order to impress people on social media

-What is fitness?

-Under Armour’s Connected Fitness division used to be big and unprofitable, now it’s small and profitable

-Netflix and Motivate

-Everyone loves yoga pants