THE WEEKLY HOWL IS GOING TO THE DESERT

No one likes change: Morning Chalk-Up published an op-ed from Chyna Cho on the changes to the qualifying process for the CrossFit Games. It was a fascinating peek into the mindset of a top CrossFit athlete as they’re figuring out how to adjust.

However, you just have to roll with the punches. I’ve dealt with changes before. First the Regionals changed from NorCal and SoCal into California, and we went from six spots to five spots—at the time I was terrified of that. Then we went from the California Regional to the West Regional, and we went from 10 spots down to five spots.

In the end, though, how you feel doesn’t really matter. If I’m angry, that doesn’t give me more opportunities, if I’m sad about it, it doesn’t make me any more fit or any better. You just have to be like, “Well, I hope my fitness is good enough.” And keep doing what you’re doing. I don’t think anything changes just because there are fewer spots.

              None of this was ever set in stone. The process was always changing as the sport exploded. This is the most radical change yet but you’re still going to have to do CrossFit things to qualify for the CrossFit Games. However, you might have to do those things in another country. I am less concerned with the notion of fairness than I am with the learning curve involved in navigating a completely different process. Devising a strategy for qualifying is not so clear-cut and I think that there will be a lot of lessons learned in the first couple of years. In the long-run, everyone will adapt and the best athletes will qualify. In the short-run, there might be chaos.

Right now my plan is to go to Wodapalooza on a team. The rules now say you can qualify for the Games on a team and still qualify individually. I think it’s a good option just in case, so that’s my plan for Wodapalooza.

Then I will try to qualify as an individual in the Open. This year the top 20 in the world qualify for the Games, and I’ve been in the top 30 worldwide the last three years (Cho placed 28th in 2018, 23rd in 2017, and 35th in 2016), so it’s not a super long shot. I would love to do that because then I wouldn’t have to travel. That gets expensive. If that doesn’t work out, then I will definitely try to go to a qualifier and try to peak for that.

My training didn’t change a lot after the announcement about the Games. There’s more focus on the Open now, and the Open is traditionally classic CrossFit. You have to have a really good engine and you have to be good at all the basic movements like thrusters, pull-ups, wall balls, and double-unders. In the Open they are not going to film someone running 10 miles. You have to be good at Fran, you have to be good at all the basics. I’ve done a little less swimming and running and odd object things since I heard those changes, but intensity wise, timing wise, mentally, it’s all the same.

              Cho’s plan makes a lot of sense. She’s going to hedge her bets between the individual and the team competition and make qualifying through the Open her Plan A. If she fails to do that, she will have time to make a concerted attempt (or even 2) at a sanctioned event. My question is how CrossFit is going to manage all the athletes who qualify as both individuals and team members. Maybe there won’t be that many people who qualify for both but I think that a lot of athletes are probably approaching the upcoming like Cho is. With all this uncertainty, athletes are going to want to make sure that they have punched their ticket to Madison in some form.

              There is also a move to make it easier for athletes to make multiple qualifying attempts. Wodapalooza announced that it would partner with the Brazil CrossFit Championship in order to allow the top 4 male and female finishers as well as the top team from Miami automatic entry into the field in Sao Paulo. From Morning Chalk-Up:

The BCC qualifiers — January 30 – February 3, 2019 — start on the final day of Wodapalooza making participation from athletes competing in Miami nearly impossible.

With the partnership, it now creates yet another avenue for the sport’s biggest stars to parlay strong competition performances into more opportunities throughout the season in the event they come up just short of a coveted qualifying spot.

It’s opportunities like this that Olschewski believes will be major benefit for both athletes and fans alike. “The Brazil CrossFit Championship, taking place in the center of the Latin American CrossFit community, is expected to be a huge spectator event and thus it makes sense to have some of the best athletes in the world compete in Sao Paulo: Having passionate crowds of fans push the best athletes through exciting events. That is what part of the sport should be about.”

Similar to other competitions, when athletes decline their invitation is passed onto the next in line. Presumably because the individual winners and team will decline due to already qualifying for the Games, their spot will be given to the next highest placing athlete and team.

              It’s good to see the people involved in this thinking ahead and trying to make the transition less painful for the athletes.

Wild West: Boxrox interviewed Kelli Holm, a CrossFit athlete in the 35-39 age group who recently tested positive for endurabol but had her ban reduced after an appeal.

Why was your ban reduced?

My ban was reduced because we were able to prove via a third-party supplement testing company that the supplement was contaminated with the same substance for which I tested positive. We also provided additional documentation to support my case.

What steps do you think could be taken in the future to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t keep happening for athletes?

The thing that CrossFit emphasized the most to me during this process was the importance of third-party testing of supplements (if you choose to take supplements at all). So, increasing awareness among athletes around third-party testing would theoretically help to prevent this in the future. What’s interesting is that I thought I was being careful in choosing my supplements, and most of them were third party tested. This particular supplement was just so widely used, commonly seen at CrossFit events, and sponsoring CrossFit athletes, that I naively figured the company as a whole was safe. And that decision falls on me – I own that for sure and don’t blame anyone else.

I also think there may be room for more formal education around it from CrossFit. Other professional sports provide mandatory education around anti-doping for their athletes, and it could be something worth considering for CrossFit. (Picture something like the Online Judges Course for the Open, but around safe supplementation practices and related topics instead of judging.) With all the changes at CrossFit HQ right now, I’m not sure if that’s something they would considering investing in, but one could argue that it would be worthwhile if they want to continue to hold athletes to the zero-tolerance standard and maintain such severe penalties, regardless of the circumstances.

Without getting lost in the weeds here, I would also love if there were a way to hold supplement companies more accountable for what they put into their products. I don’t have a particular solution for it, I just have realized over the past couple of months how prevalent this issue is and how little we can do about it. I have no problem with holding athletes accountable, but it’s fascinating the way we manage to criticize athletes for their role in it, and then throw up our hands at the role supplement companies play.

              I find it surprising that there are so many high-level athletes who still think it’s safe to take supplements. The supplement industry is completely unregulated and has been for decades. There is no oversight for what goes into all those powders and pills. It’s the Wild West. I have been reading stories of athletes testing positive and blaming tainted supplements for decades as well. None of this is new territory. Arnold Schwarzenegger just launched a supplement company to address this issue. From Men’s Health:

Ladder aims to change how you view food supplements. It hits the crowded protein market with a direct-to-consumer model that skips the middle man (sorry, GNC) and a promise to personalize your nutrition. “The idea is not to overwhelm people with these huge cans of protein, stuff they didn’t know what to do with, how many scoops to put in,” the 71-year-old bodybuilding icon tells Men's Health.

You don’t buy a giant tub of protein from Ladder. Instead, you head to the company website and fill out a questionnaire. Ladder then ships you packages of protein tuned to your specific needs and body type.

It’s an idea that Schwarzenegger got a few years ago from James, whom he’s known for 20 years. After struggling through the 2014 NBA Finals, James decided to start developing his own food supplements—supplements designed for his body chemistry and made from ingredients he could trust. When he mentioned that to Schwarzenegger, the action hero was instantly intrigued.

“He explained to me that the whole idea behind it was that he cannot afford to be tested and not pass a drug test,” Schwarzenegger said. “I found that fascinating, because that was always my complaint about the (protein) products, that they don’t know what is in this. You know that, ‘OK, this is protein or this is whey protein or this is milk protein or this is egg protein. You know that, but you don’t know exactly what is in it.”

 That idea also appealed to Vonn, a world-class skier who, much like LeBron, can't afford to fail a test. Crawford, who has plenty of experience marketing products, joined soon after. "It was kind of organic," says Schwarzenegger. "There was no deadline. We never even thought about, you know, starting a company, until awhile back. And so here we are."

              I do think that Kelli Holm has a point that there should be some level of education regarding anti-doping. It’s only fair that everyone who competes in the sport understands that CrossFit has a zero tolerance policy regarding banned substances and that you’re rolling the dice if you take any supplement without testing it first. As for holding supplement companies accountable, that will probably never happen. From The Atlantic:

While it costs millions of dollars to develop and substantiate a pharmaceutical product, selling supplements requires no such investment. And new products are easily sold as supplements: The only common feature among them, as defined by the FDA, is that these are edible things “not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases.”

That is why people take them, though.

This expansive category was set forth in the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act of 1994, known as DSHEA, which passed on Kessler’s watch. Backed by Senator Orrin Hatch and enormous investment from the supplement industry, the law allows any of these products to go directly to market and carry unfounded claims about what the product does. The burden is on the FDA to prove that the product is unsafe, if it later proves to be harming people, and then take the producer to court.

“When there's a problem, FDA does take action, and usually it's when there is a contaminant,” explained Margaret Hamburg, who served as FDA commissioner from 2009 to 2015. She noted that while companies are required to report any known “severe” adverse effects of their products, “it's very hard to even know what's going on.”

              Because the burden of proof is on the FDA, they’re only going to do anything when it becomes a safety issue. They don’t have the time or the budget to investigate why a couple of athletes tested positive. The best thing that you can do is break free of the supplement habit. They’re not getting regulated anytime soon.

Stay Well: The Atlantic sent James Hamblin out to the desert to find himself. His destination was the Wellspring wellness festival in Palm Springs. The festival was a gathering of a couple thousand of fitness and wellness enthusiasts who could afford to shell out $1000 and travel to Palm Springs. If that sounds like it could be a bit elitist, it was. But to the credit of the participants, they were very aware of that and concerned about the implications.

Elitism was a hot point of contention and discussion among attendees. The convention center was literally divided into two camps: One wing held the expo, with its many aforementioned products, while some 100 yards away a separate wing housed stages where speakers condemned wanton consumerism.

“A significant cost is the association of wellness with money—thinking you need something external, tinctures and potions and balms. Its, you know, it’s the stuff that’s here,” said the Zen priest Angel Kyodo Williams, the second of only four black women recognized as teachers in the Japanese Zen lineage, during a talk in the latter wing as she gestured in the direction of the expo. “And there’s nothing wrong with those things, but we have a psychic connection that wellness equals something I can purchase, something I’m in competition for, something that I have to acquire because it’s not intrinsic to me.”

Also:

Wellness isn’t just gendered. Most of the products and services that define the industry are clearly marketed toward young, thin, toned, ambulatory women who are white. Some speakers were blunt about the fact that wellness is often synonymous with—and sometimes a proxy for—whiteness. One panel was literally called “Wellness Beyond Whiteness,” in which it was decided that wellness needed to be totally reconciled into something for everyone—not to simply be “inclusive” or “bring people to the table,” but to demolish the table and, as with any growing movement, keep building new tables.

The old “bring people to the table” metaphor rang especially egregious to the artist and writer Anasa Troutman, who had a similarly revelatory vision for wellness: “Unless we’re willing to make a commitment to community, we will never be well. Even if you wake up every morning and drink your juice and do your yoga, without that commitment to each other we will not be well as a country and as a world,” Troutman said.

And:

This is at odds with the consumerist bent to wellness. If the movement indeed rejects the quick-fix products, which seems infeasible, it’s unclear what wellness is to become. If wellness is actually essentially the inverse of consumerism, and nearly synonymous with connectedness and wholeness and feeling complete, then the industry will need a new way to monetize.

Wellness is such a broad and holistic idea. Fitness is much more contained but shares a lot of the same problems. It is also becoming a privilege of the affluent and suffers from a rash of people selling unnecessary products. I worry that people think that they need something external in order to get fit. I don’t think that fitness is the inverse of consumerism but I hate the idea that people might be discouraged from pursuing their fitness goals because they assume that they need a lot of money to do so. Fitness needs to be more inclusive as well.

I would love to get a non-American view on this because there seems to be this underlying assumption that everything has to be monetized. Just because you have a good idea, does that automatically mean that you have to figure out a way to get rich from it?

Shiver Yourself Thin: It’s no great insight that people love the idea of fitness shortcuts. Those who don’t work-out dream of a magic pill, something that would give them the benefits of exercise without all the sweat and toil. Those who do work-out dream of some way to trick their body into working harder or recovering better than it does naturally. This can lead people down some very strange roads. You might see it in a person running in 3 pairs of sweats on an 80 degree day. Or in a person working out with a mask designed to simulate conditions at altitude. The latest buzz has been exercising in the cold. The idea is that your body has to use more energy in order to keep you warm which will burn more calories, right? Not really. From Vox:

Now here’s the rub: These processes only kick in to keep you warm when you’re truly cold. But once you start exercising — running or cross-country skiing, for instance — outside, you’re going to start generating heat from the physical activity. And the exercise alone may give you enough heat that your body wouldn’t burn any extra calories through shivering and brown fat.

That’s why you can go running in very cold temperatures wearing a light sweater and pants, but if you were just sitting around outside in the same cold climate, you’d need to bundle up in a heavy jacket and hat, or you’d start to shiver, to stay warm, Pontzer explained.

“The best way to use the cold to burn more calories would be to not exercise while you're outdoors,” Pontzer added. “You'd get your brown fat cooking and making heat, and might even start shivering, all of which burns calories.”

Now, it is possible to get those energy-burning heating processes going while exercising. Cypess imagined a scenario where a person is exercising in subzero temperatures, and wearing light enough clothes, that the exercise alone isn’t keeping him warm, and thermogenesis kicks in.

But even in that case, you’d only burn a few additional calories at best, Cypess said. In studies where he’s put participants in cold rooms for entire days, they burned off an additional 150 to 200 calories. Again, that’s a full day of cold — not an hour’s worth of outdoor activity.

You can’t trick your body into working harder during exercise. You are already working hard. You can’t work extra hard without any additional effort. If you’re running 7:00 minute miles, you can’t get the benefit of running 6:30 miles without putting in the effort to run 6:30 miles.

Umbrella Company: Club Industry interviewed Anthony Geisler, the CEO of Xponetial, the private equity-backed company that is gobbling up boutique fitness brands. He gave a peek into his strategy and how he views the industry.

With seven boutique brands in different verticals now in its stable, Geisler is on his way to including a brand under Xponential from each of the eight cores he sees in the boutique market: Pilates, barre, cycling, rowing, yoga, stretch and dance. The eighth core is running, he said, noting that he is in pursuit of a running brand but not divulging the potential acquisition. 

              What about HIIT? Or cardio kick-boxing? They seem like more a core in the boutique market than running.

Also:

The portfolio of Xponential brands allow landlords to create a “fit row” at their strip malls while working with one company instead of dealing with multiple companies, Geisler said. Xponential has already created next-door-neighbor offering in several cities, including in Orange County, California, where a Row House is located next to a Club Pilates and in Louisville, Kentucky, where a CycleBar stands next to a Club Pilates.

Having studios in close proximity to each other is a win-win-win—for landlords (who need to fill their brick and mortar spaces), Xponential (who wants to sell more franchises) and members (who want easy access to multiple fitness options).

Another win for members is a pass that allows them to upgrade their memberships so they can attend classes at more than one Xponential studio brand.

              There is so much potential here in linking together a bunch of boutiques. Co-locating gives consumers a central location and helps landlords fill those big spaces. Having a bunch of boutiques under the same corporate umbrella could lead to some sort of master boutique membership. That’s why it’s even more surprising that Xponetial doesn’t consider HIIT a core discipline. None of the current brands in the Xponetial portfolio contain strength-training. That’s the missing piece to a complete fitness picture.

              Geisler also had some thoughts on fitness fads:

Anyone who thinks that the studio trend will cool because people will tire of paying for a singular activity may not want to voice that opinion to Geisler. He has heard that “garbage” for 16 to 17 years, he said, even back to his LA Boxing days when people called boxing a fad.

“I don’t know when this downfall is coming or when this ‘fad’ is over,” he said. “I heard that Pilates was a fad. I have heard it all. Yoga was a fad until it was a staple. I just don’t know why it’s going to go away.”

              Amen brother.

What’s Swedish for fitness: I just wanted to share this bit of news: Ikea is collaborating with Adidas on home fitness solutions. From Architectural Digest:

Of course, it wouldn’t be a trend unless IKEA is partaking, and sure enough, the retailer announced an upcoming collaboration with Adidas on a collection to make exercising at home easier, and at a good price point. “We know the home plays an important role in creating lifelong habits both for adults and children,” said Josefine Aberg, Adidas’s VP of Design, Training at the Ikea Democratic Design Days last June. “So we will really be looking at how we can make fitness fit into their home environment, and how it can be a part of their daily routine.” While there is no specific launch date for the collection, the two megabrands have been popping into real households to learn where the challenges lie, primarily with space restrictions. But if there’s any company that can solve a small space problem, it’s IKEA, so look out for whole new ways to build buns of steel from the comfort of your living room.

              I am curious what this will look like because working out at home typically requires more open space, not more furniture. The one direction that I could see this going is into furniture that allows consumers to store their fitness equipment out of sight. A credenza that has a dumbbell rack inside it or something like that. Somehow, I doubt that they do anything really cool like an armoire with a pop-out pull-up bar but you never know.

Tidbits:

-A brief history of the Turkey Trot

-The U.S. Army is starting a functional fitness competition team

-Sir Mix-A-Lot was ahead of his time

-Eat your vegetables

-User beware

-Don’t forget to stretch