THE WEEKLY HOWL WANTS A RULE BOOK

Made in America: Inc. Magazine crowned Bird as its Company of the Year but Rogue Fitness was a contender for the crown and got a write-up. From Inc.

In 2006, Bill Henniger was holding down a full-time operations job at General Motors and working toward an MBA at the University of Michigan. But the Air Force veteran was still looking for a challenge. He found it in CrossFit, a full-body fitness regimen that combines interval training with high-intensity workouts involving movements like running and jumping performed with weights.

After completing his level one trainer certification at the original CrossFit location in Santa Cruz, California, Henniger decided to join CrossFit's affiliate program. He purchased the rights to open CrossFit studios, or "boxes," in Toledo and Columbus, Ohio, and set about building a personal CrossFit box in his Toledo garage. It wasn't easy: Even though CrossFit boxes are so named for their minimalist approach to equipment, Henniger still had to go through multiple distributors to procure the weights, bars, and racks he needed--a costly, time-consuming process. 

As all great entrepreneurs do, Henniger saw a problem and decided to build a business to solve it. Using only his own money, he launched Rogue Fitness as an online-only distributor, creating a convenient one-stop shop for outfitting CrossFit boxes of all sizes, from garages with a few dumbbells to larger studios' rowing machines and racks.

Now, 10 years later, Rogue Fitness is the leading manufacturer of American-made strength and training equipment. The company declined to disclose revenue, but this year increased its workforce to 600, up from 160 in 2012. It recently moved into a new headquarters where it designs, builds, stores, and distributes all of its equipment . The 600,000-square-foot campus is helping to revitalize the long-struggling Milo-Grogan neighborhood in downtown Columbus. Rogue's commitment to American manufacturing, its employees, and investing in the local economy made it a contender for Inc.'s 2018 Company of the Year.

In my opinion, Rogue Fitness does not get enough credit. I don’t think that CrossFit’s rapid expansion is possible without Rogue. It doesn’t get enough press either. It’s not some trendy tech startup, it’s something much better. They actually bend metal and make things. They’re doing undeniable good (making fitness more accessible). They’re manufacturing everything in the U.S.A. And they’re doing this via a marriage of the old school and new school economies (manufacturing and online distribution).

Although Rogue Fitness is hitting its stride in 2018, the company has by no means been an overnight success. Soon after launching Rogue as an equipment distributor, Henniger cashed out part of his 401(k), moved to Columbus, and opened Rogue Fitness Columbus. While the gym portion of the business took off, the distribution side ran into some issues. It was great for customers to be able to order their gym equipment from one place, but sourcing from multiple distributors meant inconsistent shipping times and costs. Henniger realized that the company needed more warehousing space, as well as to make its own equipment. And he knew he wanted it to be American-made.

By 2012, Henniger had made his manufacturing and distribution goals a reality. "The industry norm is six to eight weeks for racks and full gym outfitting," Henniger says. "We cut this down by 98 percent by stocking everything we make." CrossFit boxes can be any size and configuration, and have any combination of equipment. Rogue sells everything from dumbbells to exercise bikes, and lets shoppers custom-build boxes on its site. All of its orders ship in one business day.

              I acknowledge my own bias but Rogue is so much more interesting than another tech startup. Especially one that doesn’t seem concerned with the chaos that it causes. I would have loved to see Rogue win COY and not because I care about meaningless awards like this. I would have loved to read more about Rogue.

Motivation: Arnold Schwarzenegger has accomplished a lot in his life but it all started with fitness. Now he’s in 70’s and he’s fighting his way back into shape and he has a lot of thoughts on what’s right and what’s wrong with America’s relationship with fitness.

Hard work and sound science has been replaced by fads, false promises, and magic pills.

When you’re promised something like “rock hard abs in 28 days,” told one special tea is all you need to lose those last 10 pounds or bombarded with flashy advertisements passed off as legitimate information, it’s easy to see why so many people just throw up their hands and give up.

It’s time for the fitness industry to be honest with people. A healthier, fitter America starts with you. There is no gimmick. There is no shortcut. There is no magic pill. Everyone’s fitness journey will be unique, but a healthy lifestyle takes commitment, patience and motivation.

              One of the disappointing things about the Internet is that instead of democratizing information, it has spread misinformation. Fitness is huge on Instagram but how many influencers hawk sketchy supplements and diet teas? I am over-generalizing because it has never been easier to find good information but I would have hoped that the cream would have risen to the top by now. But it’s still the same mix of bad and good information that we had pre-internet. It’s just easier to access all that information now. 

Going through that process showed me that many people put too much faith in big moments, believing they’ll suddenly flip a switch and be healthier. There’s no such thing. A healthier future is every tiny step we take, or every little rep, that ultimately leads us to our goal. We all think we can do it alone, but no one does anything alone. As I always say, no one is self-made. We all need support — even Terminators.

So here’s my challenge to you: Don’t wait for New Year’s Resolutions. Don’t wait for your own heart surgery or emergency. Start right now. And ask a friend to join you.

I’m not asking you to reject all the delicious food you’ll see this holiday season, because I would never do that either. I’m simply asking you to be better tomorrow than you were today, every day, and to inspire someone you care about to join you. It’s a simple resolution and it’s not as sexy as having a six-pack, but it’s the key to fulfilling the unfulfilled promise of our fitness crusade and repairing this broken industry.

Don’t chase the next big thing. Be better. Today. That’s all. If you and your training partner walked 5,000 steps yesterday, walk 5,001 today. If you ate one vegetable yesterday, eat two tomorrow. If you did a pushup for the first time today, do two tomorrow.

              This is exactly right. People chase that flip moment and then crash and burn. They try to will themselves into becoming a “fitness person” but it doesn’t work like that. And those of us that are “fitness people” are really bad at articulating why and how we became that way. So other people waste a lot of time and energy looking for a fitness epiphany.

Do no harm: There is always a threat of injury during any form of physical activity. The answer is not to avoid physical activity or ignore the risk entirely. The answer is to mitigate that risk as much as possible. This is not always done. From the NY Post:

A Bronx woman wants her trendy Westchester County gym to fork over $2.5 million after a 400-pound tire crushed her ankle during a crazy workout.

Jeannette Burgos, 39, says she was in her “boot camp”-style fitness class at the Active Health and Fitness Club in Mount Vernon on Aug. 29 when two people working out nearby lost control of the John Deere tractor tire and it came crashing down on her leg.

Rolling and flipping oversized tires has become a workout trend among hardcore fitness buffs.

“Once they got the tire off my foot, I saw [the foot] was flipped to the opposite direction of my body. My toes were facing my back,” Burgos, who filed suit against the gym in Bronx Supreme Court, told The Post.

“I was screaming in pain and agony trying to get on that stretcher. My foot was just hanging.”

Burgos claims in her suit that the gym should have known to tread lightly around the big wheels — because instructor Emil Paolucci admitted that his own niece broke her wrist using the giant tire before the plaintiff was injured.

The gym and staff “should have known of the dangerous conditions that existed including … overcrowding of classes, using a dangerous item during class, and its need to adequately protect its patrons from such conditions,” charges Burgos’s lawsuit.

               Training with a 400 pound implement of any kind is going to carry a reasonably high level of risk. A tire is even worse because it was not designed with fitness in mind. The tire in question was designed for tractors. And this instructor had already seen his own niece get her wrist broken but still didn’t think that training with a John Deere tire was a bad idea? Unbelievable. Mitigating risk in this scenario would probably have been finding another exercise that provides a similar benefit using a standard weight like a barbell, sandbag, or kettlebell. A few years ago at the CrossFit Games, Rogue Fitness debuted their version of adjustable weight tires. I think that they were called pigs. Because then everyone doesn’t have to struggle with 400 pounds! 

This episode encapsulates a lot of what is wrong in the fitness industry. There is the urge to attract attention by using something big and flashy. There is the failure to mitigate risk or even appreciate the level of risk that you’re exposing people to. And then there is the failure or possibly lack of safety procedures. No one else should be within the fall radius of a 400 pound tire. And if you don’t have the room for this in your gym, don’t do it.

Pivot: Wearables is an interesting segment to watch right now because it is so immature. Everyone is still trying to figure out where the space is headed and what their place in it will be. Right now, there is a hard pivot to wellness. From Glossy:

 The wearables market has grown over the past decade, and now a new generation of tech wearables is looking to differentiate itself by looking to the buzzy wellness industry for growth.

The industry and definition of wellness has expanded to incorporate aspects of mental health, fitness and physical health, beauty and more, resulting in a new class of consumerism and ample opportunity for companies to tap into it. In the past few years, wearables brands Bellabeat, Oura and Motiv have launched, focusing more on a holistic approach to health and less on being performance-oriented. Instead of fitness bracelets, they’re packaged as necklaces, rings or water bottles. And, in addition to the usual sleep tracking, heart rate and pedometer functions, their features include guided meditation, menstrual-cycle tracking and integration with Amazon Alexa.

“You see so many fitness and wellness [wearable] brands right now, and they are uniquely aware of their competitors. They are thinking outside the box in order to be the best,” said Aimee Gaudin, international head of marketing at Smartech stores. U.K.-based Smartech is a retailer situated within luxury department store Selfridges and began selling Motiv rings on Nov. 15.

The Apple Watch isn’t even 4 years old but it’s already pivoted twice. Phase 1 was a fashion accessory. Phase 2 was a fitness tracker. Phase 3 is a health and wellness device that can track your sleep and be an EKG. I doubt that this evolution is complete. No one has discovered the killer app yet.

Streaming Wars: Everyone wants to be Peloton these days. The company is growing like crazy at the intersection of technology and fitness and inspiring a slew of imitators and iterators. An IPO beckons sometimes next year so Peloton is not looking to slow down anytime soon. From Fast Company:

On Wednesday, Peloton opened a new production studio dedicated to yoga and meditation in New York City. The programming will be helmed by yoga instructors Kristin McGee, Anna Greenberg, and Aditi Shah. This will be the company’s third studio space.

The yoga classes will span several varieties, including vinyasa-style yoga, a more rigorous and faster-paced “power yoga,” relaxing “restorative yoga,” as well as yoga basics. The meditation category also includes numerous options, such as guided visualizations, tutorials, and breath-focused classes.

Peloton members can now sign up for classes in the studio, but they will have to wait until December 26 to access live-streamed and on-demand classes. Classes are available to Peloton Bike and Tread owners, as well as Peloton Digital subscribers.

“As we did with the addition of Bootcamp, Running, Walking, and Outdoor earlier this year, we are continuing to expand our suite of superior fitness offerings in order to provide our members with an ever more diversified array of options to stay fit, happy, and healthy,” Fred Klein, chief content officer of Peloton, said in a statement.

              Peloton is making moves towards dominating the home streaming market. There are a lot of services out there trying to be the Netflix of fitness but Peloton is the leading contender to assume that mantle and they know it. A successful IPO could put them even farther ahead as it could boost their name recognition, prestige, and ability to raise cash. The Peloton IPO might even break free of the fitness curse. There are only a couple of publicly traded fitness companies. This means that investors and analysts don’t pay much attention to the industry or take the time to understand it which makes it hard to have a great IPO. Peloton has the potential to be thought of as more of a tech stock than a fitness stock, which would attract a lot more interest. Being thought of as a tech stock can also directly lead to a significantly higher valuation.

Rules: The calendar still reads 2018 but the 2019 CrossFit Games season has already begun in Dubai. The problem is that CrossFit Inc. still hasn’t formally laid out all the rules for the new qualifying process. From Morning Chalk-Up:

The only clear indication CrossFit HQ has given regarding the release date is before the 2019 CrossFit Open.

“How will nationality be determined for national champions in the Open?”

“What happens when an athlete qualifies on a team via a sanctioned event and then as an individual in the Open? If that athlete accepts their individual invitation, who takes that team’s place?”

“If an athlete wins two sanctioned events, who does the next invitation pass to?”

“Who is handling drug testing at these sanctioned events?”

“As it’s been stated previously, will the top 20 athletes worldwide in the Open qualify for the Games or will that number change?”

These are just a few of the questions we’ve heard athletes, coaches and event organizers vocalized in the three-and-a-half-months since we broke news of the changes.

Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that publicly over the past three-and-a-half months, HQ has done little to publicly assuage concerns, fears of rule changes, or provide answers to some of these basic questions.

I’ve been supportive of CrossFit’s changes to the qualifying process but this is ridiculous. Making a large scale change like CrossFit has will always be disruptive, there is no getting around that. That doesn’t mean that you never change, you suck it up and do it anyway but you do everything you can to minimize the confusion and disruption. This is not minimizing confusion. Starting the season without a rule book is really unfair to the athletes. It was always going to be hard for them to plan their year because the rules have completely changed. That sucks but again this doesn’t mean that you never make any changes. Changing the rules but not clearly communicating them makes it impossible for the athletes to plan their year out. They’re basically guessing. It’s going to invite chaos.

At this point, I would recommend to most prospective competitors to hedge their bets in the individual and team competitions but who knows what the rules about that will end up becoming. If an athlete qualifies for both the individual and team competition and chooses to compete individually, will that invalidate the team’s qualification or will they be allowed to substitute? And CrossFit does not have the best record when it comes to managing ambiguity around its own rules. I hope that doesn’t happen here because the athletes deserve better.

Tidbits:

-This is terrifying

-Planet fitness stock is still surging

-“In particular, the increased activity observed in POMC neurons persisted for two days after a single bout of exercise”

-The fountain of youth