Fitness Trackers: FitBit is in a bit of a bind. They are one of the first names that come to mind when anyone mentions fitness trackers but the industry is barbell-ing. Apple is taking over the high-end with its line of Apple Watches and foreign companies are taking over the low-end with very cheap trackers. So what is a mid-size hardware company to do then? Launch a line of fitness trackers that are designed for children. From TechCrunch:

The Ace was inevitable. Sure, Fitbit is leaning into smartwatches with today’s launch of the Versa, but the company’s current line of fitness trackers left a key demographic unserved. The new wearable, which is essential a scaled down version of the company’s entry level Alta tracker, is aimed squarely at kids aged eight to 13.

              My pet theory is that fitness trackers are following the same path as smartphones. This would make the Ace the Microsoft Kin of fitness tracking. What’s that you say, you don’t remember the Microsoft Kin? That’s because it was a short-lived disaster. In 2010, Microsoft tried to sell a phone built around social networks that would appeal to teenagers. What was never clear was how this was different from a true smartphone. The Kin was a quasi-smartphone that still required a full-priced data plan. It made no sense and it was never clear why teenagers would want one. It was a product made for no one.

              Tech products don’t need to be designed for specific age groups. Especially if you are trying to sell that product to young people. Young people tend to be more proficient with technology than older people so why would you try to sell them a less sophisticated product? Maybe you’re thinking that parents will want to save a few bucks when buying a fitness tracker for their kids. Well then, you shouldn’t price it at $99. The thing is though that underneath this ill-advised hardware launch is the future of FitBit: software.

The biggest differentiators here are on the software side. Parents can add to the ace to a family account on their own mobile device to track their kids’ activity. The app will also let them vet the friends they add for competing fitness goals and limit the information kids see on their own app, if they device. If the kid has a phone, the Ace will also display call notifications.  

              This makes sense but it doesn’t require manufacturing a separate line of hardware. FitBit needs to focus on this kind of software innovation. They have a strong brand and an intimate knowledge of the fitness tracking market. Unfortunately, they have the misfortune of competing with Apple in hardware right now. 

Where there’s smoke: A couple of weeks ago, Strava found itself at the center of a national security controversy over its heat map. The heat map was illustrating routes that were getting a lot of use by Strava users. This was a worldwide map and people were able to identify forward operating bases in Afghanistan as well as where American service members were walking and running on military bases. Strava is still trying to figure out how to deal with this. From Reuters:

Strava is launching a new version of the heat map, a tool that displays data in map form, that will bar access to street-level details to anyone but registered Strava users, Strava Chief Executive James Quarles told Reuters. 

Roads and trails with little activity will not show up on the revised map until several different users upload workouts in that area, the company said. The map will also be refreshed monthly to remove data people have made private. 

Security experts previously spotted on Strava’s map what they believed to be the movements of U.S. soldiers in Africa and of people who work at a suspected Taiwanese missile command, all of whom had shared workouts apparently without realizing the implications.

              Why do I feel like Strava would be better off just scrapping the heat map altogether? I still think that Strava doesn’t quite grasp the challenges of protecting its users’ privacy with its own ambition of becoming the social network for exercise. I suppose that they are embracing the Silicon Valley mantra of moving fast and worrying about the consequences later.

Inclusivity: Have you ever felt like an outsider? At some point in your life, have you ever felt like you didn’t belong wherever you were? It can be a profoundly alienating experience that makes you want to withdraw even more from your environment and the people around you. Most of us have experienced that at some point in our lives. But if you’re reading this, then odds are that you don’t feel that way when you walk into a gym. Most likely, you feel like you belong there and you may even feel like you’re part of a community. However, the fitness world makes a lot of people feel like outsiders. From the Washington Post:

Many folks who eschew regular workouts have said they are really avoiding the recurrence of painful past experiences, such as fellow gym-goers blatantly mocking them, trainers saying their physical efforts weren’t good enough and street harassment for simply taking a walk outside. One new mother described to me her wonder that the glares she experienced ceased only when she had a newborn in tow.

The prevailing myth about overweight and obese people is that if they just worked harder, they would become thin, but that’s actually not a typical outcome. Jennifer Kuk, a kinesiologist and associate professor at York University, says, “Weight management science is very complex, and much of how the body responds to weight-loss attempts is outside human control.”

On any typical day, higher-weight people may have to put extra emotional labor into getting mentally prepared to take on our appearance-driven fitness culture. Even a locker-room comment of “I’ve seen you here a few times. Keep up the good work!” can feel condescending.

              The gym can be an intimidating place. There is no doubt about that. If I was an overweight or obese person, then I don’t think that I would feel comfortable in a gym. We need a culture change and not just the fitness culture. We need our entire culture to change in the way that we view and treat overweight people. The other thing that we can do is to stop focusing so much on weight. Instead we should focus on what our bodies can do. Everyone is not built to run marathons and have six-pack abs. Some people are built to lift heavy things. That can be a source of confidence and pride and it’s a lot better than feeling shame for not being able to conform to what society considers an attractive body type.  

Motivation: For a lot of people, there is only one measurement that matters when it comes to their fitness: their weight. Is this an antiquated and deeply flawed way to measure your fitness? Yes, absolutely. It discourages people from strength training, can promote unrealistic body composition goals, and is often not compatible with how most people actually want to look. But what numbers should we be looking at? GQ has some answers:

Check your body measurements

Confirm that you are shrinking or expanding as intended by taking circumferential measurements of relevant body parts. Waist circumference, for example, is an effective way to track changes in a place that many of us watch the closest: belly fat.

              This is a superior way to measure body composition.

Check your performance

Bench pressing a tad more, doing one more bodyweight squat, shaving ten seconds off your mile time, and squeezing out one or two more pull-ups than last week all show that you’re making meaningful progress. This means that if you’re not keeping a simple workout diary that commemorates what you accomplish in the gym each day, you're missing out on valuable data, and you should fix that right now.

              Focusing on what your body can do rather than on what it looks like is much healthier and much more fun. It also enables a shift from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation.

Check your clothes

We all want to look hot naked, but if your clothes are starting to fit better in the right areas, that’s a sign that good things are happening to your body, even if the scale is less effusive with its praise.

              This is an easier way to track your body composition.

Check your camera roll

Let’s be honest: Whether you want to lose or gain weight, looking a certain way is probably more important to you than a number. Act like it by taking infomercial-style before-and-after photos at regular intervals. The camera doesn’t lie, and over a long period of time, you’ll see exactly what physical changes are or aren’t happening—a brutally honest visual element to accompany the rest of your data points.

              Better to focus on what you look like rather than on just what the scale tells you.

Check yourself

Assessing how you feel on a day-to-day basis is probably the most overlooked way to measure whether everything you're doing is good for you. Are you sleeping better? Do you feel healthy? And, critically, is your sex drive at... full speed? “A healthy libido tends to indicate that things are going well,” admits Romaniello. “Decreased libido is a sign that something needs to be changed.”

              Working out should make you feel good. This is the number one reason why I love fitness. This is more qualitative than quantitative but it I still an excellent way to assess whether your routine is working.

Crossfit: The CrossFit Open serves 2 masters every year. The first is the need to have a first stage in the qualification process for the CrossFit Games. Athletes qualify for the Regionals (where they compete for spots in the Games) by participating in the Open. As its name suggest, the Open is open to anyone who wants to compete and thousands do. The second master is to drive CrossFit participation and give thousands of CrossFitters an opportunity to test themselves against the rest of the CrossFit world.

Typically, CrossFit has balanced these two demands by making the Open events a little “easier” and then ramping up the difficulty in the Regionals. What do I mean by “easier”? Keeping the weights lower and avoiding some of the more challenging and technical exercises like muscle-ups. Most people can’t deadlift 405 pounds, never mind crank out reps in the middle of a metabolic conditioning work-out. But that is the kind of thing that you would see in the CrossFit Games. This has been a source of frustration for some CrossFitters who would like to see an event lineup that is closer to what is programmed in the Games. They feel that the Open favors people with higher levels of aerobic fitness and lower levels of strength. Well, be careful what you wish for. From Barbend:

Last night, we concluded the final athlete submissions for the third 2018 CrossFit Open Workout 18.3. If you’re currently competing in the Open, then you probably don’t need us to remind you just how tough this workout was. And for those not competing, to give you context, Open workout 18.3 involved a total of: 800 double-unders, 48 muscle-ups, 40 dumbbell snatches, and 40 overhead barbell squats (if you completed it, which almost no one did).

Oh, did we mention there was a 14-minute time cap to get all of this work done? 

18.3 proved to be so tough that very few athletes actually completed all of the work in the given time allotment, and most ended up treating this workout like an AMRAP.

Wow. It’s almost as if Dave Castro wanted to shut all those people up with the CrossFit equivalent of a kick to the nuts. The 18.3 work-out is below:

2 Rounds for Time with a 14 minute time cap:

100 Double-Unders
20 Overhead Squats (115lbs/80lbs)
100 Double-Unders
12 Ring Muscle-Ups
100 Double-Unders
20 Dumbbell Snatch (50lbs/35lbs)
100 Double-Unders
12 Bar Muscle-Ups

Real Estate: It’s no secret that shopping malls have been filling the department store void with big box gyms. There just aren’t that many businesses that are interested in leasing more than 30,000 square feet of retail space but gyms are one of them. The hope is that gyms and restaurants will generate foot traffic that the retail stores can take advantage of. Appearing on CNBC, retail expert Jan Kniffen threw cold water on that idea.

"Putting things in to get somebody to come to the mall is a good idea. The bad news is when it's something like a gym you don't get very much cross shopping," Jan Kniffen, CEO of J. Kniffen Worldwide Enterprises CEO, told CNBC's "On the Money" in an interview.

The retail consultant says people may go to a juice bar, or something that's related to their work out —but that's about it. As for malls that are putting in grocery stores, Kniffen says while that may drive foot traffic, it's only to that particular store.

"When you put in a grocery store, people do not go in the mall. They go into the grocery store, they shop, and they go home."

              He has a point about people who come in before and after work. They are on a schedule and are highly unlikely to start window-shopping. I would like to see some data on this though. The percentage of gym-goers who also browse might be lower than someone who is going to a J.C. Penney but the foot traffic is probably higher. Where does that leave the overall number of gym-goers/browsers? Also, a gym-goer might go to the gym 3-5 times a week. That’s 3-5 times a week that this person is seeing the signs for all those retail stores. That’s great exposure and makes it much more likely that this person might make a separate visit to go shopping. That person is still engaging with the mall 3-5 times a week which is mallrat territory. There are not that many businesses that people visit as often as they visit the gym. Mr. Kniffen should not underestimate the value of that.

Leadership: Hey, guess what? Fitness leadership is now a thing. From the Harvard Business Review:

This hasn’t gone unnoticed by some leaders, and a new generation of CEOs taking a cue from this last bastion of the Protestant work ethic. In contrast to “transformational” and “authentic” leadership, which has been criticized for being fuzzy and wishy-washy, “fitness leadership,” as we refer to it, offers a more concrete approach. As a hard-working employee, you will be measured by and rewarded for the long hours you put in at the office and the gym. In exchange, a fitness leader can offer a sense certainty, justice, and camaraderie in a time where employees are otherwise plagued by uncertainty, injustice, and isolation.

Henrik Bunge is one such leader. He’s the CEO and self-titled “Head Coach” of Björn Borg, the Swedish sports fashion company named after the tennis star.

Last fall, we joined Bunge and his employees for “sports hour,” a mandatory fitness class for all employees every Friday between 11 and noon. In pairs, we were throwing kicks and punches at each other, with the kickboxing instructor yelling, “C’mon, harder!” from the podium.

After class, Bunge explained his sports-meets-work philosophy when we met for lunch at an elegant Thai restaurant. “Take a football player. He will always know how he performs. But if you go to the marketing department and ask them, they’re usually clueless.”

              This seems more like an offshoot of sports leadership than anything else. Sports appeal to a lot of people because it is easy to see the link between the work you put in and your results in competition. It is viewed as a true meritocracy by most people where the business world is not seen that way by most. That, and a focus on teamwork, has made sports leadership models attractive to generations of leaders and managers. Fitness has the same link between work and results that sports has and thanks to CrossFit, fitness is now a sport.

              What’s different is that it’s not easy to incorporate traditional team sports into the corporate lifestyle. The CEO might think that Bear Bryant and Mike Ditka might be great role models but it would be difficult to organize tackle football games at lunch. Fitness on the other hand is very easy to incorporate.

Intrigued by our lunch meeting with Bunge, one of us embarked on an ethnographic study of the company which has now lasted for over a year. Since September 2016, Torkild has spent a couple of days a week at the Björn Borg headquarters, attending workshops, meetings, and fitness tests; having lunch with and talking with employees; and participating in sports hours (25 to date). As part of this research, we have learned that team leaders run wall squat competitions with their teams, that staff members measure their physical strength through push-up competitions, and that many break the monotony of work with a game of ping pong. One Friday morning, a male employee walked into the kitchen area, topless, to show that he had achieved his physical target: a six-pack abdomen.

              This type of culture is not going to be for everyone. And it sounds like it has led to a lot of turnover at Bjorn Borg. The test will be if this leads to more productive and dynamic employees. The KPI’s seem to indicate that it is doing that. We will see how many companies follow their lead. It is also important to note that Bjorn Borg is a sports apparel company. Trying to install this culture at a retail or manufacturing company could be much more challenging.


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