THE WEEKLY HOWL IS BACK ON THE BENCH

Love the Pop-In: The gym membership is a pretty basic business model. You pay a monthly fee and get unlimited access to a gym. It doesn’t matter if you use the gym or not, you pay either way. Most people think that’s a great deal for the gyms. They get their money either way and a lot of people pay them for nothing. But people won’t keep paying for nothing forever. Eventually, those no-shows will cancel their memberships and the gyms will have to acquire a new one to take their place. But what if members could sell some of that unused time? From the Boulder Daily Camera:

Shea's solution? A sharing option, a la Airbnb, that allows gym members to sell access to non-members for unused days and classes, often at discounted rates.

"What do we do nowadays with under-utilized assets? We monetize them. The car, the spare bedroom — you find ways for them to provide additional value to the owner while extending greater accessibility for those who want them."

In operation about eight months, Flex Gym Share, has so far gotten buy-in from four Boulder fitness facilities: CrossFit Sanitas, ONE Boulder Fitness, Amana Yoga and The Spot Bouldering Gym.

The gyms get a small cut from each booking. They can pitch Flex as an added benefit to members, hopefully retaining them through the slow summer months.

"People are more inclined to want to spend time outdoors, so a mindset that happens is, 'I'm probably not going to be at the gym, so I'm going to cancel my membership,'" said Kyle Fitjie, operations manager at ONE Boulder. "People are also less inclined to sign up in the summers."

Even active members can benefit, said John Seben from Amana. 

"Our members usually practice 3 to 5 times a week, but we offer like 35 classes and the memberships are unlimited," Seben said. "So with those 35 classes, there's all kind of opportunity."

              This is an intriguing idea. I’m for anything that addresses the un-affordability of the drop-in. I should be able to purchase a day pass for $5-10. It amazes me that gym operators continue to overcharge even as there are startups being built to address this problem. If I was a gym operator, I would cut out the middle man and offer a reasonable drop-in fee. But that stubbornness is creating an opportunity that entrepreneurs are starting to exploit. Good for them and the idea of utilizing unused capacity like this has a lot of potential. We’ll see how many gyms are interested in signing on with Flex Gym Share.

Real Estate: Department stores are struggling and malls are desperate to fill those crucial anchor spots. Lately, they have been turning to gyms to fill them. But there are only so many big box gyms in this country and we have a lot of malls. And mall operators have taken a liking to the fitness industry. How many businesses bring people to their location multiple times a week? That generates a lot of foot traffic, something that shopping malls are in need of. So, what are malls doing? From USA Today:

The shift is not only being spurred by retail owners catering to the changing tastes of customers who want to do more than shop when they hit the mall, but wellness businesses that desire the foot traffic and ready-made storefronts left behind when traditional stores and restaurants make an exit.

Gilad says there currently are 50 Vitality Bowls around the country, and several have found a home in storefronts vacated by frozen yogurt and cupcake businesses. 

"Typically they have all the plumbing and electrical we need,'' she says of such locations, "so (as) a remodel, that can save us thousands of dollars.’’

Shaun Grove, president of the Club Pilates fitness chain, expects that in roughly the next year, 5% to 10% of their clubs will be located in spaces that once housed retailers. 

 

At outdoor malls, "we find more of these Toys R Us (stores) and the Sears and the Blockbusters that have gone out of business,'' Grove says. "What we're seeing — and we have been seeing over the last several years — is these landlords wanting to break up those centers into four or five pieces and bring in different boutique fitness concepts that are all very complementary to each other.''

             I love to see that malls have fallen in love with fitness. Breaking up those anchor spots is a big move for landlords. They recognize the value of the fitness industry in attracting young, affluent consumers to their malls. Finding the right location is crucial to the success of any business and gyms traditionally had a hard time getting into the best spots. That has changed for both big boxes and studios.

The Death of the Trainer: We live in the age of science fiction and the media loves to speculate on which occupation or industry will be the next to be “disrupted” by technology. Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of articles proclaiming that Artificial Intelligence will render the fitness trainer obsolete. MarketWatch took it a step further this week and wrote that trainers are in danger, not from AI but from crowdsourcing.

How it works: A person who wants to create an exercise plan creates a personal profile on the app, with information including their work schedule, interests and exercise preferences. Then, someone else on the app—who is not a fitness professional—creates a week-long exercise plan for them, based on exercise and health guidelines that CrowdFit provides.

At the end of the week of exercises, the user gives feedback, and the planner creates an updated schedule for the following week. There were 46 participants in the study, who were divided into three groups.

One group received exercise plans using CrowdFit from non-fitness experts. The researchers paid the planners $7 per plan. The second group got exercise plans from personal trainers. And the third group received exercise plans made by non-fitness experts, but on Google Docs rather than CrowdFit.

A team of experts — who all either had a bachelor’s degree in sport and exercise science and/or national certification in personal training — evaluated each plan. Based on these evaluations, the team determined the CrowdFit plans were as effective as the ones created by personal trainers. Their criteria: Whether they incorporated basic exercise principles, their compatibility with user preferences and schedules, and whether they included enough aerobic activity.

Participants also found them easier to understand than the professionally-created plans, the researchers said. “There may not yet be a substitute for a trainer prompting a person through a routine on the gym floor, but the role of the expert is expanding to become more collaborative,” said co-author Molly Welsh, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Seattle University.

              First off, personal training is a luxury product. A small percentage of people who go to the gym are personal training clients (think low single digits) and they are not very price sensitive. These people are willing to spend money for the personal attention they receive. All these AI trainers are not going to affect personal trainers nor will this crowdsourced training app. The existence of Honda Accords doesn’t stop people from buying Porsches. Personal training is a luxury and people pay for that privilege.

Second, people pay for a trainer for reasons other than just the design of a fitness plan. They do it for the personalized attention. Crowdsourcing provides no personalized attention. Third, they don’t seem to understand how crowdsourcing works. What is the motivation for spending your time designing workout plans on this app? People respond to incentives, what is the incentive here? Huffington Post and Bleacher Report offered the opportunity to have thousands of people read something that you wrote. Wikipedia offers the chance to be a part of something big and noble. What is CrowdFit offering that will be compelling enough that people will want to devote their free time to it? If they think that people will work for free just because they made an app, then they are going to be very disappointed. Fitness training is not a terribly hard field to break into either. If that’s what you want to do, then you don’t need to “pay your dues” on some app to do it.

How Much Ya Bench: The CrossFit Regionals are coming and Dave Castro has released the events. And the big news is that the bench press is back. After years of being ignored by CrossFit, the bench press is making an appearance in the qualifying event for the prestigious CrossFit Games. No word on whether it will also appear in the actual CrossFit Games this summer. The workout is as follows:

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 reps for time

Deadlift, 295/220 lb.

Bench press, 195/135 lb.

Squat clean, 145/105 lb.

This workout is known as “Linda”, one of the benchmark Girls workouts. However, the bench press has never seemed to be an integral part of CrossFit. This is the first time that the movement will be contested in either the Regionals or the Games. I’ve always found this a little strange. The bench press is one of the 3 powerlifts and the other 2 lifts have been incorporated heavily into the CrossFit repertoire. My only guess is that there has been a bit of an overcorrection. The bench press has always been a favorite of bodybuilders and gym bro’s and its ubiquity has even led to parody on Saturday Night Live.  I think that CrossFit has always wanted to distance itself from that perception and the bench press was a casualty of that. I’m glad to see that they may coming around on that. It’s a great compound lift that deserves its place in the functional fitness world. However, after the rash of torn pectoral muscles that occurred at the Regionals last year, I am both curious and a bit nervous to see how this pans out. Hopefully, the athletes have adjusted their training to account for this.

TidBits:

-You can book classes in Instagram now

-Grip strength is important

-Does Orangetheory have a wearable tech problem?

-You should be keeping a workout log