Everything is cyclical, sort of: Nautilus created the modern big box gym. The invention of strength-training machines led to facilities that were high-cost but low-knowledge. Gym operators had to invest a lot of money in equipment but they didn’t need to incur an excessive amount of labor costs to educate members on how to use that equipment. Over the last decade, we have seen the rise of the low-cost/high-knowledge gyms also known as studios. These gyms don’t have to spend nearly as much on equipment but they require skilled instructors. And somewhere along the way, it no longer became cool to just go to the gym. From Bon Appetit:
Instead of paying a second rent on mindlessly refreshing a webpage at noon on Monday to book a coveted spot at the new Hot Pilates obsession, I’m here to advocate for the gym workout. Crunch, Blink, Planet Fitness, your friendly neighborhood Sports Club. You can come and go when you please, hop on or off a machine exactly when you feel like it, and if you’re lucky, wind down in the sauna afterward. I’ve been a member of one since infancy, starting with Mommy & Me swims at the YMCA. I’m not immune to the trappings of the luxe fitness class; they had me at the fancy products in the locker room and mints on the check-in counter. But, for me, they’re a once-a-week treat to supplement the gym or jogging outside.
I’m pretty religious about my routine. At least three times a week, you’ll find me in my old Raptors t-shirt pushing it on the treadmill for 45 to 60 minutes, followed by what I like to call a Planking It Out session, in which I’m going as hard as I would be in a spin class. I have to balance my sedentary freelance writing life and my passion for dessert, so the key for me is to move every day. I started to wonder if any of my friends were secret gym junkies, too, so I asked around. Although their cool girl personas might suggest they’d be ModelFit aficionados, I was surprised to find that some of them had ditched group classes in favor of plain-old exercise at the gym.
The studios are training an entire generation in how to workout, transferring that knowledge into their own consumers. This could enable a shift to low-cost/high-knowledge gyms that don’t require instructors. Imagine a CrossFit layout with a 24 Hour Fitness business model. This move may be set off by the next economic downturn. If there is a need to tighten the purse strings, a $34 SoulCycle class will look extravagant. And perhaps unnecessary if consumers start thinking that after years of taking classes, maybe they don’t need someone telling them what to do anymore.
Convenience is King: Real estate agents have a saying that there are 3 things that matter in buying a house: location, location, location. I have a similar expression when people ask me how they can become more consistent in their workouts. There are 3 things that matter: convenience, convenience, convenience. I say this because convenience leads to consistency. If working out is inconvenient for you then you’re not going to do with any consistency.
I believe that one of the keys to fitness is having A, B, and C plans for working out. The A plan might be a 60 minute workout at the gym (either commercial or home). The B plan might be a 30 minute workout at the gym or a bodyweight workout at someplace other than the gym. I love the idea of an airport gym because who hasn’t spent several hours wasting time at the airport waiting for a flight or a connection. It would be great to be able to use some of that time to squeeze in a workout. But it seems really hard to pull it off. From Self:
That’s why I was excited to hear about Roam Fitness, the full-service gym located inside Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) Airport. It’s the first gym in a U.S. airport inside the security checkpoint, and the company plans to have 20 locations (in both domestic and international airports) within five years. I’ve dreamed about airports having gyms for years, so when I first heard about Roam, my initial reaction was “It’s about time.” My next reaction? Gratitude—their first location was in my local airport. BWI is just up the road from me in Washington, D.C., which meant that I’d have the opportunity to try it soon—and see if it was worth the $25 day pass.
One of my questions is how is the airport gym for? Why should I should I show up early to the airport for the privilege of paying $25 for a day pass? I would prefer to do my usual workout and then go to the airport because that would save me $25. My initial impression was that an airport gym would cater to business travelers (who could expense it) and people stuck on long layovers. The other issue is that getting around a large airport can be a pain in the ass and what if the gym is not near your terminal.
The gym’s location really complicated things. Roam is in Concourse D, which is directly connected to Concourse E. If you’re flying out of either concourse, you’re in the best position to take advantage of the gym.
But if you’re in Concourses A, B, or C, well, you’re going to need to budget extra travel time. These concourses aren’t accessible through Concourses D and E, so if you want to use the gym but you’re departing out of, say, B16 (like I was), you’ll have to go through security more than once. If you plan accordingly, that shouldn’t be too much of a hassle, especially if you have TSA Pre-Check, which I fortunately do.
That being said, since I didn’t realize the concourses don’t all connect, I wasted a good chunk of time going through security the first time when I could’ve been working out. If you’re flying out of Concourses A through C and you don’t have TSA Pre-Check, count on an extra 45 minutes just to get back and forth from the gym.
If I were to work out in another airport gym, I’d do some research to figure out where it is relative to the parking lot, my concourse, and my gate, especially if I’ve got an early morning flight. I (wrongly) assumed I’d be able to connect seamlessly between concourses, and sadly that ate into my workout time.
That sounds like a huge pain in the ass. That makes it even more unlikely that I would try to workout out there before my flight. I love the idea of an airport gym but there are a lot of challenges to overcome there. I’ll be rooting for them though.
Money, money, money: Fitness has a strange relationship with the professional investor class. For the purposes of this discussion, I am going to divide the investor class into 3 categories: the publicly traded markets, private equity, and venture capital. Fitness barely registers in the world of publicly traded markets. There are only a handful of publicly traded fitness companies which means that they get little to no attention from Wall Street analysts which means that most of Wall Street knows very little about the fitness industry. However, private equity money has been getting into fitness in a big way over the last decade. The investments have mostly gone into brick and mortar gym and studio chains. And then there’s venture capital. Venture capitalists typically seek to invest in early stage technology companies that can offer huge growth potential. And they have been looking to invest money into companies at the nexus of technology and fitness. From Crunchbase:
According to Crunchbase data, which is useful in indicating industry trends, the U.S. fitness industry has grown significantly since 2010. Known total venture deals peaked in 2014, with Seed-stage funding taking up the majority. Total funding reached a record high both in the U.S. and globally in 2017.
The significant drop in dollar volume in 2016 doesn’t necessarily indicate a loss of interest in the industry. Average dollar volume for each deal did increase compared to 2014. However, that drop is a reflection of outlying rounds in 2015 and 2017. Total funding in 2017 was bolstered significantly by a massive $325 million round.
Clearly, the venture capital community believes that there are going to be some very successful fitness technology companies emerging in the next few years and they want to be a part of it. What’s less clear is what those companies will look like. ClassPass has received over $100 million in funding and is still trying to figure out a viable business model. Peloton knows exactly what it wants to be and has the billion dollar valuation but I am not optimistic about its foray into treadmills. And what about all those fitness apps? Researchers at Bond University in Australia are skeptical that they do anything:
In fact, there's now more than 250,000 fitness and health apps — dubbed "mHealth apps" — available for download.
But how effective are they and what proof is there they do what they claim?
According to a new study from researchers at Bond University — published in NPJ Digital Medicine — there is still very little evidence to show they actually work.
The Bond University study didn't look at every app available. Instead, it started with a simple goal: to find an app that had enough evidence behind it that a doctor could happily prescribe it to patients.
They pored over hundreds of studies worldwide and managed to find only 23 comprehensive reports into the topic.
And the results of these were slightly disappointing.
"We found only a small fraction of the available mHealth apps had been tested and the body of evidence was of very low quality," the report stated.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that the future of fitness tech is still out there, waiting to be discovered and eventually monetized. And it doesn’t seem that there is a lack of investors who are willing to fund that discovery.
Wearables: Fitness trackers are still pretty new. Everyone is trying to figure out what they can be and what they could ultimately do. And some companies are trying out some interesting business models. Whoop, the company behind the Strap fitness tracker, thinks that a subscription model is the best way to sell its product. From Outside Online:
Whoop’s subscription plan is aimed at making the Strap 2.0 more accessible. Indeed, $180—the cost of an initial six-month commitment—is significantly less than the original purchase price. After six months, subscribers can choose to terminate the data service (users can still keep the device, but won't have access to the data it collects) or continue using it for $30 per month. Of course, those who stick with the service for more than 16 months will end up shelling out more than they would if they’d bought it. Unfortunately, the Strap 2.0 is now available only by subscription.
Which raises the question: Is this an approach we should expect to see more of in the wearable-tech industry? If fitness trackers become subscription based, they’ll be cheaper in the short term but much more expensive over time. That could wind up reinforcing rather than reducing dropout rates.
The Strap was selling for $500, which is on the high end. Offering six months for $180 makes it much more accessible but I don’t know if consumers will respond to this. They haven’t been trained to purchase devices this way and the Strap doesn’t seem like it’s compelling enough to change people’s behavior. I wonder if they chose 6 months because that’s the point at which most people abandon their trackers. But people don’t plan to abandon their trackers, they’re planning to change their lives. I don’t know if that’s true but I do know that consumers buy fitness trackers with the best of intentions. They may not be interested in subscribing to their tracker.
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