THE WEEKLY HOWL IS GOING TO CAPITOL HILL

Get PHIT: We have an obesity epidemic in this country. We also have fitness inequality in which the least affluent are generally the least fit. Paying for fitness goods and services is a major obstacle for most people and a big driver in that fitness inequality. Miraculously, Congress might actually try to do something about that. From Club Industry:

The Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act has been introduced in both the House and U.S. Senate numerous times in the last decade, with the House bill being most recently introduced by Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO) in March 2017. It currently has 135 bipartisan sponsors.

On July 12, the act passed through the committee with a vote of 28-7.

“This is tremendous news, and it’s encouraging that our voices are being heard in Washington, D.C., by our national legislators,” PHIT America founder Jim Baugh said in a media release. “Passage of the PHIT Act will make physical activity more affordable for all Americans, especially families.

The PHIT Act would amend the existing IRS code to allow for a medical care tax deduction on qualified purchases for up to $1,000 per taxpayer or $2,000 for married couples filing jointly or heads of household, according to the proposed bill.

Under these revisions, physical activity expenses—including gym memberships and youth and adult sports registration fees—would become reimbursable through pre-tax dollars via health savings accounts (HSAs) and flexible spending accounts (FSAs), allowing consumers to deduct related costs after meeting the 10 percent of income threshold on medical expenses.

              Despite the fact that this bill enjoys bipartisan support in a political environment in which virtually nothing else does, this idea has come under some intense criticism. From Slate:

But the bill is more than just joke fodder. It’s also symptomatic of a long-standing sickness in American policy making: American politicians, including Democrats, are absolutely addicted to hiding pieces of the welfare state inside the tax code, rather than just spending directly on public goods and services. We deal with retirement savings through 401(k) accounts and health care with FSAs and HSAs and education through 529 accounts and offer commuter benefits and on and on. As a result, positive public policy goals—like helping Americans get fit—get channeled toward silly giveaways for wealthy corporations and upper-income families that don’t really achieve what they intend, because they’re not targeted well toward the people who need help. The fact that these ineffectual ideas are some of the only things that can still get bipartisan support is just one more sign of how broken our politics actually are.

              People are concerned that this will not motivate people to join a gym but only reward those who already do. I disagree with that because people love tax write-offs. My concern is that while this bill may encourage an affluent person to join a gym (or not cancel an existing membership) now it’s a tax break, it won’t encourage a low income person to do so because they probably don’t itemize their taxes or have a health savings account. In other words, this could address the obesity epidemic but not fitness inequality. But it’s better than doing nothing. The PHIT Act isn’t going to the silver bullet because nothing is. We need a suite of solutions to address our fitness problems. This can be one of them but it can’t be the only one. This is not a perfect solution but the perfect is the enemy of the good. Let’s do something! What’s the alternative? Keep doing what we’re doing (Nothing!) because that is not working. If anyone has a better idea, I would love to hear it because I’m not hearing anything. This is not the sign that politics is broken in this country. Enacting policy through the tax code is the path of least resistance for Congress. Taking the path of least resistance is human nature not a sign of the apocalypse. At least, we’re moving in the right direction for once.   

Drugs: CrossFit is cracking down on PED cheaters. The functional fitness giant announced that 10 athletes have tested positive for PEDs and will be sanctioned from competition. From BoxRox:

 

Don’t tell me that CrossFit isn’t fearless. This is what trying to clean up a sport looks like. The problem is that the American sports media does not get this. They think that catching a bunch of athletes means that the sport is dirty. The reality is that every sport is dirty, every sport has an issue with PEDs. If you’re catching anyone, then it means that you have your head in the sand. You’re encouraging your athletes to dope. The major sports organizations in this country (NFL, MLB, NBA) rarely catch anyone because they don’t want not because the athletes aren’t doping. And the sports media buys into it. Remember when they were referring to the “Steroid Era in Baseball” in the past tense as if MLB had miraculously fixed the problem. That all stopped when the Biogenesis story broke in 2013. MLB wasn’t really looking so they weren’t finding anything.

               And these sanctions have some bite to them. These are not slaps on the wrist. CrossFit denied one athlete’s TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption) request and I suspect that Emily Abbott (the most high-profile athlete to get banned) is going to say the same thing. They’re setting a zero-tolerance policy here, which I think is the best one. It’s harsh but the athletes will adapt. If you are a pro athlete, then you need to pay attention to everything that goes into your body. You need to be paranoid about it. Carry around a list of banned substances, test all of your supplements, and think about everything that you put into your body. Is this a huge pain in the ass? Yes! But that’s the price to pay to compete in a somewhat clean sport.

TUEs are tough because there are legitimate reasons to have a TUE but athletes have abused them in the past. CrossFit leadership may have looked at the TRT (Testoterone Replacement Therapy) Era in Mixed Martial Arts and decided that they weren’t going to go down that path. I am sick and tired of the tainted supplement excuse. Athletes have to be responsible for whatever ends up in their system, whether it is inadvertent or not. Supplements aren’t regulated, they are the Wild Wild West. Test your supplements or don’t take any. I know that people are going to say that this is too harsh. I have sympathy for anyone in this group who inadvertently took a banned substance because I don’t think that CrossFit had established this hardline stance prior to this. It sucks to be the first one through the door but CrossFit has to start somewhere. Going forward, everyone should realize that this is the standard and act accordingly.

Boutiques: Orangetheory is on the cusp of opening its 1000th location which is fantastic growth for a company that is only nine years old. It celebrated with a profile in Fast Company that was full of interesting facts. For example, I did not know that work-outs are kept secret until members actually show up at the gym.

Orangetheory puts a unique spin on the practice by combining it with technology and behavioral psychology, then adding a dash of spontaneity. To start, club members never know what to expect at each class–it can be speed-focused, endurance training, or more strength-based. There’s no detailed schedule, just the element of surprise; clubs constantly vary modalities–split between cardio and weight-lifting–to avoid the dreaded fitness plateau. (A 26,000-strong Reddit community is devoted to dissecting every day’s mystery workout.)

“That constant changing of stimuli keeps your body adapting over the course of time and not just getting into the rut of doing the same thing every day,” says Orangetheory director of fitness Michael Piermarini. “That helps your body achieve results a bit more quickly.”

              That sounds like it was lifted straight from the CrossFit playbook. Orangetheory also relies upon the competitive spirit to motivate its members:

The heart rate monitors, meanwhile, track one’s anaerobic threshold, i.e., “afterburn,” the point where you reach 84% or 85% of your maximum heart rate and thereby increase your metabolism for the next 24 to 36 hours. This is what they deem the “orange zone.” The goal of each 60-minute class is to accumulate 12 minutes or more in this zone. Huge screens display where each member lies on the color board: blue (61%-70% of your maximum heart rate), green (71%-83%), orange (84%-91%), and the elusive red zone (92%-100%).

Fitness gamification–the art of applying competitive points during your workouts to encourage motivation–is nothing new. The behavioral strategy is the basis of cult favorites like indoor cycling club Flywheel, home app Peloton, and of course, Fitbit. It’s been called the future of health and wellness, the savior of boring workouts, and the only thing to get millennials off their tushes.

              It’s interesting that Flywheel and Peloton are mentioned but not CrossFit because Orangetheory’s training methodology has a lot more in common with CrossFit than it does with cycling classes. Then there were this little nugget:

Orangetheory isn’t slowing down: The Boca Raton-based company will soon open its 1,000th location in Portland, Oregon. California and Texas have the most locations. In 2017, it saw over $738 million in profit, a nearly 40% increase from the year prior. Females compose 80% of members, but the company sees rapid growth with men, many of them CrossFit devotees.

              I can only assume that they meant CrossFit refugees. People who started off doing CrossFit but may have found it too intense or competitive. Positioning themselves as CrossFit Lite (or a kinder, gentler CrossFit) is a good place to be and that’s obviously working out for them. The relationship between CrossFit and Orangetheory will be interesting to watch. Orangetheory might benefit from taking in CrossFit refugees but will Orangetheory also serve as a gateway drug to CrossFit?

Tanning: One of the unappreciated aspects of mission statements is that they define a company’s purpose. This might sound unnecessary to you but it can be surprisingly easy for a company to lose its way. For example, should a gym have tanning beds? From UConn Today:

Gyms are places people go to get healthier. But nearly half the gyms in the U.S. contain a potentially addictive carcinogen – tanning beds, report UConn researchers in the July 18 issue of JAMA Dermatology.

Exercise reduces the risk of every cancer except one – melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. People who exercise heavily are at greater risk of skin cancer, and yet many gyms in the U.S. have tanning beds. In other words, tanning beds in gyms are targeting people who are already at higher risk of skin cancer.

Exercise and tanning are both activities people use to improve their appearance; and people who tan in gyms tan more often – and more addictively – than other people who use tanning beds, according to a study run by UConn psychologist Sherry Pagoto.

              What is the mission statement of a gym? Is it make its members healthier or to make them look better? Most of the time, there is not a huge distinction but tanning beds brings that issue to the fore. If the mission is to make people healthier, then there should be no place for tanning beds in that gym. If the mission is to make people look better, health be damned, then tanning beds in a gym make sense. You can guess where I come down on this issue. Every gym’s mission statement SHOULD be to make people healthier. Therefore, tanning beds don’t belong in gyms. It’s all about the mission statement.

Trends vs. Fads: For some reason, USA Today decided that its readers would want to know what the biggest fitness trend was in the year that they were born. So they did the research and compiled a list starting in 1956 and going all the way to the present.

America’s obsession with physical fitness may have started with President Dwight Eisenhower’s creation of the President’s Council on Youth Fitness in 1956. The program was created as a response to some alarming statistics relating to the physical strength of America’s youth. Specifically, some 60% of American children had failed a physical fitness test, compared to just 9% of European children.

The average amount of calories Americans consume on a daily basis has increased by hundreds over the past few decades, making it harder to stay in shape. While exercise is important, diet is the primary factor in weight gain or weight loss.

As American waistlines expanded, an array of products hit the market promising to be the best, fastest way to help people slim down. Many relied on celebrities who were already in shape or other so-called “fitness gurus” to sell. Upbeat hosts told people how to best work their bodies on television, then VHS tapes, and now on DVDs and online classes.

As technology advanced, many workouts became more high-tech. Americans quickly moved beyond barbells. Hula hoops were one of the first new fitness products to hit the market. Other machines like the treadmill, stationary bike and NordicTrack took activities normally reserved for the outdoors and allowed consumers to get the same type of workout without leaving the home.

While there is no way to determine how many people were embracing an exercise fad in any given year, we attempted to match each fad with the year that it first appeared or the year it became one of the most popular ways for Americans to exercise.

              The first thing that struck me was how all over the place this list is. The invention of the treadmill was the biggest exercise fad of 1978 while two years later, it was gravity boots. The fact that major media outlets are comfortable categorizing everything as a fad is a real problem for the perception of the fitness industry. Some of the things on this list are advancements in technology or proven programs. Other things are the Shake Weight. This is the perception that the fitness industry needs to change: that every new idea in fitness is just another fad. There is a negative connotation to fad and that diminishes the whole industry.

              The thing that I always tell people is that there is a difference between a fad and a trend. A fad fades quickly. A trend sticks around, changes the industry, and is bigger than the brand that popularized. Group exercise classes aren’t a fad but you could say that Tae-Bo was. USA Today could have written that it was determining what the biggest fitness story was the year that you were born. But I think it’s reflexive for people to refer to everything in fitness as a fad and that creates a negative perception. I’m not sure how we change this but we need to.

Tidbits:

-Does pregnancy make women run faster?

-The European fitness market is bigger than the U.S. one

-Garmin and Golds Gym are partnering up