THE WEEKLY HOWL HAS FOUND THE HOLY GRAIL

Going Digital: When it comes to strength-training, I am an old-school kind of guy. The best form of resistance is a piece of iron or your own bodyweight and so I approach any attempt to re-invent resistance training with a healthy dose of skepticism. So when I started seeing some press about Tonal, a new home strength-training system, I was a little dubious. From Fast Company:

But Tonal, a new strength training device that uses an engine to create resistance instead of heavy metal disks, looks just like a vertical flat screen television and wouldn’t be out of place on the wall of your apartment. When you’re ready to work out, you turn on the device and pull out two adjustable arms that enable you to do 200 different exercises. After the trainers on the screen run you through an initial baseline test, Tonal pre-sets the weight, up to 200 pounds, for every exercise, automatically cataloging and tracking your progress as you curl, lift, and squat.

It’s similar to Peloton, which sells digitally connected spin bikes and runs group classes on a screen, but for weight training. By acting like both your personal gym and your personal trainer, Tonal sits at the vortex of today’s fitness trends: particularly online content, the likes of which you’d find on YouTube or a myriad of fitness apps, and health tracking, whether it’s heart rate or steps counted, a la Fitbit and other fitness trackers. Designed by the studio behind Brita pitchers, Google’s Chromecast, and Nest Dropcam cameras, Tonal is a clever piece of engineering that aims to bring home fitness, personalization, and tracking together while also re-imagining what workout machines could look like. Given Peloton’s success–the company recently raised $550 million with a valuation of $4 billion, ahead of an expected IPO–Tonal is betting that this is how people want to work out in 2018.

              I think that we are at the stage where every fitness startup is trying to be “Peloton but for…”.  Peloton is going to be hard to replicate because Peloton is the answer to SoulCycle. You want to do SoulCycle but if you can’t consistently get into a class or you don’t live in a city that has a SoulCycle, then Peloton is for you.  In order to be the new Peloton, a new company needs a SoulCycle.

              Tonal has a few things going for it. I am impressed with the design and the integration of technology. However, the price point is very high.

Of course, there’s a hitch: The price. Tonal costs a whopping $2,995, plus a $49 monthly subscription for the workout content. To access all 200 exercises, you need a $495 extension kit, which includes a sensor-laden bar and bench (you can do 85% of the exercises without it). There’s also a $250 fee for someone to install it for you. The company offers a payment installment plan where you can pay $175 per month for two years until you pay it off–which, combined with the content, is more akin to a luxury gym membership. Roughly speaking, these prices are on par with Peloton’s. However, if you’re accustomed to using YouTube videos paired with simple home gym items like a set of adjustable weights, that’s a tough price to swallow.

              That’s a lot of money to pay because you don’t feel like driving to the gym. You’re paying close to $4000 upfront and then $49 a month. Tonal looks pretty cool but will the type of person who can afford it want this in their living room? I don’t know. And will Tonal be as effective as a workout with free weights? From Inc:

Chang, who lifts weights regularly, was most impressed by the fact that the system can adjust weight in real time, essentially acting as a built-in spotter. It can also increase resistance on the negative portion of your repetition--the part of the rep in which you're being aided by gravity--which is a great strength-building exercise but one that's difficult to execute.

"That's a capability no machine or trainer has ever been able to deliver before," he says. "Often you have to pay a coach or trainer by the hour to remove plates for you, and even then they couldn't adjust the difficulty on the negative part of the rep. For me, that was it: Holy shit, this does something that nothing could ever do before."

              Wow! Why don’t they lead with this? You can adjust the resistance on the negative? If true, that is amazing. An exercise where you work equally hard going both ways is the Holy Grail of resistance training (at least in my mind). Imagine doing an overhead press going one way and a pull-up going the other way. Tonal suddenly became very interesting. The only problem is that I can’t afford it.

More CrossFit Fallout: Last week it came out (there has not been an official announcement yet) that there will be big changes to the sport of CrossFit. The Open is moving to November, the Regionals will cease to be, and a lot more people will be competing at the CrossFit Games. This has freaked people out to the point where some are wondering if the sport is dead. Of course, this is not the end of CrossFit, it’s just change and change freaks people out. Things will be different and some will benefit from the changes and some will suffer but everyone will adjust. And this will make the sport stronger in the long run. But in the meantime, there are a lot of questions. From The Barbell Spin:

 According to Glassman, Regionals will no longer exist. To qualify for the CrossFit Games, an athlete could qualify directly from the CrossFit Open or through one of 16 CrossFit-sanctioned events. Some have rumored that these sanctioned events would include competitions like Wodapalooza, Dubai Fitness Championship, etc. What is interesting, however, is that we are hearing that CrossFit HQ has not reached out to the organizers of these existing competitions.

So it is unclear if Glassman is thinking they would create 16 new competitions to facilitate this vision. If it really costs $1 million to run the Latin America Regional, it seems unlikely CrossFit would want to run 16 of those rather than the current nine regional competitions. If the broadcasting cost is the concern, adding seven more events does not help contain costs.

              There is plenty of time to contact the organizers of existing competitions. These changes are not going into effect until the 2019-2020 season. CrossFit hasn’t even made an official announcement yet. Greg Glassman is probably feeling confident that he can find 16 events that will want to be a part of the CrossFit circuit and he should be.

Some believe that the Games could be like a golf tournament where there is a cut (or cuts) throughout the week to dwindle the competition down to a manageable number. Sounds interesting in theory, but what events are before the cut that are fair and make sense? And if you are a fringe athlete, would you want to spend thousands of dollars knowing you will be cut after one event or a after a day?

              How about an endurance event (10K row), a strength event (Max C&J or Snatch), and a Girls WOD on Day 1? That would be pretty fair and make sense. It’s not that hard.

Remember the OC Throwdown? Remember the high jump event that injured a lot of athletes? Or what about when athletes pulled a car and ran over an athlete at the Sac Town Throwdown (video below)?

Leaving a qualifying event with ramifications of qualifying for the CrossFit Games in the hands of the current event teams could lead to more outrageous (and unsafe) events.

So does CrossFit take over the programming? It is hard to believe that those in charge of the Dubai Fitness Championship want to hand over control to Dave Castro or someone else at CrossFit HQ.

There are a ton of logistical questions that having this type of qualification create. The PGA Tour and NASCAR are highly involved in each of the events. Don’t expect CrossFit to sit back and just accept whatever the 16 qualifying competitions want to do.

              This is an opportunity for CrossFit to standardize the sport. Right now, event organizers are motivated to come up with outlandish (and potentially unsafe) events in order to attract attention. The new motivation will be to have a professional, well-run event that adheres to good safety standards so that it can become an official CrossFit event. And yes, as a part of that, these events will have to work with Dave Castro on the programming. They might not like it but it will probably be the cost of doing business with CrossFit.

Mat Fraser likely qualifies. However, the Open is a wildcard and is not always a guarantee to finish in 1st place. What happens if Noah Ohlsen crushes it again and Fraser takes 2nd? Does he now have to travel around the country (or world) to earn his ticket to Madison?

The cost of doing that is very cost prohibitive to many athletes. Only two athletes earn more than $100,000 at the CrossFit Games each year. Dropping thousands of dollars chasing a qualifying spot for a minimal payout at the Games does not sound appealing.

              Athletes already pay to travel to Regionals. Under the new system, they will have to pick their spots. It won’t be feasible from a training or monetary stand point to compete in 5 or 6 competitions in 1 season. 2 competitions might be more realistic. And that’s not all that different from athletes who compete at Regionals and another event like Wodapalooza.

This is a very valid concern. With the massive number of athletes getting caught at Regionals this year, drug testing has to be a high priority for the sport going forward. Spreading out the competitions over the course of 10 months and adding seven more qualifying events makes that task even more difficult.

Right now the regional/international off-season competitions like Wodapalooza and Dubia Fitness Championship do not drug test. CrossFit HQ did visit these competitions and conduct their own drug testing, but it is unlikely the existing competitions have a budget to drug test their athletes.

And let’s not get started about the Open. It would be impossible to drug test the top athletes in every country during the Open. Again, if costs are the concern, this would not reduce expenses to CrossFit.

              This is a false equivalency. Staging all the Regionals costs money. Drug testing all the athletes costs money. But drug testing costs a lot less money than Regionals. The Brazil Regional cost $1 million all by itself. That’s a lot of drug tests. There’s most of your budget right there.

               The old format was clear-cut, this new format (whatever it ends up looking like) will be less so. This will complicate things for the athletes but they will figure it out and adjust. And the sport will be stronger in the long run because of these changes. Not just because it will allow CrossFit HQ to invest more in the affiliates but because it will make the sport more interesting. It will create more intrigue for the fans and there will be a lot of drama. Fans love a circuit and each event will have its own personality. It will also keep the sport in the headlines:

What is interesting is that if you start the first qualifying competition two weeks after the Open with an event every other weekend, the 16th and final competition would be June 12-14. That is not too far off the existing Regional schedule where the final week of Regionals is the first weekend of June.

And based on a tweet by Russ Greene, the every other week schedule might be exactly what we see for the 2020 CrossFit Games season.

Looking at the calendar and beginning two weeks after the Open concludes, you can see this could work.

Comp #1: November 15-17, 2019
Comp #2: November 29-December 1, 2019
Comp #3: December 13-15, 2019
Comp #4: December 27-29, 2019
Comp #5: January 10-12, 2020
Comp #6: January 24-26, 2020
Comp #7: February 7-9, 2020
Comp #8: February 21-23, 2020
Comp #9: March 6-8, 2020
Comp #10: March 20-22, 2020
Comp #11: April 3-5, 2020
Comp #12: April 17-19, 2020
Comp #13: May 1-3, 2020
Comp #14: May 15-17, 2020
Comp #15: May 29-31, 2020
Comp #16: June 12-14, 2020

              This looks like a real season. The thing about sports is that it’s all arbitrary, someone makes up some rules and everyone figures out how to play the game. Is it fair that under the old system, getting injured at Regionals meant that the whole year could go to waste? No but that’s just the way it worked and everyone dealt with it. Even small tweaks to the rules can completely change the way any sport is played. Imagine if the NFL required players to play both ways. Tom Brady would not be the GOAT and Tim Tebow would be a Pro Bowler (QB/MLB). What if the NBA never instituted the 3 point line? Steph Curry would be a nobody instead of being one of the best players in the world. I am sure that this will change the sport to some degree but this is not the end. The sport of CrossFit has a bright future ahead of it.

Sneaker Wars: Earlier this summer, it came to light that CrossFit was suing Reebok for stiffing them on royalty payments. This week, CrossFit announced that the 2 companies had come to a settlement and that’s everything’s hunky-dory now:

CrossFit, Inc. and Reebok International Ltd. are pleased to announce today settlement of all litigation related to their licensing agreement and that they look forward to continuing their work together as partners mutually dedicated to improving individual health and fitness globally.

While the details of the settlement remain confidential, the settlement includes a payment to CrossFit for disputed royalties.

"Every partnership confronts challenges from time to time. Great partnerships learn from them, overcome them, and become stronger in the resolution of them," said Jeff Cain, Chief Executive Officer at CrossFit.  "Our shared resolution is a victory for CrossFit trainers, affiliates, and athletes."

              Common sense tells me that this relationship has been damaged. We just don’t know how much it has been damaged and it’s hard to tell because it is in CrossFit’s interest to pretend that the relationship is in great shape. The licensing deal expires in 2020 which means that negotiations for the next deal will probably start next year. There are only 3 legitimate contenders for the CrossFit deal in 2020: Nike, Reebok, & Under Armour. There are 3 major athletic apparel companies in the world (Reebok is owned by Adidas) and it’s hard to imagine anyone else becoming a serious player (Puma?). Nike is making a big push into CrossFit and has very deep pockets and Under Armour doesn’t appear to be all that interested in this space. CrossFit will want a bidding war so that it can maximize the size of the deal. This means that it can’t afford to have Reebok ruled out because then it would just be Nike vs. a less than committed UA. Even if the relationship is damaged beyond repair, CrossFit is going to pretend that everything is fine because they need to use Reebok to play against Nike. My prediction is that we’ll be seeing Nike CrossFit gear in 2021.

Military Fitness: In my former life as a naval officer, twice a year I was subjected to the PFT (Physical Fitness Test). I know what you’re thinking: you have a fitness website, you should have loved running the PFT. But I didn’t and not because it was hard. I hated doing it because it was a waste of time. The Navy PFT is push-ups, curl-ups, and a 1.5 mile run.  The pushups and curl-ups aren’t great tests for upper body and core strength to begin with and they are a nightmare to police. At one of my duty stations, the PFT coordinator didn’t even try to monitor the pushups and curl-ups because he didn’t have anywhere close to the manpower to do so. You would pair off with someone and that person would report your numbers. Cheating was rampant. People would offer to life for you even if you had no problem maxing out the pushups and curl-ups. It was just what everyone did. The PFT coordinator’s rationale was that he couldn’t fix the culture and that the run kept everyone honest. Why am I bringing this up? Because the DOD seems to be waking up to the fact that its system for testing service members’ fitness is deeply flawed and it’s finally doing something about it. The Army is in the process of rolling out a new, comprehensive fitness test and now the Air Force is testing one as well: 

Dr. Neal Baumgartner, chief of the Exercise Science Unit, said unlike the Tier 1 test, which measures overall general health to meet Air Force-wide standards and perform daily tasks, the Tier 2 test would examine specific critical fitness capabilities of Airmen with specific jobs. EOD, along with AF battlefield careers, are the first to begin executing the Tier 2 test.

The Tier 1 test is the current AF-wide physical fitness test consisting of a 1.5-mile run, waist measurement, push-up and sit-ups.

For the Tier 2 test, the ESU analyzed EOD’s critical physical tasks required for mission success and designed 10 specific components to determine total force standards for its future implementation.

EOD Tier 2 Physical Test components:

• Run, 1.5 miles

• Row Ergometer, 1,000 meters

• Grip Strength

• Medicine Ball Toss, Back, Side and Log 20 pounds

• Trap Bar Deadlift, five repetition maximum

• Pull-up

• Extended Cross Knee Crunch, metronome 56 beats per minute

• Farmer’s Carry, 4 x 25 meter, 100 meters

              This is a pretty good test. It’s nice to see the Armed Forces get away from the pushups/sit-ups/run combination and incorporate some lower body strength tests and anaerobic tests. Also, pull-ups are a much better test of upper body strength than pushups and much easier to police. The one exercise that I would love to see make an appearance is parallel bar dips.

Wearables: I often like to say that the fitness tracker market is going to end up like the smartphone market. A barbell market, dominated by Apple on the high-end, a rash of competitors fighting over the low end, and everyone in the middle getting squeezed. The one thing that I am surprised about is that Android doesn’t seem to be much of a player in fitness trackers. From CNET:

A year ago, Google and its smartwatch partners like Fossil Group leaned on fashion over fitness features, a decision that led to a wave of watches that felt feature-generic. This year, the plan's changing. "Most if not all the watches released this year will have heart-rate sensors," Barr says about Wear OS smartwatches. The just-announced Skagen Falster 2 is a good example: It has a full set of fitness features, as opposed to last year's sparser model.

It makes sense, since Google Fit -- the fitness-tracking portion of Wear OS -- has just been revamped with new Move Minute and Heart Point goals, designed to meet World Health Organization and American Heart Association metrics for daily fitness. That brings Google's offerings closer to what Fitbit, Apple, Garmin and others have on their fitness trackers. The two-ring fitness readout can be quickly checked with a swipe-left gesture. Heart Points are calculated using heart rate readings, although Google's also developed an algorithm to estimate Heart Points on Wear OS watches without heart rate.

There isn't any smart coaching, though... not yet, at least. According to Barr, this update to Wear OS is more about getting people familiar with the new fitness metrics. Google's head of Wear OS, Dennis Troper, previously suggested smart coaching is one of the upcoming features in Wear OS watches with Qualcomm's next-generation smartwatch chip. That could end up being an announcement in a few weeks at Qualcomm's Sept. 10 event.

              It took Google this long to figure out that smartwatches are going to be driven by health & fitness, not fashion? That puts them a couple of years behind Apple. I have to wonder how committed Google is to smartwatches because they are not certainly not dumb. I wouldn’t count them out if they get serious about watches but it doesn’t appear that they are right now. At least not compared to Apple.

Tidbits:

-Over 10,000 pull-ups in less than 20 hours

-If you’re building anything in Miami, you better include some health & wellness features

-The story of Zumba