Ch-Ch-Changes: Details about the upcoming changes to the CrossFit Games and the qualifying process continue to dribble out. Crossfit founder Greg Glassman did an interview with the Girls Gone WOD podcast and he revealed some very interesting details. From BarBend:

This first year, we’ll probably take the top 20 from the Open, plus the national champions, and conduct however many sanctioned events we have ready. And they’re falling into our lap, this is easy. Wodapoalooza is on board. Granite Games is on board. The French Throwdown is on board. Dubai (Fitness Championship) is on board. We just spoke with Annie Thorisdottir this morning and it’s her intent to take a lead in this and mine to support her. There’s going to be something in Iceland, I’ll be shocked if not. And there’s a lot of others to talk to.

I’m going to have about 160 men and 160 women, 16 people from the sanctioned events, 20 of the top 20 of the Open because I don’t have all the sanctioned events in place. And that gets me to about 196 and that leaves 4 slots to get us to 200 and we thought we’re gonna have some wild cards.

We’re really attracted to this (idea of a) “Blowhard Card.” You didn’t do the Open, you’re not one of us, but you won’t shut the fuck up about how fit you are. (…) Why don’t we let someone get a “Blowhard Card.?” All we ask is you talk a load of that crap and that someone believes in you more than us. You need a community. So there needs to be someone with a loud mouth with a bunch of people saying, “Yeah you’ll do great.” I know where to find ‘em, so we just drop a line at some of those places and say, “Hey, tough guy, we’ve got a seat for you.”

              Does he have someone in mind for the Blowhard Card? That seems like it would cheapen the Games. Think of all the athletes who work their ass off to get to the Games and then they’re going to give a spot to someone who did nothing to deserve it. It will also take attention off the athletes who earned their place there. This feels like a cheap reality show trick not something that a respected athletic competition should be doing. I would suggest doing a separate event, like a Pros vs Joes. Don’t cheapen the Games.

 (At the Games) we’re gonna have 16 events, we get to the Games, what could happen — it seems enjoyable to me — is earlier in the week put 200 to a task that leaves 10. And then (we’re) watching 10 for 2 days. (…) A higher intensity, denser format, where there’s less to watch but more to see.

              So they’re going to cut down to 10 for the last 2 days? I assumed that they were going to cut down to 40 and then it would be like past Games. That cut is going to be brutal for any contender who has a slow start. It’s not hard to imagine some big names missing that cut. I think that this will end up being more controversial than any other change. That’s going to make the composition of the first few events crucial to the outcome of the Games.

              In a separate interview with ArmenHammerTV, Glassman revealed that pretty much nothing is going to change with Age Group qualifying but the Team format is going to be very different. From Morning Chalk-Up:

According to the interview, team members will no longer be required to workout at the same affiliate. They can select any two male and female athletes from anywhere in the world. However, teams will no longer qualify for the Games through the CrossFit Open, a fact which was revealed on Wednesday in a separate interview. Teams will only be able to qualify through sanctioned events.

“We’re not playing the game of where do you live, how long have you lived there,” Glassman said.

              Bring on the Super Teams!

Getting Religion: CrossFit has been compared to a cult on more than one occasion. It seems that a researcher from Harvard Divinity School was paying attention and she included fitness companies like CrossFit and SoulCycle in a study about institutions that are filling the void that organized religion once filled for a lot of people. From Vox:

Tara Isabella Burton

CrossFit and SoulCycle, on the surface, offer very tangible benefits: They change your body in X or Y way. But it sounds like the benefits are far greater and more expansive than just, say, losing weight or building muscle tone. What kinds of things did your study participants get out of these groups?

Casper ter Kuile

SoulCycle talks about how people “come for the body but stay for the breakthrough.” It’s a good workout, but that’s only the beginning. Really what people experience is a sense of release of stress or a new insight and clarity about what’s important to them or a renewed commitment to the goals in their life or an experience of sanctuary, amid anxiety and pressure from their job. So it’s really an emotional and spiritual experience as well as a physical one.

It’s interesting to see how SoulCycle has changed the way they talk about what they’re offering. When we first reached out about four years ago and told SoulCycle, “We’re from Harvard Divinity School,” they were very wary of us. Now its leadership really embraces the spiritual element as that becomes more mainstream and less scary, as more and more people talk about their experience of crying [on difficult songs] or eulogizing their father-in-law from the front of the room. A trainer played a James Taylor song and talked about her father-in-law who’d just died, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. More and more of that religious behavior is becoming explicit.

The same is true with CrossFit. People come because they want to lose weight or gain muscle strength, but they stay for the community. It’s really the relationships that keep them coming back.

That need for community was something that was so strong in our research. People were longing for relationships that have meaning and the experience of belonging rather than just surface-level relationships. Going through an experience that tests you to your limits, especially if you’re doing partner or team-based fitness routines, there’s an inevitable bonding that comes from experiencing hardship together.

There is something to fitness filling a space that other institutions used to occupy in this country. And it makes sense to multitask: get your exercise and sense of community in one shot. There is always something more compelling about a group of people who are committed to the same thing than a group of people who are trying to find something in common.

However, there is no need to compare fitness to religion. Religion is much more than just a sense of community. It is a way to explain the world and look at the world. It should offer a set of values.

Tara Isabella Burton

It also sounds like there’s something very meaningful about the experience of community: working on something with other people. I’m struck that, particularly in urban millennial demographics, it seems like we’ve lost more intuitive sources of community (a church, say, or a wider extended family). How do these kinds of intense fitness classes foster community?

Casper ter Kuile

There’s one really simple thing: You can’t look at your phone when you’re on a bike or lifting weights. Simply by exercising, you’re physically and mentally present in a way that you can’t be if you have in a phone in your hand. The second thing is that in our culture, especially among high-achieving, Type A people who are in these classes, there’s a pressure to perform, to meet a standard — what you look like, who you’re hanging out with. And by getting ugly sweaty and being pushed through those limits of physical comfort, some of those barriers are broken down and you’re left in this raw and vulnerable experience together.

In SoulCycle, it’s we’re riding as a pack. Or in CrossFit, the workout doesn’t finish until the last person is finished, and everyone will stand around and clap for you until you’ve done the right amount of reps. So it’s an inversion of normal human behaviors of leaving people on their own or shying away when it gets hard. You have to really lean into that.

That sounds like a sports team to me. You’re all working towards a common physical goal and you support each other in the pursuit of that goal. There are a lot of different institutions that offered people a sense of community that are not connecting with younger generations. Younger people are still seeking out that community but in different ways. One of those differences is that information workers need to engage in rigorous physical exercise to balance out the sedentary nature of their jobs. So hanging out at the Elk Cub after work doesn’t make as much sense as going to a fitness class does.  This whole ‘Fitness is the new religion” thing is a huge stretch (pun intended) past the community aspect.

Problem Solving: Tonal and Mirror have been getting some press this month, leading up to their launch dates. Tonal sells a wall-mounted strength-training system while Mirror sells a screen that streams exercise classes. Both are trying to capitalize on the success of Peloton. From The NY Times:

The screen was part of a new weight-lifting machine from Tonal, a San Francisco start-up. The system combines software and an interactive LED screen with electromagnetic weights and cables to create an experience that does not rely on plates, barbells and gravity. Tonal had sensed that my last set of curls was too easy, and helpfully — perhaps sadistically — added more weight for the next set.

I grumbled about the weight, but realized Mr. Wright couldn’t hear me any more than Tamilee Webb could hear me griping through a “Buns of Steel” VHS tape in the 1990s. The video of him was a recording, too. But as I grimaced and sweated through the reps, I noticed they were precisely the right level of difficulty. The machine knew my strength better than I did. As I tested the machine in a Tonal office, the company’s chief executive, head of marketing, public relations representative and another trainer eagerly looked on.

The Tonal machine is very cool, I told them — and, at $2,995, very expensive.

Home fitness machinery, in all its bulk, was once relegated to the garage or the basement. Now, with a little help from Silicon Valley engineers, it is moving onto the wall. In recent weeks two tech start-ups, backed by millions of dollars of venture funding, have introduced sleek wall-mounted fitness systems that stream workouts into their customers’ living rooms, bedrooms, dens, foyers or home offices.

I am intrigued by the technology that Tonal has developed but I fear that they might be solving a problem that doesn’t exist. Entrepreneurship is about identifying a pain point and then solving it for your consumer. I’m not sure if the pain point is specific enough for Tonal to succeed with its current business model. Tonal thinks that the pain point is “I want to strength train at home but I don’t want a bunch of dumbbells in my living room”. That makes sense but maybe not at $3000+.

Everyone wants to be the next Peloton but the path to it success was paved by SoulCycle and FlyWheel. The pain point was “I want to do SoulCycle but I can’t get into classes”. There were already consumers willing to pay $34 per class so a $2000 bike plus $39 per month wasn’t going to scare anybody off. However, if Tonal’s technology is as revolutionary at they claim, maybe they need to abandon their current business model and open their own studios. It is a lot to expect people to just buy this thing that is completely unlike anything else out there. It’s a huge jump from CrossFit or Orangetheory to this completely new system of strength training.  Consumers are more likely to try out a class than they are to plunk down $3000+. Innovation doesn’t always work out exactly as the innovators imagined.

One watch to rule them all: Apple debuted its new iteration of the Apple Watch this week and the improvements were not just incremental. From The Verge:

Apple is unveiling its Apple Watch Series 4 line of smartwatches today. It’s the first major design overhaul of the Watch since its debut more than three years ago, and the changes are immediately obvious. The Watch’s screen now goes nearly edge to edge, thanks to a larger display with rounded edges. There are now two new sizes, 40mm and 44mm, and the larger display, which is 30 percent bigger, lets watchOS 5 show more information through Apple’s built-in app complications. Apple is also overhauling the hardware inside its Apple Watch, including a new built-in EKG scanner.

              The new Apple Watch has a built-in EKG scanner??? Let’s read more about that.

This new hardware allows Apple Watch Series 4 to detect falls and automatically trigger a call to emergency services if you’re immobile for a minute after the fall. Apple Watch Series 4 will also screen heart rhythm for irregularities that appear to be atrial fibrillation, but the real new feature is the ability to take an electrocardiogram (EKG). Apple says the Watch Series 4 will be the first EKG product offered over the counter directly to consumers, and you simply open an app and put your finger on the digital crown to trigger the EKG.

              That is amazing. Apple is clearly all in on developing health and fitness features and incorporating them into the Apple Watch. Fitbit had a head start in the fitness tracker race but it doesn’t have the horsepower to keep up with Apple. What surprised me is that Google has ceded such a large head start in this race. They have the horsepower to keep up with Apple but I doubt that they have the horsepower to catch up with Apple.


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