THE WEEKLY HOWL IS PIVOTING!!!

World Domination: CrossFit has announced another 4 sanctioned events, in addition to the 2 that had been previously announced. From Boxrox:

The next four CrossFit sanctioned events are:

  • French Throwdown, 

  • Fittest in Cape Town,

  • Brazil CrossFit Championship

  • Mid-Atlantic Affiliate Challenge

The previous two events to be released are the Dubai CrossFit Championship and the Granite Games. This brings the total to 6 so far, with 10 more events to be released soon.

              I realize that we are only 6 events into what will be a 16 event slate but there is a sizable international flavor so far. 4 of the 6 announced events are held outside of the U.S.       

-2 in North America (Granite Games, Mid-Atlantic)

-1 in Europe (French Throwdown)

-1 in South America (Brazil CrossFit Championship)

-1 in Africa (Fittest in Cape Town)

-1 in Middle East (Dubai CrossFit Championship)

Is this indicative of a desire to make the sport of CrossFit more international? This year, there were 9 Regional competitions.

              -5 in North America (East, Atlantic, Central, South, West)

              -1 in South America (Brazil)

              -2 in Europe (Spain, Germany)

              -1 in Australia (Pacific)

Or the remaining 10 events could be mostly U.S. based and we end up with a similar distribution. However, if there ends up being more international events then the fact that CrossFit spend $1 million on the Brazil Regional this year could have been a real wake-up call for Greg Glassman. Perhaps, he was looking to have more international representation in the qualifying process but realized that CrossFit couldn’t afford to do it alone. The desire to crown the Fittest in every country speaks to CrossFit’s global ambitions but we will see what the last 10 events end up being. 

Pivot!!!: What’s in a name? For a company, quite a lot. It conveys what a company’s mission is and what that company can do for a consumer. Re-branding is nothing new. Apple Computers became Apple after it expanded beyond the Macintosh line. Research in Motion became Blackberry in a belated acknowledgement that the company was known for one thing. Lately, we’ve seen quite a few re-brandings. Dunkin Donuts is becoming Dunkin because it is becoming more known for its coffee than its donuts. Michael Kors is acquiring Versace and then changing its name to Capri because it wants to become a fashion conglomerate on par with LVMH. IHOP briefly changed its name to IHOB in order to spread awareness that the restaurant chain was going to be serving hamburgers (for everyone who criticized that move, remember that we all know that IHOP serves burgers now). And Weight Watchers is rebranding itself as WW. From Vox:

Weight Watchers will now be known as “WW.” The 55-year-old company just announced that it is rebranding to focus more on overall health. Its new tagline: “Wellness that works.”

It’s a change the company has been building up to since 2015. Oprah Winfrey came on as an investor when Weight Watchers was in decline and announced that she lost a lot of weight on the program while also still eating bread every single day. The company’s fortunes have improved since then, but it is shooting for $2 billion in revenue, according to Fortune, a goal that has been in its sights for almost a decade but has not yet come to fruition.

It’s not surprising that Weight Watchers is distancing itself from dieting. We are in a moment when the concepts of wellness and self-care have become all-important. Talking openly about dieting is becoming taboo, and the body positivity movement is on the rise. Weight Watchers had to change to stay relevant, and it’s been increasingly talking up wellness and a healthy lifestyle for a few years now. Tellingly, in an op-ed in the New York Times in March decrying the company’s plan to offer free memberships to teens as young as 13, Jennifer Weiner wrote, “You could almost believe that the company was preparing to change its name from Weight Watchers to Self-Esteem and Healthy Habits Central.”

              Of course, WW is not going to completely abandon weight loss. Re-brandings aren’t about complete reversals; they’re about expansion. Dunkin isn’t going to stop selling donuts, they’re expanding their offerings. Apple didn’t stop making Mac’s either. This is trickier area because there is a bit of a backlash to dieting culture and for good reason. But people still want to lose weight and WW wants to help them do that. They’re just going to talk about it in a different way. This is not the dramatic pivot that a startup might do. This is a company that was founded in 1963 and is a household name. It’s a more subtle pivot from dieting to health & wellness. But that new name…

The blue logo featuring the two letters stacked on top of each is by now a familiar one to users of the company’s app. But “double-you double-you” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Will the company try to shorten that into something like “Two Dubs” or “Double Dub”? Wait a few more financial quarters to find out.

My suggestions are either Double-Dubs or 2W.

You can’t beat free: Any time that anyone is dispensing fitness wisdom, ask yourself if there are any conflicts of interest. Most of the time, that person is selling something, whether that something is a fitness product, a gym, a training philosophy, or just themselves. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t listen to anyone, it just means that you should approach them with a critical mind. But sometimes, they are just full of crap. Exhibit A is an article from the Irish Times about free, outdoor gyms. No one could have a problem with that, right?

Despite the increasing prevalence of outdoor gyms across parks and public places in Ireland, not everybody is convinced of their usefulness. Siobhán Byrne, a personal trainer and director and co-owner of BodyByrne Fitness, believes outdoor gyms have a place, but are “not for everybody”.

“I love when there’s money put back into our parks to get people outdoors, but you can’t see a 65-year-old woman going for the first time and using the chin-up bars,” she says. “That’s just not realistic. But some of the equipment might help people to get motivated.”

Byrne also suspects that outdoor gyms are not actually used effectively or often enough. “I’ve seen kids messing around on them, but I’ve never seen anyone using them seriously. That’s not to say that nobody does work out on them. But as a personal trainer, I don’t feel that you’re getting a really effective workout from them. I do think that doing something is better than nothing. If they have the potential to get people out doing something in a group, then it’s effective.”

Byrne believes much needs to be done to encourage people to get active and believes public funds could be better spent on other initiatives. “I certainly think the Government should be looking at putting more money into people-training and getting them fit, whether that’s through gym subscriptions and personal trainers. These are the things that help our health service over a number of years. The fitter and healthier we are, the less reliant we are going to be on health services in years to come.

As a personal trainer, Byrne feels that people can get “so much more” from joining a gym rather than using outdoor gym equipment. “I’ve been training clients for 15 years, and there’s nothing like strength-training in a gym environment with somebody experienced to guide you through. You have these outdoor gyms in place and people are trying to figure them out, and some of them have never been to a gym before. That’s obviously never going to be as effective as being in a gym environment where you’re being shown what to do.”

              The fitness industry needs to get smarter because this is really dumb. Of course, you get what you pay for. We need to stop putting any credence in media reports that (Insert X) is going to replace gyms and personal trainers. These trainers seem scared that they will lose potential business to these free, outdoor gyms. Do these trainers really think that the consumer who uses a free, outdoor gym overlaps with the consumer who would pay for a personal trainer? Personal training is a luxury product; if it was a car, it would be a Mercedes. A big box gym membership (without any personal training) is a Honda. A free, outdoor gym is public transit. Mercedes never feels the need to point out that riding the bus is a far worse experience than driving the new S-Class because their consumers don’t overlap with people who ride the bus. Let’s get smarter. Also, outdoor gyms could serve as a gateway to a traditional gym membership. It’s an easy, non-threatening way to try out some strength training and if they like it, maybe they would be inclined to upgrade to a commercial gym.

Do you like luxury?: Personally, I don’t need a lot of frills when I’m working out. I just need everything to function, form is not a huge concern for me. But that’s not true for everyone else. Some people want their gyms to be fancy and they’re willing to pay for it. Let’s take a look at one of those gyms, Third Space City in London, and examine some of the amenities. From Forbes:

Before you've had the chance to see a connected fitness gadget, you'll find even the air you're breathing is smart. How? Because it's cleaned with UV lamps featuring quartz anodized reflectors that remove 99.9% of all bio-contaminants. This Third Space says, creates the cleanest air in any London gym and aids a better training experience. Even the water fountains use an advanced filtration system to give members pure water throughout the club.

              How does this work exactly? Wouldn’t a bio-contaminant, like a virus or bacteria, cause you to get sick? How would it help your workout?

The club features a "Hypoxic Chamber" that uses tech to take a small percentage of oxygen out of the room and replicate training at 2500m. By exercising in this low oxygen environment, science dictates that you can develop enhanced endurance and stamina. For example, Third Space says a 15 min high-intensity session in the chamber can be equivalent of a one hour workout at sea level.

              THIS DOES NOT NOTHING! Science does not dictate that training at altitude is better than training at sea level. The benefit comes from living at altitude because it forces your body to become more efficient at oxygen consumption when you’re at rest. When you’re exercising, you are already exposing your body to a stimulus. You can’t trick your body into working harder during exercise. In fact, top endurance athletes have a maxim: Live high, train low. They will live at altitude and then travel down to sea level for their more challenging workouts. Or they will live at sea level and sleep in a hypoxic chamber.

I gave the club's latest high tech spin class a whirl, which was a great example of how much innovation Third Space has pumped into this club to offer visitors something unique.

Called Power Ride, the class uses live visual data to fuel your workout, benchmark your commitment and help you achieve better fitness results. Each rider's bike uses data to drive results, endurance, and performance, which is displayed on a leaderboard where you can compare your effort rating with others. Great idea for the uber-competitive, perhaps not so much for those who can't quite keep up (but it does work in giving you a kick up the backside if you're lagging behind).

              That’s not unique, they’ve just ripped off Flywheel.

Something you won't find in many other spas that Third Space have is a 20m swimming pool where the water is treated by UV light technology, which is said to provide a chemical-free treatment, killing any bacteria and viruses.

              So they don’t put any chlorine in the pool? If true, that’s kind of cool.

The changing rooms aren't usually a place where'd you find much technology, but the City club has fan assisted dry showers. Yes, because drying yourself with a towel is so old school.

              This is indicative of what Third Space is really about: luxury and novelty. Nothing here will give you a better workout than a bare bones gym. But you might not have to subject your hair to chlorine damage in the pool and you won’t have to dry yourself with a towel like a peasant. I have no problem with providing a luxury experience but I hate the pseudo-science masquerading as innovation.

Who will watch the Watchmen?: Last week, I wrote about John Hancock’s decision to make all of its life insurance products contingent upon participation in fitness tracking. I am not a fan of that. It turns out that a lot of other people feel the same way. From The Verge:

Another worry is that this will fundamentally change how we measure our lives, according to Dan Bouk, a historian at Colgate University. Bouk studies bureaucracy and quantification and is the author of How Our Days Became Numbered: Risk and the Rise of the Statistical Individual. At the turn of the 20th century, he explains, corrupt practices tarnished the reputation of US life insurers. As a result, many, including Metropolitan Life, responded by developing and instituting “life extension” programs to seem more philanthropic. These companies took techniques developed for assessing life insurance risk — annual medical examinations, blood pressure measurements, height-weight tables — and made them standard parts of our lives.

“Some historians have shown that most doctors don’t even have scales in their offices until they’re required to by life insurance companies,” he says. “Before this era, most people are only getting a health examination if they’re buying life insurance. Out of a seeming moment of weakness, when companies were under political pressure, they developed new forms of power in terms of shaping how we think about our bodies.”

Medical examinations and screenings certainly seem useful. But they have also “made many people think they were unhealthy in moments that they weren’t, and sacrificed a great deal of human individuality,” Bouk says. For example, many doctors now argue that we use too many medical tests and researchers have long argued that “accepted knowledge” about height-weight tables and obesity are wrong.

“My concern is that you give this power to someone who is giving you life insurance — and life insurance is a crucial means of protecting you and your family against unforeseen accidents — then they get to decide what your healthy life looks like, even if we decide that’s not how a healthy life should look,” Bouk says. “They impose and flatten the variety of ways in which it’s acceptable to be healthy. I can only imagine that certain types of yoga might not work well with an activity tracker.”

              When I was on active duty, I was told that I should lose weight but I was approaching the upper limits of weight for my height. This was because I carry a lot of muscle on my frame but that didn’t matter because they had this chart with some numbers on it. My response was to bring on the rope and choke (and I never hit the limit anyway). Could this become a situation where activity is defined by number of steps taken and ignores everything else entirely? I wouldn’t rule that out. Let’s check in with Morning Chalk-Up as well:

  1. They just can’t track CrossFit, yet. When Margaux Alvarez rowed the ninth fastest marathon in the world among men at the 2018 CrossFit Games, during her 3 hour and 42 second row her Fitbit would have reminded her to get up and walk around because she was idle too long. Plain and simple, if companies like John Hancock start requiring step or distance thresholds in order to get better policy rates, CrossFitters may not qualify. There is some hope in this area as a new wearable called NEXUS was recently released which reportedly can accurately track CrossFit workouts rep-for-rep.

  2. What one insurance company can do, another insurance company can do. As of right now, this only applies to life insurance. But what happens when it’s health insurance and all of the above is still true. Wearables can’t quantify how your Fran time translates to being A). clearly very active that day and B). a pretty fit individual.

  3. How secure are those things anyways? Fitness apps have been hacked multiple times stealing millions upon millions of users data. In March of 2018, MyFitnessPal was hacked and 150 million records were stolen. And in 2016, hackers gained access to Fitbit’s GPS history log as well as sleep data for individual users.

These are 3 of my big fears right here. It’s an imperfect technology to put so much stock into, this could spread to health insurance, and I don’t trust these companies with my data. My last fear is that I spend the rest of my life unable to take my fitness tracker off because I would lose my health and life insurance. That sounds like the plot of an episode of Black Mirror.

Tidbits:

-Free gyms help opioid addicts in their recovery

-Fitness trackers are recalled for burning users

-The Marines are making their fitness test harder

-Feeding Mat Fraser

-A brief history of the women only gym

-How technology is shaping the fitness industry