THE WEEKLY HOWL IS KEEPING IT OLD SCHOOL

Cycling:Last week, I wrote about Flywheel failed attempt to sell itself. I speculated about whether that indicated an industry trend or just a Flywheel issue. It might be a little bit of both. From Vox:

At the end of December, users of the popular cycling class Flywheel received an email in their inboxes with the ominous subject line, “An Announcement From Our Co-Founder.”

In the vague note, CEO Ruth Zukerman wrote that she will be stepping down from the company, citing a move to undisclosed future endeavors after nearly a decade of cultivating Flywheel into the boutique fitness behemoth it is today. 

“As an entrepreneur and creative individual with a thirst for growth, my reflection this year led me to realize — with a heavy but excited heart — that it’s time for my next adventure,” she wrote. “I know I am leaving you in the best hands with the most talented instructors who have all been trained and nurtured under my method both technically and philosophically.”

Internally, the shift had been a long time coming. In recent months, Zukerman — who also co-founded SoulCycle and played a significant role in the rise of the modern cycling movement — had reportedly been relatively hands-off while promoting her new book, Riding High: How I Kissed SoulCycle Goodbye, Co-Founded Flywheel, and Built the Life I Always Wanted. In her book, Zukerman is vocal about her strengths in the idea conceptualization part of entrepreneurship, but less so in the nuances of running a company from the business side.

                   Ruth Zukerman wanting to cash out could explain it but it doesn’t sound like that’s the whole story.

So I was surprised when in the fall of 2018 I noticed Flywheel was suddenly heavily discounted on ClassPass, which operates on a monthly flat-rate membership model where users sign up for classes using “credits.” Even at peak times (typically mornings and evenings outside of work hours), classes in New York were allocated at half their usual credits, along with a note: “Take advantage of our special half-off Flywheel pricing — only for a limited time!” 

I would have brushed it off as a promotional anomaly had it not remained this way off and on for several months across all 19 of Flywheel’s operating cities. Unlike newer studios that offer discounts in exchange for exposure, Flywheel is one of the top cycling studios in the country, with the added benefit of lack of competition from SoulCycle and Peloton, which are not on ClassPass. (ClassPass did not respond to several requests regarding the process for discounted classes.) 

Meanwhile, events behind the scenes leading up to Zukerman’s departure paint a more telling picture. In mid-2018, Flywheel quietly let go of several employees on its executive team in a move Flywheel CMO Andy Wong wrote in an email to Vox was a result of restructuring. 

“In order to create one unified, efficient team that supports both our studio and on-demand business, we’ve had to make some very difficult decisions to streamline roles,” he wrote. “This impacted fewer than 20 employees. By focusing our efforts in the most crucial areas and eliminating redundancy, we’ll deliver on our growth goals and better serve our consumers.”

            This sounds like a company that is struggling to maintain its price point. The article lays out how competitive the cycling studio landscape has become. There are a lot of studios offering high-end cycling classes and one of the first effects of fierce competition is price reduction. Selling individual classes for $34 makes for great margins but as Jeff Bezos once said “Other companies’ margins are my opportunity”. It’s always easier for a new company to build itself a certain way than it is for an established company to change. It sounds like Flywheel is struggling to change its structure in order to survive in a market in which $20 classes are becoming the norm. 

 

Old School: Personally, I don’t like a whole lot of frills with my fitness. As long as everything is clean and functional, I prefer keeping things basic. I thought that was just my thing but it appears that this might be universal. Men’s Healthconducted a double-blind study on whether people experienced better results exercising in a modern facility with a great view or an unadorned basement. The results are surprising.

When the groups were revealed, it became clear that the group exercising in the old room in the basement reported greater improvement when asked: Compared to when entering the study, how are your knee/hip pain problems now? This was contrary to what we expected. 

We interviewed some of the participants and showed them photos of the two rooms to spark a discussion about their impressions. The people exercising in the old room didn’t perceive the aged appearance negatively. They felt at home in the environment and expressed nostalgia because it reminded them of their old school gym. They also felt a stronger sense of fellowship—they were in it together and worked as a team to achieve their goals.

In the new room, the large windows were distractions and participants said that they did not feel part of a team. The large wall mirrors in the new room weren’t appreciated, either. The participants said that they didn’t like the look of their untrained legs and their often overweight bodies.

            This is definitely counter-intuitive. I assumed that I was an outlier. You would think that people would prefer the nicer facility but it appears that this might be one of those areas in which fitness is different. This would also fly in the face of the success of luxury gyms like Equinox. I wonder if there is something to the team aspect of it. Working out in an old school facility was conducive to bonding. I also think that Equinox has benefited when mid-market gyms fail to maintain a certain level of cleanliness. 

 

Motivation: There was an article this week in NPRon how one of its editors made the transition from mostly sedentary to very active. The author used measurements called METs (metabolic equivalents) to track her exercise. What is a MET?

"Just sitting, doing nothing, is a MET value of 1 — you're working at your resting metabolic rate," explains Loretta DiPietro, an exercise research scientist at George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health. "An activity that, say, is 2 METs makes you work at twice your resting metabolic rate. So getting up and walking across the room is about 2 METS."

DiPietro says the Compendium lists the MET values for all kinds of activities — everything from mopping (that's about 3.5 METS) to line dancing. (That can be almost 8 METS!)

But to count as moderately intense exercise, the magic number you want to hit is between 3 and 6 METS. (Alas, even the most vigorous sexual activity falls just short of that, according to the Compendium — though DiPietro suggests with a laugh that more research may be needed.)

 

                  Using METs to measure her activity level got her to be more active and as she got more active, she craved more.

Knowing this really changed the way I think about exercise. Instead of seeing exercise as all or nothing, I started to think about it like climbing a ladder. It's OK to start at the bottom rung and work your way up. So I started with small bursts of movement throughout my day. Instead of sending an email to a co-worker, I'd walk over and talk to them. I'd skip the elevator and take the stairs. I'd do squats at my desk and take short walks around the office whenever I could fit it in. I'd do one-on-one meetings with co-workers while walking and talking.

The more I did, the stronger I felt — and the more I wanted to do. I started using the elliptical that was gathering dust in my basement. I made a rule: I'm only allowed to watch Netflix while working out or moving in some other way (like washing dishes or folding laundry).

Then a curious thing happened: The more I exercised, the more my body craved it. These days, I even take spin class and do high-intensity interval training.

And while I did lose weight during this process (which was pretty nice — I am now at a healthy weight), that's not what's kept me going.

For me, exercise has become a bodily need. I just don't feel right without it. And while I used to think I didn't have time to work out, nowadays I don't see how I could get through my busy days without the energy I get from exercise. (And my insomnia is pretty much gone.) 

 

            This is exactly how most people should approach it. So many people try to “flip the switch” but that usually ends up leaving them really sore which makes them think that’s what it always feels like. This is a realistic approach to changing behavior and lifestyle. It’s long term thinking not short term thinking. The last paragraph is key. You want to get to the point where your body craves exercise. Your body wants to move, you just have to learn how to listen to it. And once you get to that point, you will make fitness a priority in your life. 

More Motivation: Sometimes, the answers to our problems are hiding in plain sight. We just have to be ready to see them. CityLabpublished an article about New Year’s resolutions and when and how they fail. See if you can pick out the solution to keeping your resolution.

Similarly, analysts at Foursquare identify a “Fall Off the Wagon Day” each year among gym-goers by comparing gym and fast food activity. By Foursquare’s definition, that day is when an uptick in weekly visits to fast food restaurants meets a drop in weekly visits to the gym. In 2017, that fell on the second Thursday of February, and last year, people were itching for that fast-food fix by the second Friday of that month. Between January 1 and this day in 2018, visits to fast food joints were down 4.6 percent, according to Foursquare’s analysis, while gym attendance grew by 6 percent. Based on the trend, analyst expects this year’s “Fall Off the Wagon Day” to fall on February 9, the second Saturday of the month and just 40 days into the new year.

Of course, that’s not everyone’s story. According to Strava’s 2018 Year in Sport report, there are ways to stay on course: 94 percent of users who set goals remain active nine months later, for example. As humans are social creatures, Strava’s data show that when we exercise in groups, we tend to run or bike 21 percent farther and work out 10 percent longer. But if neither running nor biking is your thing, there’s still good news. Strava’s year-end analysis finds that users are three times more likely to get more activity if they incorporate indoor activities like yoga.

                  94%!!! That’s amazing. Why does the author gloss over this? That is the answer. Setting measurable goals will keep you going. That should be the whole article. They bury the answer at the end of the article and don’t expand on it at all. People are asking the question and they have the answer. They just don’t realize it.

New Year, same problems: Whenever the calendar turns to January, I expect to see a flurry of articles offering advice to people whose New Year’s resolution is to exercise more. There is a category of those articles that recommends that people not join a gym for…reasons. I stumbled upon one and it was something. From The Hustle:

If the average gym-goer were to use a gym 7 times a week, every week, without fail, $696 per year would work out to a measly ~$1.90 per visit. Even at 4 times per week, you’d be looking at $3.36 per visit.

But here’s the thing: We don’t even come close to 7 gym visits per week. Or 4. Or even 3. What makes a gym membership a poor investment is your lack of commitment.

A study run by a pair of UC Berkeley economists found that while members anticipatevisiting a gym 9.5 times per month, they only end up going 4.17 times per month. That works out to 50 visits per year.

Assuming an average session length of 1 hour, the typical gym member is suddenly paying $14.50 per workout. This stacks up pretty poorly with other things we pay a monthly fee for:

 

                  I appreciate that they took the time to do the math but so what? It’s not surprising that not using a service you’re paying for doesn’t look in a chart. Why focus on this? Shouldn’t the goal be to be the person who actually uses their gym membership? I realize that it’s not easy but if it was easy, then everyone would already be doing it. 

It seems counter-intuitive, but big-name gyms don’t want us to work out.

“If gyms operate at more than 5% of their membership at any given time, no one can use the gym,” explains one branding consultant. “They want [people] to sign up, but they know that after the 15th of January they won’t see 95% of them again.”

The nation’s largest gym chains often sign up 20x the number of people who can actually fit in a given location. They are well aware that most won’t show up.

As Planet Money reported, one Planet Fitness branch in NYC had a max capacity of about 300, but boasted more than 6k members. Similarly, Gold’s Gym and Life Time Fitness often ink 5k-10k memberships per location despite having only being able to house 300-500 people at a time.

In essence, the people who don’t show up “subsidize” membership costs for those who actually do go, allowing gyms to keep their prices down.

 

                  It’s a good thing that gyms are open for more than 1 hour a day then. This is so stupid. It’s true that gyms don’t expect every one of its members to show up at the same time. That would be a problem. Fortunately, people like to work out at different times so it’s not so much of an issue. As for the subsidizing, that is true but isn’t that a good thing. Company finds way to lower prices. Consumers generally like that. The author goes on to recommend that you build a home gym but fails to make a convincing case for why that would be better than a gym membership other than saving a little money.

Still, it’s hard to justify the cost when the odds of regular attendance are stacked so unfavorably against you.

One alternative is to simply build your own home gym.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (or 75 minutes of “vigorous” aerobic activity), in addition to at least 2 sessions of major muscle group strength training, per week. This is easily achievable without a gym membership.

While the equipment you choose to buy depends on a number of factors, including what types of exercises you want to do, and the space you’re working with, it’s possible to build a relatively space-efficient, full-body setup for the same cost as one year at a gym.

 

                  If you don’t use your home gym, that would be a waste of money as well. You need to figure out what works for you. A home gym can be great because you can save the time that you would send driving to and from the gym. But it’s not for everyone. If you use your gym membership, it can be the best money you every spend. The same is true for home exercise equipment. Saving money is important but the most important thing is finding what works for you. And gyms don’t like members who never show up because they will cancel their membership at some point and then they have to acquire a new member to replace that revenue. Acquiring a new consumer is always more expensive than retaining a current one.

Sports: It seems like football generates an endless stream of controversies these days. One of the most serious ones is college football players contracting serious injuries during team workouts. There have even been some deaths recently. One pattern that I have noticed is that there appears to be one position that suffers a preponderance of these injuries. From ESPN:

An $11.5 million lawsuit against the NCAA, the University of Oregon and former Ducks football coach Willie Taggart was filed Wednesday on behalf of former Oregon offensive lineman Doug Brenner, seeking compensation for "serious, lifelong injuries sustained during a series of highly controversial workouts imposed on Duck players in January, 2017," Brenner's attorney told ESPN.

Taggart's strength and conditioning coach, Irele Oderinde, was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit submitted by the firm of Kafoury & McDougal and attorney Travis Eiva.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed in circuit court in the state of Oregon, "the coaches imposed a physically impossible exercise regimen of squats and told the student athletes that the workout 'would demonstrate who wanted to be on the team.'"

"The drills were done in unison, and whenever a player faltered, vomited, or fainted, his teammates were immediately punished with additional repetitions," Mark McDougal, a member of Brenner's legal team, said in a statement. "A key goal of this lawsuit is to force the NCAA to ban these kinds of punishing, abusive workouts. These workouts are contrary to NCAA guidelines for protecting players from injury and death. Guidelines, however, are only suggestions. The NCAA needs to enact and enforce binding regulations that outlaw these practices."

                  Offensive lineman at the Division I level often weight in excess of 300 pounds. Why would you expect a 6’5, 300 pound offensive lineman to be able to perform conditioning exercises with a 5’10, 180 pound cornerback? That seems like common sense but we’re constantly seeing these stories. A football team has to incorporate a bunch of athletes who have completely different bodies and abilities. There is no good reason to train them all together. The only other sport that has such vastly different athletes on the same team is Track & Field and the throwers and the sprinters never train together because it wouldn’t make any sense. The strength & conditioning coaches at these schools need to get smarter and stop harming these athletes. These incidents are easily preventable. The coaches just need to use some common sense. 

Tidbits:

-HIIT explained

-Under Armour is partneringwith Samsung in connected fitness

-A brief historyof the keto diet

-Get a mouthguard!

-3 more events have beenadded to the 2020 CrossFit season

-The Marines are consideringreplacing crunches with planks on its physical fitness test

-Part 2 of CityLab’s study on the geographyof fitness