THE WEEKLY HOWL IS LIKE A CASINO

Keep the faith: Community and fitness go hand in hand. Organized religion is fueled by a sense of community amongst its practitioners. Does that mean that the rise of faith-based fitness was inevitable? From Vox:

People who want to get fit, lose weight, and eat more healthfully often turn to trainers and dietitians for advice. But today, they might also to turn to a Bible-inspired or faith-based wellness program. Take actor Chris Pratt. He announced last month in an Instagram story that he was on day three of the Daniel fast.

“It’s 21 days of prayer and fasting,” he explained.

The program takes its name from the Old Testament prophet Daniel. While it’s called a fast, it does not require complete abstinence from food. Instead, “some foods are eaten while others are restricted,” according to the Daniel fast website. Those who go on the fast hope to not only get their weight and diet under control but also draw closer to God.

The fast is so popular that it has spawned a book, a weight loss manual, and a study guide. There’s also the similarly named Daniel plan. Developed by megachurch pastor Rick Warren, along with Dr. Daniel Amen and Dr. Mark Hyman, the plan promises a healthier life in 40 days. You can follow it by buying the series of books about the diet and signing up for the Daniel plan 21-day challenge for $89; it includes workouts, coaching emails, and food planning tips.

Also:

 Churches have launched cycling ministries as well as archery ministries like Centershot Ministries, a Christian archery program for kids. Beyond archery programs, Christianity-based workout plans like Faithful Workouts and PraiseMoves have grown popular in evangelical circles. PraiseMoves bills itself as an alternative to yoga and frames the practice, much like megachurch Pastor John Lindell does, as dangerous for Christians. The Holy Yoga program takes the same approach.

Last year, Lindell warned his congregation away from yoga because of its non-Christian roots.

“To say the positions of yoga are no more than exercise are tantamount to saying water baptism is just aqua aerobics,” he said during a sermon.

There’s even a Christian answer to CrossFit. Revelation Wellness pairs high-intensity exercise and strength training with Scripture; as participants do reps, Bible verses are read aloud. “We believe that as the body of Christ gets healthy and whole, we will be fit for our purpose — to proclaim and spread the love of God to the ends of the earth,” the Revelation website says of its mission.

On one level I get this, fitness and religion are fueled by a sense of community. But the Bible wasn’t meant to be a guide to fitness. Even the nutrition guidelines are based on an entirely different period in human history that had very different concerns about food. In 21st century America, the biggest danger is eating too much food. That was not the case two millennium ago. Also, I don’t get the urge to combine all the things that you love into one thing. I have a lot of interests outside fitness. I do not feel compelled to experience them all at the same time but that’s just me.

So far, this stuff seems pretty harmless. Restricting calories is like 90% of the battle of the bulge so something like the Daniel Fast is probably going to work. What I don’t like about this is that it contributes to the “gimmick-iness” of the fitness industry. The way to fight that is by sticking to the fundamentals and using science.

What do you want: There is a certain brand of article that I have come to detest. It pops up around the New Year but it can manifest itself at any time. The premise of the article is that the gym is a rip-off. From RealDaily:

That’s right. Most gyms make money off of people who buy gym memberships but never show up over those that actually show up.

Only about 20% of Americans who buy a gym membership actually patronize that gym 100 times or more in a year. More than 10% of Americans buy a gym membership, work out at the gym a few times, then never return.

A shocking 70% of Americans buy a gym membership and then never go to the gym once.

Think about that. Seven out of every 10 people literally waste their expensive gym memberships.

Like a casino, the gym and fitness club industry are profitable. But it is an exaggeration to accuse them of actively ripping people off.

              Like a casino? You know who else is like a casino then? Every profitable business in the world. I Is it the gym’s fault that people don’t show up? Should gym operators design their facilities to accommodate all the people that don’t show up? The conclusion of these articles is usually some version of: don’t join a gym because you won’t use it and therefore you’re getting ripped off. Because choosing not to use the service that you paid for is somehow a rip-off?

There is another perspective to this: gym memberships are a fantastic deal because they are subsidized by people who don’t use theirs. There are 3 groups of people: those you use their memberships, those who don’t, and those that don’t have a gym membership. Being in the 1st group is the smart financial move. You will avoid a lot of health problems that way. Advising people to move from the 2nd group to the 3rd group is not good financial advice. You can get a big box gym membership for about $30/month in most parts of the country. Even cheaper if you join a low cost operator. And they’re a great deal, you get access to a ton of equipment for a very reasonable price because so many people don’t use their memberships. Unfortunately, this type of article will never die. There will always be some jackass who thinks that this is insightful and original even though it’s some of the worst advice that you can dish out.

The taxman cometh: One of the reasons that taxes in the U.S. are so complicated is that they serve 2 purposes. The first is to fund the government. The second is drive policy, namely to either encourage or discourage certain behaviors. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Tennessee, where the state government recently decided to start enforcing an obscure tax law. From WYCB:

A little-known tax could be making it more expensive for you to exercise in Tennessee.

Owners of small gyms are joining lawmakers in a fight to end an "amusement tax" on gym memberships in Tennessee. The 10 percent tax only affects gyms smaller than 15,000 sq. ft.

"One of the most unhealthy states in the United States shouldering an amusement tax that taxes wellness is a little backwards," said Taryn Hayden of CrossFit 423 in Bristol, Tenn.

For decades, the tax went unenforced by the Dept. of Revenue. Then, last June, gym owners were told they retroactively owed taxes to the state.

For CrossFit 423, that meant $20,000.

"It's a tax directly handed to the member, which turns into a tax on wellness," Hayden said.

              Why? Why was this ever a law? Why start enforcing this now? Why charge businesses back taxes on a law that everyone had forgotten about? This is completely backwards on 2 levels.

(1)    Why have a tax that only applies to small businesses and not larger ones? Don’t we want to help smaller businesses grow into larger ones? Making it harder for a small business to succeed with a larger one doesn’t make any sense (unless you’re a lobbyist for the larger businesses).

(2)    Why tax something that we should be encouraging? The movement is toward taxing things that are unhealthy like soda. Taxing fitness like this is crazy.

Hopefully, Tennessee gets its act together and repeals this law. This is the type of policy that has no constituency. It is a blatant act of corporate favoritism that should not be tolerated.

Playlists: People love to listen to music while they exercise. The preponderance of fitness apps and studio classes have strengthened the importance of playlists in the fitness landscape. And for good reason, music improves performance. From Outside:

For years, scientists have studied the link between music and heart rate. In 2005, a team of researchers found that listening to music with a fast tempo could speed up heart rates, while a leisurely tempo could slow them down. Furthermore, crescendos—where the volume of a song gradually rises—can increase heart rates, while decrescendos have the opposite effect, according to a small study from 2009 published in the journal Circulation. Although scientists aren’t certain why and how these interactions happen physiologically, relaxing music could be used to maintain a level of serenity for lower-intensity activities like yoga. “I always set my metronome at 60 [bpm] because it’s lower than the normal heart rate, and it helps me relax,” says Rodney Garnett, an ethnomusicologist at the University of Wyoming. “Something that has a slower beat gets a different response than something that has a fast beat.”  

Another perk: listening to music can make a workout feel less challenging. Research suggests that music activates the subcerebellum and amygdala, which regulate emotions like pleasure, while also decreasing interactions between the areas of the brain that are responsible for communicating fatigue and reducing performance abilities. Fast workout music causes neurons to fire longer and with stronger pulses, suggesting that people don’t need to think as much about their workouts when listening to a killer playlist. Instead, they can let their minds wander, reducing the cognitive perception of strain while muscles continue to perform with less conscious processing, says Costas Karageorghis, a psychophysiologist at Brunel University in London. If a bopping melody isn’t enough to get you through a tough workout, a song’s lyrics can provide an extra boost of motivation with different positive affirmations and associations, Karageorghis says. 

Notice that there is nothing here about volume. Playing music extra loud has no bearing on performance. There is an epidemic of studios playing the music so loud that they are damaging people’s hearing. Some of these studios now offer earplugs. Think about how insane that is. There is no good reason to play the music that loud and it is a choice. No one is making them select that volume. Instead of offering ear plugs, just turn the volume down. Then read this article and realize that it’s about picking the right music, not destroying people’s ear drums.

Peloton: Forbes sat down with Carolyn Tisch Blodgett, the SVP of Global Brand Marketing at Peloton. Peloton has been doing very well and is poised for a successful IPO this year, a rarity in the fitness industry. She had some interesting thoughts on building a brand in fitness.

Too many brand and positioning exercises try to answer the question: “what do we do better than everyone else?” Here’s a better question: “what are your fighting for?” Customers are much more likely to pay attention to a company that is addressing a bigger problem or unmet need. In fitness, diet and exercise fads fail because they promise a quick fix. Blodgett sees Peloton as fighting for something bigger. “At its core, Peloton is helping people be the best version of themselves. I know for myself, as a working mom, if I can spend 45 minutes, or even 30 or 20 minutes with Peloton before my kids wake up, I’m more patient with them. I’m more present in meetings at work. Every part of my life is better because of Peloton. So that is the story we’re telling and the brand we’re building. If we go back to the fitness category when we started, nobody else is really telling that story.”

              I don’t think that no one else is telling that story but too many fitness companies undersell fitness. Some are selling a quick fix, others are selling aesthetics only. Fitness is the best product in the world. Everyone should sell it that way. There are a lot of reasons that Peloton is successful but one of them is that they seem to get how to sell fitness.

A bigger mission can upend the influencer model. Brands are used to paying people to mention products on social media—Kim Kardashian charges over $250,000 for an Instagram photo. Peloton doesn’t pay its influencers—even though according to Blodgett Peloton members do a better job of selling than Peloton marketing. Here’s the difference, according to Blodgett: “unless you pay someone, nobody’s talking about what kind of toothpaste they use on a daily basis. What’s unique about Peloton is that our customers are actually talking about fitness habits they’ve created on a daily basis, because it really is changing their life.”

              There’s so much passion in fitness. There’s so much opportunity to bring positive change to people’s lives. People wanting to talk about fitness is not unique to Peloton but they get that passionate customers are the best marketing. If you focus on producing results when you design your product or your gym, then you’re going to reap the rewards. That’s what gets people excited. Sometimes, that might mean giving people what they need, not what they want. You might have to bridge that divide through education and that’s okay. Ultimately, the results will speak for themselves.

Tidbits:

-Keep a workout diary

-Katrin Davidsdottir and Sean Sweeney win the Fittest in Cape Town and qualify for the CrossFit Games

-The rise of the energy bar

-Do you post workout pictures on social media?

-What is recovery?