THE WEEKLY HOWL HAS A TEN YEAR RULE

Planet Apathy: Everyone knows that the fitness industry is “barbell-ing”, growing fastest at the low end and the high end. The high end is represented by companies like SoulCycle, CrossFit, and Orangetheory. The low end is represented by Planet Fitness and since going public, it is thriving. From The Motley Fool:

It was another strong quarterly workout for Planet Fitness (NYSE:PLNT). Shares of the discount gym operator hit more all-time highs last week, fueled by blowout financial results. 

Investors are used to strong quarterly outings at Planet Fitness, and they've been rewarded handsomely in the process. The stock is trading 59% higher in 2018. Planet Fitness shares have risen by at least 46% in each of its first three full years as a public company, more than tripling since going public at $16 in the summer of 2015. 

              The thing about the “barbell-ing” is that it’s not just about the price point, it’s growing at the apathy and passion ends as well. Planet Fitness has figured out how to turn apathy to its advantage. Gyms have always benefited from members that didn’t use their membership. The problem with that free money is that eventually those members will cancel and have to be replaced and acquiring new customers is expensive. There is a finite period of time that people will pay $30/month for something that they never use. Planet Fitness is based on a bet that there isn’t a finite period of time that people will $9.99/month for something that they never use. Or at least that it is a much longer period of time.  Then they designed the entire company around this bet. They built their gyms to appeal to people who don’t work-out regularly and alienate those who do. This meant getting rid of free weights, instituting the lunk alarm, and even banning certain types of exercise like plyometrics. You don’t need 30,000 square feet to accommodate your members because they’re not going to show up anyway so they save a lot of money on rent. Then to hedge against those members canceling anyway, they added pizza nights and free bagels so that members would still feel like their membership was worth it even though they never worked out. And it’s working!

The case for the upside at Planet Fitness is that the concept is not limited to hardcore workout junkies. Planet Fitness sets members back as little as $10 and only as much as $20 a month, which explains why it's been able to grow to more than 12.2 million members. It crossed the 10 million-member mark just early last year. Joining a Planet Fitness is not a bank-breaking decision. 

Planet Fitness has ramped up to 1,646 units in short order, but it hasn't even hit half as many fitness centers as it hopes to open. The goal here is 4,000 units, and by then it expects have enhanced its money-making potential through in-store initiatives and brand partnerships. In short, as good as things have been for investors since its 2015 IPO, there are still more than a few reps to go before this workout is complete. 

              Planet Fitness has figured out how to monetize people’s apathy towards fitness. The other end of the barbell is the passion side. It’s consumers paying a lot of money because they’re so passionate about their work-out. The joke about CrossFit is that the first rule of CrossFit is to always talk about CrossFit. I understand why that can be annoying but that is a reflection of how passionate CrossFitters are. What’s really interesting is that the home exercise equipment market has shifted over to the passion side after years spent on the apathy side. From Vox:

Peloton is not like the exercise bikes and NordicTracks of yore that largely ended up as clothing racks. It’s managed to harness the energy, connection, and competitiveness of a live group fitness class. Thanks to a methodical “casting” system for instructors and a well-tended and well-studied community presence on Facebook, people are exceptionally loyal to the exercise modality. The company was founded in 2012 and delivered its first bike in 2014; it boasts of having more than 1 million users.

Now, at-home, “connected” fitness options, like Peloton’s answer to SoulCycle, are ascendant. There are an abundance of class streaming apps, like the audio app Aaptiv, the so-called “Spotify of fitness,” that you only need a phone to use. But increasingly, more companies have been inspired by Peloton’s success to the point that they are asking customers to commit to pricey home equipment. There are now several Pelotons of rowing (Hydrow, Cityrow), a Peloton of weight training (Tonal), a Peloton of boxing (Rumble), and a Peloton of group cardio studio fitness (Mirror).

Like a lot of things that emerge from the wellness industry, Peloton comes at a steep price. It costs $2,000 for a bike, and that’s before you add in the monthly streaming service. The company is valued at more than $4 billion, and an IPO is likely imminent. Since people are busier and boutique fitness is more popular than ever, it’s not surprising that a business that accounts for both of these things is thriving. Peloton’s success is also a convincing sign that high-priced fitness has been normalized. It wasn’t long ago that SoulCycle’s high class prices were raising eyebrows, but now people are willing to pay up for a stationary bike of their own at home.

Everyone is consumed with building the next Peloton but we really should think about what home exercise equipment used to be. It was Nordic Tracks and cheap treadmills that ended up becoming expensive coat racks in most households and those cheap barbell sets that you could get at Walmart. It was also gimmicky crap like thigh masters and shake weights. Now it’s $2,000 Peloton bikes and Rogue Fitness products. It’s not about cheap crap and gimmicks anymore, it’s about gear that will allow you to get a gym-quality work-out in the comfort of your own home. The schism in fitness isn’t just a price thing, it’s also a schism in enthusiasm. And the home market is switching sides.

The Vox article also had an interesting depiction of what it is like to participate in a cycling class that is being streamed.

In the cycling studio, 12 instructors record classes about eight to 12 times a week each, in front of a live group of actual riders at an NYC studio; a separate treadmill studio is ramping up its offerings as the treads start to ship. Classes at the studio are $32. Lunchtime classes, which are hard to fill with paying customers, are often free.

Taking a live Peloton class at the company’s fitness studio feels like being in a TV show about a spin class, because that’s essentially what it is. The lights, cameras, and some scripted patter of the instructor are clues that this class is different from SoulCycle, Flywheel, or any of the other popular spinning classes that have taken over gym culture in the past decade. There are cameras mounted on the ceiling that zip around getting shots of the instructor from different angles, ultimately feeding the footage to a huge, high-tech video studio in the basement level.

The instructor takes care to speak to the camera more than to the IRL class. It felt slightly stilted, a thing that I found weird since it feels so authentic when you’re actually on the bike at home. I felt a little bit like a prop in the room. Brad Olson, the senior vice president of member experience at Peloton, acknowledges that having bodies in the physical space to create energy “does translate on camera. Ultimately, we’re optimizing for the million members, not for the 50 folks in the room.”

 How does this play out as streaming classes continue to proliferate? They want people in the classes because they want it to feel like a real class but if the participants feel like a “prop”, then they’re probably not coming back. Do these companies have to start offering classes for free (as Peloton is already partially doing)? I even wonder if, as the number of streaming companies grow, they will have to start competing for people willing to go to these classes. Maybe that’s with some kind of perk or benefit or maybe it’s with straight up cash.  

Big Government: The Department of Health and Human Services released the second edition of its guidelines to physical activity this week and there was one major change. From Gizmodo:

The U.S. government has released its latest recommendations on how physically active we should be to stay healthy, and do we detect a hint of desperation in their tone? The guidelines, as before, call for adults to aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise, to get the most optimal benefits of physical activity. But they also make clear that any physical activity, no matter how short or relatively mild, is better than nothing at all.

Also:

What makes the guidelines different this time around, though, is the emphasis on convincing people that any extra exertion is worth the effort, even if they don’t meet the above numbers. There is no longer a mandate that people have to be active for at least 10 minutes at a time for it to count toward their weekly exercise. They also state, as recent research has suggested, that people can benefit from any level of exercise they are able to accomplish, no matter how small.

              It will never stop surprising me how hard it is to get people to exercise. I think that this was the right move on the part of HHS because you want to make exercise as accessible as possible. If you tell people that they should exercise for 1 hour a day, what most people hear is that you can’t do that then why bother doing anything.

A lot of people have a weird all-or-nothing attitude towards fitness. We’ll be seeing it in a couple of months when people are flooding the gyms. Maybe it’s a desire for instant gratification or a focus on short-term thinking, I don’t know. Sometimes I think that people are trying to flip a switch and turn into a “fitness person”. The quote that always comes to mind is from Bill Gates: “Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in 1 year and underestimate what they can accomplish in 10 years”. That’s the most daunting thing for most people: there is no secret. If you want to be fit then you have to do the work day in and day out for the next 10 years and the rest of your life. 

              The psychology around getting people to exercise is fascinating because it is so complex and often counter-intuitive. Fitness is the best product in the world. It will make you look good and feel good, it will make you healthier and smarter, it can earn you the respect of people around you. It can get you laid! This sounds like something that should sell itself yet selling it is incredibly complicated. HHS is discovering that. They’re basically pleading with Americans to just do something, anything and they’re not wrong to do so.

For the cynics in the crowd, though, the more lenient guidelines seem to also reflect just how few Americans are physically active. According to the HHS, only around 26 percent of men, 19 percent of women, and 20 percent of teens meet the current guidelines. And annually, around 10 percent of premature deaths and $117 billion in healthcare costs might be attributable to people not getting sufficient exercise.

              We are on a collision course with disaster if we can’t figure out how to get the majority of Americans to start exercising.

Rule the World: A couple of months ago, CrossFit began the process of revamping the process for qualifying for the CrossFit Games. It laid off dozens of employees whose main responsibilities had been in documenting and promoting the Games. The original narrative was that founder Greg Glassman was “anti-Games” and was re-structuring the company to re-focus on affiliate growth and CrossFit Health. The Regionals were discontinued and a plan to partner with existing fitness competitions was disclosed. Now that we can see the primarily international composition of the qualifying events, I am proposing a new narrative. I don’t think that Glassman was ever “anti-Games”. He just never saw the CrossFit Games as an end unto itself. The end goal wasn’t to find out who the Fittest Man and Woman was; it was to be a marketing tool for the affiliates. The only thing that’s changed is that CrossFit is getting most of its growth internationally instead of domestically. From Morning Chalk-Up:

CrossFit in Brazil is exploding, adding approximately 353 new affiliates in 2018. That’s 31%, or nearly one third, of the current gyms in Brazil. Also notable are France, Italy and Spain which added 143, 148, and 118 new affiliates, respectively.

  • Brazil — 353 new affiliates (31% of total)

  • Italy — 148 new affiliates (22%)

  • France — 143 new affiliates (30%)

  • Spain — 118 new affiliates (26%)

  • China — 47 new affiliates (31%)

China, which had about 15 affiliates in 2014, has exploded with a 920% increase in the past four years, adding more than 130 new affiliates.

Analyzing the chart above, it shouldn’t be surprising that the locations of sanctioned events closely mirrors the list of fastest growing markets as well as the top 15 countries. In fact, 14 of the 17 sanctioned events are in the top 15 countries. The only exceptions are Argentina, Iceland and United Arab Emirates.

              It was time to take the show on the road. The problem is that holding a series of international events is both very expensive (the Brazil Regional cost over $1 million) and a huge pain in the ass. So CrossFit decided to partner with competitions in the countries where it was seeing the most affiliate growth. This is just Phase 2 of the CrossFit story. Phase 1 was rapid expansion in North America and the Regionals/Games reflected that. Phase 2 is where the majority of growth is coming from Brazil, Australia, Europe, and China. And now CrossFit has re-configured the sport side to reflect that and drive more growth in those countries. They have an eye for Phase 3 by crowning National Champions based on the Open results. I am sure that they are hoping to identify and encourage growth in a new set of countries once growth starts to slow in the Phase 2 countries. Once that happens, expect to see a re-jiggering of the qualifying events again.

              None of that means that they will abandon the U.S., they just announced another U.S. event for the 2020 season. From BarBend:

The latest CrossFit Games sanctioned event (qualifier) has been announced for the 2020 CrossFit Games season. The event is set to take place in March of 2020 in Del Mar, California and is being coined the West Coast CrossFit Classic. Live and Loud Sports, who also host the Wodapalooza CrossFit Festival based in Miami, Florida, will be the hosts of this event.

Del Mar was also the home of the California/West Regional. California is the birthplace of CrossFit and home to a lot of affiliates. There wasn’t a West Coast event before this was announced and this will be a new event. The geographic placement of all these events, both international and domestic, is being carefully considered. The 2020 season will have 5 U.S. events spread across the country (Florida, California, Ohio, Texas, and Maryland). There is a method to the madness.

Nutrition: In the world of fitness and nutrition, there are trends and there are fads. Tae-bo was a fad, group exercise classes are a trend. If you want to avoid looking foolish, then you need to be able to distinguish between the two. Which brings us to the keto diet. The keto diet is booming and companies hawking products related to it are popping up all over the place. From Grub Street:

To track the keto trend, Yeji Lee, a marketing insights specialist who follows the keto craze for Kerry Taste & Nutrition, says they track consumer habits to see how many people look and act as if they’re on keto diets. That, specifically, means butter. While the market for butter, in general, has grown 5 percent this year, keto-focused butter has exploded. “One core ketogenic staple is grass-fed butter,” she explains. New data shows grass-fed butter sales are up 45 percent this year. “You see a general trend toward carb-conscious foods — which grew by 10.3 percent in the last year — and moving away from no-, low-, and reduced-fat foods, which declined by 4 percent over the same time.”

Meanwhile, Bulletproof Coffee — a keto pioneer of sorts and the group that popularized the idea of adding butter to coffee — has grown 80 percent since 2012, runs cafés in Seattle and L.A., and now sells coffee pods, as well as something called “Brain Octane MCT oil” in Whole Foods. This year, Bulletproof also raised $40 million from Starbucks investor Trinity Ventures, and $17 million the year before that.

              The keto diet is the fad, cutting back on carbs is the trend. Keto isn’t even the first diet craze in the carb cutting trend. It seems like everyone was on Atkins in the ‘00s and the keto craze has given it new life.

The Atkins plan is still around, of course, thanks to some corrective re-strategizing. Rob Lowe is the new spokesman, and there’s an Atkins 100 program rolling out: It’s a diet that allows up to 100 carbs per day, five times more than the old diet plan allowed. The thinking behind this is that the original plan was “unnecessarily restrictive” for some people, says senior vice president of innovation Linda Zink. “We want to get the message out that, yes, we offer a way to lose weight, but this is also a lifestyle.” As far how much Atkins interest is due to keto-fueled interest in low-carb diets in general, Zink says that Atkins has seen “continued growth for years,” and “we don’t see the pendulum swinging back the other way to low fat.” to it as well.

              One rule of thumb that I employ is the ten year rule: is this something that will seem ridiculous ten years from now? Cutting back on carbs? No, that seems reasonable. Putting butter in your coffee? That will seem ridiculous.

Tidbits:

-Anytime Fitness acquires Basecamp Fitness

-Febreze wants to be in your gym bag

-Ultrarunners are insane

-Yoga and meditation are very popular these days

-How to stay in shape in space

-How to stay in shape underwater

 

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS BODYBUILDING IN MIAMI

Steroids: The Miami New Timespublished an article on the self-described “Pablo Escobar of steroids”, Richard Rodriguez, this week. It is a wild read. Rodriguez made millions selling steroids online and lived a lavish lifestyle in South Florida.

In fact, as the feds soon laid out in court, Rodriguez had built one of the largest online steroid operations in U.S. history. While celebrity bodybuilders flexed on Instagram inside his gym and hawked drugs from his website, Wellness Fitness Nutrition — WFN for short — Rodriguez sold nearly $10 million worth of steroids in two years. He bought a McLaren and a Mercedes-Benz SLS, gifted his wife Cartier jewelry and trips to Europe, and became famous in pro bodybuilding, where he was widely known as Dr. Rodriguez even though he had no medical degree.

Now, after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and awaiting sentencing, Rodriguez has offered New Times an unprecedented look at how a steroid operation works today.

Interviews with the steroid kingpin and his associates, hundreds of pages of court filings, and thousands of sales records from his business make two things clear: Scores of clients, from attorneys to medical doctors to cops, brazenly bought his illegal products online before he was busted, and five years after New Timesexposed the Biogenesis steroid clinic — which eventually led to an unprecedented round of suspensions in Major League Baseball — Florida authorities still have little interest in slowing the rise of unregulated steroid clinics in the state.

With drugs shipped in bulk from China and then mixed in legal pharmacies or Rodriguez's own labs, it was almost comically easy for WFN to sell powerful compounds banned by the FDA for human consumption. If a pair of snitches hadn't ratted out Rodriguez to the feds, he might still be lording over a musclebound Miami empire rather than spending his days in a New York prison cell.

"Florida is a vanity-driven state where the market for steroids is enormous," Rodriguez says. "Most of our profit didn't come from power builders or pro athletes; it was just regular guys like you and me."

Some thoughts:

-The next time that someone tries to claim that their sport does not have a PED (Performance Enhancing Drug) issue, just remember how many people are willing to take steroids just to look good. No imagine that there is money and glory at stake and no one is willing to do what it takes to gain an edge on their competitors. 

-Bodybuilding has got to have the worst culture when it comes to PED’s. It has to be the only sport that has separate drug-freecompetitions. And there are a lot of people who doubt whether the athletes competingin natural bodybuilding are really clean. It’s just accepted that everyone involved in the sport is taking a ton of PED’s.

-Prior to 2000, the fitness culture in the U.S. was dominated by bodybuiding. Since then functional fitness has growing and gaining influence and I think that it is a great thing. Bodybuilding’s relationship with PED’s and obsession with aesthetics at the expense of function always troubled me. That kind of culture should not dominate the fitness landscape. 

-Read the article. It’s amazing how quickly this guy built an online steroid empire and how fast it all fell apart. 

Manage your time: Fitness apps are all the rage these days and POPiN has been getting more than its share of attention. The app is a way to purchase gym time by the minute instead of paying for a membership or a day pass. Business Insiderdid a profile of POPiN and one paragraph stood out to me:

The app also emphasizes that time truly is money. Knowing that I was paying by the minute, I was hyper-aware of the quality of my workout and didn't waste time scrolling through my phone or dawdling like I normally would. Each action or repetition felt more intentional — it'd be wasteful otherwise. 

            This is how you should always workout. I don’t think that the existence of pay by the minute services like POPiN will change the way that everyone approaches fitness but it would be great if it did. It drives me crazy to watch people who waste their time in the gym because I imagine that they bemoan the fact that they spend all this time working out yet fail to get the results that they want. Now I will want to read this paragraph to them. 

Business to Business: Subscription models have always been the envy of the business world.Lately, entrepreneurs have dedicated themselves to bringing that business model to new industries. One of the more high-profile ones has been MoviePass, an attempt to make movie theaters a monthly subscription. The company has been struggling to reach profitability, in fact it loses money on every subscriber. Now AMC has announced its own competitor service. Forbespublished an article on and decided to make a comparison to the fitness industry:

MoviePass has built a money-losing business on monthly memberships for unlimited movies. Now AMC Theatres is coming out with their own entry in that business model, A-List, which will cosst $19.99 per month for three movies a week. These movie membership plans have much in common with gym memberships, but also some important differences. A closer look reveals that MoviePass looks unsustainable, but AMC can probably make their membership plan work.

Gyms that rely on monthly membership build their business model on the knowledge that a large number of people will sign up (many of them right around New Year Day) and then rarely cross the doorway to the gym. In fact, some estimates suggest that two-thirds of gym members never use the gym to which they belong. That lets them keep average costs lower because they don’t need to stock the gym based on their actual paying membership, instead they can size their facilities to the ones that actually show up.

MoviePass has one membership plan that allows you to watch a movie a day for $9.95, plus a more limited option of three movies a month for $7.95. However, unlike gyms, MoviePass has to pay when a member uses their membership. A gym is just crowded if more members than expected get dedicated. In contrast, MoviePass has to pay the full ticket cost for every movie their members go see, so higher usage is much more expensive to MoviePass than to a gym. This difference is not a trivial one; thanks to those costs, MoviePass is losing $40 million a month, and those loses are expected to increase. Unless MoviePass can find a new revenue stream, somehow monetizing the data from its members at an incredibly high rate, it seems doomed.

            Yes, there are a lot of people who pay membership dues and rarely use it. The problem with this is that people don’t like to pay for something that they never use. So they cancel their memberships and now the gym has to acquire a new customer to replace the one that left. And it is always more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain a current one. I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for the fitness industry but it always irks me when people assert that gyms have some magic formula. Subscription models are nice but there is nothing magic about high churn rates. 

The rich get thinner:There is a national conversation about income equality but less well-known is fitness inequality. And the two appear to be correlated. From the Washington Post:

We found that, overall, median household income does the best job of predicting physical fitness out of the variables we looked at: The more money you have, the more exercise you get. You need disposable income to buy a gym membership or running shoes, after all.

The CDC study takes this relationship one step further by looking at the types of jobs people have in each state. States with higher percentages of people in managerial and professional roles, which tend to pay more money, have higher rates of physical activity.

We also turned up an interesting correlation between religiosity, or rather the lack thereof, and physical fitness: States with higher numbers of nonreligious people had higher rates of exercise. As the Public Religion Research Institute has reported, cities tend to be “hubs” for the religiously unaffiliated, and they're often full of the types of high-paying jobs that the CDC links to higher rates of exercise. There may also be a simple mechanism at work by which people who don't go to church have more time to exercise on the weekends.

Conversely, fitness is negatively associated with the share of people in a state who voted for President Trump in 2016. This is where we need to point out, emphatically, that simple correlations like these don't tell us much about causation. It seems highly unlikely that pulling the lever for Trump would somehow make a person decide to hang up her running shoes. More likely, Trump support is related to a whole host of other structural factors, like income and demographics, that also relate to rates of fitness.

            First off, correlation is not causation. The Post acknowledges this but seems to want to find a cause in their data. I believe that it’s a cultural issue. Educated people who live in urban areas are more likely to value fitness. There are a thousand articles about millennials who can’t really afford SoulCycle but value it so much that they find a way to pay for it. That type of person is also less likely to attend religious services and support Donald Trump. 

It does take money to exercise but not as much as people think. Fitness can be as cheap and low-tech as you need it to be. The biggest financial issue holding people back is a lack of walkable/runnable neighborhoods. But that’s more of an inner city issue than a rural one. Although if you’ve ever tried to run in a rural area, you may have found that it’s not always a friendly environment for runners.  

We have a lot of divides in our country. I think that this is another by-product of our diverging cultures.             

Real estate: Once upon a time, landlords did not like gyms. That is no longer the case. The commercial real estate industry has embraced gym operators and they are snapping up some of the best locations. GlobeSt.comtalked to CBRE about this development:

GlobeSt.com: Why have fitness tenants become such active retail occupiers? 

Petra Durnin: Fitness clients seek more experiential retail options that extend beyond the workout period. Fitness centers provide a service that is internet proof, occupy much of the space left behind from big box/department store closures, fill non-peak retail hours, and attract new customers willing to travel farther for unique fitness experiences. The natural partnership between anchor tenants such as grocers is formed due to the trend towards healthy living. Nearby amenities such as restaurants, coffee shops and personal services attract gym goers, increase foot traffic and sales.

            Landlords used to dislike gyms because they didn’t believe that gym-goers were the right kind of foot traffic, i.e. shoppers. A lot has changed in the last few years. Beyond being “internet proof”, gyms attract affluent consumers multiple times a week. It’s hard to imagine how landlords ever considered that a bad thing. What else might change in the coming years?

GlobeSt.com: Is this a lasting trend? What is your outlook for fitness center activity? 

Durnin: A future trend could be for fitness clubs to locate near residential communities or medical/hospital complexes. They could partner with mixed-use and lifestyle centers with a larger experiential platform instead of traditional retail centers. Boutique fitness clubs could look to diversify further to provide an even more personalized experience with unconventional offerings such as trampoline parks and skydiving centers.

            That was very vague. It’s I don’t think that CBRE has a good sense of where the fitness industry is headed. Have you ever been to a trampoline park? You could fit at least 5 boutiques into one trampoline park. That is not something that you offer on the side. Neither is indoor skydiving. 

 

Tidbits:

-So you think that your hamstrings are strong?

-Reebok tries and fails to have evidence from its lawsuit with CrossFit sealed

-You  pre-order Dave Castro’s book

-The CrossFit Games are staying in Madison through 2021

-BuzzFeed goes long on Russell Berger

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS WORKING ON HIS GLUTES

Sports Gym: One of the joys of watching sports is getting to see what the human body is capable of. It doesn’t seem like a huge stretch to think that sports fans would be inspired by their favorite athletes to push their own limits and test their own fitness. The San Francisco 49ers must think that it is the case because they are building a 49ers-branded gym in San Jose. From the San Jose Mercury News:

Heavy construction started about three weeks ago on the 36,500-square-foot, two-level facility at the Westgate Center Outlet Mall on Saratoga Avenue, about 10 miles from the team’s Santa Clara headquarters. With a budget of more than $6 million, the cost of building the gym is about double an ordinary facility, said the 49ers joint-venture partner, Mark Mastrov, founder of 24 Hour Fitness.

“49ers Fit is going to be cutting edge in every sense of the word and we’re going to leverage our unique organizational assets in ways that will make 49ers Fit one of the most dynamic gym experiences in the country,” said 49ers president Al Guido.

The problem is that there is no established link between sports and fitness. Football fans don’t watch a 49ers game and then get inspired to hit the gym. If that was the case, then how was the obesity rate in this country been skyrocketing at the same time that sports (and the NFL in particular) achieved record levels of popularity? You don’t see gym traffic spike after big sporting events like the Super Bowl or the Olympics. The truth is that most American adults have put sports and fitness in two different silos in their mind. There will be a marginal benefit to a 49ers-branded gym but it probably won’t come close to pay for the licensing expense.

People select gyms based on convenience. And convenience is closely linked to location, either to home or work. There will be some people who will join 49ers Fit over another gym because they are 49ers fans. That is the marginal benefit that I mentioned. But you’re not going to get fans who live 1 hour away. Because the even the most die-hard isn’t going to waste 2 hours of their day just so they can say that they work out at 49ers Fit. Plus, you may even get people who decide not to join because they are fans of a different team. If you were a Raiders fan, would you want to be a member of 49ers Fit? And then there’s this:

Members may also find themselves sweating alongside 49ers past and present and team cheerleaders, Mastrov said, adding that the gym’s walls will be decorated with photos of prominent 49ers, including the late Dwight Clark.

“It’ll give you a chance to be and feel like you’re a little bit closer to the 49ers than you’ve ever been before,” Mastrov said. “You’ll get to rub elbows a bit with the 49ers family.”

Oh please. Does anyone actually believe that players are going to be working out here on a regular basis? Even the language that Mastrov uses is vague. You “may” see some 49ers and you’ll get to “feel” like you’re closer to the 49ers family. This is all sizzle, no steak.

Just a number: It’s become a pretty standard practice for gyms to offer new members some sort of fitness assessment. The stated idea is to help that member set their fitness goals. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to imagine that the real goal is to sell that member personal/group training sessions in order to achieve those fitness goals. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that but are gyms being responsible in their assessments. From the Daily Beast:

So Shatzkes took it. During her assessment, a personal trainer took her height and weight, then told her that, according to the gym’s chart, her body mass index, or BMI, put her in a category right under obese.

“I looked at this and I was shocked because I’m in really good shape,” she told The Daily Beast. “I’m a runner and I eat really well so I looked at him and I was like, ‘How can this be?’”

The trainer deflected the question. And when Shatzkes, who’s 55 and works as a radiologist, reached out to the gym management for an explanation, she received the same kind of deflection.

“The chart was manipulative and there was a lot of pressure for training and it was clearly directed towards making me—and people—that they were less fit than they were and therefore needed training.”

              The BMI is trash. Don’t trust anyone who uses it to categorize people by weight. At best, it’s lazy and at worst, it’s deceptive. I understand the pressure to sell people personal training but this is counter-productive. Scaring members into becoming a PT client isn’t a long-term path to success. You really think that person is going to continue to purchase sessions? Shame and fear are not the way to promote fitness.

The bottom line is that not everyone is looking to reshape their body or change their diet, and certainly not by way of a controversial, potentially misleading statistic. Alyssa Chaplin, a 27-year-old special education teacher, told The Daily Beast that the numbers from any kind of body analysis she’s had has made her feel bad about herself. She’s been avoiding a free personal training session at her gym.

“Some people want a trainer to be able to stay the way that they are. I’m not necessarily going to do a drastic weight loss, and with what’s been offered to me, I feel unmotivated rather than motivated and you feel forced to go to the gym rather than go to the gym because it feels good,” she said. “I think rather than measure stuff, they should ask: What are those areas you’re not happy about, we’re not going to measure it right now but let’s talk about it.”

It’s not that hard to find a way in which someone can improve physically and enjoy a higher quality of life. But it will take more effort than just measuring someone’s height and weight and telling them that they’re overweight.

Ross Hurley, a certified strength and conditioning specialist who works with MotivNY and has worked for various gyms, told The Daily Beast that the fitness world is moving toward rethinking fitness assessments as “How well do you move” versus “How much weight do you want to lose?”

“We’re starting to look at people from a movement perspective and say, ‘Hey if you’re the kind of person who wants to do obstacle courses or play with your kids, here’s the kind of workout for you,’” he said.

This is where every gym should be moving toward. It’s a move from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation. Instead of trying to shame someone, sell them on moving better, getting stronger and fitter. That is how you’re going to attract the type of PT clients who will keep coming back. 

Putting the work in workout: Being a gym operator is to be in the real estate business. Now some operators are looking to expand the uses of their real estate. From CNBC:

Americans are increasingly working outside the traditional office, and it's fueling a need for affordable workspace. At the same time, boutique workout classes and fashionable athleisure wear have made fitness very fashionable. So some companies are marrying the two ideas and hunkering down at the gym.

A Gallup survey of more than 15,000 adults found 43 percent of U.S. employees spent some time working remotely in 2016. As internet access becomes better and more widespread, that the figure will probably increase.

There's also a booming start-up industry that thrives in a collaborative, open environment. There were 415,216 startups in 2017 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a 28 percent increase from a 30-year low in 2010. (The government defines a "start-up" as a company with at least one employee that's less than a year old.) The National Venture Capital Association reported U.S. venture capitalists invested $84 billion in 8,035 companies last year, the largest annual amount in a decade.

Start-ups often aren't able to provide perks that larger companies use to lure and retain employees, such as free cafeteria food, manicures and kombucha on tap. So being able to offer a luxury gym membership is a competitive bonus. Plus it can lead employees to have a healthier lifestyle.

"[The trend] kind of coincides with a high-performance individual that considers fitness an integral part of their life," said Equinox Fitness Clubs CEO Niki Leondakis. "There's an exponential amount of people thinking about work-life balance differently." After seeing sidewalks outside its locations crowded with members answering email, Equinox began to open co-working spaces in some of its upscale locations.

              There is a convergence occurring here as gyms are adding co-working spaces and co-working spaces are adding gyms. Even I have to admit that this is kind of weird. I’m surprised that people would want to work at the gym. I would like to do that but I wouldn’t expect that other people would want to do that. I have to wonder if a full-fledged move into co-working is a good move for a gym operator. It’s one thing to offer members some space that they could use and it’s another thing to have members running their startups out of the gym. It could be an interesting move but they might have to adjust their pricing accordingly.

 Working out of a fitness center can also cut costs for a new company or a freelancer. In pricey cities like San Francisco and New York, many small companies may not have funds to rent a full office space.

WeWork hot desks — where people don't have a dedicated workspace but are allowed to use the facility — start at $220 a month. For comparison, the office space in a gym often comes with the monthly health club fee. For instance, the New York Life Time charges $190 a month, while Equinox prices can start at $160 monthly depending on your city.

              The expectation for a gym is that a member will spend 1-2 hours a day max at the gym. The expectation for a co-working space is that a member will spend 8+ hours a day. Of course, a co-working space would have to charge more than a gym. If this trend continues, we’ll see how Lifetime Fitness and Equinox adjust their pricing.

Derriere Extraordinaire: I may be dating myself but I remember when the epitome of feminine beauty in our society was emaciation. Fortunately, that is no longer the case. From the Washington Post:

Gone are the willowy, ­flat-bottomed, Spandex-wearing workout queens of the early ’90s. Instead, today’s gluteus craziness celebrates the curves of Kim Kardashian, Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj — and seems geared toward confidence and strength, as well as sex appeal. “The focus is on curves, and that appeals to everyone,” says Bec Donlan, a personal trainer and the founder of Sweat With Bec. “But I also want you to be strong.”

Donlan attributes the renewed focus on glutes in part to the body positivity movement’s acceptance — and celebration — of curvaceous figures. She also thinks we’ve reached a more pragmatic moment in fitness culture. Her example: The average woman can’t transcend genetics to look like Heidi Klum — but she can create a firm behind. “Rather than everyone being desperate to have that stick-thin model bod, which genetically is not possible for 99.9 percent of the population,” Donlan says, “we are more accepting of what our bodies are realistically capable of.” 

Stephen Pasterino, a physical therapist turned “pre-hab” trainer, whose streamable workout concept P.volve focuses extensively on shaping the butt, hips and thighs, has a similar assessment. “It’s not about being skinny right now,” he says. “People want that athletic, strong, lean look — everyone is looking for that feminine physique, and the butt is a major part of that.”

 

              The other major shift that I have seen is the rise of functional fitness. Fitness culture used to be split between bodybuilding and aerobic training. This split was also split between men and women. Very few women participated in bodybuilding-type training. Did the shift to functional fitness (and its emphasis on squats and deadlifts) drive a change in female beauty standards or did changing beauty standards drive a shift to functional fitness?

Law enforcement: The NY Post published an article on an NYPD officer who started organizing workout classes for other police officers. It was pretty standard fare until it dropped this doozy:

When NYPD Officer Mike Counihan began posting shirtless selfies of his ripped chest and monstrous biceps to his Instagram back in 2015, it wasn’t just to show off.

“It was about breaking the stereotype that you see on TV that cops are these out-of-shape guys who just eat doughnuts all day,” says the 210-pound, 33-year-old, Westchester native who’s amassed a nearly 180,000-person following on his Instagram, @NoDonutsHere.

“I wanted the account to encourage cops to live a healthier lifestyle — it’s tough with our schedule and demanding job, but I wanted them to see that it’s possible to get in shape.”

He had recognized a problem that’s plagued the NYPD: The Post reported in February that obese cops are a growing problem on the force, partially due to the fact that there are no physical fitness requirements to stay on the job. Several cops reported feeling nervous that fat cops wouldn’t be able to do their jobs well.

              There are no fitness requirements for police officers in the largest police department in the country. That’s crazy. There is a physical fitness requirement to join the force but not to stay on it. How does that make sense? The military conducts physical fitness tests twice a year. The demands of serving in the military and being a police officer are very similar. Police officers should hold themselves to the same standard. A little internet research shows that while many police departments do not have an ongoing physical fitness requirement, some do. But how is this not a standard requirement? And it is difficult to argue that this hasn’t led to a problem either.

Attendees included Officer Aaron Lohman, a 6-foot-5 Long Island cop who “binge ate constantly” to deal with the stress of his job. At the end of 2015, he weighed more than 425 pounds.

“And when I say more than 425 pounds, it’s because my scale only went up to 425,” Lohman, 35, tells The Post.

“I was eating what I call the police food groups: pizza, fast food, Chinese food — anything that was open past midnight.”

One night, he dreamt that he couldn’t keep up with an assailant who threw him off a building. In the dream, “as I was falling, I saw my 5-year-old daughter living her life without me.” He woke up and knew it was time for a big change.

              And this doesn’t appear to be an isolated incident. Also from the NY Post:

Ex-NYPD cop Jose Vega provided a vivid example of the problem last week when he filed suit for a job-related disability pension — because his weight soared from 180 to 395 pounds during 17 years on the force.

Multiple NYPD sources blamed the situation on the lack of any fitness mandate once cops graduate from the Police Academy.

“You see some of these officers out there: They’re fat, they’re sloppy, they’re disgusting and they’re not healthy,” one cop said.

The FDNY, by contrast, requires that firefighters and emergency medical technicians undergo comprehensive, annual physicals that include weigh-ins, cardiac exams, blood tests, X-rays and hearing and vision checks.

Those who fail to meet official standards are sidelined until they do, the FDNY said.

              This is just a no-brainer. Every police department in the country should have some sort of annual physical fitness requirement. It appears that the opposition to this stems from the union but I would love to hear their argument.       

TidBits:

-Rogue Fitness formally announces acquisition of OSO Barbell

-RIP Fat Mac

-Dave Castro is at it again

-More on gyms in malls

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS THINKING ABOUT STRATEGY

Big Box: Gold’s Gym will always occupy a special place in the history of modern fitness.The original club in Venice Beach was the center of the bodybuilding world in the 1970’s and helped launch Arnold Schwarzenegger to international stardom and a career in politics. Flash forward 40 years and Gold’s Gym has 700 locations and is headquartered in Dallas. The fitness landscape looks completely different than it did when Pumping Iron premiered. From D Magazine:

“One of the first things we set out to do was to figure out who we are, who we serve, and how we serve them,” Bean says. “Part of that was creating a strategy around how we are going to compete.” The goal: A defensible fitness product differentiated by people, processes, and programming.

From those strategy sessions, the team decided it could tap digital transformation to leverage its brand beyond the four gym walls. “Our true core competency is not building and operating gyms,” Bean says. “Our true core competency is fitness. How do we take fitness to everyone who knows this brand around the world?”

They did it with a smartphone app introduced last October called Gold’s AMP—marketed as “Your Digital Personal Trainer.” The app provides Gold’s Gym-certified coaches and a custom music library to offer the Gold’s experience outside the gym’s walls. Alternatively, members, if they wish, can use the app while working out at the gym. It costs $9.99 per month after a seven-day free trial. Three of Gold’s four membership levels include the app in the membership. No Gold’s Gym membership is required to subscribe to the app.

                  Building a fitness app is not getting ahead of the curve anymore, it’s what you have to do to keep up these days. The market for fitness apps is completely saturated right now. It’s so hard to break out of the pack even for an established brand like Gold’s. And most of those apps are free. 

The chain is in the process of retrofitting its company-owned stores to include what it’s named Gold’s Studio. The Gold’s Studios typically offer two or three signature coach-led programs: Gold’s Burn (heart-rate variability training), Gold’s Fit (high-intensity interval training, or HIIT), and Gold’s Cycle (a competitive, music-enhanced cycling experience). It’s one way Gold’s is competing against the onslaught of specialty fitness boutiques. Franchise locations have expressed interest in retrofitting, but, because Gold’s Studio requires committed floor space, it’s unlikely they’ll be as aggressive in the rollout. All corporate locations are scheduled to be retrofitted within two years.

                  This is an interesting mix of classes. Gold’s Burn sounds like it was designed to take on Orangetheory, Gold’s Fit to take on CrossFit, and Gold’s Cycle to take on SoulCycle. It’s always going to be tough for a big box to be as good at studio fitness as an actual studio but if they can get close then they can really leverage the fact that a big box offers so much more. This is going to be all about execution. 

Gold’s also decided to make joining easier. In January, the company did away with its membership contracts and introduced four levels of memberships to entice engagement. The levels start with a basic $40 per month membership, plus three others: $50, $80, and $100 a month levels offering additional services and programming.

            What does this mean? They did away with their membership contracts but they still have memberships? That is not clear at all.

Another way Gold’s hopes to leverage its brand is through a new corporate wellness program. The program, called Gold’s Care, was beta-tested in Austin over the past six months and launched in a limited roll-out there in April. It’s expected to move into a portion of San Antonio by summer. By year’s end, all of Austin and San Antonio are expected to be offering Gold’s Care with the expectation of taking it nationwide in 2019.

“We have a lot of exciting things going on, but this is one that is really exciting and aligns with our strategy of differentiating [ourselves] from other companies,” Bean says. Competing fitness clubs don’t have Gold’s combination of existing corporate relationships, footprint, and coaching to compete, he contends.

Under the program, a member or nonmember comes into Gold’s and receives a health assessment, which includes a pin-prick blood draw and a 3D body scan that measures a person’s body mass index and body measurements. From there, the person is put into a green, yellow, or red bucket. Yellows and reds go through a 13-week nutrition and fitness program at Gold’s, paid for by their insurance company after a $99 entry fee paid by the individual.

                  Having a corporate wellness strategy in 2018 is an absolute must. The challenge is keeping those corporate members coming back so you can keep making money. This article is a good look at the challenges faced by big box gyms right now. They have to adapt to a world that is rapidly changing due to technology, an industry that is mainly growing at the low and high end, a generation that prizes experiences over possessions, and a nation that is struggling with an obesity epidemic and sky-rocketing health care prices. There is a lot of danger and a lot of opportunity there. 

Cycling: It’s hard to believe that Peloton is only a few years old but the company has already hit $400 million in sales. They have accomplished something that a lot of companies are striving to do right now: position themselves at the nexus of fitness and technology and make a lot of money. From AdWeek:

The challenge with fitness classes is they’re inherently inefficient,” says Tim Calkins, author of Defending Your Brand and a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “It’s tough to pay an instructor a lot of money if they’re only teaching 30 people at a time.Nor can the instructor commit too much to that class because they have to teach a lot of other classes” to make a living.

By contrast, Peloton has found a way to scale the instructors that “improves the quality of the offerings.” And, Calkins points out, the hefty price tag can be seen as a plus from a bottom-line perspective. “If they can get the treadmill placed at $4,000, then you’ve really locked people in,” he says, adding that though fitness is a saturated market, Peloton “captures both the convenience of at-home exercising and they tap into all the fun and joys of being part of a class and a broader community. That combination is quite unique.”

                  Personal/Group training is inefficient and labor-intensive. You can only cram so many people into a room. And a trainer/instructor can only teach so many classes in a day. This means that a gym operator can only sell so many spots per class and so many classes per day. Peloton utilizes technology to solve this problem. It solves the instructor and scarcity problem by streaming classes which makes attending a cycling class more convenient. 

Another instructor, Matt Wilpers, a former auditor for KPMG who ran track at Georgia State and deferred medical school to teach at Peloton full-time, is in awe of the scope and reach his classes have. He puts in hours determining what music to use as well as answering riders’ comments and posts on various social media platforms. “I teach a class and there’s 500 to 1,000 in every class. That’s a whole different scale, and it’s all about using technology to increase my reach,” he says.

                  That is incredible scale for a cycling class. I assume that it allows Peloton to pay its instructors more than its competitors, which then turns into a competitive advantage. The only drawback is that it is fairly expensive but they’re working on that too:

To help attract new subscribers, Peloton is offering financing options to entice less affluent riders. The company has also created corporate partnerships, introducing commercial-grade bikes at high-end residential buildings and hotels—making Peloton an “everywhere, whenever” proposition. Earlier this month, it announced a global expansion into Canada and the United Kingdom.

                  

                  The one thing that I am not bullish on is the treadmill. I don’t like the price point ($4000) because that is double what the bike costs and that is a lot of money for a treadmill. Also, it’s important to note that running classes are not an established thing like cycling classes are. Cycling/Spin classes have been popular for years and have recently gone to the next level with SoulCycle and FlyWheel. Running classes are fairly new, not that widespread, and nowhere near as popular as cycling classes. That means that Peloton will have to educate consumers on what a running class is, why they should be doing it, and then pay $4000 to get started. That is a very big ask and I am not sure how Peloton is going to get there.

Global Domination: If you’re not growing, you’re dying, especially when you need to stay a step ahead of your competitors in a fast-growing field. A great way to keep growing is to expand into international markets and that’s what ClassPass is doing. From TechCrunch:

ClassPass, the studio fitness platform that gives users access to thousands of boutique fitness classes, has said it plans to expand internationally into nine new countries by the end of 2018. The company’s top priorities are consolidating its position in the UK and launching in three countries in Asia, according to chief executive Fritz Lanman. Lanman declined to disclose which countries the fitness subscription service was targeting.

ClassPass’s  further international expansion isn’t exactly a surprise. The company already serves parts of Canada, the UK and Australia alongside its 50 cities within the US. ClassPass also raised a whopping $70 million Series C last year which Lanman tells me was purposefully large to fuel this type of expansion without being dependent on another round of financing.

            What is ClassPass’ strategy? It’s a company that has pivoted a couple of times already and it is developing a streaming service right now. I’m starting to think that ClassPass management is just throwing stuff against the wall and seeing if anything sticks. Nine new countries by the end of the year is an ambitious expansion. I’m a little concerned that the CEO wouldn’t name the counties because it makes me think that they don’t know which countries they want to target. I kind of think that ClassPass is cursed with too much funding. Less money could be a blessing because it would force ClassPass to focus and really think about what kind of company it wants to be. The curse of too much funding is that you have to put it to use and you don’t have to make hard decisions. A hard decision would be whether to focus on streaming or double down on being a platform for studio classes. 

            Maybe there is a master plan, maybe I’m wrong. I am extrapolating on what I see from observing the company from afar. But management has had plenty of opportunities to articulate a strategy and I haven’t seen them do it. Maybe they’ll stumble on the right strategy, who knows? Right now I am a little concerned about them.

Meat Market: Have you ever thought that people don’t look at their phones enough at the gym? Well, then I have great news for you. Tinder is launching a location feature called Tinder Places. From Inverse:

Tinder announced on Wednesday that it is currently testing its new location feature Places, which the company said is “designed to help you discover new people who hang where you hang.” In addition to bars and restaurants, Tinder also listed one such example of a potential “hang” as spin class — because the couple that spins together, stays together, right?

So long as you’re cool with yet another app tracking your location and regular haunts, Tinder Places (which uses Foursquare and Mapbox data) doesn’t sound all that terrible in theory. The company noted on its blog that Places can be turned on or off any time a user likes, and the app won’t show you in real time at a given place unless you’ve already added it to your Places queue (it’ll disappear from the app after 28 days. In addition to offering the option to hide or delete certain Places, Tinder also said it “will never show you at the bank, your home, or doctor’s office.” Nice!

But it will show you at the gym, assuming you’re into that kind of thing. This is probably great news for fans of the “social fitness” app Gymder, which is totally and definitely not just an app for people who hope to hookup with fellow gym rats (according to the company. And sure, having similar hobbies as your prospective partners is a serious icebreaker and helps make dating less awful! But I’d venture a guess that as complex organisms with many pastimes and interests, you may just have something else in common other than fitness — maybe. Hopefully.

                  Ugghhhh…do we really need this? I do believe that a shared passion for fitness can be a crucial component of compatibility but that doesn’t mean that people have to actually meet in the gym. The biggest mistake that I see people make at the gym is a lack of focus. We all have a finite amount of time to spend in the gym so you need to make every second count. Don’t waste time on chit-chat and manage your rest intervals. Turning the gym into a Tinder Place won’t be help anyone’s fitness levels. I include myself in that category because distracted gym-goers will clog up more equipment.  

TidBits:

-Mat Fraser is still really good at and he’s getting his own Nikeshoe

-The Panchik brothers both qualified for the CrossFit Games

-Don’t film people at the gym without their consent

-Overweight man who never exercises tells millions of people how to get in shape

-SoulCycle has pulled its IPO

-It’s like a bar crawl but for fitness classes