THE WEEKLY HOWL IS CUTTING COSTS

Get more sleep: It was inevitable. Work-outs have gotten harder, which has made recovery crucial. This has led to a proliferation of companies offering recovery products and services. It’s the next frontier of the fitness industry but is it legitimate. Christie Aschwanden has written a book (Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery) in order to tackle this question. From Science:

 

Many of today’s recovery modalities, she finds, are based on tiny studies that are not necessarily replicable or representative of the outcomes most athletes should expect. A dismaying number of them are funded by industry. And in many cases, recovery technologies that are allegedly science-based don’t live up to the claims made by their endorsers. After enduring an infrared sauna, for example, Aschwanden points out the lack of any large studies able to demonstrate a significant recovery advantage. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, she reminds readers, even had to order one manufacturer to stop claiming that its saunas reduced swelling or expelled toxins. There is little evidence to support these claims. Even her own carefully designed “study”—which sought to determine whether beer makes a good workout recovery drink—does more to persuade Aschwanden that conducting sports science research is hard than it does to up her six-pack consumption.

Also:

Aschwanden’s persuasive science and snappy writing helped me relinquish some recovery beliefs I’d been holding for years. Fancy electrolyte-laden sports drinks, it turns out, show no clear superiority at hydrating the body over plain water, and drinking too much liquid can be more detrimental to performance than getting a little dehydrated. The benefits of “precision eating” and protein supplements are probably all in our heads. Icing and cryotherapy might actually do more harm than good. And fitness tracking apps—which focus our attention on a handful of metrics instead of the overall picture—are causing us to ignore the sophisticated training and recovery signals released by our own bodies. It may be better, Aschwanden regularly reminds readers, to learn to trust your own body and its specific needs.

The recovery sub-industry is repeating the same mistakes that the broader fitness industry has always made (selling pseudo-science and shortcuts). For example, The New England Patriots use a sleep tank that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels claims can cram the benefits of 4 hours of sleep into 45 minutes. Does that pass the common sense test? I don’t think so. I also don’t think that McDaniels made that determination on his own. That sounds like a sales pitch.  

People have always wanted a magic pill or a magic workout. Now that it seems like people have come to accept that there is no getting around hard work, the demand for the magic recovery technique has surged.  Some things make sense such as massage tools like the HyperVolt or TheraGun. Others seem like nonsense. Then there are others that don’t pass the driving test. The driving test is whether it’s more beneficial to get in your car and drive somewhere to receive the treatment or just stay at home, drink some water, and maybe get some extra sleep that night. Because there aren’t going to be any magic recovery fixes. Handheld massage tools are just leveraging technology in order to deliver the benefits of massage at a lower price and greater convenience.

CrossFit: CrossFit Inc. has always been fiercely protective of its trademark. There were only 2 ways to be a part of the brand: get a CrossFit certification or become a CrossFit affiliate. Last year, they deputized a series of functional fitness competitions as Games qualifiers and allowed them to call themselves CrossFit competitions. This week, CrossFit Inc. announced that they would be expanding the opportunity to become an official CrossFit event. From The Barbell Spin:

In a press release today, CrossFit, Inc. announced it is launching an official program to allow for affiliates and organizations to license a competition and receive limited use of the CrossFit name and logo. These CrossFit-licensed events, however, will not send the winners to the CrossFit Games like CrossFit-sanctioned (Sanctional) events.

Organizers of CrossFit-licensed events will be able to sell merchandise with the CrossFit logo, but will also need to “uphold CrossFit-approved standards for safety and programming.” Licensed competitions must have event insurance and the organizer must be L-1 certified.

These CrossFit-licensed events will also be a feeder system to the Sanctional competitions. Before an event can become a Sanctional, the event must first be approved as a CrossFit-licensed competition.

In the past, CrossFit Inc. has tried to hold these events at arm’s length but everyone associated them with CrossFit regardless. It’s smarter to let event organizers use the name so that CrossFit Inc. can exert some quality control.

Look at the aftermath of Kevin Ogar’s injury at the OC Throwdown. Mr. Ogar was paralyzed after an accident during the snatch event. CrossFit Inc. came under criticism for trying to distance themselves publicly from the OCT at the same time that they were demanding things from the event’s organizer. Prevention is better than damage control. Take an active role and set some safety standards. Do something to prevent the next tragedy. CrossFit Inc. planted the seeds for this whole ecosystem to blossom. That’s great but that comes with some responsibility as well. It’s good to see them take it. This will also create a pipelines of competitions vying to be the next Sanctional. I’ve written before that I think the new qualifying system will create incentives for competitions to be professionally run so that they can become a Sanctional event. Right now, I think that the incentive is to come up with the most extreme event. This will encourage more competitions to seek Sanctional status, which will be a good thing as well.  

More CrossFit: Back in August, CrossFit Inc. laid off a bunch of people and announced that there were going to be some changes to the way athletes qualified for the Games. Most of the layoffs were in the media department, the people who made all those documentaries about the CrossFit Games. It felt like a byproduct of a strategic shift. Now it appears that there was another round of layoffs. From Morning Chalk-Up:

In a continued effort to shift the direction of CrossFit Inc., the company executed another sweeping round of layoffs Tuesday at their office in Scotts Valley, CA, the Morning Chalk Up has learned.

Through conversations with former employees, we have confirmed that 21 of in-office employees across publishing, health, video, writing, IT, e-commerce, project management, QA and operations departments were laid off effective immediately.

This is the third round of layoffs the company has gone through in the past six months. Key figures like Rory McKernan and Tyson Oldroyd were included in this round of layoffs.

Also:

With the latest changes, the total number of CrossFit employees laid off over the past half year is approaching 100, according to our best estimates, leaving a skeleton crew to execute on the CrossFit Games vision which kicks off in a little more than five months.

After the Games media and broadcasting teams were completely closed along with several staffers involved with Games support and operations, serious questions were raised in the community about the ability of CrossFit Inc. to execute on their vision for the CrossFit Games going forward.

The stakes couldn’t be higher for the dozen or so remaining Games staffers — including Dave Castro and Justin Bergh — to deliver an event on par with past years, and the latest round of layoffs is sure to send another shockwave through the industry already concerned about the future.

I find this very curious. CrossFit has never been a company that has exerted a lot of cost controls. Lauren Glassman’s rationale for wanting to sell her stake was that the company burned through cash and she was concerned about the financial health of the company. This isn’t terribly unusual for companies that are in a rapid growth phase. You’re growing fast, adding a lot of headcount, and thinking that the good times will never end. CrossFit appears to be in the cost-cutting stage when a company tries to trim its headcount and reign in spending. This stage usually doesn’t come until the growth starts to slow because once revenue stops growing like crazy, management has to stop burning through cash.

We know that domestic growth has slowed and CrossFit Inc. is shifting its focus to international growth. We also know that the majority of its revenue is derived from affiliate fees and certifications. The affiliate fees will continue to roll in but slowing growth would significantly reduce the number of people seeking CrossFit certifications. On the other hand, its debt to Summit Partners should be paid off and I anticipate that its next apparel deal will be extremely lucrative. What we don’t know is whether CrossFit Inc. is in any sort of financial trouble or if it’s just trying to trim the fat.

Even More CrossFit: Jillian Michaels, of The Biggest Loser fame, decided to take on CrossFit. It was an odd take. From USA Today:

 In a video filmed back in December but shared by Shape yesterday on the magazine's Instagram account, the personal trainer bashed CrossFit, listing multiple "issues" with the trendy workout.

"First of all, you’ve got what, maybe 20 to 25 movements that don’t really vary? And you’re doing them over and over and over again," she said. "So on one hand it stops being effective because you’re not challenging the body from various angles of push and pull, with different varieties of exercises and different types of movements that work different modalities.”

She continued, "And I know CrossFit (athletes say), ‘Oh, we work all the modalities!’ — but no, not really, so shouldn’t you choose a workout that has a little bit more flexibility and strength so you get more mobility, not just power, which is speed and strength.”

Instead, she advised a more balanced workout.

“A little agility work, maybe some endurance training,” she said. “So that you’re training in a more balanced way, to keep the body changing and keep your training more holistic by hitting all modalities of fitness.”

I don’t think that she knows what CrossFit is. There are some valid criticisms of CrossFit but not enough variety isn’t one of them. It’s hard to imagine a more varied training program. For strength training, CrossFit incorporates movements utilizing barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, and gymnastics. Endurance and stamina training involves running, swimming, rowing, skiing, and biking. What else do you want? Are you mad that they don’t use Indian clubs and the Versaclimber? It’s sad that this person is considered a fitness expert when she’s too lazy to do any research. It sounds like she watched 5 minutes of the CrossFit Games and figured that was all she needed to know. It also shows how far the fitness industry has to go. There are people in positions of power and influence in this industry who know very little about fitness. Imagine if someone at a similar level in the auto industry didn’t understand what Tesla was. It’s hard to even fathom but that’s where we are. 

Cycling: CNBC published an article on Peloton this week. It’s a good read and you should check it out but there was one passage that got me thinking.

In particular, Peloton's instructors are part of the secret sauce.

"The way that Peloton has built their instructors into their brand, with many of their instructors achieving a sort of cult status among the Peloton following, I'd say is definitely one of their biggest advantages over alternative at-home fitness equipment and gym and cycling classes," Marisa Lifschutz, lead industry analyst at research firm IBISWorld, tells CNBC Make It.

Indeed, popular instructors like Arzon are one of the main draws, as evidenced by her the nearly 200,000 people who follow her on Instagram. Arzon is known for her high energy, motivational style and her catch phrase, "sweat with swagger," which is also the name of the tribe of Peloton users who specifically follow her classes. She calls Peloton's group of instructors "a team of superheroes" whose job it is to inspire and lead the community.

"We've also built a socially engaging platform in the workouts themselves," Arzon says. "So whether you're getting a high-five from a fellow rider or you're getting a shout-out on your first run ... there's an intimacy there that doesn't exist most places, certainly not in a space where you're interacting digitally, and instructors are kind of breaking that fourth wall and in people's homes. That's really powerful stuff."

The feeling seems to be mutual. Sara Richards, 44, a medical writer and mother of four who lives in Los Angeles, tells CNBC Make It that she'd tried SoulCycle a few times, but "was not very impressed with any of the instructors." After she tried Peloton last year, Richards says, she felt more of a "personal connection" with the instructors, especially Arzon. "When she is talking to that screen, she is talking to me," Richards says.

This is anecdotal evidence which is highly unreliable and it’s not as if SoulCycle’s instructors don’t have followings. However, I’d love to see compensation numbers for SoulCycle and Peloton because I wonder if Peloton is paying its instructors a lot more right now. The thing is that Peloton scales, SoulCycle does not. There is no limit to how many people can stream a Peloton class but there is a limit to how many people can attend a SoulCycle class. As Peloton continues to grows, it is going to be able to pay its instructors more than its brick-and-mortar competitors. Maybe they are already doing this, maybe they’re not but having the best instructors (because they can pay more) could develop into a competitive advantage for Peloton.

Paying the bills: I came across 2 articles this week that were pushing the idea that boutique classes are as expensive as they are in order to signal quality and exclusivity. Both articles featured quotes from the founder of the Association of Fitness Studios. From Refinery29:

 So, how did studios land on the magic number $34? There are a number of factors that influence how companies set prices, like understanding how to stay competitive in the market, but it ultimately comes down to "knowing that what you set as your pricing also influences the consumer’s perception of the quality they will receive," Josh Leve, founder and CEO of the Association of Fitness Studios, the trade association that represents studio owners and entrepreneurial fitness professionals. "If your fitness studio is focused on delivering the best possible experience for your members or clients, but you price below what others are charging to generate business, then consumers will believe that your offering is average; counter to how you have positioned your studio."

And from Insider:

It comes down to "knowing that what you set as your pricing also influences the consumer's perception of the quality they will receive," according to Josh Leve, founder and CEO of the Association of Fitness Studios, the trade association that represents studio owners and entrepreneurial fitness professionals.

Speaking to Refinery29, he said: "If your fitness studio is focused on delivering the best possible experience for your members or clients, but you price below what others are charging to generate business, then consumers will believe that your offering is average; counter to how you have positioned your studio."

This is the luxury model of pricing. It’s how you get handbags that cost thousands of dollars. The problem is that it’s not true in this case. Let’s think about the cost structure of these companies. Most of their recurring expenses are going to be rent and labor. In the markets where boutiques thrive, rent is often prohibitively expensive. Manhattan is home to SoulCycle and Flywheel and Ground Zero for boutique fitness. Even a relatively small retail space (1500 square feet) could require annual rent payments in excess of $1 million. That is a huge fixed cost. On top of that, you have a highly skilled labor force that you need to pay well (because they have to live in these expensive areas as well). That’s why boutique classes cost so much. It’s not luxury pricing so much as it’s the price of retail space in NYC. The other areas that these companies want to focus on are also expensive, urban areas. This is what is setting the pricing. My next question is why is the Association of Fitness Studios is pushing this idea right now. Are they just trying to make it seem like they know what they’re talking about or is there some kind of agenda here?

Tidbits:

-Read this oral history of the Stairmaster

-Don’t ask people to sign NDA’s in order to get a refund

-The U.S. Army has filled its functional fitness competition team

-Chris Hemsworth’s fitness app is already the top fitness app in the U.S.

-Netflix shouldn’t be giving a platform to Goop’s nonsense

-Sporting good store bans Nike gear, goes out of business

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?

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS LOWERING THE VOLUME

Green-washing: If you use cardio equipment of any kind, it has probably occurred to you that you’re generating power. Especially, if you use a machine that measures your watts. So it’s not surprising that we are seeing entrepreneurs who want to build gyms and equipment to take advantage of this. The problem is that the amount of energy that we generate during our workouts is miniscule. From Bloomberg:

There is a problem of scale, however. The treadmill’s maximum output is 200 watts an hour. The average American uses about 28,000 watt-hours a day. The maximum treadmill workout, generating 200 watts for an hour, would save 2.4 cents, assuming an electricity cost of $0.12 a kilowatt-hour, plus the power that would have been used by a motorized machine.

The company’s bikes and elliptical trainers can move up to 250 watts. On the treadmill, a 147-pound person running roughly 8-minute, 20-second miles would put out only 24 watts every 30 minutes, or enough for 4 hours of wifi. A 176-pound person lightly jogging for 20 minutes could power a 60-watt lightbulb long enough to light the room while they’re working out. 

Factoring in the electricity-use avoided, SportsArt’s “Eco-Powr” equipment with continual use could save almost $900 a year compared with other brands’ treadmills, according to Mejia. Units cost about $10,000 each, and are sold to gyms, assisted-living centers, universities and beyond. Consumer models are in the works.

              This is not worth it. The costs vastly exceed the benefits. This won’t save anyone any money or solve our energy problems. The other possible angle is motivation. Will people be more motivated to use this equipment if they think it’s environmentally conscious?

Paul Crane owns Eco-Gym, a “sustainable gym” in Brighton, England, that uses SportsArt equipment. In the past, the facility reduced fees based in part on how much power members generate while working out. He said members “definitely feel motivated and committed to improving their own health and that of the planet.” Other clients include boutique gyms that can charge more for amenities like power-generating equipment, where it’s not about saving energy and more about making a statement.

Getting to the gym is difficult enough for busy, working people. Being able to measure one’s own power output may be the added mental incentive, or trigger, people need to get moving, even if it’s “just giving people a sense that they are burning energy and seeing some results,” said Dan Ariely, a psychology and behavioral economics professor at Duke University and an author.

              I doubt it. You can already measure your power output on some pieces of equipment. How often do you hear someone bragging about their watts from their last air bike workout? I think that it’s more demotivating than anything else. Working your ass off to power a couple of light bulbs is not the stuff of dreams.

Buy a watch: I’m not usually the biggest fan of the “workout tips from celebrity trainers” genre but this one caught my eye. The reason that I’m not usually a fan is that they’re usually fluff. Not this time. From Insider:

Ryan told INSIDER that people should leave their phone in the locker room if they want to make their workouts more efficient. Otherwise, they end up mindlessly scrolling through social media, making their rest periods much longer than they should be.

The only time exception to the rule is if your phone is the only way you can track and measure your rest periods, which he says is essential — but there are watches or clocks you can use for this.

"It's very easy to get distracted in the gym and let your minute-long rest turn into three or four minutes which in turn is going to make the intensity of your workout go way down," he said.

"By systematically measuring and tracking your rest time, that creates a much cleaner programme. Knowing that, say, between every set you've had a minute and a half rest, it's really pleasing to the brain."

The brothers believe being regimented about your rest time can "improve your workout exponentially.”

Taking some rest time between sets in the gym is recommended by fitness experts, but how long yours last depends on your goal.

"If you're after maximal strength, longer rest intervals will allow you to optimally achieve higher intensities (the amount lifted)," the brothers explained. "With large muscle compound movements that generate high levels of metabolic disturbance like squats, deadlifts, presses, and rows, the optimal strategy will be to take two to five minutes between sets."

This ensures the muscles have adequate time to regenerate energy before the next set — ideally, you should perform these moves at the beginning of your training session.

"If you are looking to create metabolic stress in order to prioritize fat loss or hypertrophy [the growth of muscles], the strategy should call for shorter rest periods," the brothers explained. "Isolation types of exercises, like biceps curls, tricep extensions, and leg extensions, are not as metabolically taxing and require less recovery time.

"Therefore, to heighten metabolic stress and cellular swelling (the infamous 'pump' where the muscle becomes engorged with blood), it is best to keep rest periods between 15 to 60 seconds."

              You have 3 main variables to play with when you’re strength training: resistance, volume, and recovery. Most people understand the first 2 and never think about the last one. Ask someone about their workout and you’ll usually get the number of sets, the number of repetitions, and the weight: “For squats, I did 3 sets of 5 at 315”. The recovery period is just as important (was it 1 minute or 5 minutes?) but you don’t see many people measuring that. And it can completely change what kind of workout you’re doing. Your recovery period shouldn’t be determined by what’s trending on Twitter. This is the biggest mistake that I see almost everyone at the gym make.

Pump down the jams: Music has always gone hand in hand with fitness but the rising popularity of boutiques has raised the importance of music in the industry. The right playlist is now seen as one of the most significant components of an effective fitness class. Unfortunately, this has led boutique operators to believe that they have to blast that music at decibel levels that can damage people’s hearing. There is a better way. From Men’s Health:

Does volume come into play?

The focus of our playlist is to push people to their limit using the motivational power of music. The perceived emotion of a song and therefore the motivational effect is stronger, if we listen to it at a higher volume. A study by Edworthy and Waring showed a performance increase through louder music in a 5 to 10 minute workouts. However we have not heard of studies examining volume as a boosting parameter over a full workout session at this point.

Volume should be used carefully during workouts though, since it has been shown that our ear is even more sensitive to loud sounds when combined with exercise. We do believe that raising the volume a bit during your last set is a good way of benefitting from the loudness boost effect.

Any boutique that thinks that they have to play music loud enough to damage people’s hearing should read this. Loud music isn’t atmosphere, it’s just loud music. And the thing about loud noise it is that if everything is loud, then it loses its effect. You can get used to anything, I learned this in boot camp. Within a couple of day, I got used to having someone scream in my face, it lost the effect of stressing me out. It became normal. People get used to deafingly loud music as well. It loses its effect and then you have to make it even louder in order to try to get the effect that you’re looking for. That’s how we got to this point. The way to avoid it is by altering the volume levels. Keep the volume at a reasonable level for most of the class and then crank it up for the tough part. Or have the volume slowly rise during the class as everyone is working harder and harder. You’ll get a better effect and you won’t be destroying your members’ hearing in the process.

Training: The same thing is true for training intensity. It’s easy to fall in love with high-intensity work and think that if a little is good, then more must be better but that’s not always true. From Well + Good:

While walking on the treadmill for 45 minutes or pedaling away on a recumbent bike may not feel like the most exciting (or admittedly, most efficient) ways to exercise, they’re still critically important for rounding out your routine. (And a part of this year’s trend toward cortisol-conscious workouts.) “It’s just as important to have steady-pace runs and low-impact workouts as it is to have those higher-threshold workouts. And being able to balance the two not only makes you more versatile, but it really kind of lays the foundation,” says Aaptiv trainer Meghan Takacs. “It’s almost like you don’t want to go into a sprint workout without having an endurance pace, and that low-intensity training is really the foundation for any other workout you might do.”

She suggests introducing slower-paced, lower-impact cardio sessions into your routine twice (maybe even three times) a week in order to change things up for your body and ultimately make your harder-core workouts more effective. “Low-intensity stuff breaks up the training at a certain threshold that brings your body back down to a normal level of operation, so that when you go to do the high-intensity you’re not burned out,” says Takacs.

Your body isn’t made to go balls out all the time. When you try to do that, you end up compromising the high-intensity work. Everything becomes medium-intensity. And you want to build up an aerobic base. Everyone’s been in love with anaerobic workouts lately but you’ll never get really good at the anaerobic stuff without an aerobic base.  

Technology:

The Consumer Electronics Show took place earlier this month and there was a slew of new fitness products introduced. At least one of them seemed intriguing. From Popular Science:

Jaxjox KettlebellConnect

This adjustable kettlebell has weight options from 12 to 42 pounds, which is handy in and of itself since it’ll spare you from keeping a whole rack of bells in your home. Beyond the space saving, however, the kettlebell itself has sensors inside to help track the content, intensity, and duration of your workout.

The hardware is part of a $30 monthly subscription program that provides live workouts via the web kind of like what Peloton does for stationary bike training.

Personally, I think the kettlebell is one of the best training tools you can have in your house. At $350, you’re paying a hefty premium for the connectivity in the hardware, but it may be worth it if the tracking helps keep it from taking residence as a doorstop in your house once you’re bored of the regular workouts

I’m a low-tech fitness guy but even I was intrigued by this smart kettlebell. They had me at “kettlebell that can change its own weight” and then lost me at “only goes up to 42 pounds”. If you’re going to make this product, make it go up to more than 42 pounds! And does everything have to come with a subscription service? I realize that everyone wants to be Peloton for XXXX but Peloton for Kettlebells is not the best idea. Especially at $30/month. It’s stuff like this that hardens my low-tech fitness mindset. This is an interesting idea that ends up being a bunch of bells and whistles and paying too much money for something that only goes to 42 pounds. You’re better off just buying old school kettlebells.  

CrossFit: The 2019 CrossFit season is in full swing already. It’s the first season under the new qualifying system and the initial griping about enacting such a large scale change has died down. Now we’re into the legitimate complaints: isn’t there a conflict of interest in having event programmers double as coaches to athletes competing in the same event? From Boxrox:

3 days ago CrossFit® legend and former Games winner Ben Smith posted an interesting perspective on the programming at the Sectionals Events. We posted his thoughts on BOXROX, but there have been further advances as the debate continues. Here are Ben’s words:

“To all these “Sanctional” event coordinators that are qualifying athletes for the CF Games: This seems like common sense?

… Don’t have people programming the events for the competition. ALSO be the coaches of athletes competing in these events.  What am I missing?

I’m all for this format/changes and think it should work just fine, possibly even better than the last format. But these comps have a responsibility to be un-biased. I love that the events are varied in structure And programming but I see this programming bias potential as an issue that needs to be resolved and should just be common sense. Thoughts? Am I missing something?

(Ps. Don’t say that programming doesn’t matter. It does. And That’s not the point, I’m thinking bigger picture for the “sport” as a whole and just want to start a discussion. Thx.)”

When the new qualifying system was announced, I assumed that Dave Castro was going to have a lot of input into the programming for all these events. This way, there would be some consistency, some common themes of what was being tested that ran through all these different events. Plus, it would keep it fair. The athletes are right to be concerned, there is a conflict of interest here and that programming matters. Every athlete has strengths and weaknesses (except Mat Fraser) and competitions could be designed to take advantage of an athlete’s strengths and minimize their weaknesses. It’s Year 1 and perhaps this is something that was overlooked by CrossFit Inc. But this is an issue that needs to be addressed. Hopefully, the fact that a former Games winner is bringing it up will lead to some action. The solution here is simple too. Dave Castro needs to be involved. That doesn’t mean that he needs to program all these events himself, just that he should have some sort of role in overseeing it all.

Tidbits:

-Working out at the airport

-Being a bicycle messenger is a great way to burn some calories

-A workout a day could keep dementia away

-It’s not about what how you look, it’s about what your body can do

-Patrick Vellner and Tia Clair Toomey win Wodapalooza

-Tennessee has begun to collect a “fitness tax” on studios

THE WEEKLY HOWL DOESN'T THINK YOGA IS A SPORT

Rules: CrossFit Inc. finally released the rulebook for the 2019 CrossFit Games, which has clarified the new qualifying process. Also, transgender athletes can compete as long as they have complied with all the applicable legal and biological requirements. The basic structure of how to qualify has already been announced. What was lacking was the details. From Morning Chalk-Up:

If I’m already invited or qualified, either through a Sanctional, or the Open, can I take another qualification spot or invite?

Well it depends. Both on how you qualified or received an invite and which subsequent competition you’re involved in so here’s how it breaks down (3.01, 4.02, 4.03, 4.04):

Scenario 1: An athlete qualifies for the Games as national champion in the Open AND places top 20 worldwide in the Open.

  • That athlete would qualify for the Games as a national champion and their top 20 spot would be backfilled to the next athlete in line.

  • Example: If Rory Mckernan finishes in the top 20 worldwide for men, and is the national champion for the United States, then he qualifies as the United States national champion and his spot from the top 20 worldwide leaderboard goes to the 21st place finisher worldwide in the Open.

Scenario 2: An athlete qualifies for the Games as national champion in the Open AND wins one or more sanctioned events.

  • That athlete would qualify for the Games as a national champion and their sanctioned event invite would pass to the 2nd place athlete in the most recent sanctioned event he or she won.

  • Example: If Samantha Briggs, who has earned an invite from the Dubai CrossFit Championship, is National Champion for England/U.K, then her invite from Dubai will be extended to 2nd place Jamie Greene. If she were to win another sanctioned event, her invitation would pass to the 2nd place athlete of that event, not Jamie Greene.

Scenario 3: An athlete wins one or more sanctioned events AND finishes top 20 worldwide in the Open.

  • That athlete would qualify with a top 20 spot worldwide in the Open and their sanctioned event invite would pass to the 2nd place athlete in any sanctioned event he or she won.

  • Example: If Mat Fraser finishes top 20 worldwide in the Open, his invite from Dubai will be awarded to 2nd place Dubai finisher Bjorgvin Karl Gudmundsson. If he were to win another sanctioned event, his invitation would also pass to the 2nd place athlete of that event.

Scenario 4: An athlete wins multiple sanctioned events.

  • If an athlete has already received an invite from a sanctioned event, and then wins another one, the invite from the latter of the 2 events chronologically will be extended to the next athlete in line on the leaderboard that. Any further invites earned will also be passed down.

  • Example: If Mat Fraser, who has an invite from Dubai, skips the Open or doesn’t qualify via the Open, and then wins the Rogue Invitational, his invite from the Rogue Invitational, since it happened after Dubai, will be awarded to the 2nd place finisher, and if the 2nd place finisher (let’s call him Patricio Vellnino) has already been invited or qualified, then the 3rd place finisher will receive the invite, and so on, and so forth.

Scenario 5: An athlete qualifies by placing in the top 20 worldwide in the Open, and either declines, OR will compete on a team that has been invited to the Games.

  • That athlete’s top 20 qualifying spot from the Open will be passed down to the next athlete in line on the worldwide leaderboard.

Scenario 6: An athlete qualifies as national champion but declines, OR does not complete all the Open workouts as prescribed.

  • That athlete will not compete at the CrossFit Games, and their spot WILL NOT be backfilled or passed down to the next athlete in line on their country leaderboard.

I’m sure that this won’t seem as complicated once we’re into it but it is a lot to take in. I’m interested to see the learning curve here as athletes learn how to game the system. So the top 20 from the Open will qualify and then the 15 sanctional winners plus all the national champions. I’m trying to think of who could get screwed by this. The Open has traditionally been more of a cardio test with lighter loads in order to encourage mass participation. Assuming that doesn’t change dramatically, that could put some of the heavier, stronger athletes at a disadvantage a they could struggle to qualify from the Open. Especially if they’re citizens of a highly competitive nation.   

Fitness Inequality: CityLab ran an analysis on the density of sport and fitness centers around the country. Their findings are not surprising but still worthy of reviewing.

Availability of fitness centers is also a product of denser metros, where fewer people depend on the car. Our measure of fitness-center employees is positively associated with the metro density (.29) and even more strongly associated with the share of commuters who bike to work (.42), but negatively associated with those who drive to work alone (-.35)—a key indicator of sprawl. While this suggests a connection between fitness and walking, it also reflects the fact that denser metros—where more people walk to work—are more affluent and educated. That said, there is no association between our measure of fitness-center employees and the size of metros (measured by population). It appears that fitness centers are more a characteristic of the density, knowledge intensity, and especially the educational level of metros, rather than their size alone. Not surprisingly, given these findings, fitness-center availability is also a characteristic of more expensive cities, with a positive correlation (.37) to median housing costs.

              Fitness inequality is a very real problem in this country. It’s why you can see articles about the boom in expensive fitness boutiques alongside articles about rising obesity rates. Inequality, whether income or fitness or something else, is not a prescription for a healthy, cohesive society.

Motivation: This time of year, there is never a shortage of articles about how to achieve your New Year’s fitness resolutions. Some are good, some are bad, and many fall somewhere in between. I have 2 that I want to write about. From Insider, Jim Edwards brings us 3 things that your personal trainer doesn’t want you to know. Let’s dive in:

1.       Go to the nearest gym to you, not the nicest gym you can afford.

You will be tempted to join the fanciest gym you can afford — like that nice one you saw with the hot tub and the sauna. But your ability to continue showing up will depend on your work schedule and your personal life, not whether the steam smells minty fresh. If the gym commute is more than 10 minutes, it suddenly becomes difficult to squeeze in a workout before or after work. Ideally, you want to work out for about an hour each day. Once you factor in showering and changing, and the commute to and from your gym, that can easily end up closer to two and a half hours.

              This is absolutely true but I question whether this is something that the fitness industry doesn’t want people to know. Location/convenience are crucial in determining whether someone consistently goes to the gym. It should be the #1 consideration in selecting a gym.

2. Do the exercises you enjoy doing, and don't bother with those you hate.

Everyone knows that full-body fitness is all about changing things up. Muscle confusion! And not getting stuck in a rut! That is true.

It's good advice if you want to end up looking like Cristiano Ronaldo. But if you're a normal person, take it from me: You want the gym to be enjoyable. You do not want it to be a chore. So do the things you enjoy doing.

Remember, you're in this for the long haul, and it's not going to work if you hate it.

I like weights, running, and swimming. I almost never use an elliptical machine or one of those yoga balls. Many, many personal trainers have recommended stomach crunches to me, even though stomach crunches are one of the most useless forms of exercise. (The flatness of your stomach is almost entirely dependent on your diet and the overall amount of exercise you do, not whether you use the itty-bitty muscles just under your ribs.)

They're also really boring.

So I never do crunches.

              This is a weird one. I disagree with the basic premise but he likes “weights, running, and swimming” and can’t stand elliptical machines or doing crunches. This guy likes the most effective stuff and dislikes some of the least effective stuff. For him, this makes sense but I wouldn’t give it to most people.

3. Go to the gym even when you feel tired and don't want to.

The No.1 cause of not going to the gym is deciding to not go to the gym.

There will be many, many days when you feel too tired, or it's too late, or you have a cold coming on, and the idea of putting your feet on the coffee table seems much more appealing. But you can't do that.

Show up at the gym anyway.

Whether you like it or not. Working out when you're tired suuuuuuuuuucks. We all have days when you can get through only about 80% of your "normal" workout — but it's better than no workout.

Even half your normal workout will help you maintain your top fitness level. Not going at all, by contrast, will set you back.

Life is going to get in your way. Your boss will make you work late. You will get invitations to dinner. There will be plenty of days when you cannot go to the gym. But on the days you can, you have to go even when you don't want to.

              Suck it up and go the gym even when you don’t feel like it is always good advice. There’s always a reason to not workout. You have to learn to stop listening to that voice in your head. Gunnar Petersen, of celebrity training fame, also put out some fitness tips via the L.A. Times. Let’s talk about #1 and #5:

1. The flat-tire analogy

Everybody is aware of the pitfalls of overindulging. I’m not going to be the guy who says, “Don’t go to any parties, go to bed.” That’s not reasonable. People want to indulge and they should. Just don’t let all the wheels come off. Don’t miss your training, eat badly, get drunk and not sleep. If you lose one wheel, you can still limp along. All four wheels come off? You’re done.

               I would expand this to include the feeling of all 4 wheels coming off. You missed a couple of workouts and strayed from your nutrition plan a couple of times. The wheels haven’t come off, it just feels that way. Get back into it.

5. Fitness is free

People can’t claim not to know what to do. There are 50 million articles on fitness. I’m not going to say it’s easy to be in shape because it requires effort. But it’s easy to know what you have to do. You don’t have to go beyond the pay walls. Instagram is free and full of fitness professionals. Find something you like. If you are de-conditioned and haven’t worked out in a year and you see a guy pushing a sled 50 yards and then dropping down into a burpee and doing jumping jacks, that’s too much. So dial it back until you can say, “I like this person’s approach. I like how they speak. I can process it.”

              I love hearing this from a guy who probably charges a small fortune to train people. There’s nothing wrong with that but you don’t need Gunnar Petersen to get results. He’s a luxury. All you really need is get out there and do something. And if you have an internet connection, there is a world of free information out there.

Just Yoga It: Nike is releasing apparel designed specifically for yoga this month. What’s interesting is that (1) Nike has waited this long to sell yoga apparel (I didn’t realize that) and (2) they want you to know that they’re not into all that “Oom” crap. From Bloomberg:

Nike had previously shied away from directly battling Lululemon Athletica Inc. on its own turf -- the yoga mat. This push now pits Nike and Lululemon firmly against each other, though Nike’s not going full spiritualism and granola. Rather than leaning into yoga as a primary form of exercise, it’s touting the practice as a component of a wider workout regimen so gym rats can become more flexible, reduce recovery time and transfer movement patterns to the field.

As a result, the faces of Nike yoga aren’t typical yoga influencers. Instead, yoga is being billed as a “secret workout weapon” to prepare athletes such as NFL linebacker Khalil Mack for when he’s slamming into opposing quarterbacks on the gridiron, WNBA player Alana Beard as she’s knocking down jump-shots and sprinter Christian Coleman while he’s jetting down the track. The company will also release in January new yoga workouts on its app.

              A couple of things about Nike. First, they are methodical about expansion. Their strategy is that they get into one new sport at a time. Second, Nike thinks of itself as a sports company. So it’s interesting that they want to make it clear that they don’t consider yoga a sport (even though it is). Yoga apparel seems like a no-brainer for Nike but it may have been hamstrung by this strategy. But if you classify yoga as a subset of Nike Training then you can circumvent the one-sport-at-a-time thing. Also, Nike prides itself on designing its products for elite athletes and then using sports marketing to sell those products. A lack of well-known yoga athletes would have made that very difficult. Re-framing yoga as a way for elite athletes in other sports to improve their performance allows them to utilize their standard marketing techniques.

Stick to the basics: Nate Dern from Outside decided to go to 6 of the most unusual fitness classes in New York City and write about this experiences. I found this interesting because it tells us a lot of how to design and market fitness. His first stop: nude yoga at Naked in Motion.

In 2016, Willow Merveille founded Naked in Motion to create a safe, inclusive space that would “offer a tool for developing a kinder relationship with the mind and body.” I was skeptical. Ten of the eleven students were men. Was this a way to get more comfortable with your body, or yet another opportunity for those already comfortable with their body—mostly dudes—to flaunt it? By the end of class, I was surprised to find that I was OK with getting flexible in my birthday suit, surrounded by a classroom full of strangers. Give this a shot at least once—you’ll be a hero at parties

              It sounds like he left skeptical as well. His tepidly endorses it purely for the novelty of it. This is a gimmick. Next stop: Pilates at SLT.

SLT stands for strengthen, lengthen, and tone. The class comprises eternal planks, deep-as-you-can-go lunges, and pulsing squats, all in an intense 50-minute session. The pace of the reps is measured, but the transitions between exercises are fast, which had me looking around the room to see what contortion I was supposed to be doing. Color-coded numbers gave me Twister flashbacks. It’s a great workout, but be careful not to sprain your ego when your body starts shaking during a move called the Mermaid.

              This sounds like a tough workout but Dern does not sound enthused about it. I suspect that he is a Pilates neophyte and this class was designed for experienced practitioners who want to take it to the next level. After that it was on to cold temperature training at Brrrn.

This was the most genuinely enjoyable workout experience of the bunch. Brrrn describes itself as “the world’s first cool-temperature fitness concept.” In other words, they crank the A/C. I took a slide-board class and not only learned what slide boarding is (repeated lateral movement on a piece of slippery rubber while wearing booties), but also discovered that 55 degrees is my optimal workout temperature. I wore a tank top and for once didn’t end the class by trying to mop up an embarrassingly large puddle of sweat.

              Dern sums up the real benefit of Brrrn: you won’t sweat as much. The reason that no one else has done this yet is probably because most people associate sweat with effort. That’s why we got hot yoga before Brrrn. When I’m dressing for a run, I use the rule of thumb that once I’m warmed up I will feel about 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. 55 degrees is probably most people’s optimal workout temperature because it feels like 75 degrees. Calisthenics at ConBody was next.

The hardest class I took. The sign by the door said it all: “CrossFit. Cycling. Pilates. These white collar workouts aren’t cutting it.” My instructor, Coss Marte, founded ConBody after developing a workout routine during a four-year prison sentence. He didn’t particularly care about catering to our egos; he was going to lead us through a difficult workout—60 minutes without a break—and we could follow along or not. I was dripping sweat as I struggled through a series of jumping jacks, push-ups, high knees, burpees, suicide sprints, mountain climbers, bear crawls, wall sits, and more. But intense workouts aside, ConBody’s real mission is championing prison reform, and it hires formerly incar-cerated individuals to teach its classes. As soon as my hamstrings recover, I’ll be back.

              Simple, tough, and effective. It’s a no-frills workout that has an odd but compelling marketing angle: train like a convict does in prison. It’s interesting that people have figured out a way to cash in on the fetishization of prison workouts. After that it was off to a treadmill class at Mile High Run Club.

An admission: I’ve done this class before, and I love it. It’s basically an interval workout on a Woodway 4Front treadmill, a roughly $10,000 machine that is to a standard treadmill what a Tesla is to Fred Flintstone’s car. Classes are offered at 28-minute, 45-minute, and 60-minute durations. What sets MHRC apart from other treadmill-interval classes is the special attention paid to your perceived-effort level rather than to hitting specific speeds. A laminated pace chart is mounted onto each treadmill, and it encompasses a wide variety of fitness levels. Pro tip: don’t choose a machine directly opposite a mirror. Nobody has a flattering tempo face.

              Running intervals is brutally effective. His last stop was AG6, circuit-training that incorporates light-up floor tiles.

This 45-minute session at Asphalt Green, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health of local residents, makes familiar circuit-based workout stations more interesting with light-up tiles on the floor and walls that are responsive to touch. So you’re not just doing sprints, you’re doing sprints to illuminate a circle on the ground! You’re not just doing medicine-ball slams, you’re doing medicine-ball slams to illuminate a circle on the ground! You get the idea. This class was the most stimulating, but it also made me realize that sometimes all I want is a boring old jog.

              There is always a tension in the fitness industry: do you go with what sells or with what works? Dern’s 2 favorites appear to be a calisthenics class and a running class. These are 2 of the most basic activities and very low-tech ($10,000 treadmill notwithstanding). The problem with basic and low-tech is that it makes it hard to stand out in a sea of fitness classes and gyms. ConBody has a built-in story that can cut through the clutter. One has to wonder if it would as successful if it was “just” a calisthenics class. I can see why fitness entrepreneurs feel like they need some kind of gimmick to get noticed and get people in the door but how much does that hurt them in the long run? And I believe that these gimmicks hurt the entire industry as well. People see nude yoga and think that everyone in the fitness industry is just selling the latest, stupid fad. We need to get better at marketing as an industry. There is a way to sell basic but effective workouts without resorting to gimmicks.    

Tidbits:

-Dwayne Johnson’s new fitness competition show, the Titan Games, has debuted on NBC

-“No Judgement” sounds dangerously close to “Judgement Free Zone”

-Want to work out in a shipping container in Singapore?

-Motiv is looking to add biometric payment capability to its fitness tracking rings

-ClassPass is acquiring competitor GuavaPass

-Can we retire the “fitness guru” title?

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS GOING TO THE DESERT

No one likes change: Morning Chalk-Up published an op-ed from Chyna Cho on the changes to the qualifying process for the CrossFit Games. It was a fascinating peek into the mindset of a top CrossFit athlete as they’re figuring out how to adjust.

However, you just have to roll with the punches. I’ve dealt with changes before. First the Regionals changed from NorCal and SoCal into California, and we went from six spots to five spots—at the time I was terrified of that. Then we went from the California Regional to the West Regional, and we went from 10 spots down to five spots.

In the end, though, how you feel doesn’t really matter. If I’m angry, that doesn’t give me more opportunities, if I’m sad about it, it doesn’t make me any more fit or any better. You just have to be like, “Well, I hope my fitness is good enough.” And keep doing what you’re doing. I don’t think anything changes just because there are fewer spots.

              None of this was ever set in stone. The process was always changing as the sport exploded. This is the most radical change yet but you’re still going to have to do CrossFit things to qualify for the CrossFit Games. However, you might have to do those things in another country. I am less concerned with the notion of fairness than I am with the learning curve involved in navigating a completely different process. Devising a strategy for qualifying is not so clear-cut and I think that there will be a lot of lessons learned in the first couple of years. In the long-run, everyone will adapt and the best athletes will qualify. In the short-run, there might be chaos.

Right now my plan is to go to Wodapalooza on a team. The rules now say you can qualify for the Games on a team and still qualify individually. I think it’s a good option just in case, so that’s my plan for Wodapalooza.

Then I will try to qualify as an individual in the Open. This year the top 20 in the world qualify for the Games, and I’ve been in the top 30 worldwide the last three years (Cho placed 28th in 2018, 23rd in 2017, and 35th in 2016), so it’s not a super long shot. I would love to do that because then I wouldn’t have to travel. That gets expensive. If that doesn’t work out, then I will definitely try to go to a qualifier and try to peak for that.

My training didn’t change a lot after the announcement about the Games. There’s more focus on the Open now, and the Open is traditionally classic CrossFit. You have to have a really good engine and you have to be good at all the basic movements like thrusters, pull-ups, wall balls, and double-unders. In the Open they are not going to film someone running 10 miles. You have to be good at Fran, you have to be good at all the basics. I’ve done a little less swimming and running and odd object things since I heard those changes, but intensity wise, timing wise, mentally, it’s all the same.

              Cho’s plan makes a lot of sense. She’s going to hedge her bets between the individual and the team competition and make qualifying through the Open her Plan A. If she fails to do that, she will have time to make a concerted attempt (or even 2) at a sanctioned event. My question is how CrossFit is going to manage all the athletes who qualify as both individuals and team members. Maybe there won’t be that many people who qualify for both but I think that a lot of athletes are probably approaching the upcoming like Cho is. With all this uncertainty, athletes are going to want to make sure that they have punched their ticket to Madison in some form.

              There is also a move to make it easier for athletes to make multiple qualifying attempts. Wodapalooza announced that it would partner with the Brazil CrossFit Championship in order to allow the top 4 male and female finishers as well as the top team from Miami automatic entry into the field in Sao Paulo. From Morning Chalk-Up:

The BCC qualifiers — January 30 – February 3, 2019 — start on the final day of Wodapalooza making participation from athletes competing in Miami nearly impossible.

With the partnership, it now creates yet another avenue for the sport’s biggest stars to parlay strong competition performances into more opportunities throughout the season in the event they come up just short of a coveted qualifying spot.

It’s opportunities like this that Olschewski believes will be major benefit for both athletes and fans alike. “The Brazil CrossFit Championship, taking place in the center of the Latin American CrossFit community, is expected to be a huge spectator event and thus it makes sense to have some of the best athletes in the world compete in Sao Paulo: Having passionate crowds of fans push the best athletes through exciting events. That is what part of the sport should be about.”

Similar to other competitions, when athletes decline their invitation is passed onto the next in line. Presumably because the individual winners and team will decline due to already qualifying for the Games, their spot will be given to the next highest placing athlete and team.

              It’s good to see the people involved in this thinking ahead and trying to make the transition less painful for the athletes.

Wild West: Boxrox interviewed Kelli Holm, a CrossFit athlete in the 35-39 age group who recently tested positive for endurabol but had her ban reduced after an appeal.

Why was your ban reduced?

My ban was reduced because we were able to prove via a third-party supplement testing company that the supplement was contaminated with the same substance for which I tested positive. We also provided additional documentation to support my case.

What steps do you think could be taken in the future to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t keep happening for athletes?

The thing that CrossFit emphasized the most to me during this process was the importance of third-party testing of supplements (if you choose to take supplements at all). So, increasing awareness among athletes around third-party testing would theoretically help to prevent this in the future. What’s interesting is that I thought I was being careful in choosing my supplements, and most of them were third party tested. This particular supplement was just so widely used, commonly seen at CrossFit events, and sponsoring CrossFit athletes, that I naively figured the company as a whole was safe. And that decision falls on me – I own that for sure and don’t blame anyone else.

I also think there may be room for more formal education around it from CrossFit. Other professional sports provide mandatory education around anti-doping for their athletes, and it could be something worth considering for CrossFit. (Picture something like the Online Judges Course for the Open, but around safe supplementation practices and related topics instead of judging.) With all the changes at CrossFit HQ right now, I’m not sure if that’s something they would considering investing in, but one could argue that it would be worthwhile if they want to continue to hold athletes to the zero-tolerance standard and maintain such severe penalties, regardless of the circumstances.

Without getting lost in the weeds here, I would also love if there were a way to hold supplement companies more accountable for what they put into their products. I don’t have a particular solution for it, I just have realized over the past couple of months how prevalent this issue is and how little we can do about it. I have no problem with holding athletes accountable, but it’s fascinating the way we manage to criticize athletes for their role in it, and then throw up our hands at the role supplement companies play.

              I find it surprising that there are so many high-level athletes who still think it’s safe to take supplements. The supplement industry is completely unregulated and has been for decades. There is no oversight for what goes into all those powders and pills. It’s the Wild West. I have been reading stories of athletes testing positive and blaming tainted supplements for decades as well. None of this is new territory. Arnold Schwarzenegger just launched a supplement company to address this issue. From Men’s Health:

Ladder aims to change how you view food supplements. It hits the crowded protein market with a direct-to-consumer model that skips the middle man (sorry, GNC) and a promise to personalize your nutrition. “The idea is not to overwhelm people with these huge cans of protein, stuff they didn’t know what to do with, how many scoops to put in,” the 71-year-old bodybuilding icon tells Men's Health.

You don’t buy a giant tub of protein from Ladder. Instead, you head to the company website and fill out a questionnaire. Ladder then ships you packages of protein tuned to your specific needs and body type.

It’s an idea that Schwarzenegger got a few years ago from James, whom he’s known for 20 years. After struggling through the 2014 NBA Finals, James decided to start developing his own food supplements—supplements designed for his body chemistry and made from ingredients he could trust. When he mentioned that to Schwarzenegger, the action hero was instantly intrigued.

“He explained to me that the whole idea behind it was that he cannot afford to be tested and not pass a drug test,” Schwarzenegger said. “I found that fascinating, because that was always my complaint about the (protein) products, that they don’t know what is in this. You know that, ‘OK, this is protein or this is whey protein or this is milk protein or this is egg protein. You know that, but you don’t know exactly what is in it.”

 That idea also appealed to Vonn, a world-class skier who, much like LeBron, can't afford to fail a test. Crawford, who has plenty of experience marketing products, joined soon after. "It was kind of organic," says Schwarzenegger. "There was no deadline. We never even thought about, you know, starting a company, until awhile back. And so here we are."

              I do think that Kelli Holm has a point that there should be some level of education regarding anti-doping. It’s only fair that everyone who competes in the sport understands that CrossFit has a zero tolerance policy regarding banned substances and that you’re rolling the dice if you take any supplement without testing it first. As for holding supplement companies accountable, that will probably never happen. From The Atlantic:

While it costs millions of dollars to develop and substantiate a pharmaceutical product, selling supplements requires no such investment. And new products are easily sold as supplements: The only common feature among them, as defined by the FDA, is that these are edible things “not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases.”

That is why people take them, though.

This expansive category was set forth in the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act of 1994, known as DSHEA, which passed on Kessler’s watch. Backed by Senator Orrin Hatch and enormous investment from the supplement industry, the law allows any of these products to go directly to market and carry unfounded claims about what the product does. The burden is on the FDA to prove that the product is unsafe, if it later proves to be harming people, and then take the producer to court.

“When there's a problem, FDA does take action, and usually it's when there is a contaminant,” explained Margaret Hamburg, who served as FDA commissioner from 2009 to 2015. She noted that while companies are required to report any known “severe” adverse effects of their products, “it's very hard to even know what's going on.”

              Because the burden of proof is on the FDA, they’re only going to do anything when it becomes a safety issue. They don’t have the time or the budget to investigate why a couple of athletes tested positive. The best thing that you can do is break free of the supplement habit. They’re not getting regulated anytime soon.

Stay Well: The Atlantic sent James Hamblin out to the desert to find himself. His destination was the Wellspring wellness festival in Palm Springs. The festival was a gathering of a couple thousand of fitness and wellness enthusiasts who could afford to shell out $1000 and travel to Palm Springs. If that sounds like it could be a bit elitist, it was. But to the credit of the participants, they were very aware of that and concerned about the implications.

Elitism was a hot point of contention and discussion among attendees. The convention center was literally divided into two camps: One wing held the expo, with its many aforementioned products, while some 100 yards away a separate wing housed stages where speakers condemned wanton consumerism.

“A significant cost is the association of wellness with money—thinking you need something external, tinctures and potions and balms. Its, you know, it’s the stuff that’s here,” said the Zen priest Angel Kyodo Williams, the second of only four black women recognized as teachers in the Japanese Zen lineage, during a talk in the latter wing as she gestured in the direction of the expo. “And there’s nothing wrong with those things, but we have a psychic connection that wellness equals something I can purchase, something I’m in competition for, something that I have to acquire because it’s not intrinsic to me.”

Also:

Wellness isn’t just gendered. Most of the products and services that define the industry are clearly marketed toward young, thin, toned, ambulatory women who are white. Some speakers were blunt about the fact that wellness is often synonymous with—and sometimes a proxy for—whiteness. One panel was literally called “Wellness Beyond Whiteness,” in which it was decided that wellness needed to be totally reconciled into something for everyone—not to simply be “inclusive” or “bring people to the table,” but to demolish the table and, as with any growing movement, keep building new tables.

The old “bring people to the table” metaphor rang especially egregious to the artist and writer Anasa Troutman, who had a similarly revelatory vision for wellness: “Unless we’re willing to make a commitment to community, we will never be well. Even if you wake up every morning and drink your juice and do your yoga, without that commitment to each other we will not be well as a country and as a world,” Troutman said.

And:

This is at odds with the consumerist bent to wellness. If the movement indeed rejects the quick-fix products, which seems infeasible, it’s unclear what wellness is to become. If wellness is actually essentially the inverse of consumerism, and nearly synonymous with connectedness and wholeness and feeling complete, then the industry will need a new way to monetize.

Wellness is such a broad and holistic idea. Fitness is much more contained but shares a lot of the same problems. It is also becoming a privilege of the affluent and suffers from a rash of people selling unnecessary products. I worry that people think that they need something external in order to get fit. I don’t think that fitness is the inverse of consumerism but I hate the idea that people might be discouraged from pursuing their fitness goals because they assume that they need a lot of money to do so. Fitness needs to be more inclusive as well.

I would love to get a non-American view on this because there seems to be this underlying assumption that everything has to be monetized. Just because you have a good idea, does that automatically mean that you have to figure out a way to get rich from it?

Shiver Yourself Thin: It’s no great insight that people love the idea of fitness shortcuts. Those who don’t work-out dream of a magic pill, something that would give them the benefits of exercise without all the sweat and toil. Those who do work-out dream of some way to trick their body into working harder or recovering better than it does naturally. This can lead people down some very strange roads. You might see it in a person running in 3 pairs of sweats on an 80 degree day. Or in a person working out with a mask designed to simulate conditions at altitude. The latest buzz has been exercising in the cold. The idea is that your body has to use more energy in order to keep you warm which will burn more calories, right? Not really. From Vox:

Now here’s the rub: These processes only kick in to keep you warm when you’re truly cold. But once you start exercising — running or cross-country skiing, for instance — outside, you’re going to start generating heat from the physical activity. And the exercise alone may give you enough heat that your body wouldn’t burn any extra calories through shivering and brown fat.

That’s why you can go running in very cold temperatures wearing a light sweater and pants, but if you were just sitting around outside in the same cold climate, you’d need to bundle up in a heavy jacket and hat, or you’d start to shiver, to stay warm, Pontzer explained.

“The best way to use the cold to burn more calories would be to not exercise while you're outdoors,” Pontzer added. “You'd get your brown fat cooking and making heat, and might even start shivering, all of which burns calories.”

Now, it is possible to get those energy-burning heating processes going while exercising. Cypess imagined a scenario where a person is exercising in subzero temperatures, and wearing light enough clothes, that the exercise alone isn’t keeping him warm, and thermogenesis kicks in.

But even in that case, you’d only burn a few additional calories at best, Cypess said. In studies where he’s put participants in cold rooms for entire days, they burned off an additional 150 to 200 calories. Again, that’s a full day of cold — not an hour’s worth of outdoor activity.

You can’t trick your body into working harder during exercise. You are already working hard. You can’t work extra hard without any additional effort. If you’re running 7:00 minute miles, you can’t get the benefit of running 6:30 miles without putting in the effort to run 6:30 miles.

Umbrella Company: Club Industry interviewed Anthony Geisler, the CEO of Xponetial, the private equity-backed company that is gobbling up boutique fitness brands. He gave a peek into his strategy and how he views the industry.

With seven boutique brands in different verticals now in its stable, Geisler is on his way to including a brand under Xponential from each of the eight cores he sees in the boutique market: Pilates, barre, cycling, rowing, yoga, stretch and dance. The eighth core is running, he said, noting that he is in pursuit of a running brand but not divulging the potential acquisition. 

              What about HIIT? Or cardio kick-boxing? They seem like more a core in the boutique market than running.

Also:

The portfolio of Xponential brands allow landlords to create a “fit row” at their strip malls while working with one company instead of dealing with multiple companies, Geisler said. Xponential has already created next-door-neighbor offering in several cities, including in Orange County, California, where a Row House is located next to a Club Pilates and in Louisville, Kentucky, where a CycleBar stands next to a Club Pilates.

Having studios in close proximity to each other is a win-win-win—for landlords (who need to fill their brick and mortar spaces), Xponential (who wants to sell more franchises) and members (who want easy access to multiple fitness options).

Another win for members is a pass that allows them to upgrade their memberships so they can attend classes at more than one Xponential studio brand.

              There is so much potential here in linking together a bunch of boutiques. Co-locating gives consumers a central location and helps landlords fill those big spaces. Having a bunch of boutiques under the same corporate umbrella could lead to some sort of master boutique membership. That’s why it’s even more surprising that Xponetial doesn’t consider HIIT a core discipline. None of the current brands in the Xponetial portfolio contain strength-training. That’s the missing piece to a complete fitness picture.

              Geisler also had some thoughts on fitness fads:

Anyone who thinks that the studio trend will cool because people will tire of paying for a singular activity may not want to voice that opinion to Geisler. He has heard that “garbage” for 16 to 17 years, he said, even back to his LA Boxing days when people called boxing a fad.

“I don’t know when this downfall is coming or when this ‘fad’ is over,” he said. “I heard that Pilates was a fad. I have heard it all. Yoga was a fad until it was a staple. I just don’t know why it’s going to go away.”

              Amen brother.

What’s Swedish for fitness: I just wanted to share this bit of news: Ikea is collaborating with Adidas on home fitness solutions. From Architectural Digest:

Of course, it wouldn’t be a trend unless IKEA is partaking, and sure enough, the retailer announced an upcoming collaboration with Adidas on a collection to make exercising at home easier, and at a good price point. “We know the home plays an important role in creating lifelong habits both for adults and children,” said Josefine Aberg, Adidas’s VP of Design, Training at the Ikea Democratic Design Days last June. “So we will really be looking at how we can make fitness fit into their home environment, and how it can be a part of their daily routine.” While there is no specific launch date for the collection, the two megabrands have been popping into real households to learn where the challenges lie, primarily with space restrictions. But if there’s any company that can solve a small space problem, it’s IKEA, so look out for whole new ways to build buns of steel from the comfort of your living room.

              I am curious what this will look like because working out at home typically requires more open space, not more furniture. The one direction that I could see this going is into furniture that allows consumers to store their fitness equipment out of sight. A credenza that has a dumbbell rack inside it or something like that. Somehow, I doubt that they do anything really cool like an armoire with a pop-out pull-up bar but you never know.

Tidbits:

-A brief history of the Turkey Trot

-The U.S. Army is starting a functional fitness competition team

-Sir Mix-A-Lot was ahead of his time

-Eat your vegetables

-User beware

-Don’t forget to stretch

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 GOING TO AUSTRALIA

Athleisure: The talk of the fashion world these days is athleisure. Clothes originally designed for the gym are bleeding over into casual wear and even office wear. While this may seem like a new phenomenon, Derek Thompson at The Atlantic has documented how almost everything we wear was derived from active wear.

Let’s look at a couple of specific examples beyond tennis shoes: sport coats, polo shirts, and shorts. For each item, the influence of athletics sticks out like a popped collar.

The first sport coats were adopted by 19th-century Europeans and Britons who enjoyed hunting or horseback riding but found such activities difficult in a typical suit jacket. Young American students borrowed the style with a few tweaks, sometimes pairing sport coats with non-matching pants to play outdoor sports like golf.

What we call a “polo shirt” was originally known as a “tennis shirt.” In the 1920s, the Frenchman René Lacoste was a Grand Slam–champion tennis player who was dissatisfied with the era’s typical athletic garb, which featured long sleeves. To make it easier to scamper around the courts of France, he designed a short-sleeved cotton shirt that could be loosened by unbuttoning part-way down the front, with a starched collar that players could turn up to protect their necks against the sun. (Most recognizably, Lacoste, who was known as “the crocodile” on the court, emblazoned the left breast of the shirt with an image of his nickname.) The shirt was a hit. Other companies, like Brooks Brothers in the United Kingdom, adopted a similar design for polo players, who sought the same breathable shirt. When Ralph Lauren launched his clothing line in the 1970s, he put an image of a polo player on the breast pocket. Thus, a shirt designed for French tennis was co-opted for British polo and gobbled up by preppy Americans, who now use the term polo shirt to describe, without a second’s thought, an everyday article of clothing that is as athletic in its origins as “yoga pants.”

Shorts were perhaps sportswear’s most popular offering, Clemente writes in Dress Casual, a history of early-20th-century American style. Shorts started as gym garb, adored by coeds and despised by their elders. In 1930, a group of newspaper editors at Dartmouth College organized a campus-wide Shorts Protest calling for men to “lounge forth to the supreme pleasure of complete leg freedom.” Readers were encouraged to “bring forth your treasured possession—be it tailored to fit or old flannels delegged.” They brought forth, alright. By mid-century, shorts on American men were nearly as ubiquitous as buzz cuts.

              It’s interesting to see how the function has shaped the form like that. As an active lifestyle is driven more by fitness than specific sports, it is interesting to imagine how much fitness has already influenced fashion and will continue to do so in the future. I don’t know enough about fashion to predict what the next trend will be. We’ve already seen sneakers, sweatshirts, yoga pants, and shorts. Maybe a bigger influx of stretchable and breathable fabrics.

Gym Class Hero: Gym class is kind of a weird thing and I don’t say that because it has been disappearing from schools. While I think that it is important for children to get some exercise during the school day, there should be a greater goal of education built into it. I love playing dodgeball as much as the next guy but it doesn’t teach our kids anything lasting. From The Chicago Tribune:

“You have a lot more control over what you do in gym class now,” she said. “You get to choose what kind of workouts work best for you and how you want to shape your health routine and your body.”

Gym class, she said, “is much more personalized.”

That, Airola said, is the goal.

Sandburg, in Orland Park, began the school year with 40 new spin bikes, newly purchased heart monitors for 1,500 kids and a redesigned class schedule.

“We’re trying to get away from some of the things we all went through (as kids),” he said. “Sports aren’t everybody’s thing.

“Kids need to be given an opportunity to try something new, something different,” he said. The activities they learn and confidence they master in high school, he said, can carry with them throughout their lives.

Also:

The district, one of only a handful in the state to offer SCUBA to its students, is currently piloting a course for freshmen at Shepard High School called “Connecting to Wellness,” that combines physical education and health.

“Students are with the same teacher all year and every couple of weeks they flip between the classroom and PE settings rather than taking one semester of PE and then one semester of health,” VanRaden said. “The hope is that students will be able to transfer what they’re learning in the classroom to what they’re doing in P.E. and vice versa.”

At Sandburg, Airola said students are using the heart monitors to adjust their workout.

“This technology helps them take ownership of their progress,” Airola said.

In strength and conditioning class, kids rotate among stations where they toss medicine balls, flip tires and whip battle ropes up and down.

“It felt like we were getting a little bit stale just doing a couple days of cardio and then three days of weight training,” Airola said. “We needed to spice things up, to get kids more engaged. So every other week, they do this at least once a week.”

              This is fantastic. Playing sports is fun but how many adults continue to play team sports on a regular basis. Most adults who want to stay in shape go to the gym so we should start exposing kids to exercises that they will actually use when they get older. I also love that they’re incorporating classroom sessions into this as well. Fitness is a black box to the majority of Americans. We need to de-mystify it and the best way to do that is by having some form of fitness education in our schools. The sad thing is that Illinois is the only state that still requires PE. Instead of reforming PE in our school, schools are eliminating PE because of funding issues.  It’s a shame because we need to be doing more to fight the obesity epidemic not less.

Boutiques: Fitness has never had much of a presence in publicly traded markets but there has been increased interest from private equity firms. Most of those firms have been acquiring fitness companies with the standard PE motivation of flipping the acquired company for a profit within a few years. TPG has taken a different strategy: amassing a portfolio of boutique fitness brands under the Xponetial Fitness banner. And this week, they picked up another one. From Health Club Management:

Xponential Fitness has acquired Pure Barre, one of the largest barre franchises in the US – making it the seventh business in Xponential's rapidly growing portfolio of fitness brands.

Founded in 2001 by dancer and choreographer Carrie Rezabek Dorr, Pure Barre has more than 517 studios throughout the US and Canada. The chain has expanded rapidly since launching its franchised operations in 2009.

"Pure Barre sets the standard for barre workouts not only in the US, but globally as well," said Anthony Geisler, CEO of Xponential Fitness.

"The addition of Pure Barre to our already robust portfolio of brands enhances our company and establishes Xponential as the number one curator of the best brands in the boutique fitness industry."

              Watching PE firms gobble up fitness companies is interesting because you think about the exit strategy. There isn’t a strong demand for fitness in the public markets and the industry is so fragmented that even the big players aren’t that big. That doesn’t rule out IPO’s but it doesn’t make them super-attractive either. And there aren’t many if any strategic buyers. That leaves flipping companies to other PE firms as the most likely exit strategy. Which is kind of like flipping a house and then selling it to another flipper. What is the next guy going to get out of it that the first guy didn’t?

              Xponetial is trying to create value by assembling this companies. That’s interesting because it’s different. No one else has brands in all the major boutique disciplines. The big question is how Xponetial will tie them together. The CEO has talked about attracting “franchisees who may want to own several different exercise “modalities” in a single market”. I think that there is potential to create some kind of umbrella membership, a closed garden version of ClassPass, so that people can train at multiple boutiques. Either way, this gives TPG a lot of options for its fitness holdings. Keep an eye on Xponetial.

Global Domination: Six more CrossFit sanctioned events were announced this week. Following the trend, there was a strong international representation in this batch as well. From Barbend:

1. Australian CrossFit Championship

This qualifier is set to take place in January 2019 in Queensland, Australia. For this competition, there will be an online qualifier to select the 32 men and women, and 16 teams who will be invited to compete. The top placing woman, man, and team will qualify for the 2019 CrossFit Games.

2. Asia CrossFit Championship

The Asia CrossFit Championship is set to take place in April 2019, and will be China’s first ever CrossFit Games qualifying competition. In CrossFit, Inc.’s press release Max Ma owner of One Nation Huaihai states, “With event programming from CrossFit Games athletes Austin Malleolo, Spencer Hendel and James Hobart, the Asia CrossFit Championship is not one not to miss.”

3. Reykjavik CrossFit Championship

This qualifier is set to take place in May of 2019 and Annie Thorisdottir is serving as the Championship’s director. The top placing man, woman, and team will earn a ticket to the 2019 CrossFit Games. Thorisdottir states in the press release, “Building on the tradition of Icelandic strongmen and women, the competition will be varied and exciting.”

4. Down Under CrossFit Championship

The Down Under CrossFit Championship will be taking placing in May of 2019 in Wollongong, Australia. The Down Under CrossFit Championship’s director Mick shaw states, “This year, the Down Under CrossFit Championship will incorporate some of the scenic settings of Wollongong into the events to create a diverse and challenging event.”

5. Pandaland CrossFit Championship (2020 CrossFit Games)

The Pandaland CrossFit Championship will serve as a qualifier for the 2020 CrossFit Games. This competition is set to take place in December 2019 in Sichuan Province, China. Pandaland CrossFit Championship Director Zhu Chen states in the press release, “We are ready to share our love of history, culture, and sport, and of course, celebrate the growth of the Chinese CrossFit community with the rest of the world.”

              The 6th event is the Rogue Invitational, a new event that will be held at Rogue Fitness HQ in Columbus, OH in May. Let’s check the 2019 breakdown by continent:

North America – 4 (Granite Games, Rogue Invite, Mid-Atlantic CrossFit Challenge, Wodapalooza)

South America – 1 (Brazil CrossFit Champs)

Europe – 5 (Strength in Depth, French Throwdown, Italian Showdown, Lowlands Throwdown, Reykjavik CrossFit Champs)

Asia – 2 (Dubai CrossFit Champs, Asian CrossFit Champs)

Australia – 2 (Australian CrossFit Champs, Down Under CrossFit Champs)

Africa -1 (Fittest in Capetown)

              There are also 2 events that will join the 2020 slate: Pandaland CrossFit Challenge and SouthFit CrossFit Challenge. The 2020 breakdown is as follows:

North America – 4

South America – 2

Europe – 5

Asia – 3

Australia – 2

Africa – 1

              2 events in Australia? That’s a strong representation for the forgotten continent. And it is surprising to see more events in Europe than there are in North America. And no Canadian event? From Barbend:

Let’s address the elephant in the room, but out of the 16 announced qualifiers, there have been none set to take place in Canada, and that’s got us wondering if there actually will be more than 16 sanctioned events.

After all, Canada has a very strong CrossFit community and has had multiple athletes place in the top three at the Games in recent years (ex: Brent Fikowski and Patrick Vellner). If CrossFit is trying to include every community across the globe, then it only makes sense that Canada hosts at least one qualifier, right?

              That would make sense. CrossFit made sure to include an event in Iceland, reflecting the small country’s outsized contribution to the sport. Perhaps there is another event to be announced in the Great White North. All in all, this seems like a blueprint for spreading CrossFit across the globe. The company has shrewdly used the sport of CrossFit to raise awareness and promote the fitness of CrossFit. Now they’re going to expand this strategy to the rest of the world. 

She Blinded Me With Science: One of my guidelines for learning about fitness is to take into account any bias or conflict of interest that the “expert” might have. This extends to researchers as well which is something that CrossFit has been exposing recently. Researchers need grant money and they often get it from companies that sell the thing that they are researching. Marion Nestle has written a book (Unsavory Truth) on the conflicts of interest in food science and she sat down for an interview with Vox:

Julia Belluz

You make a strong case in the book that the food industry has borrowed from the tobacco industry when it comes to using science for marketing purposes and avoiding regulation.

Marion Nestle

The tobacco industry, knowing full well that research linked cigarette smoking to lung cancer risk, embarked on a strategy to cast doubt on that research and stave off regulation. Cigarette companies gave gifts to researchers, funded researchers, found ways to support them so they would cast doubt on research suggesting harm and push the uncertainty. The companies worked behind the scenes to convince Congress that there were enough doubts about the research that regulations weren’t needed.

Food is much more complicated than tobacco, but some food trade associations have adopted the “cast doubt” playbook. The American Beverage Association insists that sugar-sweetened beverages have no role in obesity or Type 2 diabetes, for example, despite much suggestive evidence that they do.

Also:

Julia Belluz

What advice do you have for consumers who are bombarded with and trying to make sense of food and exercise claims? What should they look out for?

Marion Nestle

Please be a bit skeptical. If the title of a study suggests that a food is performing something miraculous, especially for multiple conditions, it’s good to ask who paid for it. No one food can perform miracles, alas. Diets are complicated, people are complicated, lifestyles are complicated.

Other things that should set off red flags: “breakthrough” and my favorite, “Anything you thought you knew about nutrition is wrong.” That’s not how science works.

If you want to eat healthfully, it’s not very hard. Eat your vegetables and fruits, don’t eat too much, and don’t eat a lot of junk food. And, of course, don’t smoke cigarettes, drink too much alcohol, or take drugs.

Variety and processing are the big issues in food. The best advice is to eat as wide a variety of unprocessed foods as possible and to stay active. That’s all it takes to get the nutrients you need and do what you can to stay healthy.

            The one thing that she left out was if something seems too good to be true, then it’s probably not. This is where “A couple of alcoholic drinks a day are actually good for you” comes in. This is also a good way to think about fitness. There are a lot of people that want to sell you on some exercise(s) that will perform miracles. Always think about their motivation and take whatever they say with a grain of salt. It’s very hard to come up with a breakthrough in fitness. The most effective stuff is the old school stuff.

Tidbits:

-You can buy fake weights on the internet in order to impress people on social media

-What is fitness?

-Under Armour’s Connected Fitness division used to be big and unprofitable, now it’s small and profitable

-Netflix and Motivate

-Everyone loves yoga pants

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS TRYING TO MAKE ATHLUXURY HAPPEN

Black Tuesday: Last week, CrossFit laid off a lot of people. By a lot, I mean about one-third of its corporate staff in Northern California. From Boxrox:

Last Tuesday more than 40 CrossFit Staff were fired. This is close to 30 – 40% of the members of CrossFit’s Santa Cruz, CA office.

The vast majority of these individuals were from The CrossFit Games media team working in video, photography, graphic design and logistics for The CrossFit Games.

              Fast-growing companies aren’t the first thing that you think of when it comes to layoffs but it’s not unheard of. The downside of fast growth is that it can be very difficult to manage that growth well, particularly when it comes to managing costs and headcount. What’s interesting about these layoffs is that they seem to portend a complete change in strategy. The layoffs were concentrated in multi-media positions, i.e. the people that document the CrossFit Games. Of course, this means that major changes are afoot for the Games:

Our sources tell us that this is part of a move by Greg Glassman away from concentrating so much on The CrossFit Games, to shift the Media focus towards ‘CrossFit Health’, and to pay more attention to health rather than competition. One source told us that Glassman is ‘anti-games’, seeing the spectacle to showcase the sport in a dangerous way. 

Also:

According to our sources, there is a strong chance that the Regionals format that we all know and love will completely change! It looks like there will be a series of different events that will now count towards qualification for The CrossFit Games. Rumours have talked about competitions such as the Dubai Fitness Championship amongst others. 

It looks like Greg Glassman wants more focus on the affiliates and less focus on the Games. The question is whether CrossFit is a sports company or a fitness company? Up until now, the answer has been a fitness company that does a lot of sports marketing. But no one has infinite resources which means that tough decisions have to be made sometimes. From Morning Chalk-Up:

Today, CrossFit has more than 15,000 affiliates worldwide; more than half of those are located outside the United States. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that Glassman has more affiliates in the U.S. than Howard Schultz has Starbucks.

Yet a significant portion of CrossFit’s financial resources goes to building and supporting a competition for the 0.01% of athletes, resources which could be going to support training and equipping these affiliates on the front lines in the fight against chronic diseases.

“We chose to make these changes to refocus our efforts towards the core of CrossFit: our affiliates, seminars and certifications, and our core mission: preventing and reversing chronic disease,” an anonymous source within CrossFit said.

Assuming that Glassman sees CrossFit as a fitness company, then it could make sense to outsource a lot of the Games work. CrossFit could probably convince CBS Sports to produce those documentaries for them. The cable sports networks need a ton of content to fill the air waves with. Let CBS Sports do what they do best (create content) and save a ton of money in the process. Then, get rid of Regionals. Right now, there are 3 rounds of CrossFit competition (the Open, the Regionals, and the Games). The Open is pretty cheap to conduct, all the competitions take place in the affiliates. Plus, it’s a big deal to the affiliates and a great way to promote and grow CrossFit. I can’t see them getting rid of the Open. The Games is the showcase of the sport and fitness in general. It has to be expensive to put on but they sell a lot of tickets, have a ton of sponsors and a TV deal. They’re not getting rid of the Games. The Regionals have to be more expensive than the Games (they hold 9 competitions all over the world) but without the same revenue streams as the Games. This they could get rid of. So how would athletes qualify for the Games? Use other competitions as qualifying events. Create a circuit of competitions in which athletes earn points. Earn enough points and you’re in. That way, CrossFit isn’t footing the bill for all of these competitions. And I am sure that competitions like the Granite Games would be more than happy to serve as a CrossFit Games qualifying event. This way, CrossFit can serve as more of a governing body for the sport. It can set the standards and hold the championship. This also might encourage more people to invest money into fitness competitions with the dream of becoming an official CrossFit event. The season would start with the Open in February, have a circuit of qualifying events through the spring and early summer, and then culminate with the Games in late summer. It might even be more fun than the current setup. The qualifying events can develop their own history and feel.  The downside to all of this is that you lose some control over your brand but that is something that CrossFit has never been afraid of. This is a company that uses an affiliate model instead of a franchise model. Yes, CrossFit will lose some control over its brand but this will free up a lot of cash that can be invested in growing/supporting the affiliate base.

Update:

-The Open is moving to November

-From the Open, every country with an affiliate will send one man, one woman, and one team to the Games

-The Regionals are out, there will be 16 qualifying events, win one and you’re in the Games

-The CrossFit Invitational is out

Good Old Days: Deadspin published an oral history of the original Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach this week. It is a good read and I highly recommend it but one paragraph stuck with me:

Charles Gaines (author of Stay Hungry and co-author of Pumping Iron): Among other things that’s not widely understood about bodybuilders, I think, is how good they feel. Working out they have these endorphins cascading their bodies. They’re eating enough meat for a male lion every day, and lying in the sun and screwing whoever they want to screw. It was a kind of paradise. They’re always tanned and they’re in great shape. That sense of physical well-being and pure physical pleasure was a big part of that scene.

              It’s a little provocative but this isn’t this why we all work out? Because it makes us feel good today. You feel good after your workout, it feels great to be in shape, and you’ll be more attractive to whoever it is you want to attract. These guys were just some of the first ones to get that and they built their lives around it. There was no money or prestige in it back then. They were bodybuilding bums who wanted to see how much they could transform their bodies. It’s crazy to think that this little hole in the wall gym in Venice Beach helped create the fitness culture in America but it did. And it sprung from a desire to feel good through exercise.    

Real Estate: If you want to run any kind of retail business, then finding the right location is critical. You want someplace with good visibility but you don’t want to get killed on rent. And it needs to be the right size and type of space. All of that gets harder when you opening up a gym (although it has been getting easier lately). And it gets even harder when you’re opening up a climbing gym. From Curbed:

The number-one challenge to developing a climbing gym is real estate, says Helt, and finding the right property, one that’s both big enough for a multimillion-dollar rehab, and, in the case of facilities that offer rope climbing, tall enough—often needing 45-foot ceilings or more.

What’s been especially interesting, and in some cases frustrating as the industry grows, is how climbing’s emergence runs parallel to both the post-Recession real estate recovery and a seemingly insatiable desire for warehouses and post-industrial properties for a variety of industries, including residential and commercial development, microbreweries, e-commerce such as Amazon, and in some states, cannabis growers.

“I think the word is out on how cool industrial warehouses can be and everyone wants it,” says Lance Pinn, co-founder and president of Brooklyn Boulders, a chain of climbing gyms with four locations in the New York, Boston, and Chicago area. “Once upon a time, there was a sweet spot when it came to cost and availability. For our first few facilities, we caught them just in time. But now, that ship has sailed.”

              There has been a lot of press coverage on the retail apocalypse and the death of the shopping mall. There has not been much coverage on the growing demand for industrial spaces (or the evolution of the warehouse gym). This has made finding a good space for a climbing gym very tough.

That’s one of the real challenges facing climbing gym developers; Finding massive spaces for adaptive reuse close enough, or soon to be close enough, to a large customer base, but before the real estate gets too expensive.

That’s led gym developers to focus on transforming any spaces that fit the bill, no matter how unique. Everything from churches to movie theaters to a hospital power plant have been remodeled for climbers.

              Most businesses just have to worry about square feet, not cubic feet. There is one bright spot in all of this.

Helt believes the challenges of funding and finding a new space actually work to the industry’s advantage. It’s hard to burst a bubble when it takes so long to open a new facility. He sees opportunity in places like the Dallas and Houston metro areas, with millions of potential climbers and less penetration.

              They don’t even get into the expense of opening up a climbing gym. It is not a cheap endeavor.

Stop trying to make Fetch happen: Athleisure has been the hot trend in athletic apparel the last few years but the industry leader has been resisting. Now it appears that they’re giving in. From Vogue:

 Throughout Nike’s 47-year history, athletes have always come first. That’s been a long-standing advantage for the brand—ultimately, it’s hard to argue against LeBron James and Serena Williams picking up trophies while wearing that swoosh. But as the lifestyles of the well-off pivot to a more natural fusion of exercise and daily life, and as athleisure becomes a fashion statement, Nike has lagged where other activewear monoliths have thrived. That’s about to change with its newest womenswear launch, Nike City Ready, a collection of athluxury pieces that targets the modern woman in an urban center, the woman who sees Bella Hadid leaving a training session in high-waist leggings and a bodysuit and wants to do the same.

              I think that Vogue understates how big of a deal this is. Nike prides itself on being a sports company that designs its products for elite athletes. They believe that this is their competitive advantage. For example, their running shoes are all designed for runners with narrow feet and good biomechanics. That is not most people. New Balance has been selling shoes in both lengths and widths for decades. It is not a radical idea that the size of someone’s foot could vary by both length and width. But Nike has resisted selling anything that an elite runner would not run in. Which is why it’s so weird to see them give in on athleisure. They have some very aggressive revenue goals that need to be met but still. Athleisure is the exact opposite of what Nike believes is a pillar of its success. They must think that athleisure isn’t going away anytime soon and that they can’t afford to be left out of it. 

The 7 Z’s of leadership: As a business school graduate, I have been trained to be a sucker for wisdom dispensed in a particular alpha-numeric format. Which is why I got excited about this article in Inc. 3 C’s? I am in.

Beyond the wellness movement, Geisler sees three key drivers of the boutique boom. You could call them the three C's: consistency, community, and constraint. Consistency is at the heart of any chain's appeal; like Levey, who was frustrated by how all-over-the-place yoga classes could be in their approach, consumers want to know what to expect from a business, no matter which location they enter. Geisler, a fan of Starbucks, makes sure that in all his studios little things like the layout of the bathrooms (and the free toe socks at Club Pilates) don't vary from one location to the next.

Community is the social aspect of working out. Exercisers want to get some of the same feeling they get from going to a cool bar or nightclub. The candlelight and loud dance music at Y7 certainly create a club vibe, but Levey says the rigor of the sessions themselves is what inspires bonding. "There's a sense of camara­derie," she says. "You're going through this difficult workout together."

A sense of shared affinity helps explain why people will pay more for membership at a single-purpose boutique than they would for a full-featured, big-box gym. "People who have dogs go to dog parks. Why?" asks Geisler. "Because everybody at the dog park has a frickin' dog. We're animals. We like to go to the watering hole together."

And we prefer the most popular watering holes. Hence, another aspect of boutiques' unlikely appeal: constraint. Small studios make for small classes that fill up fast, and when classes are frequently booked up or oversubscribed, it's a lot easier to charge $25 or $35 for a spot. "Look at the old nightclubs. People waited in line for hours," says Geisler. "Everybody wants to be part of that."

              The first 2 aren’t anything new but I am intrigued by the third C: constraint. The comparison to night clubs is interesting since fitness studios are the new night clubs (according to some). I have a hard time wrapping my mind around it because I’ve never been a night club guy. I hate waiting in line so I can stand in a loud, crowded space and be over-charged for drinks. Exclusivity in the form of long lines does not appeal to me. I have always thought that the hassle of booking SoulCycle classes sounded exhausting as well. But everyone is not like me and exclusivity definitely sells. Personally, I’m more of a Peloton guy.

But not everybody has time. Peloton's founder, John Foley, had worked at Barry Diller's IAC, Barnes & Noble, and Evite when, in 2011, he found himself getting frustrated by how hard it was to get a spot in a spin class. In Manhattan, where he lived, SoulCycle and Flywheel classes led by popular instructors were often booked up a week in advance. "I was thinking, if 2,000 people want in and only 50 people can get in, that, to me, screams distributed technology," he says. 

              What would that make Peloton? The equivalent of an intimate gathering of friends? You can just show up whenever you want and you’re guaranteed someplace to sit. And you don’t have to have your ear drums assaulted by music that is way too loud.

Tidbits:

-The women only model comes to CrossFit

-Google Fit gets an overhaul

-Online coaching is on the rise

-The ghosts of gym class truly haunt us all

-A gym designed for Instagrammers

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS

Gurus: If you have heard of Ido Portal, there is a good chance that Conor McGregor is the reason why. The MMA superstar retained Portal as his movement coach in 2015 and, as with everything in McGregor’s orbit, brought a tidal wave of publicity to the enigmatic Israeli. The Atlantic profiled Portal, asking the age-old question that must be asked of every would-be fitness guru: are they the real deal or just another huckster?

Star athletes reportedly pay Portal six-figure sums for two weeks of in-person training. He spent chunks of the past year doing “movement design” (something akin to choreography) for a multi-million dollar Bollywood film, and is set to star in a mini-series in which he works with elite athletes in sports ranging from surfing to fighting. (Some of his closest students have landed similarly glitzy gigs, with two recently serving as advisers to the current season of Israeli Ninja Warrior.) Portal has been called a “guru” and a “movement master” more times than I can count; one interviewer even called him “the smartest man in the world.” But the question—hotly debated on Reddit and on MMA blogs—endures: Is there value in the movement, or is Portal simply slinging snake oil?

              The thing that drives me crazy about these type of arguments is that people usually fail to define what they’re arguing about. Is there value in Portal’s teachings? Of course, there is. The more relevant questions are whether they are worth the price tag and whether they are the best use of someone’s time. To an extent, almost everything in fitness works. You just have to figure out what that particular exercise or methodology is supposed to do. For example, body-building absolutely works. It does exactly what it is designed for: muscle hypertrophy and achieving a certain aesthetic. But it is a fool’s errand to use body-building as a method to improve sports performance because that’s not what it was designed for. Portal is not selling snake oil but what exactly is he selling?

But such personal transformations aren’t accessible to just anyone. Portal makes no bones about the fact that involvement in the community requires a significant investment of both time and money. In a 2013 Facebook post, he wrote that his movement camps were for the “got money and a ton of motivation and willing to travel kind of person” (for the “no-money, little motivation, want to fuck around kind of person” he recommended Zumba). In 2015, he lost fans in the parkour world and beyond when he announced he wouldn’t train vegans, saying they wouldn’t be able to keep up with his meat-eating “tribe.” The dozen or so movement schools that have cropped up in these past few years have made Portal’s methods more readily available. But even now, those wishing to take part in one of his camps are required to sign non-disclosure agreements and fork over between $600 and $1000 for two to three days.

“I’m willing to elevate the crowd by providing them with some of the things I’ve found to be useful. But I’m not willing to be pulled down by them into some watered-down thing—some P90X, some CrossFit-certification weekend event,” Portal told me, when I asked if he seeks to spread his method further. “If [the public] come with me, that’s fine, but I’m not going to them.” He added: “Sometimes I think, let’s let the trend die already for God’s sake, and have only the really hardcore practitioner group.”

 When we spoke, Portal kept emphasizing that his approach has to be experienced, not just described. “It sounds very vague because there is nothing that I can say beyond these descriptive words,” he said. Maybe Portal’s elusiveness is just a way to convince outsiders he’s offering something new and revolutionary, as some have argued. Maybe movement just another cultish fitness fad with a short shelf life. Maybe you could achieve similar results, and the promised “paradigm shift,” training some other discipline multiple hours per day—like dance or martial arts.

              Portal appears disinterested in bringing his methodology to the masses. He doesn’t want to make it something that the average person can fit into their life. He’s selling to the “hardcore practitioner” who wants their existence to revolve around this stuff. Part of me feels that if you need to do it for 6 hours a day for it to be effective, then you are not the real deal. That is completely unrealistic for 99.9% of the population. Even professional athletes need to practice their actual sport. Fitness should make our lives better, not subsume our entire lives. There is another part of me that feels that Portal is being upfront about this and we should just take it for what it is: something that is for a very small group of people. Of course, history tells us that eventually someone else will try to bring Portal’s teachings to the masses, probably without Portal’s consent. We will have to wait to see what that looks like.

Stay frosty: Brrrn has been getting a lot of press lately. The boutique studio prides itself on being the first gym to use cold temperatures as a way to…do something. They’re not so sure what exactly the benefit of exercising in cold temperatures is but they have some theories. From Fast Company:

“The hardest thing to do in the boutique space is to encourage movement,” explains cofounder Johnny Adamic, “and there’s nothing better in our opinion than to turn the thermostat down and just be completely in the moment–not feeling like your body has to sweat profusely to cool off.”

Theory 1: you need to turn down the thermostat in order to encourage people to move. People who have just paid $34 to get a great workout. Sure.

Cold, he argues, actually has a bounty of benefits. Research found that cooler environments boost alertness and performance, better serves heart health, helps you sleep better, and perhaps most relevant to fitness, burns more calories.

Theory 2: Being cold burns more calories. There is science to back this up but how much difference does 1 hour of the day make? Plus, once you start exercising, your body will warm up. The rule of thumb is that it will feel 20 degrees warmer once you start exercising. So, you’re not really getting that benefit. You’ll just sweat less.

Not to mention, as the body heats up during exercise, outside heat often just makes movement unbearably uncomfortable. It’s why marathons are held during the spring and late fall.

 Martin likens working out in the heat to trying to have two conversations at once. He says the body can’t acutely focus on exercising if it must simultaneously cool itself. In colder (but not too cold) spaces, “All your body has to worry about is performing because it’s not working hard to dump heat to cool your body.”

Theory 3: This is the optimal temperature for running a marathon. In a long event like the marathon, the benefits of warmer temperatures (loose muscles) is outweighed by the benefits of cooler temperatures (less chance of overheating). But a HIIT class is not a marathon. Wouldn’t a slightly warmer temperature be ideal?

Western society essentially engineered cold out of our lives, but that thermal cocoon of comfort might be partially to blame for our nation’s obesity epidemic (along with overfeeding ourselves). Mild cold (55 to 65 degrees), claims Cronise, could reverse some of those effects. (Studies are still in the infant phase, with researchers conflicted on end results.) It’s part of a larger trend in the last few years that has seen the wellness industry adopt colder pursuits once reserved for elite athletes, such as cryotherapy, ice baths, and “fat freezing” centers.

Theory 4: This is somehow related to using cold-based recovery techniques. The goal of an ice bath after your workout is to reduce the inflammation in your muscles and hasten your recovery. Are they trying to imply that participants will experience less inflammation because they were exercising in cooler temperatures?

              If this doesn’t set off your BS meter, then I don’t know what would. They can’t even settle on one coherent selling point. They are just throwing stuff at the wall and hoping that something hits. The good news is that none of this is harmful. People will just sweat less. But this is marketing gobbedly-gook that Brrrn is using to differentiate itself from all the other boutiques in NYC.

What me worry?: Technology is eating the world. It’s transforming everything about our lives and the world that we live in. That includes the way in which we exercise as well. It has enabled a host of companies to offer increasingly sophisticated home fitness solutions. Could this replace traditional, brick and mortar gyms? From Racked:

This is all just the next version of at-home workouts that have been around since Jane Fonda pioneered them via VHS tapes in the ’80s. That progressed to DVDs from Cindy Crawford and Elle Macpherson, then to the Tae Bo hype of the ’90s. Finally, we got YouTube fitness content. But this new generation of live-streaming differs in some important ways that should make traditional gyms very nervous.

Live-streaming, or even rewatching live classes that have been recorded, offers an experience that’s actually really similar to the experience of being there live. The unscripted constant chatter and encouragement of a teacher and the presence of other people on bikes or mats working out in the background gives a sense of connection and community. That’s what draws so many people to group fitness classes in the first place. Many need the motivation and camaraderie.

Then there’s the variety. Macpherson was inspirational and all, but you can do the same canned workout only so many times. With tens of thousands of classes all taught by different teachers to choose from on any given day, there’s little room for boredom to set in. Users are also not bound to traditional gym schedules.

Also:

What this all means is much less need for anyone to leave their homes to work out, which should make traditional gyms very, very nervous. Some have already figured this out. Gold’s Gym offers streaming audio workouts à la Aaptiv. Crunch also offers class live streams. Both cost $9.99 monthly.

Traditional gyms should theoretically have a leg up on the startups because they have the talent and programming part done. More gyms need to figure out the tech part, because if they don’t go virtual soon, they could wind up just like that NordicTrack your aunt has gathering dust in her basement.

Fitness is far from a mature industry, there is still tremendous room for growth. We are far from the point where companies need to worry about stealing market share from one another. The biggest competition for everyone in the industry is still the couch, doing nothing. Success is all about developing solutions that make working out as convenient as possible for people. That might mean building out multiple, easily accessible locations or it could mean making working out at home as easy as possible. And here’s the other thing: everyone doesn’t want to work out at home. There are a lot of people that prefer going to the gym. They’re out of the house, they’re not sweating up their living room, there’s more energy there, there’s better equipment there.

I’d also love to see some stats on how many people participate in home fitness solutions and belong to a traditional club because I suspect that it’s pretty high. Let’s say that you are a Peloton rider. You dropped $2000 on a bike and pay $39/month. You’re not averse to spending money on fitness and you obviously have disposable income. You can get a membership to a big box gym for $30/month. And Peloton is great cardio but what about strength training?

Gyms need to evolve. They don’t want to be that old Nordic Track. Because if they don’t evolve, then someone else will take their place. You don’t see a lot of Nordic Tracks anymore but there are a bunch of companies selling cardio machines and doing well. 

Happy Hour: The media loves to blame millennials for the downfall of well, everything. As if it’s their responsibility to like the same dumb stuff that their parents did. Case in point: nightclubs and bars. From The Guardian:

In fact, for some, the gym is replacing boozing. Young people are drinking less than ever before: according to one survey, more than a quarter of 16- to 24-year-olds are teetotal. A quarter of pubs have closed in the past 35 years, and those that survive largely do so through their food offerings.

In contrast, gyms are booming. The UK private health and fitness market is now worth £3.2bn after growing 20% between 2015 and 2018, according to Mintel. Adjunct industries, such as sports nutrition and athleisure clothing, are also bulking up (the sports food and drink industry grew by 11.5% to £77m in 2017-18). Fifteen per cent of the UK population has a gym membership, and that doesn’t include the premium, pay-as-you-go studios such as Frame, F45 and Psycle that are springing up.

In an agricultural/manufacturing economy, work was active so leisure was usually sedentary. Retiring to a pub to down a few drinks after a long day of work was a natural reaction when work was farming or toiling away in a factory. The information economy has turned that on its head, now work is sedentary so leisure needs to be active. After sitting in an office all day, doing something to get your body moving is a natural reaction. Millennials might be the first generation to understand this. Their parents didn’t quite figure this out and have paid the price for it with their bodies.

The other thing about leisure time is that people want it to have a social component. They want to do it with other people. So they go to a bar instead of just drinking at home. And they’re looking for their gym time to have a social aspect to it as well. Perhaps that’s why fitness companies that have tried to build a sense of community have experienced the most success the last few years.

 

 

Fitness Marketing: There has been a rash of fitness/music deals being made this year. I was aware of the trend but seeing it all condensed into a couple of paragraphs was eye-opening. From Forbes:

Consider this timeline: On May 22, licensing and rights-verification company Rumblefish (owned by Simon’s HFA) announced that it would be working with ClassPass, the health-club subscription service that just raised $85 million in a Series D round, on music rights administration support for on-demand fitness content. Just over a week later, B2B music-streaming provider Feed.fm announced its brand-new spinoff product Fitness.fm, which is already crafting custom music experiences for popular mobile fitness apps like Daily Burn, ASICS Studio and Pear Sports.

The end of June saw yet more fitness and music deals. First, audio-workout startup Aaptiv raised $22 million from investors including Warner Music Group, and it later revealed an additional strategic investment from Bose Ventures. One week later — to come full circle — Peloton announced its acquisition of B2B music aggregator Neurotic Media, whose team will be tasked with building new music features for the unicorn cycling startup.

              Fitness classes are becoming the new place to discover new music. Music has always been a part of the fitness experience. Who doesn’t like to listen to music while they work out? This is another example of fitness marketing, advertisers using fitness as a platform to reach young, affluent consumers. And it’s a symbiotic relationship.

The right music can keep these users even more engaged in the long term: new research released this week from Feed.fm found that users of fitness apps with specialized music curation were 2.2x more likely to return the following month and 2.8x more likely to return the following quarter

              Companies like SoulCycle understand that they’re selling an experience as much as they’re selling a workout and that music is a big part of that experience. This creates pressure to curate the right music for its consumers so these companies are seeking out partners to help them with that. Being in the fitness business is starting to mean that you’re in the music business as well.

Tidbits:

-Cookeville, TN will now be the home of the World’s Fittest Man and Woman (plus Rich Froning)

-Equinox is accused of ignoring an attempted rape in one of its clubs

-Hollywood is working out with its kids

-Google is going to launch an AI trainer

-The DOD finally bans service members from using geo-locating fitness apps

-Here’s an alternative to Planet Fitness

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS SELLING SOME MERCH

It’s all about the merch: There are 2 trends that have been revolutionizing the fitness industry the last few years: studios and athleisure. What could be better than combining the two? From Moneyish:

More and more studios are following the SoulCycle model of slapping their logo onto a crop top, sports bra or pair of yoga pants, and selling them for upwards of $40 each — which sometimes costs more than the actual class. Owners tell Moneyish that it’s a crucial way to earn a second stream of revenue while effortlessly building brand awareness. 

“The merchandise and the apparel is icing on the cake for us,” said Johnny Adamic, co-founder of Brrrn, a cool new Manhattan strength training class that’s done between 45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to selling classes starting at $34 each, guests can also buy sweatshirts to wear inside the chilly studios with the brand’s snowflake logo, as well hats, fingerless gloves, beanies and sweatpants that fit into the icy aesthetic. Adamic teamed up with clothing maker Alternative Apparel to design pieces for Brrrrn that range from $40 to $60. Clothing is on sale currently at the studio, with plans to expand to online in the coming months.

“Our goal is to hit anywhere from 10 to 20% of our gross sales on merch,” said Adamic. 

Capitalizing on athletic clothing is a no-brainer for gyms and fitness studios. The athleisure trend is making $44 billion a year, according to market research firm NPD Group. And the category is expected to grow to $83 billion by 2020, Morgan Stanley estimates.

              Studio fitness is a luxury product and people want to show off luxury products. You can post a post-class selfie to Instagram but you’re probably going to want a little more than that. A $50 Soulcycle t-shirt will do the trick. There is also a weird relationship going on where studios are using their merch to draw in consumers who will then sign up for their classes and retailers are using fitness classes to draw in fitness enthusiasts who will then purchase retail items.

And it’s working in reverse, as well, with retail stores using the growing wellness obsession to hawk their athletic brands by luring in customers with fitness classes. Last year, Saks Fifth Avenue opened The Wellery, a pop-up floor in its flagship Fifth Avenue store offering classes from ConBody, the prison-style boot camp workout; Bendable Body, a stretching method that works on connective tissue; and MNDFL meditation classes, all the while promoting up-and-coming activewear brands such as Heroine Sport, Phat Buddha and Beyond Yoga

              Companies are using fitness to sell athleisure and athleisure to sell fitness. That’s amazing.

 

A good night’s sleep: Fitness is a young industry and as such, it is still evolving. One way it is still evolving is the addition of recovery services and products. It is not a new idea that nutrition is the companion to fitness in the search for greater health and wellness. But as fitness programs have become more intense, people are starting to realize that their ability to recover from that last hard training session is crucial. The biggest area in the recovery business right now is sleep. A good night’s sleep is worth its weight in gold but it can prove elusive to the sort of high-achievers that flock to high-intensity fitness programs. Enter sleep-coaches and because we live in the 21st century, sleep-coaching apps. From Fast Company:

Equinox, in conjunction with researchers at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, revealed findings linking behavioral “sleep coaching” to exercise performance. That’s right, they may have finally answered the question of whether or not that late-night cheesecake will slow you down in the morning.

The clinical research study–the first of its kind–found that sleep coaching, which involves improving people’s sleep quality by getting them to change their lifestyle habits, does indeed impact one’s athletic performance. The goal was to prove how a behavioral-level step-by-step program could push incremental improvement in the quality and duration of sleep and, as a result of that, affect fitness outcomes.

Over 30 participants took part in the 12-week study, submitting detailed sleep logs each week. They recorded everything from alcohol consumption to middle-of-the-night bathrooms breaks, which were evaluated by sleep researchers.

The research team also conducted lengthy interviews, asking questions like: What time do you typically go to bed? What time do you get up in the morning? How many hours do you spend in bed? How many hours are you actually asleep out of that time? What’s your sleep quality? And do you get sleepy at a particular time in the evening?

              Equinox is incorporating that research into its app, website, personal training, and a sleep-coaching program. They appear committed to providing their members with a comprehensive approach to bettering their bodies. And the results of sleep-coaching are hard to argue with.

 

It’s no surprise that a good night’s rest impacts a day at the gym, but the study clarifies just how much of an impact it has. For example, metabolic threshold improved 29.8% in the sleep-coaching group, compared to 16.2% in the control group. (In other words, they got significantly more calorie-burning bang for their workout buck.) Meanwhile, those who were sleep-coached saw body fat percentage decrease by 17.2%, versus 7.1% in the control group.

             

              I’m curious as to how poorly the participants were sleeping before the study because those are striking results. It also speaks to how crucial sleep is to good health. This kind of holistic approach is going to be the future of the industry. Working out might be the fun part but you can’t ignore what you eat and how you recover.

 

Fat-shaming: A gym just outside of Birmingham, Alabama has ignited a controversy over its advertising style. It stems from the sign outside Pell City Fitness. The gym is attempting to use humor to draw in new members but not everyone is amused. From the Washington Post:

It was a call to action, gym owner Scott Campbell said, tinged with lighthearted ribbing.

“Tired of being fat and ugly?” his sign outside Pell City Fitness read in stark white letters. “Just be ugly!”

Campbell expected some reaction, he told The Washington Post on Wednesday, maybe an uptick in customers who laughed at the sign he installed May 15 in the small town east of Birmingham, Ala.

He got those laughs — along with a deluge of comments on social media calling the sign offensive, as city officials scrambled to get the sign down.

              Some people think it is hilarious and others find it offensive. I realize that no one likes to feel like they’re censored or that they can’t express themselves but if you’ve offended that many people, then you should probably examine what you did or said. That doesn’t mean that you didn’t have good intentions (like trying to get people to join your gym and make fitness part of their lives) but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. What is a good natured joke to you can be deeply offensive to other people. And when those people are trying to communicate why it is offensive, listen and have some empathy.

              Fitness needs to be more inclusive not less. I realize that Pell City Fitness may be thinking about how it can grow its business and not the entire industry but it would behoove everyone in the fitness industry to be on the same page here. In order for the industry to grow, we need to draw in more people. If gyms are seen as intimidating places, especially for overweight people, then growth is going to be tough. The other thing is that even if this ad pulls in a new member, they are not likely to stay a member. Shame is not going to keep someone going to the gym. Fitness is the best product in the world, there’s no need for stuff like this.

 

Think of the children: The obesity epidemic is well-known at this point. However, it appears that fitness levels have been falling in children that are not obese as well. From US News & World Report:

 

Researchers in 2016 analyzed 213 "healthy-weight" boys, determined by BMI, and 72 obese boys. They compared their findings to a similar study in 1996 performed on 132 healthy-weight boys and 72 obese boys to determine the change in fitness over time. Participants wore heart rate monitors during a test that required them to run "20 meters between two points until they could no longer do it," according to the study. Their heart rates were recorded at the end of the test and every minute during recovery.

According to the study, healthy-weight boys in 2016 ran the course an average of 4.8 times, as opposed to the average of 5.1 times completed by their 1996 counterparts. Obese boys showed a less pronounced difference, completing the distance an average of 4.1 times in 2016 compared with 4.2 times in 1996. Both normal-weight and obese boys showed much lower cardiac efficacy and slower heart rate recovery at the end of the test and throughout recovery in 2016 compared to 1996. 

Researchers acknowledged that the study included just a regional sample of boys. They also noted limitations in the period over which the data were collected as well as the fact that they did not account for factors like lifestyle differences. Nevertheless, they said the boys studied were from a demographic cross section representative of Western countries, and they recommended more programs to increase fitness levels in children.

              This is less than ideal. It’s disturbing that even healthy weight boys are less fit than their counterparts in 1996. Evolution is not a fixed process and it looks like humankind is adapting to a more sedentary existence. This is not a good development. It’s hard to imagine all the negative repercussions of a population that is less and less physically capable. But it’s not hard to see that this will affect society in numerous ways. The best thing that we can do is adjust our lifestyles. People used to expect their work to be physical and their leisure time to be sedentary. We need to invert that expectation. Otherwise, I don’t know what the future will hold for us.

Gurus: For better or for worse, fitness is a business based on gurus. The term “fitness guru” is ubiquitous and applied liberally to anyone who has experienced some level of success at training/coaching people. The problem is that there are scores of people who have labeled as gurus who do not deserve the title. Even the use of the word guru implies that there is a mystical, unknowable quality to fitness. And that leaves an opening for con-men and hucksters. So what are people to do? The Globe and Mail has some ideas:

Beware the dogmatic preacher

I love kettlebells, but anyone who tells you they’re the best and only method for getting in shape is wrong. Same goes for sandbags, Olympic lifting, suspension systems, body-weight training or any other esoteric training methodology. If the coach you’re learning from is a little too enthusiastic about a particular training system or implement, chances are they either have a financial stake in the company that makes or sells the product in question or they’re connected to an organization that sells instructional certifications.

              Always ask yourself how this person is making money. We all have to make money somehow and there’s nothing wrong with that but there is a conflict of interest. If a company is selling kettlebells and kettlebell certifications, of course they are going to tell you that kettlebells are the only fitness tool you need. That doesn’t mean that kettlebells aren’t a great fitness tool. Just take everything with a grain of salt.

Beware the nihilist

The preacher and the shill may be loathsome to varying degrees, but at least they believe in something. Trainers whose philosophies are ill-defined or, worse, non-existent do their clients and followers the greatest of disservices – they waste their time.

I specialize in helping thirty- and forty somethings who have little to no experience lifting weights become comfortable with resistance training. There, that’s me. That’s my training philosophy. Hire me and you know what you’re getting. If you’re 19 years old and want to compete in powerlifting, I’m probably not the guy to help you out.

Instagram and Facebook are saturated with profiles of so-called trainers who think posting gym selfies and sharing motivational memes is akin to creating a philosophy. Nowhere on their Web pages or profiles do these “trainers” state what they believe in, what they do, or how they do it. Somehow this still leads to attracting followers, though as Mr. Trump and his new trusty sidekick Dr. Oz have proved, the appearance of success is often all that counts.

             

              Having great genetics and working out really hard does not an expert make. This one seems like a new phenomenon. Social media is so visually oriented that it creates an opening for people who are long on style and short on substance. If someone’s “expertise” is limited to putting pictures of themselves on Instagram, then don’t listen to anything they say.

 

TidBits:

-Are FitBits shocking users?

-The U.S. Navy has released its own fitness app

-This could come in very handy

-Proud to say that I got all of these right

THE WEEKLY HOWL NEEDS AN ORIGIN STORY

Nutrition: The hallmark of a true Silicon Valley techie is the belief that everything can be hacked. I’m not just referring to the act of breaking into someone’s computer network. A hacker believes that the answer to any problem is more technology and that you should always be searching for increased productivity and efficiency. We’ve started to see hackers tackle health & wellness and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop anytime soon. From Bloomberg Businessweek:

Like most of the health fads that catch on in Silicon Valley, this one broke through thanks to word-of-mouth—and a Medium post. Entrepreneur Sumaya Kazi extolled its virtues to 650,000 readers, while venture capitalist Phil Libin and others preached about it to anyone who would listen. Their miraculous idea was in fact a very old one: eating nothing at all for long stretches of time. Monthly Google searches for “intermittent fasting,” which has become a catchall term for various forms of the practice, have risen tenfold over the past three years, to as many as 1 million. That’s about as many as “weight loss” gets, and more than “diet.” Now comes the next step, as businesses try to turn various forms of the craze into profit.

The idea may sound troubling depending on your relationship with food, but paid-for fasting regimens are finding a new audience in the Valley, partly because they’re framed in terms of productivity, not only weight loss. (Fasting falls under the techy-sounding buzzword “biohacking,” like taking so-called smart pills or giving your brain tiny shocks.) There’s a growing body of research and anecdotal evidence showing a link between periods of noneating and increased focus and output, and perhaps even longer life. “Periods of nutrient restriction do good things,” says Peter Attia, whose medical practice focuses on the science of longevity. “The subjective benefits are evident pretty quickly, and once people do it, they realize—if this is going to give me any benefit in my performance, then it’s worth it.”

              There is actually some science behind this idea unlike many other bio-hacking schemes. But it still makes me a little nervous to see Silicon Valley eye nutrition as yet another industry that needs to be “disrupted”. It’s not that we don’t have major issues with the food industry in this country; it’s that I don’t trust Silicon Valley to be any better at addressing those issues than General Mills. As the venture capital money flows in, so does the pressure to make huge returns for those firms. Huge returns on the business of not eating for long periods of time. How is that going to work exactly?

 

Hvmn (pronounced “human”) pitches customers mostly on productivity and performance. Its chewable coffee cubes and other dietary supplements are supposed to enhance focus and cognitive function. One product contains synthetic versions of ketones, compounds your body creates when it’s fasting long enough to burn fat. Hvmn markets the drink to athletes ($99 for three small vials) as a way to boost performance and accelerate recovery. “It’s more efficient fuel for the brain and body,” says co-founder Geoffrey Woo, though he says they aren’t meant to replace the benefits of fasting.

 

              Oh, by selling everyone a bunch of supplements. You can see why I am skeptical that this is going to re-invent nutrition. What we need is for the healthiest foods to be the ones within arms’ reach of the majority of people. We do need people to lower their consumption of food but I don’t see how you make that a huge, scalable business. We need an attitude change towards food.

 

 Venture capitalist Libin, who lost 60 pounds fasting, acknowledges it isn’t for everyone. “It’s just something that works super well for me,” he says. “I have more energy, more stamina, more mental clarity. My mood is better—all of this stuff. And I’ve measured all of it.” 

             

              Whatever you put into your body should make you feel good in both the short-term and the long-term. Phil Libin gets this, it just may not be the basis of the next billion dollar company.

 

Wearables: Fitbit is trying to figure out who it wants to be right now. Its roots lie in fitness tracking but competing with Apple in consumer electronics is not going well. From MarketWatch:

Fitbit Inc.’s smartwatch sales are gaining some speed, but its tracker business continues to sputter.

The wearables pioneer missed expectations by selling 2.2 million fitness trackers in the first quarter as interest in basic trackers waned. Overall revenue fell as well, and came in just above Wall Street’s estimates.

Fitbit executives said they now expect revenue from smartwatches to exceed that of fitness trackers in the second half of the year. The company predicts some more pain on the tracker side, especially in the near term. Fitbit delivered a revenue forecast of $275 million to $295 million for its second quarter, which came in below the FactSet consensus estimate of $310 million.

The company’s second-quarter outlook reflects the fact that management expects the tracker business to see “worsened decline in Q2 versus Q1,” Fitbit Chief Financial Officer Bill Zerella told MarketWatch after the earnings release came out. Channels continue to “de-stock” trackers, he added, but the company predicts some improvement in the second half of the year.

              The landscape for Fitbit is perilous. Demand for fitness trackers is declining as consumers are shifting to smartwatches but all smartwatch roads lead to Apple. Fitbit realizes that it need to evolve, become something else if it wants to survive. From Fast Company:

 

Fitbit is a company in transition. It’s trying to reduce its reliance on direct-to-consumer sales of fitness devices by providing high numbers of them to health insurers, healthcare providers, and big employers. All of these players are taking on financial risk for the health of their members/employees, so they have an interest in providing tools that promote fitness and wellness.

Fitbit stock got a lift earlier this week after it announced plans to use Google’s cloud service and healthcare API to offer a care management and coaching platform for healthcare providers. Adam Pellegrini, who leads Fitbit’s Health Solutions team, told me that in the future his company hopes to use Google’s machine learning capabilities to draw insights from large sets of patients, and perhaps analyze the data to find (and proactively treat) patients who are likely to be headed for health problems in the future.

              Shifting to an enterprise model makes sense. There is a lot of potential in the digital healthcare field but if I was a Fitbit board member, the question that I would be asking is what is preventing Apple from following us into that market? Blackberry dominated the enterprise smartphone market until employee desire to use their iPhones at work led to the rise of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). What is different about smartwatches? There is nowhere you can hide from Apple in hardware. It’s not like Apple isn’t already exploring how the Apple Watch can detect health problems. The best path forward for Fitbit is as a software company. Abandoning hardware would be a bitter pill to swallow but sometimes that’s what is needed.

               

Buzzwords: Wall Street is not very familiar with the fitness industry. There are only a handful of publicly-traded fitness companies which means that the industry does not get much coverage from either the analysts or the media. And fitness is a weird industry. Think about a big-box gym. It’s a subscription business (membership), a services business (personal training), and a retail operation. But now that Planet Fitness is flying high, we get to see some of these Wall Street-ers makes sense of fitness. The results are not great.  From Investor’s Business Daily:

 

Membership to the no-frills gym starts at just $10 per month. An upgraded $21.99 Black Card membership offers perks like discounted merchandise, free haircuts, unlimited used of massage chairs and spray tanning. Meanwhile, rivals like Gold's Gym or LA Fitness offer membership plans that can cost more than $500 a year.

Planet Fitness' inexpensive membership is available thanks to its massive scale. The gym has more than 1,500 locations in all 50 states, Canada and Latin America, and boasts membership in excess of 10 million.

"If you look at the concept, it's a 20,000-square-foot box that's full of all the cardio and strength equipment you can imagine," R.W. Baird analyst Jonathan Komp told Investor's Business Daily. "There's a lot of capacity and scale they are able to drive with the model. That facilitates the low price, then they are able to advertise their proposition and it fuels the awareness for its distinctive value."

              What do they mean by scale? In business, scale typically refers to economies of scale. Economies of scale refer to the reduction in cost per unit that occurs as production of that unit increases. The classic example is an auto manufacturer. There are massive fixed costs that go into building and operating an auto plant. But as you make more cars, the average production cost of each car goes down. This analyst describes a basic gym and then tries to say that Planet Fitness’ “scale” allows it to charge this much lower price that is the foundation of its success. THIS DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE!!! Has this person ever set foot in a gym? What does he think goes in LA Fitness? This man is just spewing out some jargon and buzzwords and hoping that no one notices that he has no idea what he is talking about.

 

Radioactive spiders: What do superheroes and companies have in common? They both need a good origin story. For superheroes, it’s important to understand how an ordinary man comes to dress up as a giant bat to beat up criminals. For companies, it’s important to create a founding narrative that communicates the company’s mission and values. It’s also important to create an origin story that doesn’t make you look stupid. Brrrn, a cold workout studio in NY, has crafted its origin story. From Refinery 29:

 

At Brrrn, they offer three types of workouts, with different degrees of chilliness: 1st˚, a yoga-inspired workout in a 60-degree studio; 2nd˚, a core and cardio workout in a 55-degree studio; and 3rd˚, a strength training workout with battle ropes in a 45-degree studio. The classes sound gimmicky, for sure, but the creators of Brrrn insist that there's a deeper reason why they choose to keep their studio so frigid.

As the story goes, Jimmy T. Martin, one of the co-founders of Brrrn, was training a client who told him she couldn't stand the heat, and felt like she exercised better, and looked and felt her best during the cold winter months. "It got me thinking, if those things are true, then why aren’t we turning the thermostat down?" Martin says. He pitched the idea for a cold workout studio to Johnny Adamic, a self-described "big skeptic" with a background in public health, who told Martin he had to do some research before he got on board.

 

              Seems like a reasonable story. The only problem is that Brrrn has already told the NY Post their origin story. And that story was a little more…honest.

 

The idea has been about three years in the making: Martin had always been intrigued by the way some of his clients exercised in the cold — one told him she felt more motivated and just worked out better in the winter months. It occurred to Martin that with all the gimmicky fitness classes in the city — including dozens of heated options — there had yet to be a cold class.

             

              At least, they’re omitting the part where they blatantly admit that they were looking for a gimmick.

 

Retailpocalypse: What do you call it when a brand uses fitness events to engage and excite consumers? I call it fitness marketing and we’re seeing more and more companies using it. Now Macy’s has purchased an experiential retailer and hopes that it can shore up sagging sales at its flagship store. From the Washington Post:

 

Macy’s, the 160-year-old mall standby, is looking for a new audience — and thinks it has found it in a Manhattan concept store.

The department store chain on Wednesday said it purchased Story, a small “experiential retail” shop in New York that offers yoga classes, cooking workshops and a lineup of quirky merchandise that changes every few weeks. That keeps shoppers coming back, said the start-up’s founder, Rachel Shechtman.

In other words, it is the opposite of Macy’s sprawling suburban stores, which are piled high with a predictable selection of run-of-the-mill clothing and housewares.

              Fitness is appealing because it is viewed as internet-proof and it attracts young, affluent consumers. Macy’s isn’t the first retailer to go this route and they won’t be the last. Malls and department stores are starting to realize the potential that fitness has for generating foot traffic. People are passionate about it, they need to do it every day, and it’s actually good for them. Fitness is the best product in the world. And now there are companies that want to give it away in order to sell more merchandise.

 

MLM: There is a very fine line between a multi-level marketing operation and a pyramid scheme. Multi-level marketing is a business model in which the company uses a non-salaried workforce to sell a product or service. Members can make money by both selling the product/service and by recruiting more members. The difference is that in a pyramid scheme, the only way to make money is by recruiting more members into the operation. It can be very difficult to tell the difference sometimes. You may have heard of LuLaRoe, a multi-level marketing company that sells athleisure wear. It is the latest company that has been accused of crossing that line from MLM to pyramid scheme. From Bloomberg Businessweek:

 

Now, she, along with Blevins, are two of thousands of women who claim they’ve been duped by LuLaRoe. In the past year the company has faced more than a dozen lawsuits. The largest, a proposed class action, calls LuLaRoe a pyramid scheme focused on recruiting consultants and persuading them to buy inventory rather than actually selling clothing. Since the lawsuits were filed, consultants have fled LuLaRoe by the thousands. Many say the company owes them millions of dollars in promised refunds. Women have garages, closets, guest rooms—and, in one case, a farm shed—filled with LuLaRoe clothes they say they can’t sell.

 

              Personally, I think that MLM’s are like a dysfunctional relationship. The relationship between the company and its salespeople is inherently flawed. Any decent salesperson will tell you that the first question that they ask to a potential employer is about their territory. They don’t want to have to compete with salespeople from the same company. It’s hard enough competing with salespeople from other companies. The MLM model is built on recruiting more and more salespeople. It aims for salesperson saturation which means that each salesperson will earn less and less as time goes on.  This is how you get a MLM company pressuring people to buy inventory that they can’t move. It is also the way that the FTC identifies the line between pyramid scheme and MLM.

 

By definition, multilevel marketing companies are pyramid-shaped, with a few people at the top level, some in the middle, and the majority toiling at the bottom. This kind of hierarchical structure is legal as long as the company’s main goal is to sell a product; it becomes a scam when the goal is to lure people into buying inventory regardless of whether they can sell it. There are state laws against pyramid schemes, but at the national level the job of spotting them falls to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. It primarily does this by checking to see if a company abides by a standard established in the wake of a 1972 lawsuit against a now defunct beauty products company called Koscot. The Koscot standard, as it’s known, says that while a company can compensate people for recruiting new sellers, it can’t base that compensation on how much inventory the recruits buy. Most state laws, including California’s, also require compensation plans to be based on sales.

             

It doesn’t appear that LuLaRoe followed this rule. They also encouraged female members to be “subservient” to their husbands and to get gastric surgery in Mexico. There are a lot of MLM companies that sell products in the health & wellness space. If you’re thinking about getting involved with any of them, then read this article.  

 

TidBits:

-Peloton is opening its treadmill studio in Manhattan

-The Rock is still looking for contestants for his new fitness reality show

-Have your next birthday party at the gym

-Meanwhile in China

-The treadmill was designed to punish criminals

-Virgin Active says that over half of its members use tech in the gym

 

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS CLOSING MORE STORES

The OG: It’s easy to forget what a young industry fitness is. Prior to 1980, the commercial gym barely existed. We’ve become accustomed to seeing a gym on every corner but that wasn’t always the case. In many ways, the modern fitness movement was born when Dr. Kenneth Cooper published Aerobics. From the Bangor Daily News:

Fifty years ago this month, Cooper published the groundbreaking book “Aerobics.” He’s written 18 more books since, but this was the one that set the course, the plan and the theory that led to the popularity of running as well as arguably to every spin class, step class, Latin dance class, aqua exercise class, obstacle-course run, boot camp workout and high intensity interval training.

Think of him and his book as the ancestor whose name might not be familiar to younger generations, but whose influence is as palpable as the DNA that gives us blue eyes or dark hair or the inability to carry a tune.

“Dr. Cooper’s work provided me the pathway to establish my fitness industry career,” says Terri Arends, group fitness director at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center, which is known for its innovative and large array of classes. “I am so blessed I can get up daily and truly love my work.”

Cooper wrote the book when he was a physician in the U.S. Air Force. His wife, Millie, typed the manuscript. It has sold 30 million copies and been translated into 41 languages.

“I wanted to motivate people to take care of themselves,” Cooper says of a time when close to 45 percent of Americans smoked (compared with 15 percent today) and only 100,000 jogged (a number now well in the two-digit millions). “I said, ‘We need to get this out; it will save lives.’

It’s widely accepted now that working out is good for you but it wasn’t that long ago that there was a stigma around the idea of working out. People thought lifting weights would make you slow or that we were all born with a finite number of heart beats. That sounds stupid but people believed it. Donald Trump still believes it. Dr. Cooper began the work of changing the thinking around exercise.

The book spawned a phenomenon that wasn’t always positive. “There was initially controversy in what I did because I was taking care of healthy people,” he says. When he was interviewed by Barbara Walters, “she was very rude,” he says. “She called me a fraud.” (But, he adds, when he told her he had an ongoing exercise program with the U.S. Air Force, “she found what I was telling her was truthful and she was impressed.”) On the ABC show “Nightline,” he debated cardiologist Henry Solomon, author of a book called “The Exercise Myth.”

“I was a radical,” he says.

              I wonder how much we are paying for that attitude shift. As we were transitioning to a more sedentary existence, there was a generation that was led to believe that exercise was bad for you. It’s even scarier to imagine a world without Dr. Cooper. Who knows what shape we would be in.

Real Estate: People love to give Amazon for almost every trend affecting the business landscape today. Why did Borders go out of business? Amazon, of course. However, it’s never quite that simple. There was more than Amazon at play there. That Retailpocalypse is the same. From the Durham Herald:

Large stores being transformed into new uses is the new normal, said Charlie Coyne, CBRE’s director of retail services in Raleigh.

“I wouldn't call it a trend anymore, it is here to stay,” Coyne said. Big-box retail locations across the country are being turned into fitness gyms, medical offices and municipal facilities, he added.

More than 90 million square feet of space is expected to be vacated in 2018, according to real estate data firm CoStar Group. Last year 105 million square feet of retail closed.

“The U.S. is just over-retailed, with too many stores and too much square footage,” he said.

            Commercial real estate fell in love with retail space years ago and they over-built. From Bloomberg:

 

Even though retailers have been retreating for years, the country still has about 24 square feet of shopping space per person, many times more than any other developed nation, according to research firm Green Street Advisors.

 

Now they are scrambling to fill big spaces and turning to a group that they have long shunned: gyms.

 

Triangle Rock Club announced earlier this week that it will put its third Triangle location in the former Walmart building at 1010 Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. Construction will be done in two phases and will eventually account for 32,000 square feet. The first phase will get the gym up and running in Durham, while the second phase will include a roof lift and additional square feet to accommodate taller walls.


“We’ve been searching for the right opportunity to expand into Durham for nearly 4 ½ years, and we’ve found the perfect location for our newest (and largest) facility,’ said Triangle Rock Club Managing Partner Joel Graybeal in a statement.


            Triangle Rock Club was looking for 4.5 years! It’s not that easy to find 30,000+ square feet but still. I am excited to see what getting prime real estate will do for the fitness industry. The openings that I’m personally seeing are trampoline gyms. They seem to popping up everywhere these days.

 

Supplements: Speaking of store closures, GNC announced that it will be closing 200 stores this year. And it is not the only supplement retailer to hit hard times. From Fortune:

GNC Holdings is joining the parade of store chains closing a big number of stores as they look to fix their businesses.

The vitamin retailer said in a regulatory filing late Thursday that it plans to close 200 stores this year, a number that could vary depending on its ability to renegotiate leases or move some stores. GNC operates small but ubiquitous locations, with 3,385 stores in the U.S. and Canada, along with franchise stores and small areas within many Rite-Aid stores. It has another 2,000 stores abroad.

But the vitamin industry is full of turmoil that is taking its toll on GNC and its rivals. Vitamin Shoppe has interviewed turnaround advisers according to the Wall Street Journal, while Vitamin World filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year. GNC reported consolidated revenue dropped to $607.5 million in the first quarter, from $654.9 million in the year-earlier quarter.

              GNC doesn’t seem like a particularly smart company. It took them until 2016 to figure out that consumers will check their in-store prices against the online ones. So it’s not surprising that it is struggling to contend with the rising role that social media plays in the supplement industry. From Vox:

 

About five years ago, companies realized they could use social media to promote these supplements as youthful and fun. Hum Nutrition was one pioneer. It offers a range of brightly packaged supplements that are heavy on formulas for beauty-related concerns like acne, anti-aging, and hair growth. It launched in 2012, but the brand started its Instagram account in 2014, coinciding with the announcement that it would be carried in the beauty retailer Sephora. In the past year, Hum’s Instagram account has become more stylized, featuring a mesmerizing, undulating rainbow pattern when you scroll through it on mobile.

Facebook ads for the brand are now ubiquitous. When it landed a $5 million Series A investment at the end of last year, one if its investors noted that one of the attractive qualities of Hum was its “strong engagement on social media.”

 

              The supplement industry is expected to grow rapidly over the next few years but it appears the action is shifting to online sales. The only question is whether any of them are worth your money.  


One membership to rule them all: The proliferation of boutiques specializing in one fitness discipline has created a huge opportunity that has yet to be realized: aggregation. The one problem with boutiques is that most people want to do more than one thing. Maybe they go to SoulCycle four times a week but what do they do on the other three days of the week? Right now, they probably pay for a monthly membership at a big-box gym or they purchase more a la carte classes at another boutique. That is a very inelegant and expensive solution to their problem. Every entrepreneur understands that a consumer’s pain point is their opportunity and this is a big opportunity. From the Daily Herald:

Freeplay is a new app-based fitness company hoping to make exercise fun again.

“We like to say it’s like recess for grownups,” said Adam Chavez, Freeplay co-founder.

When users sign up for Freeplay, they get access to about 40 different exercise locations around Utah County. These locations include Crossfit, yoga, climbing, swimming pools, regular fitness gyms, trampoline parks and even batting cages. Freeplayers can use all of these options anytime they choose, just by checking in at the gym through their app.

Nate Bagley and his wife have been avid Freeplayers almost since the app first launched about a year ago. Bagley, who exercises about six days a week, loves being able to rock climb one day, swim the next, do some weight lifting later, and stop in for yoga at another point. He feels the $79 he pays each month is more than worth the price.

“It gives me access to a huge variety of ways to work out for a super reasonable price,” Bagley said last week while hanging out in Lehi’s Momentum Indoor Climbing — one of the many Freeplay locations. “It’s my favorite app on the entire planet. It really is.”

              A visit to the FreePlay website was not as illuminating as I had hoped. It’s hard to tell if this is just the Utah version of ClassPass or if they are doing something different. The one apparent difference is that you get access to a wide variety of fitness facilities. That could help with the issue of crowding boutique classes that ClassPass ran into and also work towards offering users a more comprehensive fitness experience. That’s a great price point but the relationship with gyms will change as they start sending more people there. Maintaining that price point will be a challenge.  

You’re a fad: The Hippocratic Oath starts off by asking new doctors to “first, do no harm”. I consider this to be a great rule of thumb for the fitness community as well. The first rule of fitness should be to do no harm. The second rule should be to get people moving. And the third rule should be to give people what they are paying for. We are starting to witness the rise of the recovery industry, businesses that offer recovery services and products to people who engage in intense exercise programs. From the LA Times:

Cryotherapy, a freezing treatment used by elite athletes such as LeBron James and Michael Phelps, is just one of the pricey injury recovery and prevention strategies that are exploding in popularity in Los Angeles — despite a lack of scientific evidence in many cases to support their efficacy. Cryotherapy alone is expected to grow to a $5.6-billion global industry by 2024, up from $2.5 billion in 2016, according to Grand View Research, a market research and consulting company.

The remedies — which also include IV therapy drips, vitamin-infused booster shots, hyperbaric oxygen chambers and compression therapy — cater to workout fanatics who insist an old-fashioned ice pack and a Gatorade won't suffice. They're now being offered at so-called wellness boutiques dedicated to administering the treatments; medical offices, weight loss clinics and traditional spas are also getting in on the craze.

              Do these services pass the 3 rules test?

-Do no harm? Probably a pass here. None of these procedures sound like they would harm someone with the possible exception of cryotherapy. There has been a reported death but this sounds like an issue with the therapy not being conducted properly. Being in close proximity to liquid nitrogen carries risks but these should be mitigated by extensive safety procedures.

-Get people moving? We should adjust this to get people recovered and I’m not sure.

Drip Doctors in downtown Los Angeles, for example, offers more than two dozen intravenous drips and booster shots to increase energy, promote faster recovery and aid in weight loss.

There's an $89 Hydroboost IV vitamin drip "perfect for those who need instant hydration," a $30 Supercharged booster shot for customers who are looking for "an intense burst of oomph" or a wallet-busting $220 Limitless IV vitamin drip. That one is billed as "an 'all in one' concoction" that will "optimize performance, neurological function, immune support, detox, and keep you feeling rejuvenated."

Skeptics contend that there is little benefit to IV drip therapy for people who are essentially healthy, saying people are capable of hydrating sufficiently and getting the nutrients they need through food. They instead point to a placebo effect.

              My first impression is these people would be better served from relaxing at home and drinking water for a couple of hours instead of fighting the LA traffic to get to Drip Doctors. The stretching boutiques seem to be the most worthwhile but there is probably less money being invested in them because of their labor-intensive business model. I’ll push on this one.

-Give people what they are paying for? This looks like a fail to me.

But some of the unconventional therapies, while no doubt trendy among the bootcamp-spinning-yoga-kombucha crowd, have been heavily criticized by those who doubt the purported benefits and say providers are making misleading and potentially dangerous claims.

A consumer update by the Food and Drug Administration in 2016 deemed cryotherapy — now offered at boutiques in Santa Monica, Beverly Grove and Costa Mesa — "a 'cool' trend that lacks evidence, poses risks." It said despite claims that cryo helps treat conditions like Alzheimer's, fibromyalgia, migraines, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, stress, anxiety or chronic pain, "this so-called 'treatment' hasn't been proven to do any of these things."

              That’s some straight snake-oil salesmanship. Save your money. If you want to recover, get more sleep, hydrate yourself, maybe get a massage or stretched out. The best fitness is low-tech fitness and the same goes for recovery.

TidBits:

-London gets its first human-powered gym

-What is your fitness personality?

-It’s not your imagination, kids don’t get tired

-Money burning a hole in your pocket?

-The Rock talks motivation

-24 Hour Fitness is working with Microsoft and Adobe to customize its members’ experience

-The Boston Marathon was a glorious mess

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS SELLING AMWAY

Pyramids: Forbes ran a piece this month on BeachBody and its CEO, Carl Daikeler. BeachBody is a fascinating company. You may not be familiar with the company but you probably are aware of its most well-known products, the P90X and Insanity workout DVD’s. Daikeler started his career producing infomercials for fitness products like the “:08 Min Abs” workout video. He later started BeachBody and used his infomercial prowess to market P90X, which turned into a phenomenon. The less well-known part of the BeachBody story is that is also a multi-level marketing business.

If the workout videos got people in the door and the coaches acted as the glue that held it all together, the real moneymaker was Beachbody's shakes. In 2007, Daikeler tapped his third wife, Isabelle, a kinesiologist certified in "medicine ball training," to codevelop Shakeology. The low-calorie liquid is marketed as "a daily dose of dense nutrition" that is packed with "superfoods" from around the world. The price tag: $130 for a month's supply of powder, with much of that cash flowing straight to Beachbody's bottom line.

Of course, for this vision to work, coaches need to expand their networks rapidly. Everyone who signs up with Beachbody is invited to join an accountability group, where participants follow a workout plan and log their exercise and Shakeology intake into an app. Coaches post words of encouragement--then urge others to become coaches themselves. "Basically from day one, you're being pushed toward the network marketing opportunity," says Heather Hanson, one of Beachbody's first employees, who worked with Daikeler at Guthy-Renker. "It's brilliant. Beachbody gets its hooks into you immediately."

              I would love to see BeachBody’s financials because I am very curious if the workout DVD’s are a loss leader. In other words, is BeachBody selling P90X DVD’s at a loss in order to get more people into the MLM network? I can’t think of another MLM company that uses another product like this. And it’s interesting to hear how the decision to move to a streaming model has affected the MLM side.

In 2015, Daikeler ignored his board's concerns and began offering the entire library of Beachbody workout DVDs, a $7,000 value, for just $99 a year via a Netflix-like streaming service called Beachbody on Demand. While turnover in any multilevel-marketing organization is not unusual, this decision prompted a mass exodus because it undermined a critical driver in Beachbody's successful formula: Keep the new commission-generating products coming. Last year sales declined by nearly 25%. His army of coach evangelists is shrinking. Today Daikeler has some 340,000 coaches, but that's down from 450,000 in 2016.

Listen to former elite coach Lindsey Westbrook. After seeing her $300,000 annual income drop by half, she quit in 2017 to sell "premium" wine in another pyramid organization, Direct Cellars, and has since moved on to Vasayo, a multilevel marketing company hawking wellness products. "When Beachbody on Demand came around," she says, "people were able to get a free trial and an all-access annual pass. You're no longer making any additional income from people ordering DVDs. And without people ordering DVDs throughout the year, they weren't purchasing Shakeology, either."

              That’s an intricate balance to strike. I’m sure BeachBody likes the predictable, recurring revenue that comes with subscriptions but it sounds like it really pissed off its coaches. And that’s where most of its revenue comes from.

Yet coach compensation has suffered as the company's product focus shifted from selling DVDs to selling shakes. Shakeology subscriptions, at $130 a month, now bring in two thirds of the company's revenue. But that too is under pressure: In 2017, following an investigation by the city attorney in Santa Monica, the company reached a $3.6 million settlement in which it agreed to stop making bold health claims about Shakeology, its core product.

The city of Santa Monica's crackdown has dealt a body blow to Daikeler's six-pack business model for growth. After years of boasting that Shakeology prevented mental decline, slowed the aging process, removed toxins and even helped prevent heart disease and cancer, Beachbody has been barred by the state of California from making claims that are not backed by scientific evidence.

              On a separate note: I don’t recommend getting involved in MLM. MLM companies try to go against the laws of business. The goals of a retailer should be to deliver great value to the customer and to provide a great shopping experience. Great value can be achieved by providing superior products and/or offering them at a great price. The great retailers (Amazon, Walmart, Costco) find ways to wring costs out of the value chain so they can offer the best prices. MLM companies are striving to insert more middlemen between themselves and the end-consumer. They are constantly trying to recruit more salespeople into their “down-lines” who will each need to get paid. This raises the cost of their products. They try to overcome this by taking the sale process into the personal area of the consumer’s life i.e. turning your friends and family members into salespeople who will try to sell you stuff constantly. It is a very weird model. And most people make little to no money despite what the MLM companies try to claim. From the Atlantic:

For instance, Thirty-One Gifts’ brief earnings statement acknowledges that most consultants who sell its handbags and totes will make between $183 and $1,993 annually. This range, however, comes only from “typical participants”—defined as sellers who are active at least five months out of the past year. This means those numbers skew high, because all of the sellers on the top tier making six to seven figures will be included in this average, but none of the women who signed on and couldn’t make a go of it for at least five months will be counted. Thirty-One Gifts did not return phone calls for comment.

Fitzpatrick defines fraudulent MLM outfits as businesses in which “the profit of the people at the top comes from the losses of the latest recruits.” The numbers for Jamberry say the average sales consultant makes slightly more than $200 a month for an average of seven months out of the year. Still, there is little public data on how many consultants making that much sustain those numbers, or how many are new consultants who sign on, sell for a few months, and then drop out when their friends and family stop buying. Jamberry did not respond to an interview request. At Young Living, a company that sells essential oils, 94 percent of sellers are in the lowest tier. The average monthly income for that level is a mere $1. For sellers on all 10 levels, the annual average remains only $25. Requests for comment from Young Living went unanswered.

              There are a lot of MLM companies selling fitness and nutrition related products. Beware of them all.

How the sausage is made: NYC is getting its first cold-workout studio next month. The idea is that working out in the cold is better somehow so why not open a gym based on that concept. From the NY Post:

The idea has been about three years in the making: Martin had always been intrigued by the way some of his clients exercised in the cold — one told him she felt more motivated and just worked out better in the winter months. It occurred to Martin that with all the gimmicky fitness classes in the city — including dozens of heated options — there had yet to be a cold class.

He and Adamic tested out the concept in the walk-in refrigerator of Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Brewery. A friend who works at the Red Hook brewery invited them to use the space, where they experimented doing various aerobic and anaerobic exercises — and found they were working out harder just to warm themselves up.

              This is remarkable because you’re not supposed to say that out loud. You’re not supposed to admit that you came up with the marketing angle first and the pseudo-science second. You’re also supposed to do a better job of selling that pseudo-science. This is exactly the thought process that I imagine going into something like this. I am just amazed that the founders admitted it to a reporter.

              This is what is wrong with the fitness industry. I understand entrepreneurs who are looking for ways to differentiate themselves in a crowded market but this is dishonest. These guys don’t actually believe that their way is better or even if it makes sense. They’re selling snake oil and they’re not even good at it. You want to differentiate? Figure out what works first and then figure out how you’re going to market it. Sell results and the customers will come. Then you won’t have to invent a bunch of pseudo-science and worry about keeping your story straight. 

Motivation: Since we’re talking about what’s wrong with the fitness industry, let’s head on over to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Don’t come into Desiree Nathanson’s fitness class seeking a “No pain, no gain” experience.

“Start small,” advised Nathanson, co-owner of Interfusion Fitness in Brookhaven. “People make a huge mistake with trying to jump in the deep end. Instead of saying, ‘I’m going to the gym every day this week!,’ maybe just try one or two.”

The fitness industry can be complicit, she observed.

“Lose 20 pounds in two weeks! Come get this booty by doing squats!” she said, reciting hypothetical come-ons. “No. Everybody has a different ideal. Our ideal should be our bodies at their most healthy.”

              There’s 2 big ideas here. The first is that people often overdo it when starting a new fitness routine and then don’t last. It’s much smarter to start small and ramp it up. This allows you to adapt to the changes in your lifestyle, it allows your body to adapt to the changes in the demands that you’re placing on it, and it allows you to collect some wins and positive feedback. It is also not what the fitness industry usually wants to sell you. An important thing to keep in mind is that everyone wants to maximize the amount of money that they can make. It’s a big reason that running has been taking a beating in the fitness world lately. Because the people selling things don’t know how to make money off people running so they try to convince everyone that running is bad. And fast results sell better than a slow, measured approach to changing your lifestyle. So that’s what they sell.

              The second idea is the fitness industry focuses too much on appearance. I actually think that there has been some improvement here recently even though it is still a big problem. The rise of functional fitness has prioritized what your body can do over what your body looks like even though there is still a lot of emphasis on looking good. But what looks good?

“People are trying to achieve these bodies that might not even be real,” she said, adding that while nutrition and exercise are key, genetics can contribute to beauty and fitness perfection. “People are trying to get J. Lo’s butt? You have to go back in time and get J. Lo’s parents.”

              I agree that most people cannot replicate Jennifer Lopez’s posterior, no matter how many squats and lunges they do. But I’d rather see people strive for J. Lo’s body than Kate Moss’. The female ideal used to be supermodel thin and that’s it. There is definitely more variety in what an attractive female form is these days. A woman doesn’t have to “heroin chic”-thin in order to be considered attractive these days. This doesn’t mean that there are not numerous issues related to female standards of beauty in our society. I am just saying that it’s a slightly better world when a woman looking to make herself attractive is more likely to set up camp in a squat rack than she is to starve herself.

Mixed messages: Pregnancy seems to invite 2 phenomenon of intrusive behavior. The first is strangers thinking that it’s okay to touch a pregnant woman’s belly without asking. The second is judging them for everything that they do or eat. Why does the state of being pregnant seem to indicate a loss of agency for so many women? From Shape:

So much of being an athlete is about respecting your body and just listening to it. When I got pregnant with my first child in 2016, I tried to abide by the same motto. I didn't know what to expect, but I had a really good and longstanding relationship with my ob-gyn, so he was able to help me navigate what's safe and what my body's capable of when it comes to exercising while pregnant. One thing he always said that has stuck with me is that there isn't a lifestyle prescription for pregnancy. It's not one-size-fits-all for every woman or even for each pregnancy. It's all about just really being in tune with your body and taking it one day at a time. I followed that rule with my first pregnancy and felt fantastic. And now that I'm 36 weeks along with my second, I'm doing the same.

Something I'll never quite understand though? Why others feel the need to shame pregnant women for simply doing what makes them feel best.

My first exposure to the shaming began when I was about 34 weeks along into my first pregnancy and my belly popped. I had just competed in my first CrossFit games while eight months pregnant, and when the media caught on to my story and my Instagram account, I started to get some negative feedback on my fitness posts. It probably did seem like a lot of weight to some people, who were thinking, "how can this eight-months-pregnant trainer deadlift 155 pounds?" But what they didn't know was that I was actually working at 50 percent of my normal pre-pregnancy rep max. Still, I understand that it can look drastic and crazy from the outside.  

I went into my second pregnancy a bit more prepared for the criticism. Offline, when I'm working out in my gym, the reaction is still mostly positive. People will come up to me and say, "Wow! I can't believe you just did those handstand push-ups upside down pregnant!" They're just kind of shocked or amazed. But online, there have been so many mean comments I've received on my Instagram posts or in DMs like, "This is an easy way for an abortion or miscarriage" or "You know, if you didn't want a child you shouldn't have had sex in the first place." It's awful. It's just so odd to me because I would never say anything like that to any other person, let alone a woman who is going through such a powerful and emotional experience of growing a human inside of them.

              I have no respect for people who write things on social media that they would never say to someone’s face but that’s an issue for another time. Why is it so hard for people to conceive that this woman has already adjusted her workout to account for pregnancy? Just because she is still lifting more weight than a lot of people can lift without a small person inside them doesn’t mean that she’s overdoing it.

There also seems to be a weird attitude around proper fitness and nutrition for pregnant women. If you believe everything that you read, then pregnant woman shouldn’t eat anything because everything could potentially be bad for the baby. And pregnant women need to stay active but every form of exercise is potentially hazardous as well. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Subscriptions: CrossFit is partnering with Strass Brands to offer a meal-kit service. Staying true to the brand, the meal kit will be Paleo Diet dream, big ole box of meat. From Today:

After the initial success of the meal-kit delivery service Blue Apron, other brands have been trying to capitalize on the pre-prepped, curated recipe trend that creates a middle ground between takeout and full-blown cooking from scratch. More recently, healthy lifestyle brands like Weight Watchers and Whole30 have launched their own meal kits as a way to target consumers seeking to follow their programs with less hassle in the kitchen.

But the CrossFit Box, which sells for $215, is one of the more expensive pre-packaged deals on the market. However, its contents can be frozen if you're not planning to use them right away. It includes five packages of cage free chicken breasts, three pounds of grass-fed ground beef, a selection of grass-fed steaks including lean tenderloin, ribeye, strip and sirloin, plus a package of ready-to-eat grass-fed beef sticks. It can be delivered in one to three month intervals.

              That is a lot of meat. Two thoughts here: the first is that the comparison to Blue Apron is not all that great. Blue Apron has been struggling since its IPO in 2017. From Forbes:

Blue Apron was one of the pioneers in delivering cooking with convenience—the experience of cooking, and learning how to make new dishes, without the hassle of finding and measuring ingredients. Online subscriptions grew at a 219% CAGR from 2014 to 2016, from $78 million to $795 million, giving the company a 57% market share. But Blue Apron’s fortunes changed in the second quarter of 2017, around the time of its June 2017 IPO, coincidentally. The company’s quarter-over-quarter revenue declined in the second, third and fourth quarters, and its fourth-quarter revenue was down 13% versus the same period in 2016.

              Investors love meal-kit delivery and subscription boxes because they love the subscription business model. Once you have someone signed up for a subscription, there is less pressure to re-acquire that customer the next time that they are buying that product or service. The path of least resistance is to remain a subscriber. Cash flows become much more predictable and you don’t have to spend as much money on marketing (theoretically). That doesn’t mean that everything should be a subscription business either. And the meal-kit delivery market is showing the signs of a lot of strain.

The same three forces that are hurting Blue Apron and others in the $5 billion online meal kit market are benefiting the grocery chains from which meal kits initially took share.

1) High customer churn has caused online-only meal kit subscription growth to stall.

2) Packaging, shipping and customer acquisition costs are too high.

3) New entrants are disrupting the disruptors.

              No one has cracked the food delivery business model yet and it’s not for lack of trying. Some of the largest companies in the world (Amazon, Walmart) are working on it. My second thought was this is not really a meal kit so much as it is a box of meat. The only reason to buy this is if you’re get a deal on buying in bulk. You’re not getting any vegetables so you still have to go to a grocery store. So it’s not exactly the same as Blue Apron and therefore might not run into the same problems. This may also only appeal to CrossFit acolytes who adhere to a Paleo diet (and will therefore be confident that they are going to eat a lot of meat) and have strong brand loyalty. Maybe that’s exactly what CrossFit is planning for.

TidBits:

-(Old Man Voice) I remember when there was only company that sold kettlebells

-How is the Tulum Jungle Gym not at the top of this list?

-Barry’s Bootcamp CEO on building a fitness community

-In case you weren’t sure that SoulCyclers have a lot of disposable income

-Don’t talk to anyone at the gym

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS DOING CHEEK BURPEES

Fraud: Albert Einstein once said that “if you can’t explain it to a six-year old, then you don’t understand it yourself”.  I have a similar theory about fitness: if you need tons of really expensive equipment to get someone in shape, then you don’t know what you’re doing. Enter Dave Asprey, the mastermind behind putting in your coffee, and his new venture, Bulletproof Labs. From Outside:

Bulletproof Labs, which opened last October, is Asprey’s next big thing, an attempt to expand his self-improvement empire beyond beverages and books. Modeled after Alpha Labs—Asprey’s private million-dollar performance center at his home near Victoria, British Columbia—the Santa Monica establishment will, Bulletproof claims, help you regenerate cells, shed fat, layer on muscle, calm your mind, recharge your soul, extend your life, and transform yourself into a productivity powerhouse. 

I arrive at the facility by bicycle on a warm fall day. Next door, Bulletproof Coffee’s outdoor tables are packed with young people hunched over laptops, cradling paper cups of buttery brain power. Bulletproof Labs’ reflective glass windows give the place an air of mystery while reminding you that you’re not as fit and optimized as you might like to think you are. For a middle-aged man whose body and brain are increasingly difficult to keep sharp, the promise of what awaits inside is tantalizing.

The space is bright and tight, a gleaming wellness arcade that includes, among other things, a cryotherapy tank, a bone-density trainer, and a recliner that emits electromagnetic pulses through your butt. It’s a gym of sorts (although Bulletproof insists that it isn’t) but also a meditation center, recovery lounge, and body-analysis clinic—or, as I heard one person put it, a day spa for tech bros. Among the sophisticated machines are several large pods that resemble futuristic sarcophagi, one of which spins slowly, dreamily, behind a large glass divider. Depending on how you’re feeling that day, you can have your naked body zapped with infrared lasers, receive intravenous vitamins, grunt out a high-­intensity circuit on a recumbent trainer while wrapped in cold pads, or sit in a pressure chamber that will whisk you to the virtual summit of Everest and back to sea level in a few minutes.

              This is pseudoscience at its worst and Dave Asprey is a flim-flam man. He rose to prominence with his promotion of Bullet-Proof Coffee (coffee with butter in it) and the claim that it transformed his body. Of course, it turns out that he was also taking testosterone and modafinil among other things. But he claimed that it was the coffee that was responsible for his new physique. Now, he wants to sell you a whole bunch of other stuff as well. Nick Heil spent a week at Bullet-Proof Labs but that does not mean that Outside went easy on him.

There is also abundant controversy surrounding Bulletproof’s claims. Some doctors have presented evidence, including a case study shared at a meeting of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists in 2014, suggesting a correlation between otherwise-healthy individuals incorporating Bulletproof coffee into their diet and elevated blood lipids—a cardiac risk factor. Running coach Steve Magness called the Bulletproof Diet bogus on his Science of Running blog in 2014, arguing that whatever benefits Asprey claims he’s experienced from his coffee and nutrition plan come from his use of testosterone, nootropics, and thyroid medication. “He portrays himself as a ‘biohacker’ who has found out all of these secrets about diet, exercise, and such,” Magness wrote, “when the reality is he’s simply a guy who took and continues to take PEDs.” For his part, Asprey has always been transparent about his drug use. 

He came under additional fire for insisting that Bulletproof coffee is processed to eliminate mycotoxins (toxic mold), and got a huge bump in sales when he touted this on the Joe Rogan podcast in 2014. Rogan later fact-checked the claims, and in a subsequent episode roasted Asprey for saying Bulletproof was toxin-free while other coffees were not, which isn’t true: the coffee industry safeguards against mold toxicity, which has only been found in minuscule amounts. Asprey has since toned down the claims but hasn’t recanted them. “Mycotoxins are real,” he told me.

There will always be a Dave Asprey out there because there will always be people who want to sell you something expensive that you don’t need. This type of thing is tempting because in every other aspect of our lives, technology is changing everything and it’s natural to think that technology could change our general fitness and well-being as well. But technology cannot improve the need to move around and lift heavy things and you don’t need new technology to do that. The best fitness equipment is the most low-tech stuff. Don’t give your money to the Dave Aspreys of the world. I have no idea whether he believes his own BS but it is BS.

Face lift: If you want your body to look better, what do you do? You hit the gym and workout. If you want your face to look better, what do you do? Get a face-lift or Botox injections, maybe put a whole bunch of makeup on. Are your body and your face really all that different? Why isn’t there a gym for your face? It turns out that there is, in London. It’s called FaceGym (what else could you possibly call it?) From Fast Company:

 “The muscles on your body and the muscles in your face are exactly the same—you have the same physiology,” explains founder Inge Theron. “So why wouldn’t you work out those 40 muscles in the face?”

Thereon is opening a 2,000-square-foot flagship space at 0 Bond Street in New York City’s NoHo neighborhood this September. Much like a regular gym, members go through a 30- or 45-minute communal class that mimics a fitness session: a warmup, a detailed routine, followed by a cool-down. Trainers knead, massage, and contort the face to best sculpt and tone facial muscles, much like a non-invasive DIY face-lift. Classes start at $70.

While there are relaxing elements reminiscent of a spa experience, “at the end, your muscles hurt just as much as if you’d been to the gym,” reports Theron. “There are absolutely moments that are very, very vigorous . . . We call it ‘sweet pain.'”

Advanced members can opt for laser sculpting and more aggressive muscle manipulation. These sessions involve an electric muscle stimulator that help one, as Theron explains, do “sit-ups for your facial muscles.” She affectionately calls them “cheek burpies.”

I admit that I thought that this sounds silly at first but it makes a lot of sense. You have muscles in your face just like you have muscles in the rest of your body. Why spend so much time on those other muscles and ignore the ones in your face? Especially when your face is what people see the most. The face has always been the domain of the beauty industry, could this bring it over to the fitness industry? Or could it further along the convergence of the fitness and beauty industries? I don’t know but this is an intriguing idea. Right now, FaceGym is the equivalent of a boutique class, actually 2 boutique classes. Most people aren’t going to pay $70 a session, so what is the scalable solution?

Camera Ready: Gym selfies are nothing new. You probably seen people taking them or scrolled past them in your social media feed or both. It’s the new version of flexing in the mirror and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with being excited about the progress that you’re making and wanting to share it with other people. But does a gym need a dedicated space for selfies? One gym in Connecticut says maybe. From Shape:

And The Edge Fitness Clubs is trying to take the sweaty selfie to a whole new level. The brand decided to give members access to a Gym Selfie Room at their Fairfield, CT, facility—an entire space dedicated to the post-workout photos. The initiative was fostered from results a survey Edge Fitness Clubs commissioned, which showed that 43 percent of adults who go to a gym have taken a picture or video of themselves while there, with 27 percent of those photos being selfies.

With this new selfie space, gym goers would not only have a spot to take all the post-sweat pics they want without gawkers wondering what they're doing, but the room would be stocked with hair products, fitness accessories, and even photo-friendly lighting to ensure the best social-worthy pic.

              It turns out that there was so much backlash on social media that Edge Fitness decided to scrap the whole idea. There are a lot of issues with a selfie room. Does it celebrate aesthetics over functionality? Does it promote body image dysmorphia? Is social media having a negative effect on people’s self-esteem and well-being? Those are all good questions but I want to posit a different one. Is a selfie room just a waste of space in a gym?

Gyms are a real estate business. You need to find a good location at a good price and then you need to maximize the space that you have. A gym should maximize the amount of space that is dedicated to its core activity, fitness. No business has unlimited resources and a selfie room means less space for actual fitness activities. I believe that a gym should be designed to provide members the best space to improve their fitness not to be trendy or to increase social media presence. Don’t waste space on something as frivolous as a selfie room. Members can take a selfie whenever or wherever. Isn’t that the whole point? They come to the gym to work-out. Give them as much space as possible to do just that.

Keeping the lights on: A gym in Sacramento has started to tap into the energy that its members generate while working out. Sacramento Eco Fitness is taking the energy that is created on its bikes, treadmills, and ellipticals and using that to offset its electrical bill:

So how, exactly, can your workout power a building? Without going full Bill Nye, here’s the deal: Specially designed green fitness equipment can harness the energy you use when you’re pedaling a bike or moving on an elliptical or treadmill and transform it into usable electricity. Sacramento Eco Fitness uses SportsArt ECO-POWR machines, which have built-in micro-inverters and juice up the electrical grid via standard wall outlets. Since this is a growing industry, you might see different approaches in different gyms; some machines only power a gym’s electrics while they’re in use, while other equipment is set up so that energy can be stored in batteries.

              That’s pretty cool but does it really make that big of a difference?

After installing ECO-POWR cycles, Sacramento Eco Fitness saw their monthly electricity expenditures drop from $680 to $30. That’s pretty huge! And the gym has no intention of stopping there. Recently, the facility added a SportsArt treadmill capable of converting human energy to electricity, which should capture and store even more power. The gym hopes to share its energy with surrounding businesses within the next couple of years.

              Wow, that is impressive. This won’t single-handedly solve our energy problems but every little bit helps and that’s a great savings for that gym. Plus, its members get to work-out and save the planet at the same time. 

Fitness Apps: If a little of something is good, then does that make more of it better? Not necessarily. But that is the situation we find ourselves in with regard to technology. Smartphones and social media are good things but if you spend all day on Facebook and Instagram instead of interacting with the real world, then you are going to end up miserable. What about fitness apps? Can we overdo it with them too? From Medical Xpress:

I had been feeling a bit run down before heading to the gym, so I had planned on an easy workout. But then I turned on my bike's computer, which is connected to data from all the other bikes at the gym. I started a new route on the app I use, and as I pedalled, it showed that I was only in third place for my whole gym. I could have slowed down, but I didn't want to be any lower on the leader board.

I'm one of the younger members of my gym, and my pride was on the line. So I threw away my workout plan and instead idiotically chased a stranger's time. The day after, I developed a fever and felt as though getting up the stairs to bed was an insurmountable task. I did this to myself, and it's not the first time. I'm a fitness app fanatic.

Fitness apps such as Strava, Nike+ Run Club and Espresso Bikes allow tens of millions of users to virtually race one another, and even compete against Olympians. Though these apps can provide inspiration to get out the door, experts say mobile fitness apps may be sabotaging people's workouts and even putting them in danger.

              You don’t want to train all-out every day of your life but fitness apps encourage people to do exactly that. A major problem we have with technology right now is that products are being designed to be addictive so that its creators can get rich. No one is content to build an app that is designed to be used 3 times a week. They want to make something that users will use every day whether that is good for them or not. We probably do need more regulation (although I doubt that anything is coming anytime soon) but in the meantime we all need to find our own personal balance. Strava might be great for pushing yourself but sometimes you need to back off as well. Either users need to devise their own schedule for using fitness apps or the apps could make an effort to provide some balance. For example, Strava could offer a way to track whether you stuck to your goal of running 5 miles in 40 minutes while maintaining a heart rate of 120. Users could choose whether they want to enter the leaderboard mode or active recovery mode. That way Strava could still be a part of its users’ daily routines without encouraging them to overdo it. 

Motivation: Barbell Apparel conducted a survey and found that athletic apparel is crucial to people’s motivation to work-out. Yes, there is an element of self-serving here but let’s dive in anyway. From the NY Post:

“Your fitness isn’t a result of what you do today, it’s the culmination of what you’re willing to do every day,” said Hanson. “We founded our company with the belief that expertly made clothing could help support and motivate people to reach their full potential in the gym. Sometimes all it takes to tackle that next workout, is putting on an amazing fitting piece of clothing that motivates you. At the end of the day, those who get the best results are rarely the most talented, but almost always the most motivated.”

Top 15 things that keep people motivated to hit the gym:

  1. Seeing results in their body 58.7 percent/1174
  2. Putting on gym clothes 58.2 percent/1163
  3. Drinking a lot of water 46.3 percent/925
  4. Going with partner 44.8 percent/895
  5. Eating a healthy lunch 43.3 percent/866
  6. Setting achievable goals 40.2 percent/804
  7. Listening to a psych-up playlist 38.8 percent/775
  8. Joining a class at their gym 34.3 percent/685
  9. Working out in the morning 33.8 percent/676
  10. Eating a healthy snack beforehand 33.6 percent/672
  11. Talking about going 33.0 percent/659
  12. Eating a healthy breakfast 32.5 percent/649
  13. Telling your partner you’re going 32.1 percent/642
  14. Being able to track your progress 32.0 percent/640
  15. Telling a colleague you’re going 29.7 percent/593

Does putting on your gym clothes count as motivation or is that just starting your routine? Could I include starting my warm-up. There are many days when I do not feel like working out but once I get the blood pumping, I am good to go. A lot of these aren’t motivation so much as ways to make sure that you work-out (such as working out in the morning) or just different ways to stay accountable to someone or something. You can count that as staying motivated but I think that we need to change the conversation around motivation. So much of this list falls under accountability which can work but it is not the most sustainable method. And there are several ones that are just variations on sticking to the routine.

I realize that Barbell Apparel may have done something to ensure that apparel came up near the top of the survey but this is a decent reflection of how people think about motivation. We need a shift towards intrinsic motivation and this survey shows that people are focused on extrinsic motivation.

TidBits:

-Donald Trump has not appointed anyone to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition

-Dairy farmers in Michigan are using fitness trackers to monitor their cows

-SNL’s take on athleisure wear

-Hip thrusts are all the rage these days

-CrossFit Games champion Tia Toomey won gold in weightlifting at the Commonwealth Games

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS INTERVIEWING FOR A JOB

Fitness Trackers: Data is king in the 21st century but it is important to understand why. There is data collection and then there is data analysis. One without the other is useless and right now fitness trackers are collecting a lot of data but not offering a lot of effective tools for analyzing data. From Quick and Dirty Tips:

Once again, I arrive at the same conclusion that by simply wearing a device, glancing at your steps, heart rate, distance, (wildly inaccurate) calories burned, and whatever info you feel is pertinent to your lifestyle, is simply not helpful. There must be a way to use that data to form a plan of action. You must use that information to inform your fitness plan for the next day, week, and month. You must have the ability, and the desire, to analyze that data and make future decisions around your overall fitness goals, similar to the way I described I do for the athletes I coach.

                  Think of a business: most companies have some sort of reporting software (Oracle, MicroStrategy) that compiles its data and delivers it to the company. That data by itself is useless, the company needs to hire people who can analyze that data and deliver recommendations to management based on their analysis. Fitness trackers are the reporting software, the question is who is filling the role of the analyst. So what do you do if you have a fitness tracker? You have to make an effort to understand the data that is being collected:

-Do some research on the biometric data points you plan to collect.

-Spend some time finding out what your baseline is.

-Set a specific goal.

-Lay out a plan to reach that goal.

-Monitor your data like a coach.

-Don’t be afraid to readjust your plan based on the data.

                  You need to either hire a coach/trainer or start thinking like a coach/trainer.

Looking good Billy Ray: Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that fitness, wellness, and beauty seem to be intermingling if not converging. Apparently, I’m not the only one who has noticed this trend. From WWD:

Fitness, wellness, beauty brand.

That appears to be the new trajectory being adopted by a fitness industry eager to intersect with the multitrillion-dollar wellness movement and multibillion-dollar beauty world. Trainers as well as studios and gyms ranging from boutique to big box are looking to extend their reach beyond the actual workouts they’re peddling, whether it’s creating protein powders to fuel the body from the inside out or segueing into beauty, from linking with Gen Z and Millennial favorite Glossier to formulating stand-alone skin-care brands.

“To say there’s a convergence of fitness, wellness and beauty is an understatement. They are all the same,” said Vimla Black Gupta, chief marketing officer at Equinox, who called the club’s motto, “It’s not fitness. It’s life,” a prescient metaphor for the current melding of the three sectors.

                  I can’t say that I am fan of this. A merging of the fitness and beauty industries would emphasize the appearance aspect of fitness and I don’t think that is the best path forward. Of course, physical appearance will always be a huge part of everyone’s fitness journey but I don’t believe that it should be viewed as the destination. The destination should be feeling good, seeing what your body is capable of, learning how hard you can push yourself. Looking good should be the views you take in on your way to the top of the mountain.

                  However, there is still a long way to go for the three industries to merge.

While some consider the industries so intertwined that they’re one and the same, Marc Magliacano, a managing partner at private equity firm L Catterton, still thinks brands should proceed with caution.

Today, a rush to establish a “lifestyle brand” has sent founders in the fitness and beauty spaces scrambling to try to encapsulate everything they offer in health and/or wellness under one brand. But despite this, he believes brands should tread lightly when expanding into additional categories because people only have that much room in their lives for any one brand.

“If you want fitness you may go to Equinox, if you want skin care you may use Elemis, if you want body care you may use Bliss, if you want meditation you may use Headspace. People want to have the option to go curate and edit their own wellbeing, and we know Millennials do,” Magliacano said, citing a handful of L Catterton’s investments. The firm’s portfolio has cornered the market when it comes to a cross-section of fitness and beauty brands, which in addition to the above include Pure Barre, Peloton, Sweaty Betty, Cover FX and Tula.

To him, building a true lifestyle brand means creating “something with meaning to the consumer that’s relevant in the life of a consumer”; it doesn’t mean that one lives their entire life around a brand, but merely that a brand is meaningful in one’s life.

                  Beware of any CEO who talks of building a lifestyle brand. It is extremely difficult to build a brand that is trusted by the consumer in several categories. It is hard enough for a company to master one thing. By trying to master multiple categories, they would be leaving themselves open to a young, hungry company that is more than happy to focus on one category.

Privacy: Another day, another high-profile hack. Under Armour revealed last week that its MyFitnessPal app had been hacked and 150 million users may have been compromised. It seems that, other than getting hacked, UA avoided a lot of mistakes. They silo-ed user data, keeping financial information and general user information and uploaded data all separate. They also let the public know in a timely manner instead of trying to keep it a secret. But this is another sobering reminder that no company can guarantee the safety of the data that you entrust it with. From Slate:

 While it’s not as big of a target as the health care industry—stolen health credentials can go for 10 or 20 times the value of a stolen credit card on the black market, for example—apps like MyFitnessPal still store a large amount of detailed, personal information that can be used to profile and track an individual. In a 2016 interview with Digital Trends, Andrew Hilts, executive director at Canadian data security–advocacy group Open Effect, said that with such incredibly detailed records at their disposal, hackers could “suddenly have a very valuable source of intelligence about individuals’ whereabouts.” MyFitnessPal can collect your precise location data as well as performance data, according to its privacy policy—and that’s in addition to all the other information you voluntarily give the app.

                  Everything is hackable. Once you accept that, you really have to question what kind of data you want to upload. We all have our own comfort levels but it is possible that it may not be in our best personal interest to share too much data.

Job interviews suck no matter what: Goodlife Fitness, a gym operator in Canada, includes a 20 minute workout as part of their interview process. They view it as an opportunity for the interviewee to get a feel for their culture as well as a chance to see potential employees in a more relaxed setting. This practice upset one interviewee. From the CBC:

She got a second interview. The three-hour process would include a portion with her boss, a portion with her potential co-workers, and a workout. 

"As much as I respect company culture and that you have to be a fit, I don't understand how a gym workout is part of an office business culture, and how it's OK to make that part of the interview process, to add physical fitness to a job interview. It blows my mind," Clifford said. 

"I feel thoroughly judged while I walk through a gym. For me, exercise is a very personal thing. It's about working out, whereas a job interview is about what your strengths are, about my work, which I'm good at." 

Clifford replied to the email to Goodlife saying she didn't feel comfortable doing a workout, and was told she didn't have to do it. In the meantime, she found another position. 

"I was very disappointed in their response. They defended their practice, said they were judgment free, that they just want to know what my fitness goals are. I can't think of anything where I'd feel more judged than putting on my workout clothes and working out during a job interview. What if I said my goal is a 5K (run), and what if I didn't do it?" 

                  I am of two minds on this. The first is that this is a fitness company and they probably want a passion for fitness to a part of the company culture. If this was a company in any other industry, it might seem ridiculous but integrating that company’s product or service into the interview process seems reasonable. And I really doubt that they were going to count this woman’s reps or otherwise evaluate her on her fitness. How does sitting in a room and talking about yourself have to do with most jobs? It’s just that we are used to that being the way that we are evaluated for employment. Seeing someone in a less formal situation can be valuable to assessing someone’s fit.

                  That said, I can see why this could make someone feel uncomfortable. It could be hard to shake that feeling that your fitness is being factored into the evaluation even if that seems very unlikely. Job interviews can be very formal, it could be jarring to have it mixed with the informality of the gym. Goodlife is flexible on this portion of the process and told the woman that she didn’t have to participate in the workout. She ended up finding another job.

                  Culture is crucial to any company. It’s probably better for both parties that she didn’t get the job. Job interviews are also an opportunity for interviewees to evaluate employers. If you think that their interview process is ridiculous, then you’re probably not going to like working there either. By telling you who they are early on, employers are doing you a favor.

 

30 minutes or less: I’m a firm believer that any fitness program that calls for workouts that last longer than 60 minutes is deeply flawed. We all live busy lives and most of us will struggle to fit anything longer into our daily schedules. Some studios are now experimenting with even shorter workouts and the results are good. From Well + Good:

Once a week, Kelly Ryan grabs her gym bag, tosses her hair into a ponytail, and hurriedly leaves her desk in midtown Manhattan. Two subway stops later, she’s clipping in for a 30-minute ride at one of her favorite studios, Peloton. “Going on my lunch hour is doable when the classes are that length,” the 28-year-old marketing manager says. “It works well with my schedule, and I feel even more productive when I’m back at my desk knowing I’ve tackled another thing on my to-do list.”

Peloton isn’t the only boutique studio offering an express class of sorts. This is officially the era of fast fitness, with more gyms, apps, and streaming platforms rolling out on the reg that are making it easier than ever to squeeze in a sweat sesh in less time than it takes most mid-day food orders to be delivered.

At the beginning of 2017, Equinox launched its wildly popular, 30-minute Firestarter class, promising members a complete cardio challenge with lightning-fast intervals. Other big names in fitness like Mile High Run Club, Pure Yoga, Exhale, and Rise Nation offer concise options to keep their clients happy. After seeing an uptick in quick-hit workouts, ClassPass is now jumping on the bandwagon, too, with its new half-hour ClassPass Live workouts.

                  30 minutes is a very short workout because you still have to warm-up and cool-down. You can get a great workout in but you have to really crank up the intensity. That intensity can be a little too much for some people.

She’s right if good vibes are what you’re looking for in a workout. In a new study, researchers recruited overweight, inactive adults (as opposed to participants who were in shape with a consistent exercise routine) and found the subjected experienced greater pleasure doing longer workouts with moderately intense exercise than shorter, high-intensity workouts. (Just to note, both workouts burned the same number of calories.)

                  It’s not too surprising that people who are new to working out not be ready for high-intensity interval training. For more experienced gym-goers, quick and efficient workouts are going to continue to grow in popularity. Sometimes, you need to get in and get out.

TidBits:

-Always great to see veterans doing well

-Brie Larson is getting in super-hero shape

-A banana is as effective as a sports drink as a post-workout

-The Sly Stallone back workout

-A chat with the CEO of Exponetial Fitness

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS RUNNING FOR CONGRESS

Sports marketing: For me, sports and fitness have always been intertwined. I have a strong interest in seeing what the human body is capable of and how hard you can push yourself. That’s why I am puzzled by the lack of correlation between sports fandom and physical fitness in the U.S. I’m sure that there are several reasons why this is so but I would bet that this is one of them. From Vox:

There’s a reason sports heroes like Michael Jordan have been appearing on cereal boxes for decades. Food and beverage companies have learned that spending billions of dollars on marketing targeted at kids as young as 2 can sway the food choices they make for a lifetime. Yet we have become numb to this advertising because it’s all around us — and it’s a major and often ignored driver of the obesity epidemic. 

New research in the journal Pediatrics reveals the precise role America’s beloved sports leagues play in this marketing blitz. The first study to quantify food marketing to children through professional sports organizations in the US, it casts these leagues in a new light: as key peddlers of junk food to children. 

The paper, led by researchers at New York University, focused on sports sponsorships — or the money food and non-alcoholic beverage companies pay teams to use their logos, brands, and products in sports venues and advertisements. The researchers found that major sports leagues like the NFL and NBA have millions of young viewers (about 412 million under the age of 17 per year, to be exact). And that food and non-alcoholic beverage companies — including McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Mars, Kraft Heinz, and Kellogg — were the second-largest category of sponsors to these leagues, after only the auto industry. 

The food sponsorships are ubiquitous — appearing in the names of playing fields and the socks players wear on those fields (see photos above and below). What’s more, the vast majority of the snacks and drinks featured through these sponsorships is overwhelmingly unhealthy.

              This association with sports gives these products the veneer of healthiness. Meanwhile, the obesity rates in this country have skyrocketed, especially among children. We need to start regarding junk food ads the same way that we regard alcohol and tobacco ads. We’re already lagging behind the rest of the world:

“There are data showing that when kids see a given food that is branded with a character or a superhero or a sports hero, they eat more of it than they would if it didn’t have branding or marketing, and they say it tastes better,” Kahan added. “[Marketing] strongly impacts kids’ assessment of food, kids’ desire for food, and ultimately creates potentially lifelong preferences for given foods and given brands.”

This is why groups like the World Health Organization have long suggested stricter regulations on food ads targeted at kids. And it’s why many countries, from Chile to Ireland to Norway, have followed those recommendations, cracking down on food companies’ abilities to reach kids through bans and restrictions on advertising and marketing.

              Sports should be inspirational and a gateway to physical fitness. Somehow, we’ve turned them into vehicles for selling junk food. That is completely backward. I hope that one day we address this issue.

Follow the money: The fitness industry is extremely fragmented, which is why there aren’t many publicly-traded fitness companies. This does not mean that Wall Street hasn’t developed an appetite for fitness, it has just found a different way to indulge it. The Street ran a piece this week on private equity firms buying up fitness properties. It’s easy to forget how much of a presence PE has in the fitness industry right now. The article mentioned TPG (Club Pilates, Cyclebar, Row House), L Catterton (Pure Barre, Bodytech), TRT Holdings (Gold’s Gym), TSG Consumers Partners (Planet Fitness franchises). That doesn’t even incude LA Fitness and 24 Hour Fitness which are also PE-owned. What makes fitness properties attractive:

Studios and gyms at large make for an attractive investment because the overhead costs are low, according to industry experts.

"What [Investors] like about it is the upfront cash flow," said Tom Bonney, a senior managing director at CBIZ CMF and an adviser to private equity firms.

Many independent studios are just beginning to scale nationally and many are in the early stages of their life cycle. Notables include the franchised DEFINE Body and Mind, a Texas-based studio that focuses on a fusion of yoga, ballet and Pilates; specialized workout-oriented gym MADabolic, also franchised; and New York's CityRow. Most charge monthly subscription fees to their gyms, though services like ClassPass, backed by Singapore investment firm Temasek Holdings among others, also allow patrons to use different studios for a monthly fee.

"In a subscription model, customers pay upfront and then the company operates the facilities," Bonney told The Deal. "Secondly, if you have a model that works, you can replicate it and stamp out hundreds and thousands of it."

              The subscription model is attractive but is this good for the fitness industry? The upside could be something like Exponential Fitness, which is TPG’s banner brand for several studios that it has acquired. The industry is so fragmented that some consolidation could be good for it. Perhaps PE firms can help fitness companies build national brands. The downside is the debt. The way that PE firms typically operate is to primarily use debt to make an acquisition and pile that debt onto the acquired company. These debt payments can become crippling. Case in point: the retail industry. From the New Republic:

We are in the midst of a mass extinction in retail. Over the past five years, dozens of retailers—once the bedrock of malls across the country—have shuttered. The most recent victim was Toys ‘R’ Us, which announced it was going out of business last week, a collapse that could cost as many as 33,000 jobs.

Many are blaming the stores themselves for failing to adapt to the rise of e-commerce and changing consumer habits. Others have pointed the finger at the rise of one-stop-shopping behemoths like Walmart and Target, both of which have made life hell for category killers like Toys ‘R’ Us. Some see the enduring impact of the Great Recession, while others still—including Toys ‘R’ Us—blame millennials for not having enough kids.

These explanations have some merit (with the exception of the millennials one). But the biggest ongoing threat to retail is debt. Over the past several years a number of major retailers have been saddled with billions of dollars in debt by private equity firms. Toys ‘R’ Us, for instance, was hit with over $5 billion in additional debt after it was acquired by private equity firms KKR and Bain Capital in 2006. With annual interest payments of over $400 million a year, Toys ‘R’ Us didn’t have a chance.

Private equity is remaking the retail environment, causing even successful companies like Toys ‘R’ Us to go out of business. And they’re fundamentally remaking American commerce in the process, with Amazon, Target, Walmart, and Dollar General set to benefit. Meanwhile, private equity is more or less getting off scot-free.

 

              Could this happen to the fitness industry? It depends on how much debt is piled on each company and whether there is some kind of market shift that requires investment. Toys R Us was still profitable, it just couldn’t afford to continue making those debt payments and respond to the threat of online commerce. The other issue is that there has to be an exit strategy. PE firms have outside investors who demand a certain rate of return in a certain time frame. That means that they can’t hold onto their portfolio companies forever. They need to either take these companies public or sell them to another PE firm. Since there are not a lot of publicly- traded fitness companies, I worry that the main exit strategy will be to sell to another PE firm. There are 2 downsides to this. Each company will already have been “fixed” by a PE firm. What can the next firm do except try to cut costs even more? Plus, the company will have to be sold for more money than it was bought for which means that over time the debt payments will only get larger.

              One emerging option as a strategic buyer is the hotel industry. Hotels are both purchasing gym operators outright and partnering with them in order to expand their amenities offerings.

Hyatt Hotels Corp, in August, acquired Exhale, a 15-year-old branded concept that "addresses mind and body through spa and fitness," with intentions to grow the brand via freestanding locations and within appropriate Hyatt Hotel product. The deal followed Hyatt's acquisition of New York-based Miraval Group, a provider of wellness experiences, from an affiliate of private equity firm KSL Capital Partners LLC for $215-million deal in January 2017.

Marriott International Inc. recently signed a partnership with SWERVE Fitness cycling studios, which will give guests of its W Hotels special access to rides and gear during their stay. SWERVE memberships now receive special perks at the W Hotels of New York.

"Fitness continues to play a more integral role in other areas of the leisure economy," wrote Jefferies analyst Randal J. Konik in an early March note. "Hotels have made a splash in the fitness M&A landscape over the past 18 months as acquirers. We believe that in addition to pursuing exits via larger fitness players or the public markets, boutique studios could find non-fitness strategics an increasingly possible route for monetization."

              The Related Companies, the real estate behemoth behind the Time Warner Center in NYC, is also the owner of Equinox and SoulCycle and is pursuing new fitness deals. They’re also backing Equinox’s quest to build a fitness-oriented hotel. If more hotel chains decide to get into fitness, then this could be a viable exit for the PE firms but we will see. The trend right now is partnerships. Owning and operating gyms will have to be viewed as an attractive venture on its own merits for the hotel industry to put both feet in.  

A parting thought on private equity: what if the fitness industry ends up being run by a bunch of suits who don’t know the first thing about fitness? Maybe I’m being paranoid. Or not.

The fitness industry at large is far from peaking, according to Bonney, as more trends emerge and millennials continue to gain spending power. "As fitness breaks into more verticals — boxing, biking, rowing, yoga — we're going to see continued investment."

"Have you heard of people working out with cow bells?" he asked. "As long as these trends keep coming, the market will accept a lot more capital and continue to evolve."

              Cow bells? Does this guy seriously think that people are working out with cow bells?

Malls: I have covered how malls are reinventing themselves with the help of the fitness industry numerous times. I wanted to include this piece from The Morning Call not because it has some new insight into that but because it condenses the strategy to 3 letters:

Shoppers’ tastes have changed, Hughes confirmed, and can be traced to the changing of the guard generationally.

“Regional malls were the retail centers of the universe. On the weekends it was a destination event to go to the mall,” Hughes said. “I think what we're seeing is a value change with millennials. They want experiences. That’s what a shopping mall has to provide today.”

The formula being used to do just that is known as the “triple F” — food, fun and fitness. Even a decade ago, a fitness center or gym in a mall was a harbinger of tough times, Hughes said. Now, it signals a mall in the midst of reinvention. Medical service centers, interesting dining options and entertainment offerings provide experiences and services that millennial consumers are after.

            I would prefer the 3 F’s over the Triple F. Triple F sounds like a low-rent version of the wrestler Triple H. The 3 F’s sounds like more something you would learn about in business school. Either way, it’s a great way to remember what shopping malls are doing to stay relevant. But I have one bone to pick with this article:

Along with the new look, part of an ongoing project, the mall brought in one of the triple F’s that Hughes mentioned — fun. That came in the form of the Sky Zone Trampoline Park, whose patrons have filled the parking lot. While much of the trampoline park was made possible by converting common space inside the mall.

              Doesn’t a trampoline gym fall into fitness as much as it does into fun?  

Fitness Campaigning: One of my favorite topics is companies using fitness to market their products and services. I call it fitness marketing and we’ve been seeing more and more of it lately. Perhaps it is time for this blog to coin a new term: fitness campaigning. From Mens Health:

They say running for office takes blood, sweat and tears. Suraj Patel’s political campaign is definitely leaning on the sweaty side.

The 34-year-old is running for Congress in New York City, and part of his strategy is to get more people to vote. One way he’s doing that? Sweating it out with potential voters in group exercise classes, then talking to them afterward about his campaign.

"Young people don’t vote in the same numbers as older people, and part of that is because the way most politicians engage with people is from a bygone era," Patel told Menshealth.com. "I wanted to figure out a way to infuse politics into the day-to-day lives of people. A lot of young people congregate around workout classes."

Which is why Patel set up special events with group exercise studios around New York City. So far, he's held events at spin studio Flywheel, treadmill studio Mile High Run Club, and a yoga studio. The first hour or so is completely devoted to the workout, no politics included. Afterward, although sweaty and a bit out of breath, Patel makes a small speech, answers questions, and lingers with participants.

              It’s the same concept as fitness marketing. Both marketers and politicians covet young people and realize that fitness is a great way to reach them. I wonder if we’ll see this become more common. That might depend on whether Mr. Patel’s campaign is successful.

Flexology: I think that it’s safe to say that flexibility is the neglected middle child of fitness, forever overshadowed by her flashier siblings, strength and conditioning. That may never change but that doesn’t mean that flexibility can’t get more attention as the fitness industry grows. From Outside:

 Enter the stretching studio. Practitioner-assisted stretching, as it’s sometimes called, is a growing craze in the fitness cosmos. The thinking goes like this: all of us, from serious runners to hunched desk jockeys, have neglected our fascia (the thin veneer of tissue that encases various muscles and organs), our joints, and a whole slew of other problem areas that even yoga can miss. Between Stretchlab in Los Angeles and franchises like Stretch Zone, Lymbr, and Stretch U with locations around the country, a growing army of stretching coaches and flexologists (they’re really called that) have assembled to bend us into better health.

In recent years, research has increasingly questioned the virtue of static stretching—passively holding a position for an extended period—before exercise. “When muscles are cold, static stretching isn’t that effective,” says Meir Magal, a fellow at the American College of Sports Medicine. The growing consensus suggests that it doesn’t prepare our bodies for whatever we’re about to do, and in some cases it’s even counterproductive.

As the chatter around static stretching has intensified, an array of alternatives have emerged, such as mobility training—a more targeted attempt to increase range of motion—and something called proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, a regimen designed for high-level rehabilitation that’s popular among athletes. Flexologists, for their part, have appeared on the scene to replace our bad old stretches with controlled, and repeated motions—some focused on fascia, others tailored to select muscles—with the added benefit of professional assessment and guidance.

              First off, I love the term “flexologist”. That’s fantastic. I kind of want to become one just so I can say that when someone asks me what I do for a living. Let’s talk cost: $160 for a 90 minute session is eye-opening. This is definitely the top-tier with that much personalized attention. Price-wise, this is similar to getting a massage, also a great recovery tool that it is out of range for most people. This also sounds similar to a Thai massage. Anything built on one-and-one interaction cannot scale which will limit its growth potential but I am curious to see how the focus on flexibility filters down.

TidBits:

-It’s all about underwear placement

-April Fool’s Day comes early this year

-Today’s children are less fit than their parents

-Confessions of a fitness tracker reviewer

-It pays to start young

-To grunt or not to grunt

-Mat Fraser and Cassidy Lance-McWherter win the CrossFit Open

 

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS SHAKING OFF A FEW POUNDS

History: My dad once told me that every job is weird when you really think about it. What about entire industries? Is every industry weird too? I’m not sure but fitness definitely is. Harper’s Bazaar dove into the history of boutique fitness and it’s something. It started as an offshoot of the cosmetics industry:

The boutique fitness story begins in the first few decades of the 20th Century, when beauty and cosmetics pioneers (and fierce rivals) Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein opened salons that sold women on a then-novel concept: their physical appearance was in their control. 

“They were the first, the originators,” says Lindy Woodhead, author of the joint biography War Paint. “They put into the psyche of women around the world the idea that beauty empowered them.” Rubinstein herself put it more bluntly. “There are no ugly women,” she used to say, “only lazy ones.”

Well-to-do clients were given instruction on skin care, cosmetics and very gentle fitness regimens, which included light stretching, dancing (or “rhythmics”), yoga and other movements mostly designed to improve posture. At the time, the medical community didn’t yet universally recommend exercise for women’s health, but Arden and Rubinstein preached that it was indeed important for beauty and womanhood—that it would help women appear “slimmer” and more graceful.

              We’re starting to see retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue use boutique fitness to drive foot traffic so I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised by this but I am. I am not surprised that the focus on was staying slim and not adding muscle though. The idea that a woman can have some muscle and be attractive is a very new one. So what happened in the 1940s?

So instead, women embarked on extreme diets, swallowed diet pills and took themselves to “reducing salons,” where they hooked themselves up to machines that promised to shake, roll and pound away perceived flaws.

Among the most successful of these salons was a national chain called Slenderella. Its ads vowed to slim women “in all the right places,” Matelski reports in her book, without the “toil and suffering” of physical exertion. In its heyday, Slenderella operated 170 locations in more than 50 cities. The ethos at these salons seemed to be: the less you worked your body, the better the workout!

              God, there were so many bizarre ideas about fitness back then. Why is the human body such a mystery to us? So many smart people seem to lose common sense when it comes to fitness. Things started to get better in the 1950s and 1960s with Jack LaLanne and Kenneth Cooper. It was also the first appearance of the barre workout.

The 1960s also saw the birth of the modern barre industry. The workout was invented by Lotte Berk, a retired German dancer who combined ballet moves, yoga and rehabilitative exercises to help herself recover from a back injury. She discovered that the workout helped her stay strong and supple, and in 1959, opened a small basement studio on Manchester Street in London, where she attracted a star-studded clientele. 

A decade later, in 1971, an American named Lydia Bach would bring the workout to New York City’s Upper East Side—and go on to help train many of the women who would later open this country’s most popular barre franchises.

              I had no idea that barre workouts went back so far. That was probably the biggest surprise of this article. I thought that barre was a recent addition not the senior member of the boutique world. Jazzexercise was founded in 1969 and really took off in the early 1980s. That was also when Jane Fonda and aerobics became popular. And then yoga took off in the 1990s. The new millennium ushered in the golden age of the boutique.

Around the same time, many of the boutique brands that have come to define boutique fitness were born. Bar Method was founded in 2000 and Pure Barre in 2001. SoulCycle was founded in 2006 and cross-training franchise Orangetheory in 2007. Over the next decade, the studios would multiply to become the fixtures they are today. They would also inspire dozens of spinoffs—from boxing-themed Rumble and nightclub-themed Switch Playground to reggae-themed Pon De FLO and, well, model-themed modelFIT—all positioning themselves as temples of the body that not only help women achieve their physical goals, but also their more internal ones.

              They never mentioned Tae-Bo or the rise of spinning classes but it is a very interesting read. I would love to see an article on the history of men’s fitness as well.

Staying sharp: Why do you work-out? Your answer is probably somehow related to your body. You want to get stronger, get faster, lose weight, look good naked, etc. Now research is showing us that we should also be working out in order to keep our minds fit as well.

Scientists have more evidence that exercise improves brain health and could be a lifesaving ingredient that prevents Alzheimer's disease.

In particular, a new study from UT Southwestern's O'Donnell Brain Institute suggests that the lower the fitness level, the faster the deterioration of vital nerve fibers in the brain. This deterioration results in cognitive decline, including memory issues characteristic of dementia patients.

"This research supports the hypothesis that improving people's fitness may improve their brain health and slow down the aging process," said Dr. Kan Ding, a neurologist from the Peter O'Donnell Jr. Brain Institute who authored the study.

             

If you want to be at your best physically and mentally, you need to work-out. The evidence is starting to pile up that aerobic fitness is good for the brain.

 

Unlike previous studies that relied on study participants to assess their own fitness, the new research objectively measured cardiorespiratory fitness with a scientific formula called maximal oxygen uptake. Scientists also used brain imaging to measure the functionality of each patient's white matter.

Patients were then given memory and other cognitive tests to measure brain function, allowing scientists to establish strong correlations between exercise, brain health, and cognition.

 

A lot of people in the fitness industry like to demonize running but no only is it the most functional exercise but it can make you smarter too. Never skip a running day. Your brain will thank you.

             

The Fitness Laboratory: Fitness is a very fragmented industry. The advantage of that is that there isn’t some behemoth dominating the industry and stifling innovation. The disadvantage is that fitness is so fragmented that there aren’t enough big players to do much in the way of R&D. If you’ve ever wondered why it seems like it’s so much easier to do the unhealthy thing, it’s probably because other industries employ small armies of PhD’s and MBA’s to make it that way. And there is no equivalent on the fitness side.

Fitness is the best product in the world. What else makes you look and feel good, gives you more energy, makes you healthier, and boosts your self-esteem? But we’re still trying to figure out the best way to package it, market it, and sell it to people. Coca-Cola and Pepsi have built massive corporate empires selling sugar water around the world. Imagine if fitness had something even approaching that level of resources. Imagine what could be accomplished. We need more companies that are willing to invest in fitness. I’ve covered Project by Equinox before. It’s a group exercise incubator that the luxury gym chain runs in Manhattan. From Fast Company:

Alongside upscale eateries and fashionable boutiques on Soho’s Mulberry Street, you’d likely miss an unmarked, bare brick storefront. There’s no glaring neon sign or a pun-heavy chalkboard inviting patrons in. It’s quiet and unassuming, a rarity in this Manhattan neighborhood.

That’s because in it lies a laboratory of sorts, a barely known incubator devoted to the future of fitness. Project by Equinox is a sweaty think tank where instructors, exercise specialists, and program directors brainstorm the next Zumba. Created by Equinox, it independently lives outside a traditional studio to create an intimate training community.

“Our ultimate goal is to welcome ideas and innovation into the brand from outside that might provide us with scalable ideas to use back at Equinox,” explains Keith Irace, Equinox’s VP of group fitness.

              I realize that this is a fairly modest effort but it’s something. And it’s not like Equinox has massive resources. I just wanted to highlight the fact that Equinox is taking a proactive step to developing the next great group exercise class instead of just waiting for it to come along. They’re actually investing some money into people and ideas. Very few fitness companies do that and we need a lot more of it.

Fitness Marketing: Fitness appeals to young, affluent consumers. Those happen to be the most desirable consumers and marketers are catching on to that and using fitness to sell other products. I’ve seen commercials use fitness to sell breakfast sausage and light beer. Luxury stores are using pop-up gyms to draw in customers. And now a Volvo dealership in Boston is advertising a partnership with a gym as an amenity available to its customers.

Through a partnership with neighborhood gym NB Fitness Club, the dealership offers free gym access to customers waiting to have their vehicles serviced. The perk is an extension of Boston Volvo Village's other service amenities, such as loaner vehicles and shuttles to local retail stores.

"People want to use their time effectively while they're waiting for their car to be done," said Ray Ciccolo, president of Boston Volvo Village. "This affords them the opportunity to go and try a health club. If they like it, they might join."

              A growing number of people see fitness as the best way to reach potential consumers. That may be designing an ad campaign around fitness or offering fitness as an amenity for its customers. I call this fitness marketing and I’m seeing more and more of it. I didn’t anticipate a car dealership getting in on the action but I love the creativity. I wouldn’t mind getting a work-out in while my car is being worked on.

Big Data: The quantified self is underway. You can strap any number of fitness trackers and record your vital signs and metabolic activity and sleep patterns. You can check your heart rate and use GPS to get an accurate measurement of your run. And now you can stick a test tube of your saliva in the mail and get a detailed report on your DNA. From Men’s Journal:

Just 15 years ago, peering so deeply into your DNA was impossible. Then, in 2003, scientists finished sequencing the human genome—a roughly $4 billion endeavor—and kick-started the genomic revolution. In the years since, the technology has gotten better, faster, and much, much cheaper. Today, for a few hundred bucks, a lab technician will press your saliva onto a slide and scan through hundreds of thousands of base pairs in your DNA, looking for variations that are thought to impact athletic performance and diet. For instance, a variant of a gene called BDNF is believed to diminish a person’s natural motivation to exercise. Meanwhile, variants of the gene COL5A1 are believed to be associated with increased risk of Achilles tendon injuries; and a variant of the gene ACTN3 reportedly helps people excel in power sports, such as weightlifting.

             

              I understand how this could be seductive but more isn’t always better. If you used every method of recording your physical activity and genetic makeup, you would be swimming in a sea of data that most of us can’t understand. More data isn’t always better. After a certain point it becomes noise that distracts you from the handful of things that you should be paying attention to. I’m also concerned that for some people, DNA could become destiny. If you don’t have great genetics, then do you really need to have that scientifically proven to you? And who is interpreting all that data for you?

That said, Green’s major worry is that companies are overstating how large an effect a genetic variation might have, something with which scientists themselves are still wrestling. “An association can be a very small association,” Green says. “It can mean you’re 2 percent more likely to digest a particular food element efficiently or 3 percent more likely to have a kind of ligament that predisposes you to sprains or tears.”

There’s also the fear that people put too much stock in the test results. Analyzing your DNA “is a piece of the puzzle, but it’s not a definitive answer,” says Scott Weissman, a genetic counselor. At his private practice in Chicago, Weissman’s schedule is filling up with more and more people who plunk down the cash for one of these kits, then want additional help deciphering the results. It can be confusing because these analyses look at what scientists call single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, tiny fragments of DNA that may be associated with a particular trait but aren’t necessarily the cause of the trait.

Further complicating matters is that it’s possible to have one SNP associated with a particular trait—trouble digesting starch, for example—and another SNP that indicates the exact opposite. In that case, nobody knows how the SNPs interact. Do they cancel each other out? Does one override the other? “The data is not there,” Weissman says.

              I agree that DNA testing isn’t going anywhere but I think that they have a long way to go on the analysis side. It kind of feels like it’s a solution in search of a problem at this point.

Going Soft(Ware): Being a hardware manufacturer is tough. It’s not the best business model. You spend a fortune on design and then again on manufacturing. And once you ship your product, there is no easy way to fix your mistakes. Plus, those software guys are always trying to eat your lunch. That’s a great business model. It may take a lot of capital to develop software but once it’s developed, software is the most scalable business out there. And you don’t have to lose sleep about your product being ready to ship but you can always just send out a patch or an update. Out of the Big 5 tech companies, 4 of them got their starts as pure software plays. And the one that didn’t (Apple) made hardware and software. What does this have to do with fitness? We’re starting to see companies in this industry come to this realization and start moving over to software. Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour are done with fitness trackers and focusing on fitness tracking software. Now FitBit seems to re-thinking its focus on hardware.

To that end, Fitbit has just announced that it is acquiring Twine Health, a cloud-based health platform that includes coaching services. We're not just talking about workout coaching (like Fitbit Coach), either. Twine coaches help users comprehensively manage their health by keeping an eye on important metrics like blood pressure or managing chronic conditions, including diabetes and hypertension.

The service can also assist with things like losing weight or quitting smoking. Twine combines artificial intelligence with human coaches to help them scale and assist many patients. Certain parts of the coaching process are automated, complemented by human interactions.

The deal will help accelerate Fitbit's goal of becoming a comprehensive digital health platform -- well beyond just tracking steps and workouts.

The company has also long had aspirations of building a subscription business that would alleviate its reliance on hardware sales. Despite trying to grow subscription revenue for years, less than 1% of revenue comes from subscription-based premium services, suggesting that Fitbit Coach adoption is relatively poor. Twine Health will create "opportunities to increase subscription-based revenue," according to Fitbit.

              High-end fitness trackers have shifted to smartwatches and Apple is poised to dominate that space. So Fitbit is looking to build a software platform that could live on any device. This is a smart move FitBit still has a decent amount of cash and a strong brand. They can pull this off. Letting go of their hardware ambitions is probably going to be tough for senior leadership though. We’ll see how they manage it.

You know who else wants to get into fitness software? Gatorade.

Volt Athletics is teaming up with one of the biggest names in sports business.

The Seattle startup today announced a new partnership with Gatorade and will rename its strength and conditioning consumer app to “Volt Fueled by Gatorade.”

The revamped app combines Volt’s “intelligent” workout technology with Gatorade’s sports nutrition expertise, offering a more complete digital fitness guide for athletes.

It’s a milestone deal for Volt, which has more than 100,000 users across 120 countries on its platform that launched in 2013. Volt CEO and co-founder Dan Giuliani called it “a truly unique offering in the fitness app space” and said it could lead to similar partnerships with other companies.

            I’m surprised that Gatorade isn’t developing their own app or acquiring one outright. I’m not saying that doing so would be the right move (there is a lot to be said for focusing on your core competencies and pursuing partnerships instead of acquisitions) but acquiring a fitness app would not be all that expensive for Gatorade, a subsidiary of Pepsico.

TidBits:

-Dave Castro is being as cryptic as ever about the CrossFit Open events

-If you spend a decade training in Kenya, then you’ll probably be a pretty good runner

-Do you want to run faster? Smile!

-Want some science with your fitness videos?

-Studio’s classes will now be available on Life Fitness treadmills

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS WORKING OUT IN FRONT OF THE MIRROR

Everyone loves free stuff: A couple of years ago, I overheard a conversation about a business idea. The idea was a signal on your car that indicated that you were going to perform a U-turn instead of just a turn. The 2 men discussing it were very excited about it and thought that it had enormous potential. But I could tell that they didn’t understand the difference between a product and a feature. They seemed to think that they could market this as a product when it is really just a feature that could be offered on an existing product, a car. Why am I bringing this up? Because I am seeing a rash of startups that want to pay people to work-out. I’ve written about why that doesn’t really work from a motivational perspective but I also think that it would be a struggle to base a business around that concept. The idea of giving people money or free stuff to exercise may not be a viable basis for a company. But it could be an effective marketing tactic for companies that sell something else. Nike is expanding the offerings on its mobile app in order to create a robust membership reward system. From TechCrunch:

Some of the Unlocks in partnership are quite nice and align well with the Nike performance audience. Buy a Nike Epic React Flyknit shoe in an exclusive color (Nike’s newest comfort design that many are seeing as a response to the Adidas Ultraboost) and you’ll get four months free of Apple Music. Doing workouts can earn you exclusive playlists and more.

Headspace, a guided meditation app, will ship exclusive playlists, discounts on membership and guided runs that focus on the more self-aware side of exercise.

ClassPass is giving out class credits when you make Nike purchases, which should align well with current members and boost membership via lead generation.

The biggest and most popular new Unlock will likely be the Birth Month promotion, which gives you discounts that last an entire month and gifts when you make purchases like a one-month ClassPass subscription or even tickets to a home game of your favorite team. The personalized promotions are an enormously rich vein for Nike to mine and I’ve not seen a lot of it in the apps to date, so it’s encouraging when they say that they’re explicitly tailoring this based on activity in the apps and purchase history.

                  Nike isn’t trying to solve the obesity epidemic by giving away 3 weeks of Apple Music. They’re just trying to keep consumers engaged with the Nike app and the Nike brand. And their business model isn’t based on paying people to do something. It’s a marketing expense. Some ideas aren’t a company, they’re just a marketing tactic.

Recovery: Fitness is based on three things: exercise, nutrition, and recovery. The first 2 things are what most people consider fitness. The third thing is a business opportunity in an industry that is poised to explode. From Bloomberg:

High-intensity workouts are more popular than ever, as lay people mimic the way professional athletes train. Now coaches and doctors have brought that elite approach to the recovery process, helping non-pros use high-tech tools to avoid injury and heal faster.

“We’re definitely seeing a proliferation of recovery services,” such as cryotherapy and infrared saunas, says Alexia Brue, chief executive officer of the health website Well+Good. But the benefits of these immersive procedures typically come with frequent use, something too expensive or inaccessible for people not named Tom Brady. For the average workout fiend, the most effective products to arrive on the scene are compression sleeves, which can feel as ridiculous as sitting in a massage chair at the mall. In practice, however, I’ve found them to be amazingly restorative.

Boutique gyms such as Tone House Fitness LLC, a Manhattan studio that claims to have the hardest workout in New York, offer compression technology using the NormaTec Pulse system, which aims to improve circulation and reduce soreness after intense sessions. To train for the latest Star Wars film, the cast used a product called Game Ready, whose compression sleeves are connected to a device that rapidly circulates ice water while mimicking natural muscle contractions. It also looks like a proton pack from Ghostbusters.

                  This stuff isn’t cheap. The author went to a 15 minute recovery session and paid $15. That’s after paying $34 for an exercise class. Most people won’t be able to afford this but this is clearly aimed at the high-end boutique user. How will something like this filter down though? Will we start to see the big-box, mid-markets gyms offer recovery services? I feel like this is a couple of years ahead of its time. I don’t think that most people worry too much about recovery outside of sleep. Any company that wants to break into the big time will probably have to educate consumers on why they need recovery services.

Etiquette: Jerry Seinfeld did a bit once on catcalls. The joke was that these were men who were out of ideas on how to attract a woman so they resorted to just yelling things at them. That’s all I could think about when I read this piece from GQ:

A few weeks ago I was practicing my squash serves alone at the gym. One wall of the squash court is entirely glass, and people pass by it to get to the basketball court. The layout encourages an audience, which is fine when you’re playing a match but terrible when you’re a woman, practicing alone in the horny hours (7 to 10 P.M., at my gym). At one point I looked around to see half a dozen men on the long bench by the glass, elbows on their knees, watching me. I'd have been flattered if I wasn't terrified. A few minutes later, one guy banged on the glass until I opened the door and popped my head out. He was musclebound and a little bit orange, suggestive of time spent in Jersey. He just wanted to ask me my name, he said, and tell me that I had really impressive calves. (I do.) His friend stood nearby, uncomfortable but useless. I said “okay” and shut the door. Twice more the man knocked on the glass, giving me a crazy smile and a thumbs-up when I turned around.

                  Sometimes, I feel fortunate that I am not a woman so I don’t have to deal with this crap. Not only are these men who have run out of ideas but they also have no clue that they’re being creeps. It’s the gym, mind your own business. It is inappropriate to openly leer at someone while they’re working out. And what is the point of knocking on the glass? Do they really think that a woman is going to be knocked off her feet by a thumbs-up? Maybe I need to write an etiquette guide for men that consists of all the ways that a man shouldn’t bother a woman at the gym.

Mirror, mirror: There are a lot of startups rushing into the streaming fitness space right now. The question for any entrepreneur is how can I differentiate my product/service from everyone else’s? For one startup, the answer to that question is mirrors. From Inc.:

A new fitness-technology startup wants to stream exercise classes in your living room--no TV screen or equipment required. Here's what you do need: a mirror.

The company, fittingly named Mirror, has developed a responsive device that looks like a full-length mirror and will stream a range of on-demand personalized workouts, including yoga, Pilates, cardio, strength, and boxing. The smart mirror reflects not only your own image but also shows an instructor and other workout fiends (if you're in a group class).

Mirror, which launches publicly Feb. 6 and has raised $13 million in funding, was founded by Brynn Putnam, the creator of NYC-based gym boutique Refine Method.

"To me, working out at home always meant compromising--your workout is going to be less fun and less effective and more frustrating," says Putnam, a former Inc. 30 under 30 honoree. "So for me, enabling people to work out without sacrifice is just really going to change how people live the rest of their lives."

                  I have one question: are there any capabilities in the mirror that will differentiate it from a flat-screen TV? Because Mirror won’t say. If there is something that Mirror can do like analyze your form, then this could be interesting. If there isn’t, then why do consumers need to buy another screen. We’re inundated with screens and they’re not cheap. If you can’t create a compelling argument for why someone should buy another one, then you’re in trouble. Manufacturers are under-estimating device fatigue. The lesson of the smartphone is that people want to own less devices that perform more functions. Just because you have created a beautiful product doesn’t mean that consumers will want to shell out money for it. It still has to fulfill a need.

                  It’s not a good sign that Mirror doesn’t want to get into the details or pricing of its product. They are saying that “there are also key metrics that measure your performance on screen”. That’s very vague and I am still skeptical. And I would still want to know why these capabilities couldn’t be transferred to a television. Entrepreneurs solve pain points. No one’s pain point in 2018 is that they don’t own enough screens.

Mallrats: The mall closest to my home had turned into a bit of a dump.  The owner hadn’t renovated it since the late 1970’s and it was looking very dingy. Which was a shame because it was in a great location in a coastal community in Southern California. Finally, a couple of years ago, ownership decided to invest some money in it and started renovations. They also decided to utilize the new playbook for shopping malls in this country. Step 1: replace a department store with a gym. From CNBC:

The number of gym leases in malls has doubled in the last five years, according to commercial real estate information firm CoStar.

Joe Coradino, CEO of Philadelphia-based PREIT, which owns 22 million square feet of retail space in malls across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, is actively recruiting fitness companies to fill his malls. Planet Fitness, Orangetheory – big names that draw big numbers back into the mall space.

"People are not just taking up time at the gym here, they're going to the gym, they're cross-shopping, they're buying clothes, they're dining out, they're doing things that are more than just working out," said Coradino.

They're working out and then walking into both retail and restaurants. All part of the mall metamorphosis from straight retail to full-on entertainment centers. Apparel used to make up 70 percent of the mall space, according to Coradino. Now it is about 40 percent.

Online shopping is causing the drop in retail traffic at malls, while fitness is growing fast, with both discount gyms and so-called boutique studios, which command higher prices. Mall gyms can take up a large footprint or a small studio space.

                  The mall added a gym (24 Hour Fitness), a multiplex (Regal), and a row of restaurants (Yardhouse, Cheesecake Factory, Dave & Busters). And business is booming. It is an entertainment center where you can also do some shopping. And the gym was the first of the 3 to go in. Who ever thought that gyms were going to save the American shopping mall?

Does anyone actually wear boots: Tough Mudder SVP Cathrin Bowtell sat down with Cheddar to talk about TM’s new franchising venture, Tough Mudder Bootcamp. Tough Mudder wants to go after Tier 2 and 3 markets (i.e. not NYC, LA, Miami) because they believe that they are underserved and they have strong populations of Tough Mudder participants. TM plans to mitigate the wealth gap by offering classes at $15 a session as opposed to the $30+ we’re seeing from a lot of boutiques right now. Oh and TM doesn’t want you calling them boutiques because Tough Mudder is a gritty brand. Kidding aside, I like to see that TM is actually making an effort to differentiate. Too many players in the industry fail to do so. How many companies have tried to jump into the low cost segment without any differentiation from Planet Fitness? Except for a higher price of course. TM isn’t making that mistake. They also want to be less dependent on star instructors by emphasizing teamwork and leveraging technology. If I was a potential franchisee, I would be very excited to see this. Reliance on star instructors is an understated risk for boutique operators. If you’re interested, it’s a $50K franchise fee and $200-300K in startup costs. No one ever said that opening up a gym was going to be cheap.

The Great Outdoors: Fitness can be as cheap as you need it to be. No one needs a bunch of fancy equipment and work-out apps to get into shape. You don’t even need a roof over your head. Some communities in the U.S. are starting to catch on that and building outdoor community gyms. Seattle has built 16 gyms throughout the city. They’re nothing fancy. Looks like a chest press, an elliptical, pull-up and dip bar, and a few more pieces of equipment. But it provides a free option for people in that community. More cities should be taking note of this.

TidBits:

-It’s 90% mental, the other half is physical

-Local man abuses gym equipment in order to attract attention towards himself

-It’s not you, it’s me

-Activist investor is pressuring Brunswick Corp to spin off its fitness equipment business (Life Fitness, Hammer Strength)

-The DOD is reviewing its fitness standards

-The Rock is creating his own fitness reality show, the Titan Games

-PopSugar reviews the Fly Anywhere bike

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS AN ENEMY OF THE STATE

Geolocation: So Strava is now a threat to national security. The future is now and that future is weird. Strava, the popular fitness-tracking app, decided last November to release a heat map illustrating the activity of its users all over the globe. A couple of months later, Nathan Ruser pointed out on Twitter that you could use that heat map to identify forward operating bases in Afghanistan as well as map the traffic patterns on known military bases. The operational security implications are of this are huge. From The Verge:

Strava’s map doesn’t necessarily reveal the presence of military installations to the world — Google Maps and public satellite imagery have already done that — but where Google Maps shows the location of buildings and roads, Stava’s map does provide some additional information. It reveals how people are moving along those areas, and how frequently, a potential security threat to personnel. For example, in the following pair of images, one can easily match up roadways and structures on Google Maps to how people are moving around Fort Benning, Georgia.

Ruser points out that anyone viewing the map can pick out Coalition bases in Syria, and installations in Afghanistan, and zooming in on these locations reveal heavily trafficked areas, as well as US installations that might not have been disclosed. Air Force Colonel John Thomas, a spokesperson for the US Central Command, explained to The Washington Post that the military is looking “into the implications of the map.” A Strava spokesperson told The Verge that the company is “committed to helping people better understand our privacy settings,” and that its map “represents an aggregated and anonymized view of over a billion activities uploaded to our platform. It excludes activities that have been marked as private and user-defined privacy zones.”

                  There are 2 main issues here. The first is the Department of Defense’s failure to control service members’ use of devices that utilize geolocation. The second is the privacy implications for civilian users. Strava wants to become Facebook for exercise and they are adopting the social network’s approach to privacy features. From Quartz:

I soon learned that the first problem was my assumption that “Enhanced Privacy” on Strava meant that my data and running routes were viewable only to my approved followers. In fact, it means no such thing. Strava’s “Leaderboard” function ranks the pace of all athletes who complete the same Segment, or a set distance on a given route that has been mapped by a user and added onto the app. Though I had Enhanced Privacy on, I hadn’t enabled “Hide from Leaderboards,” which is a separate toggle on the privacy settings in the app.

This meant that if I ran a particularly fast 200-meter segment in the park, landing me temporarily on a Leaderboard, anyone who was examining that segment in the app—whether or not I’ve allowed them to follow me—could see my workout that day. Troublingly, this also would allow them to see my first and last name and the photo attached to my profile.

                  If you want to share your runs with your friends but not make it readily available to every Tom, Dick, and Harry then you have to become an expert on Strava’s privacy settings. A lot of men reading this might not think that this is a big issue but running outside can be a time of great vulnerability for most women. Making those runs easily searchable could enable people with bad intentions to act on those intentions. It could also reveal where someone lives. From Lifehacker:

Strava’s first recommendation for privacy is to create “privacy zones” around your home, workplace, or anywhere you don’t want people snooping. (I also learned today that mountain bikers use privacy zones to hide their activity on illegal trails.) But these zones are a clumsy tool that don’t really make your whereabouts all that secret.

 First, you have to go through the Strava website to set up a privacy zone, but you can reach that through a link from the app if you know where to find it. (It’s at the bottom of the privacy settings screen.) Then, you have to enter an address, and choose how big the zone should be. Your options range from a 200 meter radius up to one kilometer, which is 0.62 miles.

Those distances might be handy if you live in a densely populated area, but if you’re on a country road, there might only be a handful of houses within your privacy zone. Strava hides the portion of a run or ride that starts or ends in a privacy zone, but that means that your profile can end up with a bunch of short activities circling a two-kilometer dead zone.

                  Strava has not been immune to controversy; this is just the latest chapter. It does illustrate the tension between Strava’s desire to be a full-fledged social network (and the sharing of personal data that does with it) and the safety implications of making your exercise data available for all to see. Strava could make its privacy settings easy to understand if it wanted. It clearly doesn’t want users opting out of sharing. The question is whether that attitude will backfire on Strava. Will users opt out of Strava entirely? My first reaction is that the tech giants have been playing fast and loose with our personal data for years and it hasn’t slowed their growth. My second reaction is that outside of Facebook/Instagram, social networks are struggling. Twitter’s user growth and advertising revenue has disappointed investors since its IPO and Snapchat is similarly floundering as a publicly traded company.

Building a social network in 2018 is not nearly as appealing a prospect as it looked in 2010. Strava has some advantages baked in but there are serious concerns about privacy and some general headwinds about social network fatigue. I believe that Strava would be smart to make its privacy settings easy and intuitive to use instead of hoping that people just give up on their privacy. Once you lose your users’ trust, you will never get it back.

Hold your breath: What is the purpose of sport? Originally, it was to prepare for war. The modern version has expanded far beyond that and now encompasses leisure, exercise, competition, entertainment, among other things. Personally, I have always been fascinated by seeing what the human body is capable of and how hard we can push ourselves. I have never participated in the sport of free-diving or any other form of competitive breath-holding but it has held some interest for me. But I never really thought about whether it’s even a good idea. From The New Yorker:

But is circumventing the body’s internal warning systems really a good idea? Last October, François Billaut, a French researcher at the Université Laval, in Quebec City, published a paper examining the effects of apnea on cognitive function. Billaut spent part of his childhood in Tahiti, and he is still a scuba instructor and recreational free diver (best breath-hold: four minutes). Working with several French universities and the French National Apnea Commission, he and his colleagues recruited twelve élite free divers, twelve novice free divers, and twelve control subjects with no free-diving experience. All of them completed a series of five written tests and three computerized tests. Billaut’s team found that the élite divers scored poorly on a task called the modified Stroop test, which measures executive function. Damningly, the subjects’ scores got progressively worse as their experience increased. The most accomplished diver, a nineteen-year veteran with a best breath-hold of seven minutes and sixteen seconds, fell within the pathological range of impairment.  

When I asked Billaut how his subjects had reacted to the results, he smiled and shrugged. “Apnea is not different from many other sports, in the sense that practice at a high level often leads to deleterious impacts on human physiology,” he said. “Think about alpinists going to Mount Everest, climbers, gymnastics, marathon runners—every sport has its drawbacks when performed at the élite level.” Some of Billaut’s subjects didn’t really believe the data and hoped that the study was flawed. But, for the most part, he said, they simply accepted it as the price of admission. Bain wasn’t surprised. “The Croatian divers have the exact same sentiment as the French,” he said. “This is their life style. They’re not stopping.”

                  The difference between breath-holding and running is that running isn’t fundamentally bad for you. Running is great exercise but it can be taken to an extreme point at which you are doing more harm than good. Starving your brain of oxygen is never good for you. That’s the starting point and the more you do it, the more damage you do. I believe that in the 21st century every sport should serve the purpose of making us healthier. If a sport compromises our health at its most basic level, then perhaps we shouldn’t have it.

What goes into a shoe: The soles for Nike’s first shoes were made in Bill Bowerman’s waffle maker. Those were much simpler times. From Wired:

The latest running shoes, dubbed the Epic React Flyknit, are the first to use Nike's new React foam, which is partially made of rubber. The foam itself is being seen as a competitor to adidas' Ultraboost and Nike has included more of it on the shoe's base than in other models.

Where things get really interesting is in the design of the shoe's sole. The foam on the underside is mostly exposed to the surface below it, but also partly covered by additional rubber protection on the points of highest impact. Beneath this, the new React foam has a number of grooves, dents, and tracks running along it.

These were all designed by Nike's machine-led design. "Those tools are able to concept things the human brain can't conceive and the human hand can't draw," Schoolmeester says. The process of computation design involves converting data to structural patterns and telling the system what outcomes it should produce.

                  The barriers to entry in athletic shoes have gotten really high in the last 50 years while the barriers to entry in athletic apparel are lower than ever. Shoes require advanced machine learning. Apparel requires a basic understanding of graphic design and an account on TeeSpring. It’s weird that 2 spaces that are so closely related have moved in opposite directions like that.

 

Turn it down: I had no idea that the music in boutique classes was so loud. From PopSugar:

My slightly dulled hearing only lasted for an hour or two after my Spin session ended, but it continued to nag at me for far longer. Was I sacrificing my ears every time I booked another ClassPass workout? After all, it wasn't the first time I'd noticed my hearing was a little wonky after attending a group fitness class. Don't get me wrong; I like my music loud. Very loud. (I played bass in a punk band in high school, for god's sake.) But even so, some of the classes I attend seem to dangerously overdo it on the decibels. Is the very thing I'm doing in a quest to get healthier actually bad for my health?

Maybe I was being too sensitive. Maybe I just had a knack for booking exceptionally loud classes and instructors. So, a few days after that fateful Spin class, I decided to informally poll my Facebook friends. Had any of them either walked out of a workout class because the music was too loud, or been legitimately concerned that the volume in a workout class was negatively impacting their hearing? Fifty-four percent of the people who responded said yes.

"I once exited a SoulCycle class because the music was deafening," one fellow POPSUGAR editor told me. "My ears were ringing for a few minutes after I left, too." Another Facebook friend complained that even though she'd tried to wear earplugs once in an overly loud Spin class, they fell out halfway through. I, myself, can't even count the number of times I've physically moved myself away from a massive speaker in a bootcamp or hip-hop yoga class because I just couldn't take the volume.

 

                  Why does it have to be so loud? You shouldn’t have to sacrifice your hearing to get in shape. This feels like a lot of these classes are using overly loud music as a crutch. A great workout should be able to stand on its own. You don’t need music in order to generate energy or intensity. And doesn’t that make the instructor harder to hear? If you have to hand out earplugs, then the music is too loud.

Government Fitness: I am not one of those people who believe that government is the source of all of our problems and that everything would be better if the private sector ran it. There are things that I believe should never be in the purview of the private sector: police, first responders, prisons, the military. But there are also areas in which more government regulation is unnecessary and would stifle innovation. Fitness is one of those things and believe it or not, there is a movement to require a license to work as a fitness trainer. From Reason:

Crossfit's explosive growth was made possible in part by the lack of regulation in the fitness industry. While many states require licenses for occupations as innocuous as trimming trees, tending bar, braiding hair, or even arranging flowers, personal trainers can work without government oversight. Crossfit was free to run its own certification program, which flouts most of the conventional nutrition and exercise advice championed by government and academia.

The company regularly spars with fitness credentialing organizations with different exercise philosophies, like the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Several of them have united under the banner of the Coalition for the Registration of Exercise Professionals (CREPS), an industry group that regularly lobbies for regulation of the fitness industry. The fight is occuring largely behind-the-scenes at state legislatures across the country, where licensing laws have been introduced on 26 separate occasions since 2005. Crossfit supporters have pushed back just as hard, at times showing up in person to speak out against the bills.

The one place Crossfit lost is Washington, D.C., which passed the nation's first fitness trainer licensure law in 2014.

                  CrossFit Inc. has been fighting this tooth and nail and bringing light to the relationship between the big fitness credentialing organizations and Big Soda. And they’re right! This is a terrible idea. All this would do is create a gatekeeper for trainers and it’s not hard to figure out who would benefit from the creation of a new gate. It’s a move borne out of desperation. When you’re out of ideas and can’t compete in the marketplace, you try to get the government to protect your market share. Mark Rippetow, of Starting Strength fame summed it up best:

 "The competive marketplace is capable of sorting this out," says Rippetoe. "Did I get stronger? Did I get more fit? These should be the criteria that a competitive marketplace provides for the profession."

                  Well said.

Fill her up: A couple of months ago, Reebok suggested that the Oscars should add a category for best fitness trainer. Now the fitness brand wants to convert gas stations to fitness centers once electric vehicles have rendered them obsolete. From Forbes:

To that end, Reebok and Gensler have developed a plan that would redevelop existing filling stations according to either of three health-minded models:

·       The Network: Major interstate-highway rest stops would be turned into full-blown fitness centers where motorists and their passengers can shake off the road trip cobwebs by, say, running, spinning, boxing, or taking Crossfit classes while they replenish their vehicles’ batteries.

·       The Oasis: Larger gas stations adjacent to smaller local highways would become “recharge zones” to offer those with grueling commutes a mental and physical respite via yoga and meditation pods, and meet their nutritional needs via a juice bar and a farm-to-table restaurant.

·       The Community Center: Smaller gas stations could be transformed into mini-facilities that address local residents’ needs. For example, the former repair shop section of the building could be converted into an area for teaching nutrition classes, while the mini-mart can be reconfigured to sell local healthy food, and pop-up facilities can be employed for Crossfit and spinning classes.

I don’t know that this makes a ton of sense but I kind of like what Reebok is doing here. It’s like a weird mix of brainstorming and marketing. Will people really want to knock out a WOD while their Tesla is recharging? I kind of doubt it but you never where the next great idea is going to come from. Maybe Reebok will stumble upon it while they’re trying to promote fitness like this.

TidBits:

-The Women’s Strength Coalition wants to get more women into powerlifting

-5 Ironmans in 5 days in NYC

-What the hell is plogging?

-Under Armour is holding NFL Combine workouts in the Mall of America this week for the Super Bowl

-Michelob Ultra wants to be the “beer for the fit”

-The history of the hotel gym

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS MOVING TO COOKEVILLE

Kicking it old school: Every action has a reaction. There is no sour without the sweet. And now that there have been a thousand articles about the rise of boutique fitness, we are starting to see the reaction. From the NY Times:

To go by the rise of ClassPass and the army of lissome “fitfluencers” on Instagram, one might assume this is an era of peak boutique fitness. “Athleisure” now enjoys Merriam-Webster status, and celebrity gawkers know where their favorite Jenner sister trains. Smaller gyms are the fastest-growing segment of the exercise business, with membership growth of 6.3 percent (double the industry average) from 2015 to 2016, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.

But some body cognoscenti — the resistance band, if you will — are calling it quits on the sculpting and spinning circuit and taking up old-school physical pursuits that many of us think of as the preserve of childhood. They’re shooting hoops, picking up squash, playing tennis in city parks, swimming laps at the Y. And they may be getting a better workout.

              People never stopped playing basketball and tennis and going to the Y. It just wasn’t trendy so media outlets weren’t talking about it. Now they’re starting to look for the story behind SoulCycle and CrossFit and they see people doing what they’ve always done. That said, I do like press coverage that illustrates the fact you don’t NEED to pay $40/class to get fit. And there is an added bonus:

In these hyper-wired times with Twitter feeds and cable news bubbling over with outrage and anger, the impulse to engage in an activity that feels plucked from an analog era makes sense. Many of the gyms that cater to fashion models and investment bankers can feel like bastions of blowouts and entitlement, while public parks and recreation centers still welcome urban dwellers across every imaginable spectrum. The sense of democracy — and sweating with strangers from different backgrounds rather than folks we know from college or the school run — is a considerable draw at a time of heightened income disparity.

              The other thing is that if affluent people only worked out in expensive gyms, they might cease to value public parks and community recreation centers and those things might disappear.

Priceless if you ask me: Our grandparents would probably think that we are all crazy paying to exert ourselves. That used to be called work. Now it’s leisure. But the world has changed a lot in the last few decades. We are an information economy now. We sit for work and sweat for fun and we pay a pretty penny for that privilege. From Moneyish:

The price of fitness for a lifetime weighs heavier on wallets than college tuition, according to a new study from sports and nutrition company My Protein.

The study surveyed 1,350 US adults aged 18 to 65 and found that the average American spends $155 per month on their health and fitness, that’s $112,000 in their entire lifetime, and $13,000 more than a public four year college education which averages about $98,440.

Included in that number, Americans on average spend $33 on gym memberships, $56 on health supplements, $35 on clothing and accessories for working out, $17 for healthy meal plans and $14 on trainers, My Protein reports.

               Wow. That really adds up quickly.

Attitude is Behavior: Human behavior is complicated. We are not the perfectly rational actors that classical economics would have you believe. We respond to incentives but is not always clear what incentives motivate us and exactly how we will respond to those incentives. Fitness trackers are still in the nascent stage and manufacturers still have a long way to go. From The Verge:

But there aren’t a lot of fitness trackers infused with legitimate behavioral science, says Patel. While plenty of apps use gamification strategies, those strategies tend to be ill-conceived, based on standard economics and the idea that people are rational. “They think about all the different possibilities, and ‘How much will this cake or this gym workout add to my overall life,’ and then make a decision,” Patel says. “But we know people don’t do that.”

The Apple Watch is a behavioral intervention device that was created without consulting any behaviorists. I asked Apple directly about this — both at the original presentation around the Watch and again just before publication. I was told that Apple doesn’t use outside consultants, though it does invite researchers to come discuss their work, including those who have interests in habit formation and behavior change. Apple didn’t formally hire any behaviorists to design the Watch, either.

This lack of depth in behavioral research shows in the Watch’s reward design. It’s not just that the Watch doesn’t take into account the recent stuff — the old stuff Skinner produced isn’t reflected, either — but Apple hasn’t participated in the kinds of verification studies that might give someone confidence in their approach to fitness. As long as Apple isn’t making a specific health claim, it doesn’t have to verify its device is accurate with the FDA. Only a few studies exist on fitness trackers’ accuracy, Patel says, which makes it challenging for both patients and doctors to trust a smartwatch’s data. And the rewards aren’t set up in the ways we know are most effective. The Watch is ultimately a weak tool. It might be effective for some people, but there’s a lot of behavioral research out there that suggests it could be much more effective for many more people.

              The next big move for fitness trackers will be to move from basing its incentives on classical economics to behavioral economics. Behavioral economics is a hybrid of psychology and economics and gets much closer to the way that the human mind works. Getting people to work-out is not simple. If it was, then we wouldn’t be in the mess that we are now. The sad truth is that it will always be easier to get people to do something that is bad for them than it is to get them to do something that is good for them. Silicon Valley seems to think that fitness tracking will be as easy as getting people addicted to their smartphones but it won’t. I’m sure that Apple will figure that out eventually. In the meantime, check out this article.

Motivation: There are 2 big mistakes that I see nearly everyone in the gym commit. They have nothing to do with training methodologies or techniques. They lie at the root of how people approach their workouts and their time in the gym. Sara Lindberg from Men’s Health has noticed this too. The first mistake:

 Common gym mistake: Not tracking your workout

We all have a lot to keep track of—your work meetings, your kids’ soccer practices, and your wife’s birthday, for starters. So for most guys, the last thing they want to be bothered with is tracking their workout. You want to get in, lift hard, and get out.

But if you’re not keeping track of the exercises you’re doing—and the weight, reps, and sets they’re performed at—then you end up with an inconsistent training plan.

Fortunately, this is one of the simplest fixes. Get an app that helps track your workouts or go old school and buy a spiral notebook and call it get started.

Then, aim to gradually increase your volume. For example, if you benched presses 185 pounds for three sets of eight reps the week before, Gentilcore says a good progression would be to increase your volume 5 to 10 percent, or by 1-3 repetitions the next week.

The idea is to challenge your body to do more work week by week, but not to the point where you surpass your body's ability to recover.

              Your memory sucks. You may think that you can keep track of it all in your head but you can’t. Your ego will lie to you. You won’t realize how often “stuff comes up”. The only way to keep yourself honest is to record your workouts so that you can track your progress. After a while, you will dread having to record a zero in your training log. What’s the second mistake?

Common gym mistake: Resting too long between sets

Do you spend more time texting and checking Instagram than you do pushing weight? Otey says these distractions can take a chokehold on your program.

Rest periods are one of the most crucial parts of a successful workout.

Too much rest in between sets leads to less stress on the muscle—ultimately altering the recovery needed for that respective area,” he explains.

So, if you’ve been taking long rests that you don’t need, then shorten it up. Aim for 50 seconds of rest in between a set of 10 repetitions, for example. Gentilcore says this generally equates to a work-rest ratio of 1:1.

              Bring a watch and record your rest periods. How long you rest between sets is just as important as the weight and number of reps yet I rarely see anyone tracking their rest periods. I assume people are going off of “feel” but then why bother to count your reps either. Most people are resting too long which also elongates their workout. You want to make every minute in the gym count.

You’re boring: Virtual reality is all the rage these days and many people believe that it could be the future of fitness. Black Box VR is one of the leaders of the nascent VR fitness revolution but after reading a quote from one of its co-founders, I have my doubts. From Forbes:

"Fitness is boring to the majority of people. On the other side of the coin, we all know games can be unhealthily addicting. With games, you level up your character while leveling down your real-life health," said Lewis. "Our mission is to change lives by creating addictive fitness experiences (applying gaming principles) that leverage the power of immersive technologies like VR."

"In the Black Box VR workout, your body is the controller, and you can level up your life," adds Lewis. "We hope this is fitness users will enjoy."

              This is a huge red flag. These people don’t understand fitness. They think that it sucks and they’re going to “fix” it. Believing that fitness is inherently boring is treating the symptoms, not the disease. People who are bored by fitness are doing it wrong. That’s what needs to be fixed. Trying to make fitness into a video game will lead to its own problems. If you want to revolutionize something, you should probably take the time to understand it first.

Touch your toes: If you’ve ever done P90X, then you know that Tony Horton is fond of proclaiming various workouts “the mother of all P90X workouts”. Whatever that title is supposed to signify, Tony has a new crown to issue: the “most important” P90X workout. And it may surprise you. From PopSugar:

You can't get a toned, fit figure if you're only cycling or doing traditional cardio. You have to mix it up and do strength training and resistance work as well, because that's going to give you the shape you're going for. However, don't get Tony wrong — doing only strength training and cardio isn't the ticket to health and wellness either. Mobility and flexibility are the most important pillars of fitness, and without them, you won't get your ideal body.

"Yoga is the most important part of P90X, P90X2, and P90X3," he said matter-of-factly. "A lot of people ignore it because it's boring and because you're not breaking a sweat and it's hard at first. But that which challenges you is the best thing for you."

If your body isn't flexible and supple, you won't be able to move around as easily and get farther in your strength training workouts. That means you won't be able to accomplish as much or get as strong and fit as you'd like. "Without yoga, I probably would have gotten injured a dozen times," Tony shared. "It's about reaction time, it's about all the aspects of fitness that help improve you in all kinds of ways — and mobility is the glue to all of it."

              The concept of balanced fitness has come a long way in the last 15 years but flexibility/mobility is one area that is still underrated. Working on flexibility requires a different mindset than strength or endurance training and that pivot can be tricky for people. Plus, the idea of preventative work is always dangerous because it is too easy to justify skipping it. But as you get older, these things will catch up with you and bite you in the ass. It may not be as fun but it needs to get done.

CrossFit Mecca: What are the axes mundi of the fitness world? Muscle Beach in Venice, California: the spiritual home of bodybuilding. Columbus, Ohio: home to Westside Barbell, the Arnold Classic, and Rogue Fitness. Boulder, Colorado: the #1 destination for endurance athletes. Cookeville, Tennessee: the home of 4X CrossFit Games champion, Rich Froning. That might not seem like reason enough to put Cookeville into the discussion but high-level CrossFit athletes keep flocking there to train with Froning even after his retirement from individual competition. From Mens’ Health:

One by one, members of the CrossFit Mayhem Freedom teams (there are two, consisting of four people each) walk into the barn. I immediately recognize newcomer Tasia Percevecz, who placed 15th in her first-ever games appearance in 2016. She moved to Cookeville three days prior to claim her spot on the team, and is currently sleeping on a friend’s couch—all the while, working remotely as a sales rep for her day job.

Percevecz isn’t the only one uprooting their life for rural Tennessee: Something interesting’s happening in Cookeville, as it slowly becomes a hub for elites of the sport. Most notably, current Fittest Man on Earth Matthew Fraser relocated to the area from Vermont within the last few months, training with Rich and the Mayhem Freedom team on the regular. Rich’s cousin (one of 25 male cousins, actually) Darren Hunsucker, another Mayhem Freedom teammate, moved to the area back in 2009 from Chicago. Rich tells us about a few more guys, including Josh Bridges, who are looking at property in the area. And then there’s Kristin Miller, filling the final Mayhem Freedom spot for the 2018 team, uprooting her life from Houston.

              Sara Sigmundsdottir, a 2x podium finisher, trained for the 2017 Games in Cookeville as well. And CrossFit Mayhem won the team competition in 2015 and 2016. The population of Cookeville is only 30,000 people and it is nowhere near the sports/fitness hubs of South Florida and Southern California. But is fast becoming the center of the CrossFit universe. I can see the appeal. Whenever they show footage of athletes training, the majority of them are working out in a warehouse gym or in the parking lot of an industrial area. This makes sense since it is where most CrossFit boxes are located. Then they show footage of people training in Cookeville and it looks completely different. The places in Cookeville look unique, from Rich Froning’s barn gym to being able to pull a cardio machine up to a nature vista.

              I wonder if this is the first CrossFit super-gym. The best way to get better at any sport is to train with other athletes who are at or above your level.  It makes sense for the best athletes to train with each other and form super-teams or super-gyms. CrossFit is a very young sport and Rich Froning has won 36% of the World’s Fittest Man titles. I think that as more superstars emerge from the sport, we will see more super-gyms form as the top athletes want to train together.

              The other takeaway from this article is that Rich Froning drinks a lot of milk. Like a lot of milk:

Instead of coffee, he reaches for milk. I’d come to learn over the next couple days that Rich drinks an astronomical amount of milk, at least seven servings throughout a 24-hour period. In the mornings with breakfast. Post-workout. Just because. At one point, he reveals to me that he went to a lab nearby, had some tests done, and learned that his bone density is about 15 percent higher than the normal elite athlete. Although doctors couldn’t exactly attribute it to how much milk he drinks, he tells us that’s his assumption.

              Could also be because he does more strength training than the average elite athlete but who knows.

TidBits:

-Banning cable news at Lifetime Fitness appears to be a hit

-In praise of the SkiErg

-The very sexual history of the barre workout

-What is a dumbbell snatch?

-This is dumb