THE WEEKLY HOWL IS EXPOSING GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION

Medicine: Another day, another study that shows that exercise is the best medicine. From Time:

About 16 million adults in the U.S., and 350 million people around the world, have depression, a major source of physical and mental disability. It affects people’s employment and their ability to socialize and maintain relationships.

Now, in a large study published in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers say there may be a relatively inexpensive, non-invasive way to combat depression, beginning in middle-age. The scientists, led by Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, director of the center for depression research and clinical care at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, report that being physically fit can lower the risk of developing depression, and can also lower the risk of developing heart disease and dying early. “Depression doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” says Trivedi, senior author of the paper. “Especially for people who are older, depression has a complicated relationship with other major medical diseases.”

              Exercise is the best way to stay out of the doctor’s office. But there is not a solid relationship between medicine and fitness. Doctors might tell a patient to start exercising but they don’t typically provide any guidance nor do they have the resources to do so.

Based on these results, however, Trivedi says, “I want primary care physicians to prescribe not only antidepressants but also prescribe a dose of exercise for the treatment of depression.” In previous studies, he showed that exercise can be as effective as antidepressant medications or psychotherapy in treating depressive symptoms. He hopes the current findings encourage more doctors to consider exercise as another potential treatment, alongside medications and psychotherapy, for helping people with depression.

             

              This would be a complete shift in the way that we approach medicine in this country. Right now, there is very little in the way of preventative medicine. Doctors see their patients when they have a health problem and prescribe something to treat the symptoms. We don’t approach health from a holistic approach. We absolutely should but there would be a lot of opposition from the pharmaceutical industry. Also, what would it look like if doctors prescribed exercise? Would they refer people to a particular gym? Would doctors have to study fitness in addition to medicine? How does insurance factor in? Fitness is a black box to most Americans and doctors are no exception. This type of shift would be great for people’s health but there are a lot of questions as to what this would look like. Reforming our health care system is a herculean task.

The Future of Trainers: Aaptiv, the audio-based training app, is getting a lot of press these days. They’re raising money and adding users and they might be shaping the future of the fitness industry. From PYMNTS:

The problem with the studio model, Agarwal told Webster, often comes with building out scale as the products become more successful. The more people who become interested, the more space and trainers the studio needs to accommodate their business. Being a digital product, Agarwal noted, there is obviously no need to worry about physical space — the “classes” take place in the users’ ears. But Apptiv also has both an easier and more difficult challenge when it comes to recruiting talent.

Over the years, Agarwal noted, Aaptiv has viewed trainers from all over the spectrum — from inside New York City’s most popular studios, through organic connections made through the trainers that are already working with the company and through a host of other referrals. Over the last two years, Agarwal told Webster, Aaptiv has easily spoken to over 1,000 trainers — and hired 22.

“The benefit of our business model is that, unlike a studio [that] has to keep hiring on more trainers, our digital product is something that a master trainer can create and ship out to users millions of time. That, among other things, means we can be extremely selective about the trainers we hire, and we can really preserve a high-quality experience.”

That fact that the company doesn’t always have to be on the lookout for talent — always recruiting to fill too many spaces — is good, Agarwal noted. He said the challenge is in making sure it can expand enough to continue offering rich variety for users while also making sure to offer the best trainer talent and content available.

              The thing about being a trainer is that you can only train so any people at once and there are only so many hours in the day. You could be the best trainer around but you are limited by how many clients you can squeeze into your schedule. Services like Aaptiv could transform the profession. Superstar trainers will be able to reach an unlimited number of clients. It will be similar to actors prior to the invention of movies. Theater actors could only do so many performances with so many people seated in the theater. Movies allowed them to record a performance that could be viewed by millions of people. It also created global superstars. The downside of this is that it makes it harder for mediocre performers to make a living because consumers become less willing to settle when they have easy access to the superstars.

Corporate America: A few years ago, it seemed like corporate wellness was the next big thing. Most health-care costs in this country are borne by employers and those companies were awakening to the fact that by offering corporate wellness benefits, they could trim their healthcare expenses and offer their employees workplace benefits. Corporate wellness has continued to grow but it didn’t live up to the hype. Is that about to change? From Fortune:

Exos doesn’t aim at training only C-suite MAMILs (middle-aged men in latex) who want to kill it at an Ironman. It’s explicitly appealing to the rank and file, including those it euphemistically calls “non-movers.” The pain-analysis technology, known as 3D Movement Quotient (3DMQ), is a new feature (it debuted in May) and a key part of the campaign, because pain is a leading cause of lost productivity for athletes and couch potatoes alike. Another new Exos offering: a speedy cardio assessment that relies on VO2 max, a measure of oxygen consumption, to help create individually tailored exercise programs.

“This isn’t fitness, it isn’t wellness, it isn’t just disease prevention—it really is about an integrated mindset,” says president and founder Mark Verstegen.

Exos is hitting its stride just as corporate wellness makes a comeback. Enthusiasm for such programs cooled after efforts to prove that they reduced medical costs were inconclusive, and today many consist of little more than perks such as on-site weight-loss clinics and rebates at local gyms. Still, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, 59% of employers offer some form of wellness program, and 24% ramped up their offerings in 2017.

 

              The Great Recession surely dampened the enthusiasm for investment in employee benefits. Companies were loath to invest in anything during those years especially something aimed at acquiring and retaining employees. All the power in the labor market was concentrated in the hands of the employers. But now the unemployment rate is at a historic low and employers are starting to realize that they have to compete for qualified employees. Corporate wellness benefits are a great way to do that. They’ll probably never live up to the hype but that doesn’t mean that they can’t continue to grow.

CrossFit: Whatever you do, don’t get on CrossFit’s bad side because they are relentless. Greg Glassman has been leading a crusade against Big Soda and disclosing how its financial tentacles have extended into the world of exercise science. Now CrossFit has announced that it has uncovered government corruption.  From PRNewswire:

WASHINGTON, June 25, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- CrossFit, Inc. announced today that it has uncovered noncompliance with the law at the Foundation for the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC Foundation) and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) that created conflicts of interest between industry partners and the CDC and NIH. The foundations are required by law to produce a report disclosing the sources and amounts of the donations they received, as well as restrictions on the uses of the donations. To date, each foundation has omitted such information from its published reports. CrossFit, Inc. discovered the foundations' noncompliance in March while investigating the soda industry's many attempts to infiltrate the health sciences and unduly influence the scientific record on sugar.

"CrossFit's Founder and Chairman Greg Glassman set a goal for CrossFit to drive Big Soda out of sport and health science," said Russ Greene, CrossFit's Director of Government Relations and Research. "Under his leadership, we've tracked the soda industry's donations and use of proxy groups. We looked over the CDC Foundation's and FNIH's disclosures and found they weren't even close to following the law. Annually reporting the sources, amounts and restrictions of each grant they receive—transparency—is the first step in making sure there's no undue influence on government science and policy."

              One of the things holding back the fitness industry is the lack of a true market leader. A market leader will start to focus on growing the entire industry instead of just growing their own market share. Fitness is extremely fragmented and has never had a market leader like that. Could CrossFit eventually take on that role? We are still a long way off from that scenario as this is still borne out of a feud with the NCSA. CrossFit is learning how to lobby and influence policy decisions, which is a necessary skill for a market leader. I think that CrossFit still thinks of itself as the plucky underdog so there would have to be a change in identity. We’ll see how far this current crusade goes.

There’s no crying in baseball: One of the great things about the fitness industry is that there is so much passion in it. That passion expresses itself in a lot of different ways. For some SoulCycle adherents, it expresses itself in crying. From Atlanta Magazine:

This strategy works. While other cycling companies (and they are many) may have individual instructors who are incredibly moving and motivating, none of the other studios have this as part of their DNA quite the way SoulCycle does. The following is devoted, and classes go almost as quickly as tickets to Hamilton.

Science is on SoulCycle’s side—exercise releases endorphins, which interact with serotonin and dopamine, the chemicals that affect mood. Additionally, “exercise can stimulate neurotransmitter activity in the brain, which may lead to increased emotional intensity,” according to Dr. Jennifer Carter of the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

But why does SoulCycle make me cry? I’m not entirely sure. Here’s my guess: Turn off the lights, light up some candles, turn on some loud and powerful music, tell me your own story of struggle, push me to ride as hard as I can up a virtual hill that serves as a metaphor for my own challenges, and do all of this in a room full of like-minded fitness freaks trying to be stronger and faster and better not just here but everywhere in their lives, and I guess I’m gonna cry. It’s an “almost sense of communal release. Of high-charged emotional camaraderie,” according to an article on SoulCycle in Time Magazine.

Indeed. As I dabbed my eyes and my sweat after class in the new Buckhead studio, I wiped away my cynicism, too. Whatever the special sauce, whatever the science, I’m sold on SoulCycle.

 

              I didn’t know that this was a thing. How can you cry when you’re pushing yourself that hard? I can understand crying afterwards but not in the middle of it. Man, these classes must be draining. If people are crying then these classes must be very emotional, at least for some people. Couple that with the physical demands of it and I’ surprised that people can do it multiple times a week.

Tidbits:

-It doesn’t matter if you have sex before your workout

-Group exercise fosters more brand loyalty than just going to the gym

-Peloton acquires a music startup

-Affirmative consent in yoga

-3 more CrossFitters test positive from Regionals tests

 

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS GOING TO COURT

Voices in your head: There is a strange lifecycle to early–stage technology companies in which the metrics that get reported are users and money raised. These companies are young and presumably not yet profitable (nor do they report their financials because they are not publicly traded) so the media judges their trajectories by their ability to raise money from investors and the valuations that are derived from those investments. Aaptiv, the audio-based fitness app, is in that stage of development and the news looks good. From TechCrunch:

Health and wellness has been one of the biggest categories for development in the tech industry, with huge range of wearable devices and connected equipment being built to track how we are moving and helping us stay fit. Now, a startup whose app offers users a selection of audio-based, personal-trainer-led workouts that also monitors users as they progress through them, has closed a major round of funding that underscores how software — and specifically apps — are also capitalising on that trend. Aaptiv, which makes what its founder and CEO Ethan Agarwal described to me as “the Netflix of fitness” — providing streams of music-based fitness training on demand — has raised $22 million in funding.

The Series C round brings the total raised by New York-based Aaptiv to $52 million, and while the company is not disclosing its valuation, sources close to it tell me that it is now over $200 million. The company has picked up 200,000 paying members in the last two years, and says that its audio classes have been streaming more than 14 million times.

              What’s even more interesting is where the money came from.

The funding is significant not only because it will give Aaptiv some firepower to expand its product and user base further — more on that below — but also because of who is in this round.

It was led by Millennium Technology Value Partners (backer of illustrious tech names like Spotify, Facebook and Alibaba); with e-commerce investor 14W and Insight Venture Partners also participating. There is also a list of notable strategic investors, including Amazon’s Alexa Fund, Disney, Warner Music Group and NWS Holdings.

              The link between Aaptiv’s audio-based approach to connected fitness and Amazon’s Alexa is clear. I am interested to see where it goes. TechCrunch is already speculating as to whether Amazon might become interested in making Aaptiv an Amazon Prime perk. In that case, could that make Aaptiv an acquisition target for Amazon? Or for another tech giant that is trying to compete with Amazon in smart speakers? (Aaptiv’s CEO has indicated interest in an IPO) Warner Music is also interesting as it highlights the importance of music in fitness classes and how the music industry may want a piece of that.

But what really intrigues me is the inclusion of Disney. Aaptiv will join the Disney Accelerator, a program for tech startups “with a vision for making an impact on the future of media and entertainment”.  I don’t quite see the connection here. You could classify fitness classes as media but that seems like a very broad classification. The largest entertainment company in the world has just dipped its toe into the fitness industry and I am very curious as to why. Does this demonstrate an interest in fitness or is Disney interested in applying Aaptiv’s expertise in audio instruction to something else?

Apps: You probably know Peloton as the company that marries the intensity of a high-end cycling class with the convenience of your living room. Now they want you to also know them as the company that has joined a very crowded fitness app marketplace. From CNBC:

The company known for its spin bikes equipped with screens to stream virtual workout classes unveiled on Wednesday a new app that will be available to anyone, regardless of whether they purchase a Peloton bike or treadmill. Dubbed Peloton Digital, it includes a suite of live and recorded video and audio workouts.

At $19.49 per month, the digital subscription is Peloton's most affordable option. Its bikes sell for $1,995, treadmills for $4,000 and monthly class subscriptions for $39.

              It’s not terribly surprising to see all these fitness companies gradually encroach on each other’s territory. Technology moves fast and the fitness industry is growing fast these days. That puts pressure on these companies to grow fast as well. I would hope to see a little humility from Peloton’s President though:

Peloton will also battle countless other digital workout programs, including Aaptiv and Kayla Itsines, and dozens of others for attention in a crowded app store. Lynch brushes this off, saying people will flock to Peloton Digital because no one else competes at its level.

Most classes will include video to help guide people through the moves, except for outdoor running classes that will be audio tracks. Lynch said history shows that video works.

Aaptiv CEO Ethan Agarwal disagrees. He's built his fitness company on audio-only workouts with the idea that people aren't staring at a screen while they work out.

              There is a lot of arrogance to unpack there. Peloton expects users to “flock” to their app because everyone else sucks. And what is this “history” that illustrates the superiority of video? All of this stuff is only a few years old. Peloton’s history shows that video works because its users are sitting on a stationary bike. Does he not expect anyone to want to use this app in a gym?

              Peloton is not alone though as SoulCycle has also announced its intention to expand from physical locations and launch a media division. From The Hollywood Reporter:

With 88 North American studios, SoulCycle decided to launch its newest offshoot as a way to continue to spread its brand. 

The media division will focus on creating programming and experiences using a variety of mediums, including music, video, audio and experiential events. Content will be distributed across different platforms. Projects are already in the works, with releases scheduled for 2018.

"SoulCycle has always been about delivering the most inspirational and joyful experience possible to our community," SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan tells The Hollywood Reporter.

              I wonder what these “different platforms” will be because this sounds like SoulCycle is also launching an app but wants it to sound like more than that.  

Device fatigue: The tech industry is all about the future. It’s not enough to just make money with popular products. Tech companies have to be constantly finding the future. This can lead to some amazing innovations that change the way that we live our lives. It can also result in the industry trying really hard to convince people that they need another device. The last few years, we have been told that wearables and the quantified self are the future. But like Gretchen in Mean Girls, they might be trying too hard to make something happen. From Digital Trends:

And then, just like that, they were gone. Pebble is on life support after refunding Kickstarter backers for a product it can’t deliver. Jawbone is undergoing liquidation. Apple is scrambling to re-invent the Apple Watch as a health companion while FitBit is dressing up its watches for lifestyle-focused nights on the town. And remember the word wearable? It was the hottest thing at tech conventions just two years ago. If your device hooked to a belt loop or slid onto your wrist, you were guaranteed interest.

 

I can’t explain why other people are losing interest, but I know that in my case, it’s because fitness tracking has become a bit too much. It’s taken the fun out of it. We went too far. Personally, I burnt out on the quantification (and I say this as someone who plays in data all day long at Thinknum Media). It became tedious.

What was once a fun, stress-free ride around Prospect Park became an effort to beat user Crank69 on that last quarter-mile Strava segment. I’d obsess over the latest Garmin firmware. I’d wait to begin my ride once I knew all satellite receptors were locked and loaded, just to make sure I got that extra tenth of a mile. I’d review segments ahead of time to save energy for a grind just to beat Crank69.

And then I realized I wasn’t having fun. Instead, my fitness life was the boring, frustrating, grinding, level-up portion of a videogame that you choose to forget.

       First thought: Smartwatches are taking over because they offer more functions than just fitness tracking. After a user gets sick of fitness tracking, there are still a lot of reasons to keep wearing that smartwatch.

              Second thought: All the data in the world is useless if you don’t know what to do with it. The tech industry as focused on the gathering of data but hasn’t addressed the analysis of that data. One tracking feature that I don’t really get is sleep tracking. My fitness tracker will tell me how I slept the night before but I have no idea what to do with that information. I assume the goal is to sleep better in the future but does my fitness tracker help me analyze why I slept poorly?

              Third thought: it may not be the healthiest thing for people to measure every aspect of their workouts. Fitness is not as linear as we would all like it to be. We don’t get faster and stronger every single day. Fitness tracking can lead to over-aggressive measurement which could lead to discouragement.

 

Litigation: CrossFit is a company that is not afraid of the courtroom so it is not particularly surprising to hear that it has filed suit. What is surprising is that CrossFit is suing Reebok. From Footwear News:

The popular fitness training program on Thursday filed suit against Reebok alleging breach of contract and breach of covenant of good faith after it said the brand made a “unilateral change” in how it calculates CrossFit’s royalties.

In documents filed in U.S. District Court for Northern District of California, CrossFit claims that when it entered into a licensing agreement with Reebok in 2010, the company agreed to pay it royalties on the net sales of its branded merchandise. (As part of the agreement, Reebok had the exclusive license to sell fitness apparel and footwear products bearing the CrossFit trademark.  No one other than Reebok — including CrossFit itself — could produce clothes or shoes bearing the trademark.)

“In 2013, Reebok secretly reneged on the terms of the agreement,” the lawsuit stated. “Specifically, without ever advising CrossFit, Reebok unilaterally began calculating royalties based on a fictional ‘wholesale equivalent price’ … a dramatic departure from the net sales calculation Reebok and CrossFit negotiated (and which Reebok had been using for two years).”

CrossFit said this method of alleged underpayment continued through 2016 until an audit of Reebok’s financial records by CrossFit compelled the brand to make changes.

“For the first three quarters of 2017 — and for the first time since 2012 — Reebok paid royalties in accordance with the [initial] agreement,” CrossFit said in a statement. “Yet by the end of 2017, Reebok reverted to its previous royalty calculation scheme, and to date, Reebok has never paid CrossFit for any portion of its admitted ‘payment shortfall.’”

In total, CrossFit alleges it was underpaid at least $4.8 million in royalties.

              The relationship between CrossFit and Reebok has not always been smooth but it did appear to be working. Crossfitters embraced Reebok products, the CrossFit Games became a nationally televised event, and Reebok was making its comeback as a fitness brand. Now, in light of this lawsuit, it is hard to imagine that this relationship can be salvaged. The deal is up in 2020 which is bad news for Reebok. Reebok has engineered its comeback on sponsorship deals with CrossFit, the UFC, and Spartan Races. Losing CrossFit could be a crippling blow to the athletic apparel company. Eight years ago, Reebok was a money loser for owner Adidas. A failure to re-sign CrossFit would send them right back to that point. And Nike’s interest in the CrossFit ecosystem is only growing. It sponsors high-profile CrossFitters like Mat Fraser and Sara Sigmundsdottir and produces its own functional fitness training shoe. Nothing is guaranteed but it’s hard to imagine that CrossFit gets over this. And there will likely be a bidding war in 2020. CrossFit’s growth since 2010 has been explosive. And Reebok will have to contend with CrossFit’s animosity as well as Nike’s deep pockets. That’s not a good combination.

Stay healthy: One of the biggest changes in the fitness industry over the past 20 years is a shift from selling “magic pill” solutions to a competition to have the hardest workout. Overall, this is a positive development. You aren’t going to improve your fitness without putting the work in. Anyone trying to convince you otherwise is probably trying to scam you. One downside to this shift though is the potential for injury and even worse rhabdo. From the Daily Beast:

The biology behind Feszko and Shamburger’s pain—and rhabdo itself—is relatively simple. When an athlete works beyond their limits, their muscle fibers die, David Geier, an orthopedist and sports medicine specialist based in Charleston, South Carolina, told The Daily Beast. “The breakdown products of muscle get into the bloodstream. And little amounts of that would be OK. But a lot, that’s when you get organ damage—and it’s usually kidney damage.” 

What Geier describes isn’t the only form of rhabdo. Tragic accidents—like car crashes, or falling from a high level—can cause the same type of muscle death, and the same consequences. The subset afflicting Shamburger and Fezsko is known as exertional rhabdo, or rhabdo that’s caused by exercise.

Like Shamburger and Feszko, most exertional rhabdo patients suffer from extreme muscle soreness and swelling, as well as muscle weakness and dark red or brown urine. Treatment is simple—an IV drip and pain medication—and often extremely effective. Most patients return to full health after brief stays in the hospital (although Feszko says she contracted rhabdo four more times, without exercising). But if left untreated, components of the muscle fibers cause tubular kidney cells to die, which eventually leads to kidney failure. This could mean dialysis, or, if left untreated for even longer, death.  

              Rhabdo is nasty. There is an irony to the fact that people looking to improve their fitness and health could end up suffering such a debilitating disease as a result. Is this just the price to pay for our fitness culture? That some people will overdo it and contract rhabdo. I can’t accept that.

This expectation only gets worse, he adds, when mixed with the pervading “no pain, no gain” mentality of fitness. “The population in general thinks, ‘If I don’t feel sore, then I didn’t have a good workout,’” he said. “And that’s a myth. I tell people this on purpose in every class I teach: You don’t have to feel sore to reap the benefits of exercise.” 

Instead, Cannon encourages his clients—and anyone seeking to avoid rhabdo—to start slow, and pursue full-body circuit training with light weights and minimal reps. 

Geier recommends a similar level of caution. 

“While you’re working out, if you’re worried something’s going on, you look for more than just normal muscle soreness,” he said. “Like, ‘My muscles are really hurting, they’re starting to swell.’ You don’t try to push through that. You stop working out. If it goes away, great, then come back another day. If it’s not getting better pretty quickly, go to an emergency room.”

              Starting slow is the best advice. And don’t chase soreness. You should leave the gym excited to come back the next day. We all need to work hard but it’s not about being a hero on your first day. It’s about consistency. Coming back day after day and putting in the work. There is also an onus on fitness professionals to not let clients overdo it. A lot of trainers and coaches pride themselves on their ability to get people to push their limits during workouts. They need to also develop their ability to tailor workouts to people who are just starting out and recognize when clients are in over their heads.  

Tidbits:

-Most fitness instructors have day jobs

-A team has been disqualified from the CrossFit Games because one its members tested positive for a PED

-DC has its first Sweat Crawl

-Want a peek inside the CrossFit-Reebok deal

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS THINKING ABOUT STRATEGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TidBits:

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

-The Panchik brothers both qualified for the CrossFit Games

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

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

-SoulCycle has pulled its IPO

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

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS GOING TO THE AIRPORT

Everything is cyclical, sort of: Nautilus created the modern big box gym. The invention of strength-training machines led to facilities that were high-cost but low-knowledge. Gym operators had to invest a lot of money in equipment but they didn’t need to incur an excessive amount of labor costs to educate members on how to use that equipment. Over the last decade, we have seen the rise of the low-cost/high-knowledge gyms also known as studios. These gyms don’t have to spend nearly as much on equipment but they require skilled instructors. And somewhere along the way, it no longer became cool to just go to the gym. From Bon Appetit:

Instead of paying a second rent on mindlessly refreshing a webpage at noon on Monday to book a coveted spot at the new Hot Pilates obsession, I’m here to advocate for the gym workout. Crunch, Blink, Planet Fitness, your friendly neighborhood Sports Club. You can come and go when you please, hop on or off a machine exactly when you feel like it, and if you’re lucky, wind down in the sauna afterward. I’ve been a member of one since infancy, starting with Mommy & Me swims at the YMCA. I’m not immune to the trappings of the luxe fitness class; they had me at the fancy products in the locker room and mints on the check-in counter. But, for me, they’re a once-a-week treat to supplement the gym or jogging outside.

I’m pretty religious about my routine. At least three times a week, you’ll find me in my old Raptors t-shirt pushing it on the treadmill for 45 to 60 minutes, followed by what I like to call a Planking It Out session, in which I’m going as hard as I would be in a spin class. I have to balance my sedentary freelance writing life and my passion for dessert, so the key for me is to move every day. I started to wonder if any of my friends were secret gym junkies, too, so I asked around. Although their cool girl personas might suggest they’d be ModelFit aficionados, I was surprised to find that some of them had ditched group classes in favor of plain-old exercise at the gym.

              The studios are training an entire generation in how to workout, transferring that knowledge into their own consumers. This could enable a shift to low-cost/high-knowledge gyms that don’t require instructors. Imagine a CrossFit layout with a 24 Hour Fitness business model. This move may be set off by the next economic downturn. If there is a need to tighten the purse strings, a $34 SoulCycle class will look extravagant.  And perhaps unnecessary if consumers start thinking that after years of taking classes, maybe they don’t need someone telling them what to do anymore.

Convenience is King: Real estate agents have a saying that there are 3 things that matter in buying a house: location, location, location. I have a similar expression when people ask me how they can become more consistent in their workouts. There are 3 things that matter: convenience, convenience, convenience. I say this because convenience leads to consistency. If working out is inconvenient for you then you’re not going to do with any consistency. 

I believe that one of the keys to fitness is having A, B, and C plans for working out. The A plan might be a 60 minute workout at the gym (either commercial or home). The B plan might be a 30 minute workout at the gym or a bodyweight workout at someplace other than the gym. I love the idea of an airport gym because who hasn’t spent several hours wasting time at the airport waiting for a flight or a connection. It would be great to be able to use some of that time to squeeze in a workout. But it seems really hard to pull it off.  From Self:

That’s why I was excited to hear about Roam Fitness, the full-service gym located inside Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) Airport. It’s the first gym in a U.S. airport inside the security checkpoint, and the company plans to have 20 locations (in both domestic and international airports) within five years. I’ve dreamed about airports having gyms for years, so when I first heard about Roam, my initial reaction was “It’s about time.” My next reaction? Gratitude—their first location was in my local airport. BWI is just up the road from me in Washington, D.C., which meant that I’d have the opportunity to try it soon—and see if it was worth the $25 day pass.

              One of my questions is how is the airport gym for? Why should I should I show up early to the airport for the privilege of paying $25 for a day pass? I would prefer to do my usual workout and then go to the airport because that would save me $25. My initial impression was that an airport gym would cater to business travelers (who could expense it) and people stuck on long layovers. The other issue is that getting around a large airport can be a pain in the ass and what if the gym is not near your terminal.

 

The gym’s location really complicated things. Roam is in Concourse D, which is directly connected to Concourse E. If you’re flying out of either concourse, you’re in the best position to take advantage of the gym.

But if you’re in Concourses A, B, or C, well, you’re going to need to budget extra travel time. These concourses aren’t accessible through Concourses D and E, so if you want to use the gym but you’re departing out of, say, B16 (like I was), you’ll have to go through security more than once. If you plan accordingly, that shouldn’t be too much of a hassle, especially if you have TSA Pre-Check, which I fortunately do.

That being said, since I didn’t realize the concourses don’t all connect, I wasted a good chunk of time going through security the first time when I could’ve been working out. If you’re flying out of Concourses A through C and you don’t have TSA Pre-Check, count on an extra 45 minutes just to get back and forth from the gym.

If I were to work out in another airport gym, I’d do some research to figure out where it is relative to the parking lot, my concourse, and my gate, especially if I’ve got an early morning flight. I (wrongly) assumed I’d be able to connect seamlessly between concourses, and sadly that ate into my workout time.

              That sounds like a huge pain in the ass. That makes it even more unlikely that I would try to workout out there before my flight. I love the idea of an airport gym but there are a lot of challenges to overcome there. I’ll be rooting for them though.

 

Money, money, money: Fitness has a strange relationship with the professional investor class. For the purposes of this discussion, I am going to divide the investor class into 3 categories: the publicly traded markets, private equity, and venture capital. Fitness barely registers in the world of publicly traded markets. There are only a handful of publicly traded fitness companies which means that they get little to no attention from Wall Street analysts which means that most of Wall Street knows very little about the fitness industry. However, private equity money has been getting into fitness in a big way over the last decade. The investments have mostly gone into brick and mortar gym and studio chains. And then there’s venture capital. Venture capitalists typically seek to invest in early stage technology companies that can offer huge growth potential. And they have been looking to invest money into companies at the nexus of technology and fitness. From Crunchbase:

According to Crunchbase data, which is useful in indicating industry trends, the U.S. fitness industry has grown significantly since 2010. Known total venture deals peaked in 2014, with Seed-stage funding taking up the majority. Total funding reached a record high both in the U.S. and globally in 2017.

The significant drop in dollar volume in 2016 doesn’t necessarily indicate a loss of interest in the industry. Average dollar volume for each deal did increase compared to 2014. However, that drop is a reflection of outlying rounds in 2015 and 2017. Total funding in 2017 was bolstered significantly by a massive $325 million round.

              Clearly, the venture capital community believes that there are going to be some very successful fitness technology companies emerging in the next few years and they want to be a part of it. What’s less clear is what those companies will look like. ClassPass has received over $100 million in funding and is still trying to figure out a viable business model. Peloton knows exactly what it wants to be and has the billion dollar valuation but I am not optimistic about its foray into treadmills. And what about all those fitness apps? Researchers at Bond University in Australia are skeptical that they do anything:

In fact, there's now more than 250,000 fitness and health apps — dubbed "mHealth apps" — available for download.

But how effective are they and what proof is there they do what they claim?

According to a new study from researchers at Bond University — published in NPJ Digital Medicine — there is still very little evidence to show they actually work.

The Bond University study didn't look at every app available. Instead, it started with a simple goal: to find an app that had enough evidence behind it that a doctor could happily prescribe it to patients.

They pored over hundreds of studies worldwide and managed to find only 23 comprehensive reports into the topic.

And the results of these were slightly disappointing.

"We found only a small fraction of the available mHealth apps had been tested and the body of evidence was of very low quality," the report stated.

              That’s the bad news. The good news is that the future of fitness tech is still out there, waiting to be discovered and eventually monetized. And it doesn’t seem that there is a lack of investors who are willing to fund that discovery.         

Wearables: Fitness trackers are still pretty new. Everyone is trying to figure out what they can be and what they could ultimately do. And some companies are trying out some interesting business models. Whoop, the company behind the Strap fitness tracker, thinks that a subscription model is the best way to sell its product. From Outside Online:

Whoop’s subscription plan is aimed at making the Strap 2.0 more accessible. Indeed, $180—the cost of an initial six-month commitment—is significantly less than the original purchase price. After six months, subscribers can choose to terminate the data service (users can still keep the device, but won't have access to the data it collects) or continue using it for $30 per month. Of course, those who stick with the service for more than 16 months will end up shelling out more than they would if they’d bought it. Unfortunately, the Strap 2.0 is now available only by subscription.

Which raises the question: Is this an approach we should expect to see more of in the wearable-tech industry? If fitness trackers become subscription based, they’ll be cheaper in the short term but much more expensive over time. That could wind up reinforcing rather than reducing dropout rates.

              The Strap was selling for $500, which is on the high end. Offering six months for $180 makes it much more accessible but I don’t know if consumers will respond to this. They haven’t been trained to purchase devices this way and the Strap doesn’t seem like it’s compelling enough to change people’s behavior. I wonder if they chose 6 months because that’s the point at which most people abandon their trackers. But people don’t plan to abandon their trackers, they’re planning to change their lives. I don’t know if that’s true but I do know that consumers buy fitness trackers with the best of intentions. They may not be interested in subscribing to their tracker.

TidBits:

-Nike has a bullying problem

-“Physical exercise is probably the best brain drug that we have”

-Don’t be that guy

-The Rock has moved 50,000 pounds of exercise equipment to Hawaii, where he’s filming 2 movies back to back

-Health is the new wealth in China

-The origin story of Kettlebell Kitchen

 

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS BACK ON THE BENCH

Love the Pop-In: The gym membership is a pretty basic business model. You pay a monthly fee and get unlimited access to a gym. It doesn’t matter if you use the gym or not, you pay either way. Most people think that’s a great deal for the gyms. They get their money either way and a lot of people pay them for nothing. But people won’t keep paying for nothing forever. Eventually, those no-shows will cancel their memberships and the gyms will have to acquire a new one to take their place. But what if members could sell some of that unused time? From the Boulder Daily Camera:

Shea's solution? A sharing option, a la Airbnb, that allows gym members to sell access to non-members for unused days and classes, often at discounted rates.

"What do we do nowadays with under-utilized assets? We monetize them. The car, the spare bedroom — you find ways for them to provide additional value to the owner while extending greater accessibility for those who want them."

In operation about eight months, Flex Gym Share, has so far gotten buy-in from four Boulder fitness facilities: CrossFit Sanitas, ONE Boulder Fitness, Amana Yoga and The Spot Bouldering Gym.

The gyms get a small cut from each booking. They can pitch Flex as an added benefit to members, hopefully retaining them through the slow summer months.

"People are more inclined to want to spend time outdoors, so a mindset that happens is, 'I'm probably not going to be at the gym, so I'm going to cancel my membership,'" said Kyle Fitjie, operations manager at ONE Boulder. "People are also less inclined to sign up in the summers."

Even active members can benefit, said John Seben from Amana. 

"Our members usually practice 3 to 5 times a week, but we offer like 35 classes and the memberships are unlimited," Seben said. "So with those 35 classes, there's all kind of opportunity."

              This is an intriguing idea. I’m for anything that addresses the un-affordability of the drop-in. I should be able to purchase a day pass for $5-10. It amazes me that gym operators continue to overcharge even as there are startups being built to address this problem. If I was a gym operator, I would cut out the middle man and offer a reasonable drop-in fee. But that stubbornness is creating an opportunity that entrepreneurs are starting to exploit. Good for them and the idea of utilizing unused capacity like this has a lot of potential. We’ll see how many gyms are interested in signing on with Flex Gym Share.

Real Estate: Department stores are struggling and malls are desperate to fill those crucial anchor spots. Lately, they have been turning to gyms to fill them. But there are only so many big box gyms in this country and we have a lot of malls. And mall operators have taken a liking to the fitness industry. How many businesses bring people to their location multiple times a week? That generates a lot of foot traffic, something that shopping malls are in need of. So, what are malls doing? From USA Today:

The shift is not only being spurred by retail owners catering to the changing tastes of customers who want to do more than shop when they hit the mall, but wellness businesses that desire the foot traffic and ready-made storefronts left behind when traditional stores and restaurants make an exit.

Gilad says there currently are 50 Vitality Bowls around the country, and several have found a home in storefronts vacated by frozen yogurt and cupcake businesses. 

"Typically they have all the plumbing and electrical we need,'' she says of such locations, "so (as) a remodel, that can save us thousands of dollars.’’

Shaun Grove, president of the Club Pilates fitness chain, expects that in roughly the next year, 5% to 10% of their clubs will be located in spaces that once housed retailers. 

 

At outdoor malls, "we find more of these Toys R Us (stores) and the Sears and the Blockbusters that have gone out of business,'' Grove says. "What we're seeing — and we have been seeing over the last several years — is these landlords wanting to break up those centers into four or five pieces and bring in different boutique fitness concepts that are all very complementary to each other.''

             I love to see that malls have fallen in love with fitness. Breaking up those anchor spots is a big move for landlords. They recognize the value of the fitness industry in attracting young, affluent consumers to their malls. Finding the right location is crucial to the success of any business and gyms traditionally had a hard time getting into the best spots. That has changed for both big boxes and studios.

The Death of the Trainer: We live in the age of science fiction and the media loves to speculate on which occupation or industry will be the next to be “disrupted” by technology. Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of articles proclaiming that Artificial Intelligence will render the fitness trainer obsolete. MarketWatch took it a step further this week and wrote that trainers are in danger, not from AI but from crowdsourcing.

How it works: A person who wants to create an exercise plan creates a personal profile on the app, with information including their work schedule, interests and exercise preferences. Then, someone else on the app—who is not a fitness professional—creates a week-long exercise plan for them, based on exercise and health guidelines that CrowdFit provides.

At the end of the week of exercises, the user gives feedback, and the planner creates an updated schedule for the following week. There were 46 participants in the study, who were divided into three groups.

One group received exercise plans using CrowdFit from non-fitness experts. The researchers paid the planners $7 per plan. The second group got exercise plans from personal trainers. And the third group received exercise plans made by non-fitness experts, but on Google Docs rather than CrowdFit.

A team of experts — who all either had a bachelor’s degree in sport and exercise science and/or national certification in personal training — evaluated each plan. Based on these evaluations, the team determined the CrowdFit plans were as effective as the ones created by personal trainers. Their criteria: Whether they incorporated basic exercise principles, their compatibility with user preferences and schedules, and whether they included enough aerobic activity.

Participants also found them easier to understand than the professionally-created plans, the researchers said. “There may not yet be a substitute for a trainer prompting a person through a routine on the gym floor, but the role of the expert is expanding to become more collaborative,” said co-author Molly Welsh, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Seattle University.

              First off, personal training is a luxury product. A small percentage of people who go to the gym are personal training clients (think low single digits) and they are not very price sensitive. These people are willing to spend money for the personal attention they receive. All these AI trainers are not going to affect personal trainers nor will this crowdsourced training app. The existence of Honda Accords doesn’t stop people from buying Porsches. Personal training is a luxury and people pay for that privilege.

Second, people pay for a trainer for reasons other than just the design of a fitness plan. They do it for the personalized attention. Crowdsourcing provides no personalized attention. Third, they don’t seem to understand how crowdsourcing works. What is the motivation for spending your time designing workout plans on this app? People respond to incentives, what is the incentive here? Huffington Post and Bleacher Report offered the opportunity to have thousands of people read something that you wrote. Wikipedia offers the chance to be a part of something big and noble. What is CrowdFit offering that will be compelling enough that people will want to devote their free time to it? If they think that people will work for free just because they made an app, then they are going to be very disappointed. Fitness training is not a terribly hard field to break into either. If that’s what you want to do, then you don’t need to “pay your dues” on some app to do it.

How Much Ya Bench: The CrossFit Regionals are coming and Dave Castro has released the events. And the big news is that the bench press is back. After years of being ignored by CrossFit, the bench press is making an appearance in the qualifying event for the prestigious CrossFit Games. No word on whether it will also appear in the actual CrossFit Games this summer. The workout is as follows:

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 reps for time

Deadlift, 295/220 lb.

Bench press, 195/135 lb.

Squat clean, 145/105 lb.

This workout is known as “Linda”, one of the benchmark Girls workouts. However, the bench press has never seemed to be an integral part of CrossFit. This is the first time that the movement will be contested in either the Regionals or the Games. I’ve always found this a little strange. The bench press is one of the 3 powerlifts and the other 2 lifts have been incorporated heavily into the CrossFit repertoire. My only guess is that there has been a bit of an overcorrection. The bench press has always been a favorite of bodybuilders and gym bro’s and its ubiquity has even led to parody on Saturday Night Live.  I think that CrossFit has always wanted to distance itself from that perception and the bench press was a casualty of that. I’m glad to see that they may coming around on that. It’s a great compound lift that deserves its place in the functional fitness world. However, after the rash of torn pectoral muscles that occurred at the Regionals last year, I am both curious and a bit nervous to see how this pans out. Hopefully, the athletes have adjusted their training to account for this.

TidBits:

-You can book classes in Instagram now

-Grip strength is important

-Does Orangetheory have a wearable tech problem?

-You should be keeping a workout log

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 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 REMEMBERS THE MICROSOFT KIN

Fitness Trackers: FitBit is in a bit of a bind. They are one of the first names that come to mind when anyone mentions fitness trackers but the industry is barbell-ing. Apple is taking over the high-end with its line of Apple Watches and foreign companies are taking over the low-end with very cheap trackers. So what is a mid-size hardware company to do then? Launch a line of fitness trackers that are designed for children. From TechCrunch:

The Ace was inevitable. Sure, Fitbit is leaning into smartwatches with today’s launch of the Versa, but the company’s current line of fitness trackers left a key demographic unserved. The new wearable, which is essential a scaled down version of the company’s entry level Alta tracker, is aimed squarely at kids aged eight to 13.

              My pet theory is that fitness trackers are following the same path as smartphones. This would make the Ace the Microsoft Kin of fitness tracking. What’s that you say, you don’t remember the Microsoft Kin? That’s because it was a short-lived disaster. In 2010, Microsoft tried to sell a phone built around social networks that would appeal to teenagers. What was never clear was how this was different from a true smartphone. The Kin was a quasi-smartphone that still required a full-priced data plan. It made no sense and it was never clear why teenagers would want one. It was a product made for no one.

              Tech products don’t need to be designed for specific age groups. Especially if you are trying to sell that product to young people. Young people tend to be more proficient with technology than older people so why would you try to sell them a less sophisticated product? Maybe you’re thinking that parents will want to save a few bucks when buying a fitness tracker for their kids. Well then, you shouldn’t price it at $99. The thing is though that underneath this ill-advised hardware launch is the future of FitBit: software.

The biggest differentiators here are on the software side. Parents can add to the ace to a family account on their own mobile device to track their kids’ activity. The app will also let them vet the friends they add for competing fitness goals and limit the information kids see on their own app, if they device. If the kid has a phone, the Ace will also display call notifications.  

              This makes sense but it doesn’t require manufacturing a separate line of hardware. FitBit needs to focus on this kind of software innovation. They have a strong brand and an intimate knowledge of the fitness tracking market. Unfortunately, they have the misfortune of competing with Apple in hardware right now. 

Where there’s smoke: A couple of weeks ago, Strava found itself at the center of a national security controversy over its heat map. The heat map was illustrating routes that were getting a lot of use by Strava users. This was a worldwide map and people were able to identify forward operating bases in Afghanistan as well as where American service members were walking and running on military bases. Strava is still trying to figure out how to deal with this. From Reuters:

Strava is launching a new version of the heat map, a tool that displays data in map form, that will bar access to street-level details to anyone but registered Strava users, Strava Chief Executive James Quarles told Reuters. 

Roads and trails with little activity will not show up on the revised map until several different users upload workouts in that area, the company said. The map will also be refreshed monthly to remove data people have made private. 

Security experts previously spotted on Strava’s map what they believed to be the movements of U.S. soldiers in Africa and of people who work at a suspected Taiwanese missile command, all of whom had shared workouts apparently without realizing the implications.

              Why do I feel like Strava would be better off just scrapping the heat map altogether? I still think that Strava doesn’t quite grasp the challenges of protecting its users’ privacy with its own ambition of becoming the social network for exercise. I suppose that they are embracing the Silicon Valley mantra of moving fast and worrying about the consequences later.

Inclusivity: Have you ever felt like an outsider? At some point in your life, have you ever felt like you didn’t belong wherever you were? It can be a profoundly alienating experience that makes you want to withdraw even more from your environment and the people around you. Most of us have experienced that at some point in our lives. But if you’re reading this, then odds are that you don’t feel that way when you walk into a gym. Most likely, you feel like you belong there and you may even feel like you’re part of a community. However, the fitness world makes a lot of people feel like outsiders. From the Washington Post:

Many folks who eschew regular workouts have said they are really avoiding the recurrence of painful past experiences, such as fellow gym-goers blatantly mocking them, trainers saying their physical efforts weren’t good enough and street harassment for simply taking a walk outside. One new mother described to me her wonder that the glares she experienced ceased only when she had a newborn in tow.

The prevailing myth about overweight and obese people is that if they just worked harder, they would become thin, but that’s actually not a typical outcome. Jennifer Kuk, a kinesiologist and associate professor at York University, says, “Weight management science is very complex, and much of how the body responds to weight-loss attempts is outside human control.”

On any typical day, higher-weight people may have to put extra emotional labor into getting mentally prepared to take on our appearance-driven fitness culture. Even a locker-room comment of “I’ve seen you here a few times. Keep up the good work!” can feel condescending.

              The gym can be an intimidating place. There is no doubt about that. If I was an overweight or obese person, then I don’t think that I would feel comfortable in a gym. We need a culture change and not just the fitness culture. We need our entire culture to change in the way that we view and treat overweight people. The other thing that we can do is to stop focusing so much on weight. Instead we should focus on what our bodies can do. Everyone is not built to run marathons and have six-pack abs. Some people are built to lift heavy things. That can be a source of confidence and pride and it’s a lot better than feeling shame for not being able to conform to what society considers an attractive body type.  

Motivation: For a lot of people, there is only one measurement that matters when it comes to their fitness: their weight. Is this an antiquated and deeply flawed way to measure your fitness? Yes, absolutely. It discourages people from strength training, can promote unrealistic body composition goals, and is often not compatible with how most people actually want to look. But what numbers should we be looking at? GQ has some answers:

Check your body measurements

Confirm that you are shrinking or expanding as intended by taking circumferential measurements of relevant body parts. Waist circumference, for example, is an effective way to track changes in a place that many of us watch the closest: belly fat.

              This is a superior way to measure body composition.

Check your performance

Bench pressing a tad more, doing one more bodyweight squat, shaving ten seconds off your mile time, and squeezing out one or two more pull-ups than last week all show that you’re making meaningful progress. This means that if you’re not keeping a simple workout diary that commemorates what you accomplish in the gym each day, you're missing out on valuable data, and you should fix that right now.

              Focusing on what your body can do rather than on what it looks like is much healthier and much more fun. It also enables a shift from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation.

Check your clothes

We all want to look hot naked, but if your clothes are starting to fit better in the right areas, that’s a sign that good things are happening to your body, even if the scale is less effusive with its praise.

              This is an easier way to track your body composition.

Check your camera roll

Let’s be honest: Whether you want to lose or gain weight, looking a certain way is probably more important to you than a number. Act like it by taking infomercial-style before-and-after photos at regular intervals. The camera doesn’t lie, and over a long period of time, you’ll see exactly what physical changes are or aren’t happening—a brutally honest visual element to accompany the rest of your data points.

              Better to focus on what you look like rather than on just what the scale tells you.

Check yourself

Assessing how you feel on a day-to-day basis is probably the most overlooked way to measure whether everything you're doing is good for you. Are you sleeping better? Do you feel healthy? And, critically, is your sex drive at... full speed? “A healthy libido tends to indicate that things are going well,” admits Romaniello. “Decreased libido is a sign that something needs to be changed.”

              Working out should make you feel good. This is the number one reason why I love fitness. This is more qualitative than quantitative but it I still an excellent way to assess whether your routine is working.

Crossfit: The CrossFit Open serves 2 masters every year. The first is the need to have a first stage in the qualification process for the CrossFit Games. Athletes qualify for the Regionals (where they compete for spots in the Games) by participating in the Open. As its name suggest, the Open is open to anyone who wants to compete and thousands do. The second master is to drive CrossFit participation and give thousands of CrossFitters an opportunity to test themselves against the rest of the CrossFit world.

Typically, CrossFit has balanced these two demands by making the Open events a little “easier” and then ramping up the difficulty in the Regionals. What do I mean by “easier”? Keeping the weights lower and avoiding some of the more challenging and technical exercises like muscle-ups. Most people can’t deadlift 405 pounds, never mind crank out reps in the middle of a metabolic conditioning work-out. But that is the kind of thing that you would see in the CrossFit Games. This has been a source of frustration for some CrossFitters who would like to see an event lineup that is closer to what is programmed in the Games. They feel that the Open favors people with higher levels of aerobic fitness and lower levels of strength. Well, be careful what you wish for. From Barbend:

Last night, we concluded the final athlete submissions for the third 2018 CrossFit Open Workout 18.3. If you’re currently competing in the Open, then you probably don’t need us to remind you just how tough this workout was. And for those not competing, to give you context, Open workout 18.3 involved a total of: 800 double-unders, 48 muscle-ups, 40 dumbbell snatches, and 40 overhead barbell squats (if you completed it, which almost no one did).

Oh, did we mention there was a 14-minute time cap to get all of this work done? 

18.3 proved to be so tough that very few athletes actually completed all of the work in the given time allotment, and most ended up treating this workout like an AMRAP.

Wow. It’s almost as if Dave Castro wanted to shut all those people up with the CrossFit equivalent of a kick to the nuts. The 18.3 work-out is below:

2 Rounds for Time with a 14 minute time cap:

100 Double-Unders
20 Overhead Squats (115lbs/80lbs)
100 Double-Unders
12 Ring Muscle-Ups
100 Double-Unders
20 Dumbbell Snatch (50lbs/35lbs)
100 Double-Unders
12 Bar Muscle-Ups

Real Estate: It’s no secret that shopping malls have been filling the department store void with big box gyms. There just aren’t that many businesses that are interested in leasing more than 30,000 square feet of retail space but gyms are one of them. The hope is that gyms and restaurants will generate foot traffic that the retail stores can take advantage of. Appearing on CNBC, retail expert Jan Kniffen threw cold water on that idea.

"Putting things in to get somebody to come to the mall is a good idea. The bad news is when it's something like a gym you don't get very much cross shopping," Jan Kniffen, CEO of J. Kniffen Worldwide Enterprises CEO, told CNBC's "On the Money" in an interview.

The retail consultant says people may go to a juice bar, or something that's related to their work out —but that's about it. As for malls that are putting in grocery stores, Kniffen says while that may drive foot traffic, it's only to that particular store.

"When you put in a grocery store, people do not go in the mall. They go into the grocery store, they shop, and they go home."

              He has a point about people who come in before and after work. They are on a schedule and are highly unlikely to start window-shopping. I would like to see some data on this though. The percentage of gym-goers who also browse might be lower than someone who is going to a J.C. Penney but the foot traffic is probably higher. Where does that leave the overall number of gym-goers/browsers? Also, a gym-goer might go to the gym 3-5 times a week. That’s 3-5 times a week that this person is seeing the signs for all those retail stores. That’s great exposure and makes it much more likely that this person might make a separate visit to go shopping. That person is still engaging with the mall 3-5 times a week which is mallrat territory. There are not that many businesses that people visit as often as they visit the gym. Mr. Kniffen should not underestimate the value of that.

Leadership: Hey, guess what? Fitness leadership is now a thing. From the Harvard Business Review:

This hasn’t gone unnoticed by some leaders, and a new generation of CEOs taking a cue from this last bastion of the Protestant work ethic. In contrast to “transformational” and “authentic” leadership, which has been criticized for being fuzzy and wishy-washy, “fitness leadership,” as we refer to it, offers a more concrete approach. As a hard-working employee, you will be measured by and rewarded for the long hours you put in at the office and the gym. In exchange, a fitness leader can offer a sense certainty, justice, and camaraderie in a time where employees are otherwise plagued by uncertainty, injustice, and isolation.

Henrik Bunge is one such leader. He’s the CEO and self-titled “Head Coach” of Björn Borg, the Swedish sports fashion company named after the tennis star.

Last fall, we joined Bunge and his employees for “sports hour,” a mandatory fitness class for all employees every Friday between 11 and noon. In pairs, we were throwing kicks and punches at each other, with the kickboxing instructor yelling, “C’mon, harder!” from the podium.

After class, Bunge explained his sports-meets-work philosophy when we met for lunch at an elegant Thai restaurant. “Take a football player. He will always know how he performs. But if you go to the marketing department and ask them, they’re usually clueless.”

              This seems more like an offshoot of sports leadership than anything else. Sports appeal to a lot of people because it is easy to see the link between the work you put in and your results in competition. It is viewed as a true meritocracy by most people where the business world is not seen that way by most. That, and a focus on teamwork, has made sports leadership models attractive to generations of leaders and managers. Fitness has the same link between work and results that sports has and thanks to CrossFit, fitness is now a sport.

              What’s different is that it’s not easy to incorporate traditional team sports into the corporate lifestyle. The CEO might think that Bear Bryant and Mike Ditka might be great role models but it would be difficult to organize tackle football games at lunch. Fitness on the other hand is very easy to incorporate.

Intrigued by our lunch meeting with Bunge, one of us embarked on an ethnographic study of the company which has now lasted for over a year. Since September 2016, Torkild has spent a couple of days a week at the Björn Borg headquarters, attending workshops, meetings, and fitness tests; having lunch with and talking with employees; and participating in sports hours (25 to date). As part of this research, we have learned that team leaders run wall squat competitions with their teams, that staff members measure their physical strength through push-up competitions, and that many break the monotony of work with a game of ping pong. One Friday morning, a male employee walked into the kitchen area, topless, to show that he had achieved his physical target: a six-pack abdomen.

              This type of culture is not going to be for everyone. And it sounds like it has led to a lot of turnover at Bjorn Borg. The test will be if this leads to more productive and dynamic employees. The KPI’s seem to indicate that it is doing that. We will see how many companies follow their lead. It is also important to note that Bjorn Borg is a sports apparel company. Trying to install this culture at a retail or manufacturing company could be much more challenging.

TidBits:

-Adidas is bringing fast fashion to sneakers

-Fast Company interviews the founder of Barre3

-ClassPass Live is…live

 

 

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS IN MERGERS & ACQUSITIONS

Going High: It’s no secret that the middle of the gym market has been getting squeezed on one end by low cost operators like Planet Fitness and on the other end by high-end operators like SoulCycle and CrossFit. The company that has probably been the hardest hit by this is Town Sports. The operator of the New York/Boston/Philadelphia/Washington Sports Club gyms has watched its financials and stock price plummet over the last couple of years. Town Sports tried to morph into a low cost operator with the BFX brand but discovered that there is a lot more to it than just lowering your prices. Now TS is trying to shift to the high-end by acquiring TMPL, the gym chain founded by David Barton.

The flagship Manhattan location will continue to operate under the TMPL brand and will remain committed to excellence and unparalleled member services under the TSI umbrella. Since taking the role of CEO of TSI in 2016, Patrick Walsh has transformed its range of offerings within the portfolio utilizing acquisitions and overhauls to enhance and further the portfolio as well as the trajectory of the company.  

"David Barton is an iconic name in the fitness industry and acquiring TMPL was an obvious decision. It fits into our continued growth strategy and gives TSI a new foothold in the luxury market," says Walsh. "David is a visionary, and we're excited to see what the future holds working together."

TMPL fuses innovation and luxury for an intelligent approach to fitness that is effective and addictive. TMPL's metabolic analysis delivers each member individualized exercise and nutrition programming to condition each person's metabolism to more efficiently alter body composition. Additional TMPL amenities include a 25-meter saltwater pool with dedicated aqua classes, 20 tons of free weights, digitally programmed equipment, virtual reality cycle studio with immersive 30-foot video wall, steam room and sauna. 

              TMPL is definitely in the luxury gym segment, competing with Equinox. That is a good place to be right now. And it appears that Town Sports has converted its BFX locations into boutique competitors. This is undoubtedly the right strategy for Town Sports even though it appears that they came to it through the process of elimination. I don’t think that it’s wise for mid-market gyms to attempt to get into the low cost game. It’s much harder than it appears and much different than what those companies are used to doing. This is the right path for Town Sports.

Just a fad: Planet Fitness is on top of the world. It’s one of the few publicly traded fitness companies and the stock price is going up. But does that mean that the CEO doesn’t have the hottest of takes about boutique fitness? Of course not! From The Street:

"The studio space grew extremely quickly, maybe too quickly," Rondeau, who joined Planet Fitness in 1993, tells TheStreet. "One thing I look at with studios is that most of those concepts are very faddy -- the problem with those studios is if you are a spinning studio, you are always going to be a spinning studio, you aren't going to turn that into a treadmill studio tomorrow, it is what it is."

Rondeau is quick to praise OrangeTheory Fitness. Its studios incorporate different exercises and the space could be tailored to go after new training trends.

              Cycling classes aren’t a fad. They have been popular for years. There are a lot of stupid ideas floating around the fitness industry and there are a lot of fads. But that doesn’t mean that everything is a fad. Cycling and yoga are not fads. There may be too many boutiques right now but that is a function of low barriers to entry and too many people rushing into the space. Why bring it up?

In fact, Rondeau thinks Planet Fitness is benefiting from the rise of "faddy" gym studios. 

"Where we benefit is that those studios you mostly need an appointment, and if there isn't space available you aren't working out that day," Rondeau says. "So if you are late at work you need a secondary gym option, so why not buy a $10 membership at Planet Fitness so you can still work out."

              That makes sense but I don’t see a lot of overlap between the average Planet Fitness member and the average boutique fitness customer. Don’t the Planet Fitness commercials make fun of the kind of person that goes to SoulCycle?

Moral obligation: Eating disorders are a serious problem. They affect millions of people and pose serious health risks to its sufferers. Eating disorders are often accompanied by exercise addiction. Does this mean that gyms are obligated to identify eating disorders in their members and offer assistance? From BuzzFeed News:

Between 40% and 80% of anorexia nervosa patients are prone to excessive exercise in their efforts to avoid putting on weight, according to the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

Yet research by BuzzFeed News has found that some of the UK's largest gyms have no specific policies in place when it comes to members who have the condition, including PureGym, DW Fitness First, Virgin Active, and Better.

Top eating disorder charities told BuzzFeed News that gyms have a “moral responsibility” to bring about change, and have proposed a range of measures that they say should be put in place to help people get the support they need — even if that means preventing them from exercising altogether.

“Gyms need to recognise that over-exercise is a part of the illness and take steps to safeguard members,” said Jane Smith, chief executive officer of awareness organisation Anorexia and Bulimia Care (ABC).

              It’s an interesting article but they never differentiate between different types of gyms. In a boutique gym, you are paying for personal attention and it’s reasonable to expect that employees should observe members’ well-being. But in a big box gym, you’re not paying for personal attention. That’s why big boxes are so much cheaper. There are even gyms like Anytime Fitness where members use a keypad to let themselves in.

The closest parallel that I can think of is with alcohol. Bars have a responsibility to not over-serve customers. That makes sense because you are paying a premium to have someone serve you a drink. But what about a super-market where an alcoholic goes to purchase beer? Do they have a responsibility to not sell alcohol to someone with a drinking problem? Not that alcoholism isn’t a serious problem but super-markets are not designed to provide a lot of personal attention to its customers. Big box gyms are also not designed that way. I fully support training all employees to identify eating disorders but I still don’t think that there should be an expectation that big box gyms should save its members from themselves.

Wise in defeat: Dick Costolo, the former CEO of Twitter, announced that his latest startup is closing up shop. It was a fitness app that tried to use accountability between groups of friends to help people achieve their fitness goals. People were signing up but it wasn’t working as Costolo had hoped. From Business Insider:

They were supposed to use the app to check in with their friends, notice when they missed workouts, offer support to get back on the bandwagon, make plans to meet up and so on. 

That sounds like a great idea, but it turns out, people find it hard to offer this kind of support, even to friends who have agreed to be workout buddies. 

To make matters worse, the app triggered a psychological phenom known as the "abstinence violation effect" (AVE).

That's when people hide from their support group when when they fail to meet the group's expectations, instead of turning to the group for help. 

Chorus tried all sorts of things to overcome AVE: having trainers on the platform that could answer questions, allowing people to do one-day challenges, encouraging chatting, and encouraging posting a weekly plan. But people wallowing in the depths of AVE would turn off the notifications. 

            This is disappointing and not because I thought that Chorus sounded like a great idea. I just like the idea of consumer tech people like Costolo turning their attention to fitness. These guys are experts at interweaving psychology into their products. Don’t believe me? Take a look around and see everyone glued to their smartphones. That’s not an accident. I like to see the fitness industry develop that skill set. We’ll see what Costolo does next but I suspect that it won’t related to fitness.

Fitness trackers: We’re still at the point where it doesn’t seem like fitness trackers have been “solved”. So we’re seeing companies put out wristbands and smartwatches and rings and smart clothing and now…glasses. Sure, why not? From Business Insider:

I've been waiting for the perfect fitness tracker. I'm into the concept, but I don't like wearing a watch or wristband all day every day. 

Ideally, a fitness tracker wouldn't get in my way while I type, and would be something I wouldn't mind wearing on a daily basis. It wouldn't feel like a chore to wear, and I wouldn't have issues remembering to wear it in the first place. 

So I was intrigued when VSP Global, a network of eye-care companies, came out with a fitness tracker in the form of prescription glasses. The Level smart glasses are starting to roll out in select areas, and — since eyewear is having a bit of a moment in terms of style and affordability — they couldn't have come at a better time.

              Is this meant for people who don’t like to work-out? Because otherwise why would you want your eye glasses to be your fitness tracker? I could see this if all you’re doing is counting your steps but if you’re doing any strenuous then this seems horribly inconvenient. This doesn’t feel well thought out. It feels like VSP Global saw a lot of buzz around fitness trackers and wanted to throw something against the wall to see if it would stick.

National Security: The U.S. military is the most powerful fighting force that the world has ever known. But there are cracks in the foundation of that machine: the DOD is finding it harder and harder to find qualified recruits. One major cause is that it’s getting tough to find kids who can meet the physical standards of military service. From Military.com:

"The U.S. military is already having a hard time attracting enough qualified volunteers. Of the four services, the Army has the greatest annual need. The Army anticipates problems with meeting its 2018 goal to enlist 80,000 qualified volunteers, even with increased bonuses and incentives," according to the report.

Frost, the commander of the Center for Initial Military Training, has called the inability to man the military "the next existential threat we have."

Frost said the Army introduced the Occupational Physical Assessment Test, or OPAT, in part, to encourage recruits to begin physically training for the Army before they report to basic training. The test was introduced early last year for new Army recruits and soldiers changing military occupational specialties.

It measures a recruit's physical aptitude through four events -- a standing long jump, seated power throw, deadlift and interval run -- in much the same way that the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, measures mental aptitude.

Before the OPAT, the Army did not have a true physical entrance requirement, Frost said. "Quite frankly, it was the strength that it took you to open the door to the recruiting center."

It's too early to know for sure, but Frost said there is some evidence that the test is having an impact by ensuring recruits are physically prepared for the rigors of the Army jobs they want. Since the test was introduced last year, the Army lost 1,400 fewer soldiers to attrition during basic training than past averages.

McGurk said the OPAT also could have a deeper impact, helping to change a mindset among recruits.

In the past, someone might have joined the Army assuming that 10 weeks of basic training and anywhere from four to 26 weeks of Advanced Individual Training would help get him into the shape needed to serve, he said. But the OPAT encourages recruits to get into shape before basic training in order to be successful in their training.

              The military used to believe that it could take an out of shape kid and whip them into shape at boot camp. But they’ve been finding that when they expose these kids to exercise, they just get injured. So it makes sense that the Army would start to focus on preparing kids for boot camp. This is a scary development though. Our national security will always depend on having people who are fit enough to fight. Another development that I hadn’t considered was how obesity patterns are affecting the recruitment process:

The fitness of recruits is even more concerning in the South, which has traditionally been where the Army is most likely to find its force.

A recent study led by The Citadel in South Carolina in collaboration with the U.S. Army Public Health Center and the American Heart Association found that recruits from 10 Southern states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas -- are "significantly less fit, and consequently are more likely to encounter training related injuries than recruits from other U.S. states."

Those 10 states have accounted for more than 37 percent of the Army's new recruits in recent years, according to data from U.S. Army Recruiting Command.

The Citadel study found that recruits from those states are 22 percent to 28 percent more likely to be injured, with each recruit lost to injury estimated to cost the Defense Department approximately $31,000.

              It’s much easier to get someone in shape if they’ve ever been active before. It is very difficult to start from scratch with someone. There are parts of this country that have a culture of inactivity and unhealthy eating. It is tough to unlearn all of that. I’m glad to see the DOD come up with some solutions but I am scared that it won’t be enough.

TidBits:

-NBA star Draymond Green is becoming a Blink Fitness franchisee

-Golfers are finally starting to see the value in strength & conditioning

-Smartwatch sales are up and fitness tracker sales are down

-Fitness trackers are missing a key measurement of exertion

-The Killmonger work-out

 

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 NOW THE WEEKLY BLOCKCHAIN

Motivation: The path of least resistance guides a great deal of human behavior and nutrition is no exception. We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic and a lot of that is the result of having cheap junk food within arm’s reach at all times. You can attach this from 2 angles. The first is trying to remove all that junk food from arm’s reach. San Francisco tried this a few years ago by banning vending machines from city property. The second is by trying to make all that junk food not so cheap. From Vox:

Now researchers from New York University and Tufts writing in the American Journal of Public Health are making the case for shifting food prices in ways that steer consumers toward healthier diet choices. 

More specifically, they argue, a junk food tax — on “non-essential” foods like candy, soda, and potato chips — should be the next frontier in public health. 

According to their review of the scientific literature on junk food tax bills and laws, a federal tax on unhealthy foods would be both legally and administratively feasible in the US. Instead of a sales tax that would show up at the point of purchase, the researchers argue for an excise tax on junk food manufacturers. That should increase the shelf price of junk foods and beverages, and deter consumers from bringing unhealthy food choices to the checkout counter in the first place.

                  Believe it or not, this has been successful in other counties. Passing that would be a challenge here but it is heartening to know that there are some possible solutions.

The World Health Organization has looked at the Hungary tax, and found that junk food consumption decreased both because of the price increase and also the educational campaigns around the tax — an effect also seen with soda taxes. “Consumers of unhealthy food products responded to the tax by choosing a cheaper, often healthier product (7 to 16 percent of those surveyed), consumed less of the unhealthy product (5 to 16 percent), changed to another brand of the product (5 to 11 percent) or substituted some other food (often a healthier alternative).”

                  Soda taxes would have been unthinkable a decade ago but we’re starting to see them now. It can take a while for public perception to shift but it can happen.

It costs how much: Boutique fitness isn’t cheap. In fact, it is very expensive. How expensive? Let’s find out. Carrie Carrollo from PopSugar kept track of all of her fitness purchases and added them up:

Grand Total: $452.89 for 11 boutique classes, a pair of cycling shoes, and a monthly gym membership. Yikes! After I subtract the shoes and factor in POPSUGAR's (totally awesome) $50 employee wellness reimbursement, my actual total comes out to $272.36 out of pocket.

Well, folks, there you have it. You're probably looking at that number and judging me — and that's totally OK because I'm judging myself a bit, too. Of course you can stay active for significantly less — or even free — but do I regret it? Not one bit. Working up a good sweat and finding alone time (preferably in dark rooms with loud music) is one of my favorite things in the world. That being said, I'm still a 22-year-old who pays her own bills, so it's not quite the most sustainable habit. As a result, I've since dialed it back and shifted how (and where) I spend my money on working out. Group fitness keep me accountable, so I joined a gym that offers a range of classes I enjoy the most and which has awesome amenities to boot. I'll continue to pop into boutique studios when I feel like I need it or simply want to join a friend.

                  That’s a lot of money. I have to wonder how sustainable all of this is? I’m the first person to say that fitness is priceless but we all have to live on some kind of budget. Is there some kind of business model that can make boutique fitness affordable without destroying what people love about it? Maybe it’s streaming or possibly some kind of bundling. For all of ClassPass’ success, it seems that they are struggling to pull this off and now it looks like they’re pivoting to streaming.

How to Make Friends and Blast Your Quads: For some reason, I never seem to get sick of articles about how working out is replacing golf as the premier networking activity. It’s probably because golf has never interested me and I never liked the idea that not playing it would hold back my career. Anyway, from Bloomberg:

Most health trends come and go almost as fast as you’ve unpacked your cold-press juicer. 

But the business world’s affinity for combining client meetings and workouts is only getting stronger at intensive fitness spots such as Barry’s Bootcamp, SoulCycle, and Rumble, as well as gyms like those of Equinox Holdings Inc. The trend has been building for a while with professionals in media relations and the entertainment industry in such cities as New York and Los Angeles. With bankers slowly embracing the model in recent years, Wall Street is now fully engaged in this approach.

“Instead of going out, I see so many entertain by going to workout classes before and after work,” says Sean Liebowitz, a director and energy/industrials trader at Sanford Bernstein& Co., who specifically mentions Rumble, SoulCycle, and Ripped as popular venues.

            Who has time to play golf anyway? Playing 18 holes takes up at least 4 hours. I can’t even imagine when I would try to squeeze that in. I love fitness and it’s a battle to find 1 hour every day to do something that makes me a better person. It sounds like Wall Street is starting to feel the same way:

The high-intensity biking destination SoulCycle now has a four-person corporate sales team to accommodate demand for events and special business requests. “There are only so many steaks business people want to eat in a week,” says Gabby Etrog Cohen, senior vice president of public relations and brand strategy. “Across the board, people are time-strapped, they don’t have four hours to hit the golf course, or two hours for a boozy meal. Plus, they want to do something good for themselves, plus they get networking out of it.”

                  There are a lot of things wrong with the world right now but an increased focus on fitness is not one of them. It’s also never been a better time to be a fitness professional.

Don’t be this guy: The owner of a CrossFit box in North Carolina thought that it would be a good idea to post pictures of his female members’ posteriors with sexualized captions to Instagram. Needless to say, this has turned out the way that he pictured in his head.

A person upset with the video took still shots from it and posted them on Facebook, stating that it was inappropriate. As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 850 people had offered reviews of Blue Ridge CrossFit, dropping the gym's rating to 1.5 stars out of five and leaving often blistering comments.

While Tomlo contends the video was shot in a sense of fun and with the women's consent, at least one woman in the video disputes that.

"To me, it’s disgusting," said Arden resident Amanda Turlington, who said she's in the video but did not see it until it was posted to social media on Instagram and a friend alerted her. "Here we have women in a vulnerable position, and what does he do? He takes the opportunity to take video where we're all inverted and you have no idea what we're doing, and he takes that when we can't tell what he's doing, and then posts that inappropriate video and inappropriate hashtags on the image of our bodies on Instagram for everyone to see."

                  After the initial backlash, did he realize the error of his ways and offer an apology? Of course not.

The controversy erupted over the weekend, in part because of a profanity-laden response Tomlo posted, chastising those who were offended. 

"It has been brought to my attention that some people chose to get butt hurt today and make a public post in this group," Tomlo wrote, suggesting that if members are upset they should schedule a meeting with him to discuss the matter or "find a place that is a better fit for you."

"Creating some sort of delusional and ignorant drama is not your option here," Tomlo wrote.

                  What a dumbass. How can you expect people to feel comfortable in your gym if pictures like this are going to show up on Instagram? It really pisses me off when someone like this jackass thinks that he should be able to dictate what someone is allowed to be offended by. If you want to be funny, make yourself the subject of the joke. Objectifying women and then trying to defend it as humor is pathetic.

Bitcoin Bubble: Fitness apps are very hot right now. Investors are interested in the potential of software to help people work out. But you know what’s even hotter? Crypto-currencies! If only there were some way to combine the two. From TechCrunch:

Want a way to workout and earn some coin? Sweatcoin has risen to the top of the App Store for helping folks get something more than just a glow for taking those daily steps.

The startup says it has accumulated more than 5 million users in the past year and increased revenue by 266 percent in the last quarter. There are more than 2 million weekly active users on the app, and growing, making it one of the fastest-growing fitness apps in the App Store and second to the top in the free apps, next only to the Google Arts & Culture app that blew up over the weekend.

It works like this: users sign up and then hook up their smartphone’s health and fitness data and GPS location to the app. The app then tracks how many steps you take in a day and rewards you a monetary “sweat” value according to your movements. For every 1,000 steps recorded, the app will pay out .95 in “sweatcoins.” Users can later trade these coins in for fitness gear, workout classes, gift cards and a number of other offerings.

                  Also:

Co-founder Anton Derlyatka also told TechCrunch he’d like to “even include the ability to pay taxes with sweatcoin” in the future. Other co-founder Oleg Fomenko also mentioned plans to develop an “open-source blockchain DLT technology that will allow Sweatcoin to be traded like any other major crypto- or fiat currency.”

“We are out to fundamentally change the value ascribed to health and fitness and provide the motivation for people to lead better lives,” Fomenko said.

                  Are they serious or is this just an attempt to pull a Kodak? Do they really believe that Sweatcoins are going to become an actual currency? That sounds like some weird, dystopian future ala Idiocracy. The thing that I really want to know is how they plan to make money. Paying people to work-out has not panned out for other startups and I don’t see what’s different about SweatCoin other than a tenuous connection to blockchain.

Lead by example: Donald Trump had his annual physical last week which inspired Splinter to propose that he complete the Presidential Fitness Test instead:

On Friday, Donald Trump received his first physical exam as president. On Tuesday, his doctor, Ronny Jackson—who also served under George W. Bush and Barack Obama—did his best to reassure the White House press pool, the rest of the country, and the world that the president is the picture of mental and physical health.

Physical examinations: No fun! So boring! Rather than undergoing a monotony of blood and pee tests, I have an exciting alternative option for the president: compete in the Presidential Physical Fitness Test.

If you went to public school in the United States between 1966 and 2012, you should know what I’m talking about. Each spring, your gym teacher would pull out the ol’ clipboard and announce it was time to compete for the Presidential Physical Fitness Award, created to honor the most boneheaded jocks in your class and humiliate everyone else.

Then the tests would begin: the pull-up (for boys); the flexed-arm hang (for girls); the standing broad jump; the sit-and-reach (aka the Dreaded Box Test); and of course, the beep test, also known as the pacer test, also known as the shuttle run.

                  I have a better idea: why doesn’t the President complete the military PFA (Physical Fitness Assessment). Active duty service members have to pass a PFA every six months. It would be great to see the Commander-in-Chief show some support by doing one as well. It would be a magnificent photo opportunity and at the same time it would build awareness of what the military lifestyle entails. Plus, a 4 year term would allow the President to cycle through the PFA’s of the 4 service branches (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines). It’s almost impossible to imagine Trump doing a PFA since he treats exercise with disdain (and has the physique to show for it) but I could picture Barack Obama or George W. Bush doing it.

                  Let’s make this happen once we get a President who’s not afraid to break a sweat. The media would love it, the military would love it, and voters would love it. And it would be a great way for the Commander-in-Chief to display his or her fitness as the leader of the free world.

Performance Enhancing Drugs: If a sport isn’t conducting random, year-round drug testing, then its drug testing program is a joke. Scheduled testing allows athletes to cycle off and piss clean when they need to. Testing has to be random to even have a prayer of catching anyone. Even then, cheaters will find a way to cheat. Just ask Lance Armstrong. Why am I bringing this up? Because I was pleasantly surprised to see that CrossFit is doing random, year-round testing. From The Barbell Spin:

The Wodapalooza Fitness Festival is one of the largest functional fitness competitions in the world. Top CrossFit athletes have descended down to Miami, Florida, for the last competition before the start of the 2018 CrossFit Open. CrossFit Games veterans like Katrin Davidsdottir, Kari Pearce, Dakota Rager and Garret Fisher are in attendance.

But CrossFit athletes are not the ones in attendance. CrossFit HQ has sent its drug testing partner, Drug Free Sport, down to Miami to conduct drug tests of some of the top athletes.

CrossFit is coming out of a year that saw its 3rd place finisher at the CrossFit Games, Ricky Garard, fail a drug test. As the Open approaches, Dave Castro and CrossFit appear to be making its drug testing program front and center.

                  It’s refreshing to see a sports organization try to get in front of the PED problem. CrossFit hasn’t had a full-blown drug scandal yet but it appears that they are trying to prevent one instead of sticking their head in the sand and pretending that it’s somehow exempt from the temptation to cheat.

TidBits:

-Fitness app Zeamo has info on 25,000 gyms worldwide

-MTV is starting a fitness vertical

-You can now register for the CrossFit Open

-“Wellness is the new nightlife”

-Planet Fitness stock is up 70% over the last year

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS WRITING ABOUT ECONOMICS

Apple Watch: GymKit has arrived in the United States, sort of.

With GymKit, when you step onto a compatible treadmill or elliptical, you simply tap your watch against the machine and the two are paired; the machine’s display mirrors what’s on your wrist, and the specific stats tracked by the machine are relayed to your watch. By syncing them up, you get a more complete picture of your workout, including more accurate calorie burn estimates—and with less effort, as your watch already has your height and weight information. At the moment, GymKit is only available at one gym in New York, but in 2018 it will roll out in Equinox facilities across the country. Over time, the connected platform will also integrate with machines from companies including Cybex, Life Fitness, Matrix, Schwinn, Stairmaster, Star Trac, and TechnoGym at other chains, too.

                This will be a big deal when it is ubiquitous. The question is how long it will take for most gyms to GymKit-capable. From Forbes:

Technogym is the launch partner, though more companies will follow soon. And it's not limited just to the newest machines, around three quarters of Technogym’s existing equipment can be simply upgraded to work with GymKit.

As Enrico Manaresi, TechnoGym Global PR Director, told me, the equipment in the first British club to be upgraded was modified in a matter of a couple of hours. ‘Digital connectivity and connectivity in these products makes it a successful lifestyle solution for people. All the new equipment we make will have this capability built in and we’re upgrading existing machines as quickly as we can. It’s a way to connect to a new community and make that connection even more personalized,’ he said.

                So TechnoGym can modify their existing equipment but I don’t know if other equipment manufacturers can or want to do that. Which could mean that it is a couple of years before gyms upgrade to the newest, GymKit-compatible machines. Don’t hold your breath.

Pay Per Visit: POPiN is an app that allows you to purchase gym time by the minute. I have used this blog to express my support for this idea in the past as well as my bewilderment as to why so many gyms make it so hard to purchase a short-term pass at a reasonable price. CEO Dalton Han talked to Business Insider about the challenges of selling this idea to gym operators:

Han says that gyms are too optimistic about their ability to convert occasional customers into full-time members. Rather than taking away potential revenue from unsold memberships, POPiN would bring the gyms customers who know they won't use the gym enough to justify a membership and can't be convinced otherwise without an extended trial. Gyms would receive a new revenue stream instead of replacing an existing one.

                This is easy money. Why wouldn’t you want people to pay to test out your service? And the idea that it would cannibalize standard memberships is ridiculous.

The current per-minute rates range from $0.14 to $0.26, which means that a sixty-minute workout at Tribeca Health & Fitness costs $10.80, instead of the $20 one would have to pay for a day pass.

But, if you do that same, 60-minute workout four times each week, you'd end up paying around $172 per month, which is $83 more than the gym's rate for a month-to-month membership. If a user visits a single gym often enough, POPiN will recommend that user buy a membership.

                If someone is so opposed to long-term memberships that they would pay that much of a premium to avoid it, just let them. Let them pay way too much money so they don’t feel locked in. Most of those people are probably travelers anyway. And gym operators don’t even need a middleman. Just offer no-strings attached day passes for $10, one week passes for $25 and then keep all the money.

Carrot or Stick: Fast on the heels of Pact’s demise, a new startup aims to master the art of paying people to work-out. This startup’s name is Karrot Health (get it?) and they want to be the middleman between companies that want their employees to be healthier and those same employees. From Built in Chicago:

“When I worked for Uber, they gave me $80 a month for a gym membership, which adds up to almost $1,000 per year,” said founder and CEO Kelley Halpin. “All they could tell was that, at some point, I signed up for a gym.”

Karrot lets employers set up a recurring “bonus” for employees that is unlocked by hitting certain fitness milestones — like logging 10,000 calories’ worth of workouts in a single month. Employees track progress using wearable devices or the fitness tracking features built into their smartphones.

Also:

Halpin said Karrot is currently gearing up for beta tests with a handful of early customers. Companies typically offer around $50 per month per employee in incentives, but they’re free to adjust that amount as they see fit.              

                You can’t pay people to exercise. It doesn’t work. I realize that the idea of it will always tantalize people but the motivation to work-out has to come from a deeper place than the prospect of an extra $50 at the end of the month. This feels like the difference between economics and behavorial economics. Traditional economists think that people make perfectly rational decisions about their well-being. Behavorial economists recognize that most people are anything but perfectly rational and that decision-making process is influenced by many factors. This is a company borne out of traditional economics. People could get in better shape and make a little bit of money, of course they’ll do this. But that’s not how the human mind works. How can I be sure? By using the classic economist’s argument for why something won’t work: if it was that easy, why hasn’t someone else done it already?  

Going National: There has been a lot of money flowing into the fitness industry the last few years as private equity firms have been buying up gym operators. Now TPG, one of the biggest PE firms, wants to capitalize on the fragmentation. From Well + Good:

Private equity firm TPG, which has approximately $73 billion in assets, sees this wide-open market as a major business opportunity. The company’s growth-investment arm has added recovery-based studio StretchLab to its fitness portfolio, which also includes Club Pilates and CycleBar. What’s more, TPG has created an entirely new company, Xponential Fitness, to serve as the umbrella to these sweat boxes—and any others acquired in the future.

                Fitness is still a very young and immature industry. There is a huge opportunity for someone with deep pockets to build a national brand in several disciplines.

 He explains that with each new vertical Xponential takes on (think: yoga, boxing), the goal is to hit 1,000+ studios. For now, the company plans to stick to investing in boutique fitness genres which have been tested over time and require some barrier of entry in terms of instructor training (e.g. Pilates, which requires months of training for its teachers). “We’re looking for things that are non-faddish, that will be around for a long time,” Geisler told Well+Good. 

The company plans to acquire just one brand per vertical, which means being incredibly selective about their purchases. “We want to see multiple units open and doing well,” Geisler explains. “We’re also looking for founders who have a compelling story, and for companies that fit in with our other brands.” Once a new studio has been brought into the Xponential fold, branding work (e.g. ethos, imagery, website, etc.) will commence while a dedicated team is built to run the franchise business out of Orange County, California.

                My thoughts:

-PE firms have been buying up gyms but they haven’t been taking them to IPO and they aren’t any options for strategic buyers. So their only exit strategy has been to sell them to another private equity firm which leads to diminishing returns. This is a bold strategy but if it works Xponetial could be a candidate for an IPO.

-There is the potential to bundle several boutique disciplines together this way. From Bloomberg:

Geisler said Xponential’s components will operate as independent brands: CycleBar, an indoor cycling studio chain; Club Pilates, which uses the traditional reformer equipment for workouts; and StretchLab, which leads classes in recovery and movement. Xponential aims to attract franchisees who may want to own several different exercise “modalities” in a single market, Grabowski said.

                A franchisee that owns 3 different boutiques in one city could offer a membership to all 3. That would be very interesting. The one drawback that I could see is if this corporatization of the boutiques diminishes the quality. Fitness is an industry driven by passion. Can you keep that passion alive when you’re operating multiple gyms in multiple disciplines? That will be the billion dollar question.

Data Overload: The quantified self is all the rage these days. People are using fitness trackers and smartwatches and fitness apps to collect data about their bodies and of course all that data will lead to greater health and performance. But there does come a point in which we can have too much data. There is a concept in economics called diminishing marginal returns. The idea is that just because a little of something is good, that doesn’t mean that a lot of that same thing is great. A cup of coffee in the morning might be a great way to start the day but if you drank it all day, you’d be a jittery mess. So how does this apply to fitness tracking? From Slate:

But for road racers, fall and winter are the offseason: a time to wind down and relax, to take some time to do other activities or ride a bike without the stress of specifically planned workouts. “Leave your Garmin at home, don’t look at the numbers, just have fun!” my coach said. Just have fun? Having been indoctrinated into all these tech tools for so long, the idea of riding “just for fun” was, frankly, anxiety inducing. If I don’t track anything, how will I get an accurate picture of my fitness? And if I don’t share my workout with the world, how will the world know what I’ve done? Most importantly: How do I know if I had fun if I don’t know how hard I worked out?

                My competitive running days pre-dated the advent of fitness trackers but I still found a way to achieve information overload: my watch. I would obsessively check my watch when I was running, especially when I was running from home. I think that I counted 10 different times when I would check my watch on my standard 5 mile loop. What’s the problem with this? You never relax. Every day should not be a hard day but it’s tough to have an easy run when you have splits you need to hit.

 I knew that my dependence on my ride tracking was a problem, and I’m not the first to experience it. Professional cyclist Kathryn Bertine found herself in a similar situation:

“You know, you could just not look at the power meter,” a friend suggested.

“That’s crazy talk,” [she] said.

I’ve had similar conversations. Bertine ended up taking a year away from the technology, and she came away better for it. While I’m not sure I’m ready to take that step, I do recognize the value in getting outside just for the pure joy of it, and I have been taking baby steps toward doing it.

                I would have had the exact same reaction if someone had told me to leave my watch at home but it would have been the best piece of advice that I could have ever received in my running career. Peter Drucker, management guru, famously said that “what get measured, gets managed”. The problem is that some things shouldn’t get managed.

Athleisure: How much money do SoulCycle clients have? The cycling studio chain is launching a new fashion line in conjunction with Public School, a popular streetwear brand. From Bloomberg:

Gegler is one of about 60 people who came to the launch of SoulCycle’s latest retail collaboration, a line of high-end workout clothing designed in tandem with Public School, the hip, New York-based streetwear brand. The two companies unveiled the line during a SoulCycle class that doubled as fashion show. In the middle of the session, models walked through the studio wearing such items as $185 leggings, $125 sports bras, and even a $655 bomber jacket meant to be worn to and from class. Riders clapped as they pedaled to the beat of the music.

                These people are not price sensitive at all, are they? Pay $34 per class and then shell out $655 for a bomber jacket to wear to class. Wow. That sounds like a great business to be in. I wonder how much money SoulCycle is making from retail:

SoulCycle, which is owned by Related Cos. via its Equinox Fitness subsidiary, has been selling its own branded clothing for years. Each month, the company puts out a new collection of 40 to 60 styles for sale at each of its more than 80 studios, annexes, and pop-ups, as well as online. The spin behemoth, which was on the cusp of an initial public offering back in 2015 before retreating, doesn’t make most of its money from merchandise, though. Retail is more of a marketing tactic.

                If it’s a marketing tactic, why not charge less than an arm and a leg? Why not lower the price and get more people out there wearing your brand? The margin on $655 jackets and $125 sports bras has to be huge. If SoulCycle isn’t making money charging LuluLemon prices, then something is very wrong here. Maybe if SoulCycle ever goes through with its IPO, we can see what’s going on.

TidBits:

-Rogue Fitness will be the official equipment provider for the World’s Strongest Man competition

-Planet Fitness is developing AI-enabled virtual trainers

-Nike is launching the Metcon 4 this month

-FitBit’s transition into a medical device

-If you live near a gym, you’re less likely to be obese

 

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS PIVOTING TO VIDEO

Streaming: ClassPass is getting into the streaming business. ClassPass Live is launching in 2018. Videos will be produced in-house and then available for live or delayed streaming. From The Verge:

It'll cost $10 a month for existing members and $15 a month for new members. A $60 starter kit fee includes a heart rate monitor and Google Chromecast. ClassPass founder Payal Kadakia tells Business Insider that the first classes will involve heart rate training, and that, of course, the shipped heart rate monitors will evaluate a wearer's workout.

              It’s always interesting when a company decides to start competing with its own collaborators. ClassPass is supposed to be a way for people to discover great, new fitness classes and boutiques to tap into unused capacity. Now ClassPass is going to compete with all these boutiques by offering a streaming alternative. Is this a good move? Maybe. ClassPass has been struggling to make the economics of its original business model work. There is a lot of potential in streaming fitness and the business model is not pretty straight forward. Digital fitness is poised for tremendous growth over the next 5 years. From Well + Good:

“When you look at how to really scale a fitness business, digital opens up the exponential growth curve for these brands,” says Aarti Kapoor, a Moelis analyst who focuses on the wellness space. It’s no wonder then that the global digital-fitness market is expected to reach an estimated $27.4 billion by 2022 and is forecasted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 33 percent from 2017 to 2022.

              I want to see if this turns out to be a classic startup pivot or if ClassPass tries to do both. They have raised a lot of money recently so they could be a formidable competitor in digital fitness. But what form will digital fitness take in the future? If you believe Ethan Agarwal, the CEO of Aaptiv, that future is audio. From Forbes:

Agarwal’s bet was on audio as the best way to communicate during a workout, and he continues to believe in the superiority of the form factor to video. He points to strength training, Aaptiv’s fastest growing category of 2017. “You download a video onto your iPad, and you put it on the floor and try to watch a video on a 9-inch screen. That’s a bad user experience,” he says. “What works better is a phone on your arm and a trainer in your ear.”

              I’m not so sure about that. Obviously, audio makes sense if you’re actually running or biking outside but if you’re at home, why couldn’t you stream a video on your flat-screen TV? Audio would make sense for strength training at the gym though. The other issue is that it is a lot easier to show something than it is to describe it. A picture is worth a thousand words after all. Audio will have a very steep learning curve but if Aaptiv (or someone else) can get to the top, then it could be something special. It reminds me of sports casting. The radio announcers are always way better because they can’t lean on the video like the TV announcers can. From Esquire:

“In a studio space you have an interaction of the people in the room with you, which brings a great energy,” says Ed Hall, instructor at New York City’s Aqua Studio and New York Sports Clubs, as well as on the Aaptiv app. “In the app, I need to pay even closer attention to the programming and what I’m saying out loud. Since they can’t see me, I have to be very specific—almost impeccable—with my words. I have to paint a picture verbally.”

              This won’t be easy so it’s a good thing that Aaptiv has been raising a lot of money. $26 million in the last round. They’re going to need it.

Motivation: Motivating people to work-out is the white whale of the fitness industry. It feels like everything and anything has been tried already but we still have a long way to go. Perhaps Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman has some ideas. From 538:

The good news is that the feel of exercise can be manipulated. Behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman and psychologist Barbara Fredrickson developed the “peak-end rule,” which holds that people judge events not by the overall experience but by some combination of how they feel at the most extreme part and at the end of the event. One example: Kahneman and his colleagues had study subjects immerse their hands in 57-degree water for 60 seconds and, separately, do the same thing with the other hand but tack on an additional 30 seconds while slightly warming the water to a temperature of 59 degrees. Given a choice, the subjects opted to repeat the longer trial. Experiences that end with a bad part are more likely to be recalled as unpleasant than if a miserable part comes toward the beginning, even if the average discomfort is the same.

A typical exercise session, however, tends to feel crappier as time passes, especially if you’re not fit. So researchers Panteleimon Ekkekakis, Zachary Zenko and Dan Ariely wondered what would happen if the usual workout script were flipped. They showed in a study published last year that among 46 adults, those who completed a cycling session structured so the intensity ramped down — providing a positive slope of pleasure — “felt more pleasant after exercise, remembered their exercise to be more pleasant, predicted that future exercise sessions would be more pleasant and enjoyed their exercise more,” said Zenko, a kinesiologist and exercise psychologist at Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight. Even though both groups experienced a similar amount of overall pleasure during the session, the ones who finished by winding down their effort enjoyed the workout more and had more pleasant memories of it. More research is needed to see if that could translate into sustained behavior change.

              This is intriguing. Is this a recency bias thing? The last thing someone remembers is being in a world of hurt and that sticks with them. I wonder if this is factoring in the cooldown. A well-designed workout should have a cooldown and not abruptly end. Shouldn’t that be the psychological and physical wind-down? Something to think about when designing a workout.

Weight Watchers: If you ever want to see how an organization can stay true to its values but adapt to a changing market, look no further than Weight Watchers. Fast Company profiled the company this week and laid out it re-invented itself. The first move that Weight Watchers made was to figure out why their subscriptions were declining:

But what the brand heard, loud and clear, was that the term “diet” was rife with negative connotations. It’s a word that feels more reactive than proactive, and screams failure should they ever fall off course.

“If I look at my mother’s generation, people would fix things that were broken,” says Grossman. “Today’s generation is more preventative; they want to live healthily. They want to educate themselves.”

              A diet is not sustainable. It’s something that you do for a short period of time. We need sustainable fitness and nutrition plans. Calorie-counting used to be in vogue but now people want something that they can integrate into their lives for the long-term.

Shortly thereafter, the brand revealed its Beyond the Scale program, which brought its new “livable” philosophy to two more sectors: fitness and mind-set. It’s an interconnected approach that incorporates equal amounts of movement, happiness, and meditation to one’s weight loss goal. And instead of pure calorie counting, members were encouraged to pursue healthier eating choices with the new SmartPoints system, which focuses on lean protein, fruits, and vegetables while translating mind-bogglingly complex nutritional information into simple numbers assigned a value based on calories, saturated fat, sugar, and protein.

              And Weight Watchers didn’t stop there. They changed the way that they run their physical meetings and got into wellness travel. And it’s working. Revenue is up 14% as is member recruitment. What this shows me is the power of a company that has a true mission. Weight Watchers’ mission is to improve the quality of people’s lives. That allowed them to adapt to the times while staying true to its mission and brand. People still want to look and feel better, that’s never going to change. Weight Watchers just had to change its approach to helping people look and feel better. 

Pay As You Go: At the TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin Hackathon, a team created an app that would let gym-goers pay for their work-out on a per machine basis.

The TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin Hackathon project uses NFC to let you check in at work-out machines. You’re then charged a fee for how long you use the machine, and Gym-As-You-Go keeps a percentage. “The most painful point of gyms are these 24 month contracts” says teammate Sebastian Steins.

Pay-as-you-go pricing could give lazy people who rarely work out a way to waste less money, and gyms a way to attract a different type of customer. Especially popular machines could be surge priced so they’re always available if you’re desperate for a certain exercise and don’t have time to wait.

Gyms could lower prices in off-peak hours to balance their attendance across the week to avoid overcrowding. And gyms would learn which equipment is the most popular so they can buy more, keep it maintained, or advertise that they have it.

              So they identify the target consumer as “lazy people who rarely work out” and then assume that cost is the barrier? That doesn’t make any sense. I hate the idea that I would have to check-in to every piece of equipment that I use. What a pain in the ass! And how are you going to put a NFC reader on a barbell? What if I’m doing a conditioning work-out in which I’m using several pieces of equipment? Would I have to check-in each time? I am going to go out on a limb here and say that these people have not spent much time in a gym and do not understand the industry at all. I have a feeling that they have not even considered how free weights factor in to their business plan.  

              Also, it drives me crazy when people tout technology as the solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Gym operators don’t need this app in order to know which equipment is most popular. You just have to look around and pay attention. Some of these tech guys think that everyone besides themselves is an idiot and needs technology to know which way is up. 

Ninjas: American Ninja Warrior is a phenomenon. The popular NBC show is going into its 10th season and shows no signs of slowing down and there is now an ecosystem developing around it. The TV show is the foundation but we are now seeing other “ninja” competitions and organizations that want to mold it into an organized sport as well as a growing number of gyms that offer ANW-style obstacles. And of course, there are also companies that supply those gyms with obstacles. And some of those gyms are branching out into team-building and military training courses. Let’s talk about some of those gyms. Who are their main customers? From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

“The main customers are kids between the ages of 5 and 14,” said Kevin Hogan, an accountant turned ninja warrior competitor who owns Ninjas United gyms in St. Cloud and Buffalo.

Gym owners and instructors, who often include people who have competed on “American Ninja Warrior,” say that kids are doing more than just having fun imitating the stunts seen on the show: Some hope to be athletes in an emerging sport.

“Our intention is to be the pioneer, to turn this into a legitimate sport,” said Sarah Schoback, a stay-at-home mom from St. Louis Park who won a spot on “American Ninja Warrior” and started her own gym, Obstacle Academy in Edina, in 2016.

“A new sport is started every decade and we truly believe this is it,” said Megan Noel, marketing director for NinjaZone, a youth obstacle course program marketed to gymnastics clubs worldwide.

              You always want to hook them when they’re young and apparently that’s exactly what these gyms are doing. Combine that with the fact that it’s already on primetime network television and you could have a monster. Think about how new sports usually have to fight to get on TV in order to get any exposure and what an advantage it is to start off that way. This is also an individual sport that people could continue to participate long after they get out of adolescence. I am interested to see how this ecosystem develops especially in regards to the mothership of the NBC show. A sport being born out of a TV show seems strange but the sport of MMA was born out of a pay-per-view spectacle. What’s different is that NBC doesn’t seem to be interested in doing anything besides continuing to produce the show. That leaves a vacuum of power that several groups are trying to fill. We’ll see what happens.

Community: The Atlantic really likes the idea that fitness is the new religion. They published an article this week titled “The Consumerist Church of Fitness Classes”. This comes after an article from June titled “The Church of CrossFit” as well as this. Is there anything to this idea? Sure. Programs like SoulCycle and CrossFit provide people a sense of community and identity, something that draws people to organized religion. But what other similarities are there?

As Rypinski notes, beyond helping us meet like-minded people, exercise helps us ground ourselves in our bodies the same way that religious ritual can (with movements like crossing ourselves, or bowing and kneeling). Many middle- and upper-class people spend most of their days ignoring their physical selves in favor of mentally tasking work; exercise helps one become reembodied.

              Give me a break! Crossing yourself is not on the same level as a vigorous workout. Bowing and kneeling grounds us in our bodies? That’s preposterous. Does the author stop there? Of course not.

SoulCycle, for instance, paints its room with mantras that immediately subsume new riders into a collective “we” that “aspires to inspire” by way of activities like “find[ing] freedom in our sprints.” Even more than solo exercise, these classes mimic the structure of religious ritual by creating specific pockets of community. They assign times to arrive, instructors to revere as gurus, and routines to perform on command.

The explicit promise that exercise has a spiritual component seems to elevate it to a higher purpose: Instead of focusing solely on the health and attractiveness of the body, it suggests that fitness is a gateway to a much larger and more lasting state of happiness and fulfillment, much like religious practice.

              SoulCycle has class schedules and a set routine, therefore it must be a religion. This article is so lazily written. It never bothers to define religion; it just points out some similarities between fitness and religion and then makes its conclusion. And one of those similarities is a schedule. Fitness isn’t the new religion. It doesn’t provide morality, a way to view to the world, or establish a relationship between humanity and the transcendental. It does provide community but so do a whole bunch of other things. I don’t know the Atlantic is so interested in pushing this idea but they should make a better argument or just stop.

TidBits:

-2 women wear no clothes to a Planet Fitness, no one notices

-Gym in Melbourne will also serve alcohol after workout class

-Women are more efficient at processing oxygen than men are

-Marriott partners with Joffrey Ballet to offer VOD barre classes in rooms

-The 3 biggest fitness trends of 2017 according to ClassPass

THE WEEKLY HOWL WEARS A MOUTH GUARD TO THE GYM

Mergers & Acquisitions: Kellogg’s is buying the Chicago Bar Company, the maker of the popular RXBAR, for $600 million. Some quick thoughts:

-This company is only 5 years old and is worth $600 million. That may not turn any heads in the tech industry but this is a nutrition company. Kellogg’s expects the company to post “net sales of about $120 million in 2017”. That means that Kellogg’s paid a 5X multiple on sales! They must be anticipating a lot of growth in this sector since that is much higher than industry averages. Health & wellness is a growth industry these days.

-Kellogg’s said that “Chicago Bar Co will continue to operate independently after the deal”. I hope this to mean that Kellogg’s won’t repeat the mistakes it made with Kashi, one of which was moving the company to Battle Creek. CEO seems confident that this is the case:

After moving Kashi's operations from Southern California to Kellogg's headquarters in Battle Creek, Mich., executives realized they were hurting Kashi's brand identity and move it back to the West Coast.

"Kellogg learned some lessons with Kashi. We won't compromise our values, " RXBAR co-Founder and Chief Executive Peter Rahal said.

Mr. Rahal said his company will continue running its business as a separate unit out of Chicago, but will benefit from Kellogg's distribution, research and development capabilities. Mr. Rahal said he wants Kellogg to help his brand grow beyond protein bars and sell his products in more schools, hospitals and hotels.

-As a fan of RXBARs, the ideal scenario is that Kellogg’s basically leaves the company alone but allows it to tap into the resources it needs to continue to grow. This seems do-able in the case of RXBAR but as Kellogg’s continues to acquire more health-focused companies, will there come a point where senior leadership feels pressured to get everyone under one roof? Hopefully not.

-Let’s not forget that RXBAR is part of the CrossFit ecosystem. The name is a clear nod to doing WOD’s as RX’ed and its first customer was a box in Chicago. This is a huge success story for that ecosystem. I’m a little surprised that CrossFit Inc. doesn’t make a bigger deal about this stuff.

Teeth, Shoes & Watch: Functional Fitness can do wondrous things for your body. But is it bad for your teeth? From BarBend:

Decked out in “I work at a CrossFit box” gear (think: leggings, lifting tank, and Nano’s) I laid down in the chair and opened up my mouth for the Dentist who, noticing my shirt, said, “I see a lot of [strength] athletes who come in with similar tooth damage.” If the man hadn’t been knuckle-deep in my mouth, I likely would have rolled my eyes, but he continues, “All the gritting and teeth-grinding you guys do while lifting is causing holes like this one.”

                I have been wearing a mouth guard in the gym for several years now. I kept breaking some of the bonding on my teeth so my dentist made me a mouth guard. Obviously, I have a tendency to clench my jaw and grind my teeth while I am lifting but I am not an anomaly:

It’s a natural tendency to clench your teeth when you’re lifting weights, explains Coronato. All that pressure can wear down the enamel on your teeth, and even crack them causing tiny holes like the one I had in my tooth. The holes can quickly fill with hard-to-get-out food, which turns the once harmless hole into a full-blown cavity, she adds.

Your fix? “If you bite down and grind on your teeth while you weight lift, consider wearing a mouthguard to keep from getting holes in your teeth,” says Coronato.

                Get a mouth guard. It will protect your teeth and I won’t feel like such a weirdo when I talk to people in the gym.

Re-Branding: Bikram Yoga has an image problem. Its founder, Bikram Choudhury, is embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal and has fled the country in order to evade a court order to pay a victim almost $7 million. Mr. Choudhury’s authoritarian style also infused the culture of Bikram Yoga. From the New York Post:

Jo Piazza, co-author of “Fitness Junkie,” a new novel that fictionalizes the city’s wellness-obsessed, says she isn’t surprised by the change.

“To be honest, Bikram feels so 2013,” she tells The Post.

“Bikram became synonymous with an almost militant style of yoga that just isn’t in vogue anymore,” Piazza says. “Today’s fitness junkies, particularly millennials, want their workout to be an authentic ‘experience’ of self-care.”

                In response, some franchisees have decided that they would be better off on their own.

When the founders of Bikram Yoga NYC opened the first Bikram studio in the city on Aug. 7, 1999, few New Yorkers had heard of the hot-yoga practice. Eighteen years and four studios later, they know too much.

With its customers turning to new, trendy exercise classes — and the larger-than-life founder of the yoga practice, Bikram Choudhury, on the lam after being charged with sexual harassment — its owners are ditching the Bikram name and offering a new slate of more millennial-friendly class options.

                Does the average yogi know about the Bikram Choudhury scandal? Probably not, it hasn’t gotten a ton of press coverage. But would the average yogi care if they found out about it? Yes, I am sure that they would. There is still time for studios to get ahead of this story and that is the smart move here.

Who wants a $875 gym bag?: Greg Glassman likes to brag that the mainstream business world doesn’t get him or that it would never build a company in the manner that he built CrossFit. I can’t argue with him there but that doesn’t mean that every unconventional move is a great idea either. Case in point: CrossFit is partnering with SaddleBack Bags to release a line of CrossFit-branded merchandise. What is SaddleBack Bags? They manufacture high-end leather bags and other fine leather goods. What does that have to with fitness? As far as I can tell, nothing at all.

                The risk of a move like this is that you’re over-extending your brand. People expect CrossFit to be an authority on fitness, wellness, and nutrition. People don’t expect CrossFit to be an authority on fine leather goods. The Reebok deal makes perfect sense. This deal can feel like a money grab and hurt your brand’s credibility. The thing is that I don’t think that this is a money grab. I think that CrossFit’s senior leadership just really likes SaddleBack Bags. The problem is that they don’t know where they end and the CrossFit brand begins. Kind of like how Dave Castro awarded handguns to the winners of the 2016 CrossFit Games. It was a strange move because it was unnecessarily controversial and had nothing to do with fitness. It only makes sense when you consider that Dave Castro, the Director of the Games, is a former Navy SEAL and firearms enthusiast whose personal logo consists of a barbell, a dumbbell, and a gun. Dave Castro likes guns so therefore the CrossFit Games likes guns.

At least, high-end leather bags are not at the center of one of the most contentious political battles in our nation’s history. If you want to see the kind of partnerships that CrossFit should be involved in: some of the top Games athletes paid a visit to Trek HQ in Madison.          

Environment Matters: The Evening Standard published an article on the “extreme conditions” that many fitness studios are employing to make workouts more challenging. First up, hot yoga:

“We wanted to provide a yoga experience that provided the workout quality of a cardio class,” explains Jamal Kurdi, the trainer who devised the concept and leads my class. “One that would make you sweat, really work your muscles and give you a good workout.” That it does. Unlike regular yoga classes, this one is, as Kurdi emphasises, “perfect for cardio junkies who love a high-energy, result-driven workout”.

 And the reasoning for the heat, which is provided by infrared sensors in the studios? To “provide a better cardiovascular exercise and deliver a high-calorie burn, while maximising flexibility”. Certainly, I am exhausted afterwards, and I sink two 500ml bottles of water before I can make it to the showers.

                Turning up the heat doesn’t make for a better cardio workout or burn more calories. It makes you sweat more which makes people think that they worked harder. Next up: blindfolds:

Meanwhile, Gymbox’s hero offering for autumn is Blackout: participants put blindfolds on before they start performing functional training moves (such as squat thrusts holding medicine balls). It’s a leap of faith going to an exercise class in the first place, let alone closing your eyes and trusting someone won’t drop a dumbbell on your toe. 

“Research has shown that blindfolding does not disrupt motor activities,” assures Nima Jam, an instructor at Gymbox. “On the contrary, it has been found that exercises are performed with greater precision and stability when the eyes are closed or in darkness. We remember body position, joint angles, the degree of muscular tension, the amplitude of movement and movement patterns best with our eyes closed.

                This is great. It’s the opposite of lifting in front of the mirror. Last but not least: simulated altitude training:

And throughout September, Third Space Soho invited members to enter its hypoxic chamber — a low-oxygen room that mimics the conditions of altitude — and climb 800ft on a VersaClimber, cycle 1.5km on a watt bike, complete a 50m Skillmill sled push and run 1km on a treadmill set at a two per cent incline. You’d be gasping for breath even if it didn’t all take place at high altitude. 

                Please don’t waste your time with this. Living at sea-level and training in altitude conditions is the opposite of what you want to do. Your workout is already strenuous. Reducing the oxygen available to breathe only means that you do less work. It doesn’t make you any fitter. Elite endurance athletes figured this out years ago. The maxim is “Train Low, Live High”. The benefits of altitude come from living at altitude. That way your body has to learn to become more efficient at oxygen consumption when you’re at rest. That’s why you see runners who live in Big Bear and drive down to Riverside to do their track workouts. Or they live at sea-level and sleep in hypoxia tents. Nike even created an “altitude house” for some Olympic hopefuls.

Going Digital: Gold’s Gym is launching a fitness app called Amp:

The service, which costs $9.99 monthly, offers members and non-members of the gym hundreds of trainer-led workouts. These workouts are spread across 10 different exercise modalities, and range from six to 60 minutes long.

According to Gold’s Gym, Amp is the first and only digital coaching platform launched by a brick-and-mortar health club brand.

                It may be the first but it won’t be the last. I’ll be interested to see how this turns out. The skills needed to run a brick and mortar gym business are very different from the skills needed to run an online content business. But a large chain like Gold’s has a lot of experience that it can call upon. The smartest thing that Gold’s can do is run Amp completely separate from its core business. Treat it like a startup. And never, ever worry that Amp is cannibalizing the brick and mortar gyms. The CIO seems like he wants to go down that path:

Gold’s Gym’s decision to expand beyond its physical locations reflects a shifting focus in the industry, Zeitsiff explained, as there are no shortage of convenient digital fitness services — such as the virtual fitness network app ClassPass, which received $70 million in June, and the launch of Gixo's live workout app and funding announcement just a few weeks before. Amp was developed to ensure, in Zeitsiff’s words, that the gym chain would not become the fitness industry’s equivalent of Blockbuster Video.

“If you look at the fitness industry today, fitness industry club members or studio members are looking for the utmost flexibility in their workout routine,” he said. “There’s a number of new technologies, disruptive services, and fitness apps that have been out there and they’re finding ways to fulfill consumer need. As health club operators — not just us, but [others too] — we’re finding that these technologies and services are kind of disintermediating our members and our clubs, and we don’t want to do that.”

                The comparison to Blockbuster is interesting even though I don’t see brick and mortar gyms going away. I am also curious what he considers to be a “disruptive service” in the fitness industry.

TidBits:

-Step inside the life of a fitness model

-Yoga Culture

-Good interview with the CEO of SoulCycle

-Fast fashion comes to athletic apparel

-Meanwhile in China

-The new Apple Watch should be a hit with runners

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS CUBA-BOUND

Wearables: Endgadget had a great article this week on smartwatches and the upcoming race to have the best selection of apps. Cherlynn Low likened it to how the success of the iPhone was made possible by the App Store. And she offered an explanation for why FitBit and Samsung developed their own OS instead of going with Android Wear:

First, let's quickly recap the three operating systems we're discussing. With the Fitbit Ionic, the wearables maker also debuted it’s first-ever smartwatch OS, called Fitbit OS. We'll also look at Samsung's Tizen OS as well as Garmin's own platform. There's a reason these companies came up with their own software instead of going with Android Wear. While we're not discussing it at length here, Google's system, as well as Apple's watch OS, are designed for a wider audience and are therefore multipurpose. These three proprietary offerings focus on health- and fitness-related functions instead, and they put these tools front and center.

                Apple is clearly committed to making the Apple Watch a fitness device and it sounds like the upcoming iteration of the WatchOS will be more fitness-focused. We’re still waiting on the rumored Google Pixel Watch so we can only speculate on Google’s smartwatch strategy. Perhaps they are hesitant to re-enter the wearables space after the Google Glass debacle. It sounds like FitBit and Samsung want to be the platform that is easiest to develop for. The conventional wisdom during the App Wars was that the iOS was easier to develop for than Android or Windows Phone so app developers typically built there first. That resulted in Apple having a more robust selection of apps than its competitors.

                The other thing that I am seeing is that smartwatch makers are pairing off with major sports & fitness companies. Nike and Apple have a long-standing relationship and it was probably the main reason that Nike exited the fitness tracker space. Now FitBit is working with Adidas to create an “athlete-focused version” of the Ionic, Samsung has announced a partnership with Speedo, and Under Armour is collaborating with HTC. I have to give a lot of credit to the leadership of Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour for investing so heavily in fitness software the last few years. They have put themselves into a good spot as the smartwatch/fitness tracker market matures and it’s usually better to be the software provider rather than the hardware manufacturer.    

One App to Rule Them All: Speaking of fitness apps, there is one that hasn’t been snapped up by Adidas or UA: Strava. For those who don’t know, Strava is an app that allows runners and cyclists to upload their workouts, analyze the data, and compare themselves to others. Men’s Journal covered the history of Strava, how it took advantage of the move to mobile and developed the Segments feature in order to attract cyclists. Now Strava wants to be the social network for exercise:

More significantly, Strava this spring introduced a new feature called Athlete Posts. It’s essentially a tool for users to create posts not tied to any particular workout. You craft a headline, write a few paragraphs (or a lot of them), maybe add a photo or two, and out it goes into your followers’ feeds. Yes, it’s a bit like Facebook—except that on Facebook, if your friends are anything like my friends, no one wants to hear about your plantar fasciitis or the precise ratio of honey to ice in your post-workout smoothie.

                I am somewhat skeptical of new social network ideas because around 5 years ago everyone and their mother tried to launch some version of one. Multiple social networks were created…for couples! But I am intrigued by Strava’s attempt for 2 reasons. The first is that they already have the eyeballs. Social networks live and die by the network effect. The network effect makes it difficult to get going and then extremely valuable once built up. Strava already has the users so they have a leg up. The second reason is that there is a pain point that they could solve. People like to talk about their workouts but most people don’t want to hear about your workouts. It’s like hearing about someone else’s dreams. (Note to self: start social media site where people post about their dreams) A social network that connects people who want to talk about their workouts has definite potential. The biggest obstacle will be the saturation of social media:

So far, Roll, who has nearly 13,000 followers, has posted about getting enough rest (“We love to competitively share our sessions here on Strava. But what if we translated that competitiveness into how we rest?”) and his smoothie routine (“tons of organic veggies and fruits, always starting with dark leafy greens”). But...  that’s it. He hasn’t posted since May 8, although his Strava training log is up-to-the-minute.

In fact, several other of Roll’s cohort don’t really post much apart from their workouts. Which isn’t to say it’s a failure—just that some may find that Facebook or Instagram suit their voices or audiences better.

                There are only so many hours in the day and updating/checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and then Strava may prove to be a little too much.

Age is just a number: TomTom is rolling out a new feature on its wearable devices that will calculate your fitness age. They will accomplish this by measuring your VO2 Max and then comparing it to other people. VO2 Max is the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can consume during exercise. Garmin launched a similar feature but didn’t have anything that looked like a test. I hope that TomTom will at least attempt to test VO2 Max instead of just estimating. Also, if you’re going to calculate someone’s fitness age, then you should include more than just VO2 Max.

iGym: Ben Court from Men’s Health got the opportunity to go inside Apple’s secret exercise lab in Silicon Valley. What he saw in Cupertino was very impressive:

The labels are appropriate, because the company that transformed the way you enjoy music and video is now sinking its teeth into a meatier challenge: new ways you can optimize your health. “Our lab has collected more data on activity and exercise than any other human performance study in history,” says Jay Blahnik, Apple’s director of fitness for health technologies, in a rare interview. “Over the past five years, we’ve logged 33,000 sessions with over 66,000 hours of data, involving more than 10,000 unique participants.” A typical clinical trial enrolls fewer than a hundred participants.

All of this sweaty data, gleaned from swimmers to yogis, gets crunched by motion experts who work in a double-secret lab (we weren’t invited to that one) to continually update the Apple Watch’s algorithms. The team wants the feedback to be as accurate as possible for as many activities as possible. This fall’s watchOS 4 upgrade, for example, will include high-intensity interval training. There’s also a new technology platform: The watch will pair with cardio machines—including Life Fitness and Technogym—as the first ever real-time two-way connection. You can monitor your training more precisely with no friction. Even if you never strap on an Apple Watch, you can learn much from the company’s research.

Apple is one of the most secretive companies ever. It is interesting that they are letting journalists take a peak under the hood. Their normal M.O. is to keep everything under wraps so that they can wow everyone when the finished product is debuted. Granted, Apple is not letting anyone see the next Apple Watch but they are going out of their way to demonstrate their commitment to fitness. I’m wondering who this is all for though. Is it for the app developers? So that they will choose the watchOS as the go-to platform for fitness apps. Or for Apple’s competitors in smartwatches? So that they know that trying to compete with the world’s most valuable company is futile. Or for consumers? So we all know that watchOS 4 is being designed around fitness & health. Perhaps Apple realized that the Watch wasn’t getting the amount of speculation and free publicity that its products usually received leading up to a launch and wanted to prime the pump. The keynote event, where watchOS4 will be officially introduced, is on September 12.

Fitness Marketing: Business Insider published an article on The Wellery, an entire floor of Saks Fifth Avenue flagship store in Manhattan dedicated to health and wellness. Basically, Saks has built a 16,000 square foot gym/spa. There are group exercise classes, detoxification rooms, guided meditation, laser treatments, fat-freezing procedures, and of course plenty of opportunities to purchase athletic apparel and equipment. I recommend following the link just to see the pictures. This is also the article that I would point people to if they wanted to know what fitness marketing is. Fitness is becoming the way that retailers generate foot traffic. Your local shopping mall might do it with a big box gym and high-end retailers like Saks will do it with boutique fitness classes and spa treatments.

Motivation: Believe it or not, people are still starting up exercise-rewards apps. Kilter Rewards is one of the newest ones. They saw the failure of Pact (formerly GymPact) and decided that the problem was that people wanted redeemable credits not cash. Kilter will award users credits for going to the gym. These credits can be used to buy coffee, food, and athletic apparel. I don’t see how a $1 Starbucks coupon is going to be effective when straight cash wasn’t. I am going to assume that Kilter is using credits because they negotiated a way to get those credits for less than their dollar value. And now they are trying to make it sound like that will be some kind of advantage. I am curious as to what their monetization strategy is. Pact took from the un-fit in order to give to the fit. Kilter is talking about a freemium model in which users can join for free but their rewards will be capped. I don’t see that working. They are going to have a hell of a time getting people to pay for a subscription. Plus, you can’t pay people to work out. It doesn’t work. The people starting these companies (as well as the people that are funding them) don’t understand what motivates people to get and stay fit.

                If they want to learn, then this would be a great place to start. Brad Stulberg is the co-author of Peak Performance and a former management consultant and White House staffer. From Quartz:

The same logic applies to areas beyond diet and exercise—whether our goals involve parenting, relationships, careers, or our creative ambitions. Research shows that the problem with focusing too much on end results and big goals is that they’re too black and white: you either achieve the goal or you don’t. If you do achieve them, then it’s all too easy to get carried away basking in the glory. You’re liable to become complacent and next thing you know, you’ve already fallen behind your competition. If you fail to achieve your big goals, however, then the opposite holds true: you’re likely to become sad, lose motivation, and in the worst-case scenario, burn out and quit whatever it is you were doing altogether.

Psychologists call this mindset “obsessive passion”—when a person’s drive is fueled not by how much they enjoy a given activity, but by external results, recognition, and rewards. Obsessive passion is linked to anxiety, cheating, depression, and burnout.

                Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. Which one do you think that redeemable credits falls under? I am adding this book to my Amazon wish list.

First World Problems: In case you need a reminder that fitness can be cheap as you need it to be, the Pioneer explored the burgeoning fitness scene in Cuba. No one has any money or fancy equipment. Getting any equipment at all is a battle. But that isn’t stopping people from pursuing their fitness goals. They build their own equipment from spare parts and open gyms in their backyards. Just a bunch of people who want to be better than they were the day before.

TidBits:

-New Guinness world records for Most Pull-ups in 1 minute: Men-51 Women-31 (by CrossFit Games winner Tia Toomey)

-You can buy Star Wars themed kettlebells now

-No, EMS is just another fad

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS A POD PERSON

Pod People: So there is a startup in China that is providing pod gyms (basically treadmill kiosks) on busy urban streets. Consumers book and pay for sessions with their smartphones. The going rate is approximately 3 cents a minute. Will this disrupt the gym business? Probably not. The main attraction is the treadmill but you know what’s even cheaper than a pod gym? Running outside. This model might work in China if the pollution levels in major metro areas like Beijing doesn’t decrease but it’s hard to see this taking off elsewhere. Traditional gyms have a tremendous advantage in that they are subscription businesses. They make money whether people show up or not. A pod gym needs to be booked in order to make money and it can only handle one person at a time.

And 3 cents a minute seems way too cheap. That’s $6 an hour which means that if it was occupied the entire day, it would only generate $144 in revenue. That comes out to just over $1000 a week. I realize that there isn’t much overhead but still. I’m not saying that you couldn’t build a strong business here by having 100+ pod-gyms. But I don’t think that this will disrupt the fitness industry because people go to the gym for more than a treadmill. I would be much more bullish on this if the price point was a little higher.   

Marketing Machine: The CEO of Planet Fitness went on Mad Money to talk about the hot streak that his company is enjoying. Earnings are up and so is the stock price. Memberships have increased to 10 million, from 7 million 2 years ago. And to what does he credit Planet Fitness’ success? Marketing.

"If you think about our business model and our marketing, it's a marketing machine," Rondeau told "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer on Thursday. "So every incremental member that joins, 9 percent of that dues goes to marketing, fueling the next join."

                Planet Fitness might be the smartest company in the fitness industry, which is depressing. They know exactly who their customers are and they tailor their marketing in order to go after them.

Rondeau called the overall style of Planet Fitness "conducive to the first-timer or casual gym user," a possible explanation for the chain's pull with millennials, who account for 49 percent of its membership.

                What Planet Fitness is really after is the person who will join a gym but never go. So they constructed a marketing strategy (No Judgement Zone, We’re Not a Gym) to target that person. Then they designed the gym to be less intimidating to that person (Lug Alarm, no free weights). Then they stripped out all the amenities that actual gym-goers might care about and lowered the price to the point where they hope that people won’t notice it on their credit-card bill.

                Planet Fitness is a smart company, no doubt about it. But they are not adding value to people’s lives. They have figured out how to take advantage of people’s apathy.

I’m a big pop-in guy: I came across an article on POPin, a new app that lets users purchase day passes to upscale gyms. For the life of me, I cannot understand why gyms do not make it easier to purchase short-term memberships. They either charge way too much ($25 for a day pass? Really?) or make you go through the whole sales process when you’re an out-of-towner. A middle market, big-box gym in not NYC/SF should charge $25 for a one-week pass. What are they afraid of? That people will just buy week-to-week memberships. Let them. That would be $100 a month. Don’t overthink it, just take the money. What you would really get anyway is people that are traveling and need someplace to work out. Or people that want to check out your gym before getting the hard sell.

                But instead, we are starting to see apps that are seeking to ease this pain point by functioning as the middleman between consumers and gyms. I am all for a service that will make it easier for me to find someplace to work out next time I am traveling but I do not understand why these services need to exist at all.  

                With POPin, you pay for the time that use. So that means that you have to check in and then check out as well. But your visit is free, so feel free to go nuts. The author did. She spend 3 hours at the Mercedes Club in NYC, which would have cost her $46.80.

Aging like a Fine Wine: The Hollywood Reporter published a piece on the challenge of preparing middle-aged actors for action-hero roles. As the big movie franchises get bigger and bigger, it is unreal how much is riding on the physiques of men in their 40’s and 50’s. Did you realize that Vin Diesel is 50 years old? He’s been playing Dom Toretto for 16 years now and I doubt that Universal Studios wants him to stop doing so anytime soon. The Fast and Furious franchise is worth billions of dollars. That is a lot of pressure on Vin Diesel to look like an action-hero. Maybe there should there be an Academy Award for Best Fitness Trainer.

                If you want a deeper dive into action-hero fitness, I highly recommend “Building a Bigger Action Hero”, a 2014 piece from Men’s Journal. It gets into the pressure on actors to transform their bodies for a role, how Fight Club changed Hollywood’s ideal male body, the use of PED’s, peaking for that big shirtless scene, telling George Clooney that he’s gotten fat, why stuntmen are a bad influence, Gym Jones, and the rise of the celebrity trainer.

 Boxing Gyms: Floyd Mayweather is getting into the gym business. The plan for Mayweather Boxing & Fitness is to sell franchises as well as branded programming:

The franchise model calls for the company to collect an upfront fee on each gym, along with a percentage of annual revenue (Williams wouldn’t disclose financial terms for the franchises). Affiliates will be non-Mayweather branded gyms or studios that offer select programming at more affordable pricing. A Mayweather gym in an affluent area might cost as much as $140 per month but could go as low as $40/month in areas with lower incomes.

                My knee jerk reaction to this is that the affiliate side of this business will do better than the franchises. Mayweather may be “one of the fittest athletes on the planet” but how often do you hear someone say that they want to look like him? Building a gym chain around one athlete is tougher than people think. This would have been an easier sell 10 years because every Mayweather fight would have been free publicity. How much will people care when Mayweather is truly retired? There are not many athletes who have remained in the public consciousness after they are done competing. And boxing is not a thriving sport. The fight that lured Floyd Mayweather out of retirement is with a guy who has never boxed professionally. That tells you a lot. Last but not least, there is Mayweather’s history of domestic violence. That hasn’t seem to hurt his boxing career in any appreciable way but you never know when people will wake up and decide that they want nothing to do with him.

Carrying a group exercise concept is a much easier lift and combat-based classes never seem to go out of style. The risk of being associated with Mayweather is much smaller as an affiliate than it would be as a franchise. MB&F is hinting that they have the secret sauce that made Mayweather one of the best boxer of his generation. If true, that could differentiate them from the competition.

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