THE WEEKLY HOWL IS GETTING READY FOR THE BIG GAME

Pseudoscience: The Super Bowl is this Sunday and the New England Patriots are once again playing for the Lombardi Trophy. Tom Brady will be making his ninth Super Bowl start and play for his sixth championship. He is still at the top of his game in his 40’s and he has some thoughts about why he has been able to compete at such a high level for so long. From Vox:

Brady eats a mostly organic, local, and plant-based diet with no highly processed foods. In the morning, he starts with 20 ounces of “water with electrolytes,” then a fruit smoothie, and after working out, more water and a protein shake. Lunch is typically fish and vegetables. Afternoon snacks consist of fruits, protein bars, and more protein shakes; dinners include more vegetables and sometimes soup broth.

Even more notable than what Brady eats is what he doesn’t. He avoids alcohol, as well as gluten-containing bread and pasta, breakfast cereal, corn, dairy, foods that contain GMOs, high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, sugar, artificial sweeteners, soy, fruit juice, grain-based foods, jams and jellies, most cooking oils, frozen dinners, salty snacks, sugary snacks, sweetened drinks, white potatoes, and prepackaged condiments like ketchup and soy sauce.

Tom Brady has had an amazing career but his fitness & nutrition advice is bizarre. There’s not that much wrong with it. He mostly recommends drinking plenty of water, getting plenty of rest, stretching a lot, and eating a pretty sensible diet. Nothing ground-breaking but nothing too controversial either. The bizarre part is the mystical properties that he ascribes to this stuff.

For example, let’s first address his claims about acidic and alkaline foods. Brady suggests that by avoiding certain acidifying foods, like meat, refined grains, or ketchup, you can control your body’s pH balance and improve your health and athletic performance.

The problem here is that pH balance, like the body’s temperature, is very tightly regulated, and diet has little to no impact on it. Instead, your lungs and kidneys keep the body’s pH in check automatically.

“It’s next to impossible — in fact, I can’t think of an instance — where people have been able to change their blood pH with diet,” Stuart Phillips, a professor in the department of kinesiology at McMaster University, told me. “So there’s zero foundation for the notion that alkaline and acid foods [are] able to do anything to your body.”

“If you actually eat a bunch of baking soda — even if you do that — you don’t change [the pH level] that much,” said Mayo Clinic exercise researcher Michael Joyner.

That means that while avoiding “acidifying” foods may feel good for Brady, it’s not actually going to alter his pH level.

Also:

In addition to the dubious diet and nutrition claims, the book also expounds on a concept called “muscle pliability.” Muscle pliability is different from flexibility, Brady writes. Pliability is “all about lengthening and softening the muscles,” and it can be achieved through “deep-force muscle work.”

Brady says Guerrero, fitness guru friend, does special pliability-enhancing massages, as Brady “rhythmically contracts and relaxes” each muscle. In addition to helping athletes achieve peak performance, Guerrero and Brady believe this can cure many common injuries, from tennis elbow to lower back pain.

When I asked exercise scientists about the concept, they said they’d never heard of it. They also advised against trying to soften one’s muscles. “The last thing an athlete wants is a soft muscle,” Phillips said, explaining that muscles only go soft when they’re underused.

              There are 2 sides of Tom Brady’s fitness & nutrition advice. Side 1 is taking conventional advice and trying to repackage it as something else. Doesn’t “deep-force muscle work” sounds like a massage? They just call it something else and then make some claims that don’t even make any sense. How is pliability different from flexibility? The other side is more dangerous. It’s the snake oil.

But the unreliable science behind Brady’s routine can be explained at least in part by the fact that Guerrero is behind it. Guerrero has been investigated by the Federal Trade Commission for falsely presenting himself as a medical doctor, and for promoting bogus nutritional supplements.

According to the Boston Globe, Guerrero once marketed a drink “that protects your brain from the consequences of sports-related traumatic brain injury,” which Brady endorsed. Together, the pair opened up the TB12 Sports Therapy Center, outside the Patriots’ Gillette Stadium, which brings many of the concepts outlined in the book to life for athletes seeking a fix. So the book is just the latest fruit of a dubious partnership — one that has the whiff of science without actually having anything to do with it.

              He is also opposed to weight-lifting, instead preferring to strength-train using resistance bands. I guess lifting weights will make your muscles too hard. As a society, we are addicted to learning the secrets of people’s success when a lot of the time the most successful people don’t understand how they succeeded. Tom Brady’s longevity is mostly a product of being on a well-coached team that has always had a good offensive line and the NFL changing the rules to protect quarterbacks. It’s not a coincidence that Drew Brees is still playing some of his best football at 40. Brady has avoided concussions and other injuries by not getting hit not by drinking magic water. And I hate to see a high-profile athlete muddy the waters of fitness advice with this crap. It’s stuff like this that makes fitness & nutrition seem like such a black box to most people. 

Fitness Marketing: Michelob Ultra will be running 2 ads during the Super Bowl on Sunday. One of them will be another fitness-focused ad from the beer brand. From WebWire:

Today, Michelob ULTRA unveiled its new Super Bowl commercial, reinforcing that while there’s an abundance of artificial in the world, your beer is one thing that shouldn’t be. With no artificial flavors or colors and only 95 calories and 2.6 carbs, Michelob ULTRA believes being human is about being fit and fun. In the :30 commercial that will air on Super Bowl Sunday, the robots featured outperform humans at everything except one critical moment: enjoying a superior light beer.  

“Reminding people who are physically active and fans of beer that balance is possible has always been our mission, and we’re excited to bring this message to the Super Bowl stage,” said Azania Andrews, vice president of Michelob ULTRA. “As the fastest growing beer brand we believe we are the beer of this decade, and the next, and we can’t wait to show America what we’re up to this year, beginning with Super Bowl.”

              This is not a new approach for Michelob, who has been pioneering fitness marketing for several years now. It’s interesting to watch them hone their approach though. Previous ad campaigns showed people working out and then kicking back with a few cold ones. Michelob clearly wanted to go after a certain demographic. This ad makes it much more explicit: What’s the point of all that working out if you can’t enjoy yourself a little bit? As fitness marketing grows, I’m excited to see how creative the advertising gets.

Wearables: Google missed the boat on smartwatches. The tech giant believed in wearables but had committed its focus to Google Glass, a product that completely bombed with consumers but is now finding life as an enterprise product. Now that smartwatches are taking off, Google has to do something to catch up with Apple. They decided to pursue a path of carefully considered acquisitions/partnerships with smaller companies that have already been developing hardware. From Wired:

Google and the Fossil Group announced earlier today that the tech giant is acquiring some of Fossil’s smartwatch intellectual property, suggesting Google may be making its own competitor to the Apple Watch, or, as wishful pundits refer to it, a Pixel watch. It’s not an outlandish idea: As first reported in Wareable, Fossil Group executive vice president and chief digital officer Greg McKelvey says the $40 million deal will result in the launch of “a new product innovation that’s not yet hit the market.” Google buying up talent as it ramps up hardware efforts is also not unprecedented: In early 2018, it spent $1.1 billion to buy a significant chunk of the HTC smartphone team that had helped develop Google’s Pixel phones.

But Google’s $40 million buy of some of Fossil’s smartwatch tech also says a lot about the broader smartwatch market. In short: Fitness has been driving this whole category of technology, more so than fashion. And it underscores the challenges that fashion brands like Fossil face as they try to incorporate more technology into their products, spending millions to build in-house tech teams that will make their already-wearable stuff more useful.

I can’t say that this is a bad strategy. Partnering with other companies is a good way to get up to speed quickly. What makes me think that Google won’t recover from this is that I don’t think that they appreciate how committed Apple is to smartwatches. Google reminds me of Microsoft 20 years ago. Both companies were used to throwing their weight (and money) around. They didn’t always have to be on the cutting edge of innovation because they had such enormous resources to put to use. Microsoft didn’t come up with computer spreadsheets or internet browsers. They saw someone else have success with those and then bullied them out of the market. Everything was fine until Microsoft picked a fight with someone their own size. They missed the whole mobile market, which is right in character for them. The difference was this time, they couldn’t bully Apple and Google. It’s going to be very hard for Google to catch up to Apple in smartwatches. Apple has more money, more expertise in hardware, and is committed to the success of the Apple Watch. Google is trying to figure out how to compete in this segment. And this quote doesn’t bode well for them:

Fossil Group’s McKelvey agreed that health and fitness tracking are driving demand for smartwatches. He said that while the company will always be focused on fashion and design, it will be “leaning into” sport devices this year and next. He seemed undaunted by Apple’s dominance in smartwatches. “We’re a small company,” he said. “We only need 5 percent of this market and we’re still in the game.”

              That makes sense for Fossil. They are a relatively small company (at least relative to Apple). But that lack of grand ambition would be a disaster for Google (and parent company Alphabet).  

Sports: It’s no secret that football is a dangerous sport. Not anymore. However, most people believe that the danger stems from the actual playing of the sport, which is plenty dangerous. There is also a hidden danger: the team’s strength and conditioning programs. This would sound ridiculous if 28 college football players had not died in workouts since 2000 and the NCAA sounds like it might want to start doing something about this. From The Sporting News:

The NCAA’s board of governors has given initial approval to a measure aimed at preventing non-traumatic deaths in offseason workouts, Sporting News has learned. It is expected be enacted this spring following an amendment process.

The document outlines how schools should acclimate student-athletes into workouts following low-activity periods, which carry greater risk of injury or death because players have not yet adjusted to strenuous drills. It would also discourage the use of intensive workouts as a form of punishment, and establish how to properly diagnose and treat heatstroke.

Fourteen medical organizations, including the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and the Korey Stringer Institute — which strives to prevent sudden death among athletes at all levels — are reviewing the proposal and suggesting amendments. Brian Hainline, chief medical officer of the NCAA’s Sports Science Institute, said roughly half the organizations involved in the process have approved it, and the rest are expected to deliver formal reviews by Jan. 31. Hainline said he expects the document will be officially enacted and published by late spring.

“It’s a huge leap forward," Hainline told SN, "because frankly, and we state this in the document, the vast majority of these non-traumatic catastrophic deaths and injuries are preventable.”

It’s really sad that the NCAA has to intervene here. Football teams need to be told how to not kill their own kids during workouts. This isn’t hard, this is common sense.

(1) Don’t make work-outs into anything other than a work-out. Don’t make them into team-building exercises or manhood tests or a roster management tool. You work-out so you can get better at your position and your sport. That’s it. Strength & Conditioning coaches should design work-outs to make athletes better at their sport, not as a punishment.

(2) Accept that the athletes on a football team are very different from each other. Don’t expect 300 pound athletes to be able to do the same things as 180 pound athletes and vice versa.

(3) If someone is showing the signs of exhaustion or heat stroke, end their work-out immediately and have someone attend to them.

No one should ever die in a work-out. No one should ever be severely injured either. There has been a lot of discussion about how to make the sport of football safer. There needs to be more discussion on how to make preparing for the sport safer as well.

Cycling: Gizmodo reviewed the Peloton Tread this week. The Tread is Peloton’s expansion into treadmill classes following on its success with cycling. It carries a price tag that is double that of the bike and weighs over three times as much.

It took three Peloton delivery men to wrestle this thing into my moderately sized, only somewhat cluttered apartment in Brooklyn. They uttered phrases like, “This thing is like a tank,” and “Oh god my back.” Which makes sense because this thing has a footprint of 6 feet by 2.7 feet, and weighs a whopping 455 pounds. My janky floorboards bent a little under the weight. It dominates my living room. We had to move our TV distinctly off center to accommodate it. My tiny dog sometimes stares at the large contraption in senile bewilderment.

It’s also extremely loud. Of course, you’d never expect a treadmill to be quiet, but the Peloton Tread still isn’t the most subtle device. The ground shook when I ran, and things on my coffee table came precariously close to falling off. That makes sense—this thing goes up to a speedy 12.5 mph. But with its large size and hefty weight, it cements that the Tread isn’t suited to apartment living. I could hear when my roomie was going for a run, and I imagine my neighbors could too.

              Peloton’s marketing always presents its bikes as something to be displayed in the common areas of your house, not tucked away in the basement. This focus on the Peloton bike as a status symbol was recently roasted on Twitter. Peloton wants you to believe that its bike isn’t just a piece of fitness equipment, it’s a status symbol. It is a way to show people that not only are you the type of person who enjoys pushing themselves in high-end cycling classes, you are also way too busy to waste time angling for SoulCycle slots. Plus, you have the cash to shell out for a $2,000 bike. There is a reason that Peloton chooses to present its bike this way and that’s because it is an incredibly powerful marketing message. And it’s made possible by the design of the bike. It is a great-looking piece of equipment.

The Tread’s hulking appearance and bigger noise footprint will likely preclude it from being a tasteful addition to the living room. The thing is a “tank”. Who wants to put a tank on display in their house? So you’re paying twice as much but you have to stick it out in the garage? And how does Peloton rethink their marketing for the Tread? They can’t just replace the bike with the treadmill and reshoot the same ads. It could be a challenge to reach the same customers who bought the bike.  It sounds like Peloton built a great treadmill but it remains to be seen whether there is a market for it. Building a great product is no small feat but that is never a guarantee that it will sell. They are going to face some challenges regarding the pricing and the marketing. I am interested to see how they approach this.  

Gym Class Hero: Childhood obesity is on the rise, school funding is not, and physical education is often one of the first things on the chopping block. I instinctively considered that a bad thing. Our children needed more exercise, not less. Perhaps my instincts were wrong. From The Atlantic:

The paper posits that by subjecting participants—namely low-income kids, as the Fitness Now grants targeted campuses serving disadvantaged populations—to these circumstances on a daily basis, the P.E. requirement made students less inclined to go to school. “These adolescents were not enjoying the daily P.E. requirements and would’ve rather skipped school,” suggests Packham, who as an economist has focused her research on the outcomes of health programs. The Fitness Now program required that students participate in at least 30 minutes of physical education every school day. Schools that took part in the grant received $10,000 on average to help improve their P.E. programs by adding classes, for example, or hiring coaches and fitness instructors. They also used the money to purchase equipment such as stopwatches, jump ropes, and free weights.

According to the study, the program resulted in a roughly 16 percent increase in the number of disciplinary actions for each student. The study also found that the proportion of misbehaving students went up by more than 7 percent.

The findings of the study, which has yet to be published in an academic journal, are limited in scope. Still, the new paper adds much-needed nuance to the body of research that has evaluated the effectiveness of various approaches to P.E., complicating the findings of studies that generally assert the importance of school policies that encourage regular opportunities for physical activity.

It’s hard to argue that a given P.E. program is anything but well intended, particularly when considering that children spend most of their waking hours—and meals—at school, and that childhood obesity is a national crisis. But the kind of strategy taken by many of the Fitness Now schools may not be the most effective way to achieve the purported goals.

              The fact that most physical education classes are archaic is not a surprise but the fact that children hate it that much is. While the statistics are sobering, I also don’t believe that we should throw the baby out with bath water. This means that we need a better approach to integrating some physical activity into our children’s lives. It doesn’t mean that we should just give up on having any form of physical education in our schools. What might a better approach look like?

Justin Cahill, a veteran P.E. educator who’s taught at an Atlanta-area private school for the past decade or so, stresses that it’s the typical application of physical education rather than the fundamental concept that results in bad outcomes. Until the past few years, P.E. classes tended to focus on kids’ acquisition of skills, such as dribbling a ball, and the fulfillment of universal benchmarks, such as the ability to run around a track three times within some specific amount of time. This approach, he says, “breeds stagnation and disinterest—the kids are like, ‘Yeah, this is ridiculous.’” It can also, as Packham’s study suggests, breed resentment: After all, in this “old school” version of P.E., certain kids are bound to struggle.

Cahill maintains that many P.E. programs are high caliber, successful in both engaging students and producing positive health and wellness outcomes. Echoing the findings outlined in Kohl’s book, he says that positive results are contingent on a multifaceted and holistic design—what he defines as programs that inspire children to exercise without realizing they’re exercising, that simply ensure they’re constantly moving, during recess, frequent “brain breaks” to get out “the sillies,” morning jogs, and, yes, regular P.E. class. Positive results are also contingent on experienced, empathetic P.E. teachers—those who know to modify a curriculum to meet a certain student’s needs, and to give kudos to that child who can’t run around the track. After all, research shows that people can get a good workout even when walking, and the more important thing is to create a healthy relationship with exercise that can last for decades.

              The human body is made to move. We can’t expect children to sit all day. It’s unnatural. We need to figure out a way to incorporate physical activity into the school day in some form. I also believe that we need to teach our children how to incorporate fitness into their lives when they get older.

              Change is inevitable. Our economy has shifted from agriculture to manufacturing to information. That has led to an enormous change in our lifestyles as well. But no one every sits you down and explains that to you. That your dad worked in a factory all day so he didn’t need to go to the gym after work but you work in an office and you do. So most people don’t change their lifestyle. They live their lives the way that they saw their parents live their lives but the changing circumstances have wreaked havoc on their waistlines. Physical education is an opportunity to be that sit-down, a chance to explain what it will take to stay in shape as an adult in this country.  I hope that we don’t give up on it.

Tidbits:

-Sam Briggs and James Newbury won the Australian CrossFit Championship

-Superman had some strange fitness advice in the 1940s

-Equinox is spinning its popular treadmill class out into its own studio

-Aaptiv got in on the pop-up gym craze

-The Army Reserve may not be ready for the fitness test by 2020

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS JOINING THE ARMY

Beer: My track coach in college once told us something that has always stuck with me. He told us that we were smart people so we could rationalize anything but that didn’t mean that we should ignore common sense. He was talking to us about alcohol. He didn’t want his athletes drinking because it would hinder performance and he knew that some of us would invent reasons to justify why it was okay to imbibe. What he didn’t tell us was that there was a whole cottage industry devoted to justifying the consumption of alcohol. The Ringer sent Molly McHugh down the rabbit-hole of the Beer Mile, a competition that entails drinking 4 beers and running 1 mile as fast you can. She survived to write about it and came back armed with pseudo-science about the health benefits of beer.

While ingesting beer before running certainly won’t make you go faster, Neilson isn’t the only one who thinks that it could be beneficial after exercise. Some breweries are creating beer with exactly this factor in mind. Chief among them is Sufferfest Beer, a San Francisco–based brewery with the slogan “will sweat for beer.” The aim of Sufferfest is to make a beer with some physical benefits that doesn’t sacrifice taste—though it doesn’t claim the drink aids recovery. The Sufferfest team like to qualify theirs as a “functional” beer, which means it’s meant to do something beyond tasting good and giving patrons a nice buzz. Sufferfest beer is gluten-free and has nutrients runners look for in both training and recovery—sodium, iron, potassium, and fiber. It’s also a probiotic. ABV ranges from 3.5 percent to 7.5, fairly strong for what’s deemed a “beer with benefits.” It’s sold not just in grocery stores, but also in climbing gyms and CrossFit studios. “Beer is actually really healthy,” says Sufferfest director of marketing Margaret Link, who recently completed a 50K race. The beverage is high in fiber and electrolytes, and it’s also around 90 to 95 percent water. It’s no wonder that runners crave a beer immediately after crossing the finish line, she says.

              What if I told you that there was a liquid that is 100% water? It’s called water. Alcohol is a diuretic, it is not a good thing to drink post-exercise.

“Exercise provides a wealth of benefits to brain and body, and is regarded as a protective factor against disease,” the researchers wrote. “Protective factors tend to cluster together—that is, people who engage in one healthy behavior, such as exercise, also engage in other healthy behaviors, such as maintaining a nutritious diet and getting sufficient sleep. In contrast to exercise, alcohol consumption is not typically regarded as a health-promoting behavior. … Surprisingly, several large, population-based studies have shown a positive association between physical activity and alcohol intake.” That same study’s survey of college students found that those who classified themselves as moderate drinkers were more likely to be physically active, and that as the intensity of their physical activity went up, so did their drinking. Other, broader surveys confirm the correlation beyond college students.

              So alcohol might be good for you because healthy people tend to do healthy things. This is pure rationalization. If you enjoy drinking beer, then go ahead and enjoy it. But please stop trying to convince anyone that it is good for you. It is not. Alcohol has been designated as a Level 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization. Take a look at the list and ask yourself if you would want to put some of those substances in your body. It’s not a recovery drink and it’s not going to help you live longer. It will do the exact opposite. People will always choose to drink alcohol and that’s okay but it is dangerous to tell them that it’s actually good for you.         

Dear Gym: Gyms are notorious for making it hard for members to cancel. It’s the seedy underbelly to the fitness industry. And it not uncommon for the media to pick up on some of the most outrageous examples. From WILX 10:

Gym memberships can be a major headache when you try to cancel them. But for one Jackson woman, her health prevented her from going to the gym and being able to cancel it. Kathie Pagan was diagnosed with temporal bone infection. She has to take antibiotics through an IV often, and that prevents her from going places. She was told the only way she can cancel her gym membership is to do it in person, something she says is just not possible.

"I told him that it could possibly harm his employees and patrons," she said.

Pagan says cancelling her membership in person wouldn't be fair to her or the gym's employees and patrons.

"I wanted to stay there, I wanted to work out, I didn't think that I was going to be sick all this time. I thought he would work with me, and then when I got better I would just go back. I don't plan on not being able to work out. I hope that one day I can feel good and get physically fit."

Pagan says she tried to explain the situation to the owner, but didn't feel like she was getting anywhere.

Dear gym operators, stop making it so hard to cancel! It’s short-term thinking. Yes, you will probably get a few more months of membership dues out of that person but there is a cost to that. Think long-term. You could get that member back one day or they could even refer other people to your gym. Or you could avoid negative headlines like this one. Have more confidence. You have the privilege of selling the best product in the world: fitness. Stop acting like you’re selling time shares. You don’t need to do this kind of stuff.

This is very 20th century to me, treating the consumer as if they’re not sophisticated and basically trying to rip them off and thinking that they won’t understand what’s going on. 21st century companies excel by being customer-centric and confident in their product/service. I’ve canceled my Netflix subscription because I wasn’t using it. The process was easy and hassle-free and you know what, I ended up coming back. There have been other subscription services that I have used before that made it a pain to cancel and I’ll never go back. Because that was my last impression of the company, that they were trying to rip me off. I would never recommend those services to anyone either. That’s not good business.  

Military: One of my instructors at boot camp used to brag that he only worked out twice a year, when he was forced to take the Navy’s PFT. The PFT is max push-ups, max curl-ups, and a 1.5 mile run. It’s not terribly demanding especially considering how rampant cheating is on the push-ups and curl-ups. Basically, you could fake your way through the strength portion and then suck it up for a short run. A lot of people would cram for it, try to get in good-enough shape in the 2 months before the test and you could. Other people would fake injuries, I remember one guy who would mysteriously develop a limp the month of the PFT. The Army PFT is similar, the main difference being a slightly longer run (2 miles). But times are changing and the Army Combat Fitness Test is going to re-define what a military fitness test can look like. From Military.com

The secretary of the Army said Monday he has no doubt that soldiers will "rise to the challenge to meet the requirements" of the new Army Combat Fitness Test in October 2020.

The chief of staff of the Army put his views more bluntly.

"If you can't get in shape in 24 months, then maybe you should hit the road," Gen. Mark Milley said, referring to the Army's commitment to the new six-event ACFT.

"We don't want to lose thousands of soldiers to [the ACFT]. This fitness test is hard. No one should be under any illusions about it," he said. "But we really don't want to lose soldiers on the battlefield. We don't want young men and women to get killed in action because they weren't fit."

              The main impetus for this change is to more accurately prepare people for the rigors of combat. Push-ups, sit-ups, and running isn’t comprehensive enough. An added benefit of this overhaul will be that it will be very difficult to cram for it. The old PFT model isn’t rigorous enough. You can suck it up through some sit-ups, push-ups, and a short run, especially when you’re young which most service members are. I always preferred the USMC test (Pull-ups, Sit-ups, 3 mile run) because pull-ups are much tougher than push-ups (you have to train them!) and a 3 mile run really keeps you honest. The new Army test will require people to train year-round, you’re not going to be able to cram for this one.

Drugs are bad: Are we at a point in which everything is a thing now? It sure seems that way. Why do I say that? Because apparently taking Viagra before working out is a thing now. From Men’s Health:

Last year, Sam*, 27, started taking anabolic steroids. “I always wanted to be big and strong,” he told MensHealth.com, “At some point I realized my goals were unattainable naturally, so I hopped on the juice.” He had heard that steroid use could potentially lead to erectile dysfunction, so he started taking 10mg a day of the erectile dysfunction drug Cialis.

Then Sam started spending a lot of time on Reddit. He quickly discovered another potential benefit for Cialis. “I saw that people were taking it before their workouts,” he said. “So I changed the timing of my doses to about an hour prior to training.”

To hear Sam tell it, he noticed the difference right away. “I noticed increased vascularity and good pumps,” he said. “Plus, it seems to help reduce cramping/debilitating pumps from oral steroids. I have better erection quality as well, which is obviously pretty great.” Though he eventually dropped to 5mg per day to improve nasal congestion (a common side effect of erectile dysfunction drugs), he continues to take it before his workouts.

This encapsulates the insanity of taking PED’s. You start taking a drug to boost performance but there are side effects to the original drug so you start taking another drug to counteract those side effects but now you have to worry about the side effects of the other drug that you’re on.

And will getting a better pump (more blood in your muscles) even translate to greater muscle growth?

“Sildenafil increases blood flow to the penis and surrounding muscles, which translates into a nice strong erection,” says urologist and assistant professor at the UCF College of Medicine, Jamin Brahmbhatt, MD. “This increased blood flow is what some athletes hope to have to get them to build up their bodies faster.” Viagra also contains nitric oxide, a key ingredient in many legal bodybuilding supplements (though it's worth noting that the benefits of nitric oxide for building muscle are pretty unclear).

There's a small amount of research to support these claims. A few studies have suggested that taking sildenafil can benefit athletes competing at high altitudes, such as cyclists or long-distance runners, by delivering more oxygen to their muscles. Additionally, a 2013 study in the journal of Clinical and Translational Science suggested that sildenafil could increase muscle protein synthesis and reduce muscle fatigue, concluding that it may “represent a potential pharmacologic strategy to improve skeletal muscle function.”

But Brahmbhatt says there were serious limitations to this study. “The study found some potential benefit in gaining muscle mass if you took low doses of Viagra,” continues Dr. Brahmbhatt, “but that study was flawed by its small size. This is a great example of how you should not get caught up in the hype of one study.”

              In other words: who knows. Kids, don’t do drugs.

World Domination: CrossFit has announced another 4 events that will become a part of the 16 event qualifying circuit that will replace the Regionals. And what is definitely a trend now, all 4 events will be contested outside of the U.S. From Morning Chalk-Up:

The 2019 CrossFit Games season officially kicked off last week with the start of the Dubai CrossFit Championship and Wodapalooza CrossFit Festival online qualifiers. Athletes and fans will now have eight months of uninterrupted CrossFit competitions leading up to the CrossFit Games in August. 

Today, CrossFit HQ added four new sanctioned events, bringing the total to 10 with several more expected in coming weeks.

CrossFit Strength in Depth, the CrossFit Italian Showdown, the CrossFit Lowlands Throwdown, have all gained sanctioned status and will be qualifying one male and female athlete and one team to the CrossFit Games. The only exception to that is the CrossFit Italian Showdown, which will not include a team competition. 

Due to SouthFit CrossFit Challenge kicking off next month, it won’t become a sanctioned event until the 2020 season. 

              Strength in Depth is held in London, The Italian Showdown in Milan, the Lowlands Throwdown in the Netherlands, and the SouthFit CrossFit Challenge in Buenos Aires. That gives us 3 U.S. events (Wodapalooza, Granite Games, Mid-Atlantic CrossFit Challenge), 2 South American events (Brazil CrossFit Championship, SouthFit CrossFit Challenge), 4 European events (Italian Showdown, Lowlands Throwdown, French Throwdown, Strength in Depth), 1 African event (Fittest in Cape Town), and one Middle Eastern event(Dubai CrossFit Championship). This is what the circuit for a sport with global aspirations looks like. It’s also something that would have been very expensive and time-consuming for CrossFit to organize itself. The downside is that it will be expensive for U.S. based athletes to travel to these events.

              We’re also starting to see athletes figure out their qualifying strategies. Moving the Open from February to November seems less than ideal for Games competitors. Trying to compete in both basically means that you can’t take anytime off after the Games. Some athletes mused about not competing in the Open but it appears that CrossFit is putting the kibosh on that strategy.

Since Greg Glassman first announced changes to the CrossFit Games season six weeks ago, it was unclear what role, if any, the Open would play. As only country winners and the top 20 worldwide would receive invitations to the CrossFit Games, it appeared that the Open would offer little to no benefit for a majority of would be competitors.

Some were even expressing interest in skipping it altogether.

“The likelihood of me doing the Open is small, I think,” said Brent Fikowski in an interview with TeamRICHEY, who placed 184th worldwide and 20th in Canada in 2018. “It’s likely that I’ll probably just go to a lot of competitions and try to qualify through the competitions. I think it’s a much better use of my time for me to do that to go to the Games” 

However, with today’s updated announcement, athletes will want to think twice about skipping the 2019 CrossFit Open. 

According to a press release, “Overall competitor seeding at the Games will be determined by athletes’ scores in the 2019 worldwide CrossFit Open. Athletes who do not participate in the Open (and thus do not receive an Open score) will receive the lowest seeding and will compete in the first qualifying heats at the 2019 Games. Higher seeded athletes will compete in later heats.”

Glassman has teased the idea of elimination rounds in several interviews over the past month. CrossFit HQ confirmed that the CrossFit Games will open with mass elimination rounds to whittle the competition down to only 10 athletes, hence the emphasis placed on seeding from the Open. 

For example, the Fittest Man in Bolivia — Carlos Hurtado — ranked 5653 worldwide and 250th in the Latin America region. By comparison, Alex Vigneault was the Fittest Man in Canada and 2nd worldwide. Vigneault would compete in later heats with fitter athletes. 

CrossFit also confirmed that winners of sanctioned events will be seeded higher than national champions and possibly receive a bye out of the first elimination round. 

              Figuring out how to approach the new qualifying format is going to be tricky. Everyone will probably want to compete in the Open which means that Games competitors will need to keep training hard between the Games and the Open before taking a break. Does that make Dubai an attractive event? You could train all year to be in peak shape for August-December. And then if you don’t qualify, you have the rest of the year to make another attempt. It will be interesting to see what works and what doesn’t.

Tidbits:

-SoulCycle’s new media division is getting into music

-Meanwhile in the sleep economy…

-Your fitness tracker might not be as accurate as you want it to be

-The Science of Gym Selfies

-I don’t think that fitness snacking is a good way to describe this

-Ruth Zukerman, founder of SoulCycle and FlyWheel Sports, has a book coming out

-I need a vacation

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