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 DOESN'T WEAR HIS WEDDING RING TO THE GYM

State of the Industry: Market Watch had a good overview of the fitness industry this week. Let’s summarize:

-Growth in the fitness industry is coming from boutiques on the high-end and low-cost operators on the low end

-Mid-market, big box gyms have responded by introducing “tiered membership-pricing strategies that limit access to certain amenities (pools, courts, etc.).”

-Boutiques face 2 major challenges going forward:

-charging on a per-session basis runs the risk of falling prey to fickle customer loyalty

-the high price point limits opportunity for growth going forward and could make them extremely vulnerable in an economic downturn

-Big box gyms have taken advantage of store closures to snag attractive retail space at favorable terms

-YogaWorks will need to expand to “as many as 350 to 400 studios to break even or achieve positive free-cash flow”.

                Right now, YogaWorks has just over 50 studios. So they need to achieve 7X growth just to break even? I wish I had the time to dig into their financial statements because this sounds weird. Gyms aren’t really subject to economies of scale. Your big costs are rent and payroll. Having more gyms doesn’t typically bring down the cost of either. What’s going on with YogaWorks? Also, a company with 53 studios shouldn’t be publicly traded.

Keeping it cheap: You don’t need money to get fit. Having money can certainly make it easier but it not a necessity. Part of the beauty of fitness is that the most basic equipment is the most effective. Even as technology is rising to science fiction levels, the cutting edge of the fitness industry in the last decade has been hunks of iron. You need aerobic or anaerobic fitness, get out there and run. Put one foot in front of the other and repeat as many times as necessary. You need to get stronger, lift something. Maybe that’s a barbell or kettlebell or maybe it’s your own bodyweight.

The residents of the island of Tuhen in the middle of Kiev have figured out a great way to keep fitness cheap: use scrap metal from the Soviet era to build an outdoor gym. I highly recommend clicking through to this article. This is low-tech fitness at its finest. Gym-goers lift “up-cycled hunks of military vehicles” and use stacks of old tires as punching bags. The gym is of course free and attracts “old and young” as well as “rich and poor”. And after a hard workout, instead of a cold shower you can go jump in the Dnipro River.

Rings in the Gym: Should you wear your wedding ring to the gym? From the Good Men Project:

Most wedding rings are made of precious metals like silver, gold, or platinum, which are considered “soft” due to their properties. Working out while wearing a ring can cause it to become misshapen or even break, not to mention the risk of a bending a claw holding in a gemstone and having it fall out.

Some suggest only wearing a simple band to make up for the loss of the ring for the time being so you don’t miss the feeling of it (as well as alert others that you’re married or engaged), but this can pose some problems. If a weight or handle were to fly out of your hand after losing grip, there’s a possibility for your ring to catch it as it leaves you. If this were to happen, it could cause major damage to that finger as well as potentially destroy the band.

                If you’re reading this, please never wear your wedding ring while you’re working out. It may sound unlikely but you can lose part of your finger. I knew a guy in the Navy who lost part of his finger doing Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure operations. The ring caught on part of the ladder that he was climbing and his finger went with it. If you really can’t go without your ring for even one hour a day, then get a silicone band. There are numerous companies selling them now and you don’t have to worry about damaging them or yourself.

Advertising: The Insider ran a piece about fitness advertising and body-shaming. It started with an advertisement for a local gym.

Every time I go to the grocery store, I walk by an independent gym in my neighborhood. It seems like a fine establishment and it offers workout classes that look like fun. But I always get an awful feeling when I see the gigantic ad that's posted in the window.

"ISN'T IT TIME YOU FELT CONFIDENT TAKING A FULL BODY 'SELFIE'!!?" it reads (yes, in all caps). The ad features a photo of a thin, muscular blond woman wearing a sports bra and underwear.

                Is this really body-shaming? It’s not casting judgement on anyone’s appearance, just selling the idea that you can look better than you do now. You don’t have to be ashamed of your body in order to want to look and feel better. It’s not a mutually exclusive thing. That said, the article did hit upon some advertisements that definitely were body-shaming.

Sometimes the more egregious examples make headlines. Last August, one gym ran an ad that showed a photo of a pear with the words, "This is no shape for a girl." The same month, a gym chain in the UK put up a billboard depicting an alien and UFO with the words, "They're coming ... and when they arrive they'll take the fat ones first."

                Yeah, that’s pretty bad. Also, who is that for? Take a woman who is overweight and self-conscious about her appearance. Now you shame her for her body composition and think that she will want to join your gym. A lot of people already find the gym to be an intimidating place. Planet Fitness’ entire business model is built around that. Body-shaming is only going to make the odds of that person joining any gym go down. The next question is whether focusing on physical appearance is a sustainable model for retaining your existing members.

In 2007, another study linked appearance-based motivation with lower self-esteem and body satisfaction. Other researchers have reached similar conclusions.

It makes sense on a non-scientific level, too. You can always improve your health by exercising. But you may not be able to morph your body to match that thin, toned, idealized appearance propagated on Instagram or in advertisements.

If that unattainable "ideal" appearance is your primary motivator for working out, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment.

                I believe that you can promote looking better without shaming people. But if you’re going to do that, then you should probably have a plan for shifting your members’ focus to health or performance once they’ve signed up. We all can’t look like fitness models no matter how much we work out but we can become better versions of ourselves. 

Wearables: Fitness trackers are at a weird crossroads right now. Everyone seems convinced that they are the next big thing and everyone wants to get in on the action. From CNBC:

While devices made by market leaders such as Fitbit, Apple and Xiaomi have become ubiquitous, the latest products from start-ups cater to specific sports.

One of these is a "FitBit for fighters" created by Finnish start-up Kick.Ai. Its founders, who are avid Taekwondo practitioners, told CNBC that they have come up with the world's first consumer wearable which measures data on martial arts kicks.

            Why? This segment hasn’t even really taken off yet. No one has become a billionaire on their wearables start-up so why are we already at the point of super-specific niche versions? Consumers haven’t quite decided whether they want to embrace them. Some of the largest companies in the world have crashed and burned or exited the market (Google Glass, Nike Fuel Band). And just like smartphones, all the money is flowing to either Apple or cheap manufacturers. Mobile devices have been devouring other electronic devices over the last 10 years. Remember GPS units and cameras. Smartwatches are already starting to devour fitness trackers. If I was a prospective investor, the first questions I would ask is why Apple isn’t doing this yet? The second question is what will you do when Apple does decide to do this? Why would you want to compete with Apple in hardware? Maybe you don’t?

Both startups, which were exhibiting at the Slush technology conference in Singapore last week, will be hoping to replicate the success of fellow Slush alumnus Beddit. Beddit, a startup producing a sensor which tracks sleeping patterns, announced that it had been acquired by Apple in May. The tech giant has been growing its wearables business, posting a nearly 50 per cent growth in market share for the second quarter of this year.

                Apple doesn’t make many acquisitions for a company of it size but hey you never know.

Extreme Fitness: In the last few years, there seems to have been a shift in the way people approach fitness. It wasn’t that long ago when it seemed that people wanted results but didn’t want to have to work for them. The human body doesn’t work that way. It responds to the stimulus that you expose it to. In other words, you have to work for it. I don’t hate this change in thinking but has it gone too far? From the Guardian:

These days, hardcore fitness sells. Even Nike, which made its name with that inclusive Just Do It tagline, has taken to lambasting joggers in its latest ad campaign: “If You Like It Slow, Jog On”, or “You Win Some Or You Win Some”, proclaim its new billboards. Gyms run “go hard” promotions, with discounted packages for those taking up unlimited classes for short periods of time, such as 10 classes in 10 days – the kind of training that many dub “binge workouts”.

But nowhere is full-on training more powerfully advocated than on social media, where inspirational quotes such as “Pain is Weakness Leaving The Body” and “Sweat Is Your Fat Crying” are liked and shared millions of times. In the age of “wellth”, a well-honed tricep is more desirable than the latest pair of designer shoes. The so-called world of “fitspo” began as a niche way for gym nerds to share tips and document how their bodies changed, before spreading into a whole lifestyle movement. Instagram’s short videos lend themselves to fitness content; people started following routines in the gym.

                The downside to this is that people want to go hard all the time. The human body doesn’t work that way either. It needs varying levels of intensity and even <gasp> rest. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak. It’s easy to get a person motivated but it is hard to build the body up to handle a high level of training. Social media is not always helpful in this regard because the incentive there is to show the highlights not the lowlights. It’s just like your friend only posts pictures when he’s at that new trendy restaurant and never when he’s sitting at home in his pajamas. Except, fitness personalities are only showing you the really tough workouts and not the active recovery that they’re doing the next day. It can be very easy to think that they’re going hard every single day and they’re probably happy letting you think that.

Vacassin adds: “In our gym, we have gym standards. People undergo an assessment before they get a programme. Hiit [high intensity] training and complicated exercises under fatigue should not be in 90% of people’s fitness regimes because they don’t have the physical capability. These online accounts trick people into thinking this is easy. No one posts a bad workout. No one posts the workout they missed. No one posts the depression they have when they get injured or the relationships it costs them. All you see is the good stuff.”

                The Internet has democratized information but that’s not always such a great thing. There is so much noise, it can be hard to figure out who the experts actually are. Be careful out there.

TidBits:

-Reebok wants to have the best corporate gym in America

-Motiv is taking the fitness tracker from the wrist to the finger

-Ricky Garard, 3rd place finisher at the 2017 CrossFit Games, has tested positive for PED’s

-“Never do deadlifts in the sand”

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS INTRODUCING VARIABLE PRICING

You can’t put a price on fitness: ClassPass is not done evolving. The workout subscription service has announced a plan to introduce variable pricing. From Tech Crunch:

The problem is that whether you take a yoga class at a gym or a Flywheel indoor cycling class (the latter being more expensive), both would cost you one class credit. The solution ClassPass is testing to solve this issue is variable credit currency within the ClassPass system.

In other words, ClassPass users would be able to better control how they want to spend their credits. If they wanted more workouts, they could decide to go to lower cost inventory, less popular classes, or go at times when the class wasn’t typically as full.

“In these experiments, we’re seeing what would happen if we only charge you half of a class to go to a gym visit, or maybe to an off-peak class,” said Lanman. “It’s cheaper for us to buy it, so we should give the consumer an incentive to try it,” he explained.

                In other words, instead of getting 10 classes per month a subscriber will get 10 credits. A Flywheel class at 6PM on Friday night might cost 1.5 credits while a yoga class at 10AM on Tuesday morning might only cost 0.5 credits. The more in-demand classes will cost more, the less in-demand classes will cost less. This sounds like a great idea but I am sure that it will meet resistance. People tend to hate variable pricing even though it makes so much sense. If there is more demand, then charge more. This is an elegant solution to some of ClassPass’ most pressing problems but there will be pushback at first. We’ll see how this pilot program goes.

                ClassPass will also be partnering with Blink Fitness in order to offer $15/month memberships to ClassPass subscribers. I just took a peak at the Blink website and it said that memberships start at $15 a month. So all they are really doing is streamlining the payment process? It would be interesting if they offered 10 workouts at Blink locations for $5/month or something like that.

                The company also took on another $70 million in funding and is expanding to 10 new cities.

Motivation: The Guardian ran a piece on “competitive fitness” this week. They focused on team-based events that test both strength and conditioning. The growth of these events was attributed to the growing popularity of CrossFit and the author marveled at the intensity that was on display. The thing is that competitive fitness is not a new phenomenon. Millions of people have been competing in running events for decades. The change is that people want to train and test themselves through a broader range of fitness attributes than just aerobic fitness. Otherwise, it is no different than someone running a weekend marathon or triathlon. People want to be challenged, they want to compete against themselves, and they want to master skills and improve.

So what is the appeal? Magdalena Rotsztejn, a 30-year-old Tribal Clash finisher who works as a delivery manager for a technology firm, says: “For me, competing means finding my limits and going beyond them. There are so many moments in an event when the adrenaline kicks in and I surprise myself with what I’m capable of. I feel independent, powerful, as if I can achieve anything, and then that carries over into the rest of my life.”

Renata O’Donnell, 41, works for a small investment bank in London and has competed in Tribal Clash for the past two years. “I love that it takes the vanity out of fitness and gives it more purpose,” she says. “It has helped me give my training more focus and stick to a healthy lifestyle, but, more than that, I love the team aspect. It’s about communicating and working together as a unit, because you’re only as strong as your weakest link.”

                Take away the team aspect and you could hear the exact same thing at a running event.

Virtual Reality: Virtual Reality is the next big thing in tech and it is already infiltrating the fitness world. From the Daily Mall:

Gone are the days where gaming equated physical inactivity – exhilarating new virtual reality platforms will now let you exercise while you play. 

Gyms are beginning to invest in virtual reality (VR) systems to keep their customers fit, while companies are creating fitness VR games people can do at home. 

For instance, a game called Fruit Ninja involves using virtual Samurai swords to cut up flying fruits while another called Drunkn Bar Fight encourages users to throw punches and chuck things around the pub - all in the name of exercise.

'The more you drink, the stronger you feel', said the developers of Drunkn Bar Fight, which is still in Beta mode and due to be released globally soon.

'And you are going to need it because you will need to fight everyone at the bar.'

The game will work on both HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.    

'You will be constantly moving once you enter a game mode and the game pushes you even harder and to be even faster than you were previously', VR Fitness Insider said on its website, talking about Fruit Ninja.

'This all makes it one of the best fitness-based games out on the market, if not the best.' 

            These games sound like fun but will they have staying power? The video game has been “barbell-ing” just like the fitness industry. Growth has been happening in simple games you can play on your iPad (Angry Birds) and complex, narrative-driven games that you play on a console (Call of Duty). These games sound like they belong to the former category and I believe that VR-based fitness will have to migrate to the latter category. Call of Duty has much greater engagement than mobile games, which have much greater convenience. Using a VR device at the gym or at home isn’t going to be as convenient as using a mobile device so the games will need to evolve in order to hold people’s interest. It’s still early days for VR, these games will come.  

Women & Weights: It is hard to believe that there are still a lot of people out there who think that women shouldn’t lift weights. The perception is that touching a weight will turn women into muscle-bound bodybuilders. And random people on the internet are not shy about sharing their ignorance with Kelsey Wells, an Instagram fitness personality:

Lifting weight does not make you "manly." This is part of the message fitness blogger Kelsey Wells wants to send her followers. In a recent Instagram post, the mother of one shared that she is still seeing negativity surrounding women who lift weights.

As first reported by Refinery29, Wells specifically wrote about what femininity and beauty mean to her, and yes, part of that includes crushing weights at the gym.

"Comments along the lines of 'you're looking manly' or 'careful you don't want to be bulky' or 'weightlifting isn't feminine' never cease to amaze me," she wrote in the caption. "THE ONLY THING A WOMAN NEEDS TO DO TO BE BEAUTIFUL AND FEMININE IS TO BE HERSELF. We empower ourselves when we are living our truth and doing what we are PASSIONATE about with our WHOLE HEARTS."

                This woman has almost 900,000 followers on Instagram. She is a fitness professional and looks great. Who are these people that feel the need to tell that she doesn’t know what she’s doing and isn’t being feminine? When will this idea that women shouldn’t do any strength-training finally die?

China: Fitness is a fast-growing industry in China and it sounds remarkably similar to the U.S. market.

1)      People want to show off their fitness achievements

 

The primary driving force behind this is of course the willingness to improving health and physical fitness, followed by the mindset of sharing or “showing off” athletic achievements, which 60% of sports enthusiasts say they have. “For a lot of [gym goers], it is like I go to gym and wear the latest Adidas outfit and take some selfies to share with my friends,” Andrew Atkinson, managing director of Chinaskinny, told CKGSB Knowledge. “What actually are Chinese motivations in working out? It’s like a kind of fashion and beauty in their lives”.

 

2)      Nike and Adidas dominate athletic apparel but Under Armour is closing the gap

 

Indeed, sportswear brands that can adopt China’s fashion taste and position themselves right are doing well. “Nike and Adidas hold the top spots in China … and they are not just sportswear brands; by all accounts they are fashion brands in China and they are saying as much,” added Atkinson.

 

3)      Fitness inequality

 

At the 2017 Chinese Sports Industry Carnival, Will’s founder and CEO Will Wang insisted that in the fitness industry, aiming for the high end and maintaining a strong cash flow is the only way to be profitable. “Making money from the poor is very hard; you need to target the rich—in the future, over 80% of the market will fall into the high end”, he said.

 

4)      Location is king when it comes to picking a gym

 

Atkinson, who goes to the gym regularly, agrees that location is important: “[The one I go to is] more convenient for me—it’s very close to home, very close to work. People realize that if a gym is far away, they are not going to use it.”

5)      Boutique fitness thrives on a sense of community

 

Outside the big gyms, specialized sports studios without treadmills and cycling equipment are prevailing. Usually experience-based, they give specific training in boxing or yoga. Instead of simply getting fit, participants also learn professional techniques, and may even find a community they enjoy being with, and thus less likely to give up training.

 

                There is one big difference. The subscription model has not found its place in Chinese fitness:

Atkinson adds the western subscription method, where fees are charged to a credit card weekly, is not here yet—for all the lessons and training, people are always paying money up-front. For those who already have membership, the gym’s management will promote personal training courses to further make a profit.

 

Community: Forbes published a piece on how fitness companies use community to build their brands. Three things struck me while reading this article:

1) Fitness is often a shared experience and the idea of community to central to most fitness brands

2) The first was that the fitness industry doesn’t have the deep pockets that you see in some other industries so fitness brands have had to become experts at leveraging social media

3) Is there any industry more driven by passion than the fitness industry? It’s tough to fake a passion for fitness and it’s not the place to get rich quick.

Organic growth is also a key element to success. Spartan’s De Sena says, “Our community continues to grow organically because we’re genuine - we truly want to make the world a healthier place and support our community, and that shows through everything we do. My advice is to stay true to your brand and keep your voice and content real and in-line with your company’s mission.”

“A lot of our instructors—including me—are former clients that fell in love with the brand and wanted to work for Barry’s. As a result, our community has grown organically over the past 2 decades, and our instructors are proud to be leaders of the Barry's Fit Fam,” says Gonzalez.

Strava also emphasizes the importance of evolving with your community. Quarles explains, “You have to know your superpowers--identify the things that the community sees you as doing better than all others and continually invest in them. For Strava that means ubiquity, authenticity, and metrics that motivate over time.” He sums it up, “Your goal should be to align the experience you create with your community’s needs.”

                There is an expression in the tech industry: Eat your own dog food. The idea is that tech companies have to use their own products in order to understand them and find glitches. The fitness industry doesn’t need an expression like this because everyone is already doing that.

TidBits:

-Pact wasn’t keeping up its end of the deal

-Julianne Hough to star in Bigger, the movie about the Weider Brothers

-Early days at Tough Mudder: Foot molds made of chocolate and Chairman Mao jokes

-Garmin is making Star Wars and Marvel themed fitness trackers for children

-Men’s Journal reviews the new Apple Watch

 

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS BLAMING THE VICTIM

Wearables: Under Armour is now saying that it is “the largest digital health and fitness community in the world”. Peter High, UA’s Chief Technology Officer, references their acquisitions of MapMyFitness, EndoMondo, and MyFitnessPal and the 215 million users that came with it to back up the claim. I find it very interesting that the athletic apparel giants are suddenly re-making themselves into software companies. Nike made a big splash in fitness trackers with the release of the FuelBand in 2012 before abruptly exiting the space in 2014. Now Nike’s participation in the wearables market is as a software provider and in co-branding on the sport version of the Apple Watch. UA lacks the chummy relationship that Nike enjoys with Apple and seemed to want to make up for that by acquiring a suite of fitness apps. (It should be noted that UA’s primary hardware partner, HTC, announced this week that it will sell its smartphone division to Google. At this point, we can only speculate what this will mean for future collaboration between UA and HTC) In this interview, High talked up the importance of data and referred several times to a “connected shoe” that will come to market in 2018. UA has also incorporated technology in its clothes and CEO Kevin Plank has been insisting for years that UA is a tech company. He sold MapMyFitness CEO Robin Thurston on the acquisition with a 60 second “ad” called Future Girl. In it, a woman wakes up and puts on her smart shirt. It tells her the time, weather, her schedule, and vital signs before changing color.   

When he first saw Future Girl, Thurston didn't think much of it, or the idea. He saw an advanced Garmin device. Now he sees something different. "She has a personalized yoga experience that morning," he says, "maybe because her heart rate has too high when she woke up, so she was stressed." Her meal plan is specific to her day, her mood, her context. So is her run. So is her clothing. Her universe is collecting, processing, and collating data constantly, feeding it back to her so she might live a little better each day. This, he says, is the future. "Every piece of clothing you wear is going to be connected, and someone's going to have to decipher that data and give that back in an organized way, for you as an individual, to help you in your life."

UA may have the most aggressive wearable strategy of any other company. Apple and FitBit want to sell you a smartwatch but UA envisions a future in which all of your clothes have some sort of tech in them. I have some thoughts on this:

1)      Who the hell will this be for? We are already drowning in technology. You already “need” to have a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop, a smartwatch, a smart TV, a smart speaker and none of that stuff is cheap. Now UA expects us to start buying smart clothes. Who will be able to afford all of this crap?

2)      We don’t need smart clothes. You don’t need technology to tell you that you didn’t sleep well the night before. Your brain already tells you that.

3)      I’m scared that UA will be successful in convincing people that you need a smart shirt and smart shoes in order to get in shape. We already have fitness inequality in this country. I am not a big fan of stuff that will increase that inequality. Fitness can be as cheap and low-tech as you need it to be. All the bells and whistles are great but you don’t NEED any of it. That’s what we should be telling people.

4)      If athletic apparel companies like Nike and UA start moving up-market into smart clothing, they could expose themselves to being disrupted by competitors a la the Innovators Dilemma. The Innovators Dilemma is that large companies pursue their most profitable customer in the high-end of a market but this allows competitors to establish themselves in the low end of the market. However once these competitors have established themselves, they start moving upmarket as well. Think Toyota in the automotive industry. They were considered junky cars when they first came to the U.S. but they kept improving the quality and later became the industry leader. I could see smart clothing, if successful, creating the same dilemma for Nike, Adidas, and UA. 

5)      Kevin Plank sees a future in which your clothing is constantly generating data about your physical state. Do we really want to create that much data about ourselves? From the NY Post:

“There are two kinds of companies in the world: Those that have been hacked and those that are about to be hacked,” he said. “Almost any device can be hacked, let’s acknowledge that and realize what’s at stake here.”

Information like the number of steps a user takes or calories they burn in a day may not be useful to a hacker, but the metadata from the device — or information that can be derived from the data — is valuable. Through wearable data, bad actors could see what time a user sleeps, where they go, and when they are out of the house. This could leave them vulnerable to theft and abuse.

Some devices also share and store sensitive medical data, putting people at higher risk if hacked, Llamas said. The recent hack of Equifax shows just how many places are at risk, he added. “Anything can be hacked,” he said. “And the more data you keep on a device, the more value it has to you and the more value it has to hackers. If it can happen to [Equifax], it can happen to you.”

                I am somewhat skeptical of the wearables category because we have not yet seen the killer app that will lead to mass adoption. And I do believe that wearables will need to have a killer app before we see an Apple Watch on every iPhone owners’ wrist. I don’t know what it will take before we’re all wearing smart clothes. It would be pretty cool that a shirt could change color at the tap of your finger but you can also change your shirt and save a whole lot of money. Maybe I’m old-fashioned.

Apple Watch: Self Magazine compared the new Apple Watch (Series 3) to the previous version (Series 2) and documented the upgrades:

-You can make phone calls with it

-You can stream Apple Music playlists

-It can track elevation changes

They also identified the upgrades in watchOS 4:

-The Workout app has a HIIT category now

-The Heart Rate app does a lot more than just read your current heart rate

-You can sync data with cardio machines

Sub2: The Berlin Marathon is this weekend. This is the first major marathon since Nike staged the Sub2 event in Italy in May. That was where Eliud Kipchoge ran an all-time best (but not officially recognized world record) of 2:00:25. Eliud Kipchoge is sponsored by Nike. The last five world records in the men’s marathon have been set by runners wearing Adidas. The last six world records have been set in Berlin. Do you think that Nike is eager for Kipchoge, the Olympic champion, to bring that record back to the Swoosh? There is still some talk of seeing a Sub2 here. It won’t happen, not this weekend or anytime soon in a real race. But the idea of it is spurring Nike and Adidas to innovation in their shoe design:

Nike custom-crafted Zoom Vaporfly Elite shoes for Kipchoge featuring an inch-thick sole made of a special foam for cushioning, a carbon-fiber plate to increase stiffness and provide propulsion, and an aerodynamic heel to reduce drag. The shoes retail for $250—if you can get them. Nike is keeping a lid on supplies to create buzz for its $5.2 billion-a-year running gear business. Getting below two hours is “the last big, once-in-a-generation barrier,” says Sandy Bodecker, the Nike executive overseeing the effort. He has 1:59:59 tattooed inside his left wrist.

                It also got Vodafone, the British telecom giant, to get involved in sports:

Vodafone, meanwhile, is working with Yannis Pitsiladis, a sports professor at Britain’s University of Brighton who in 2014 started planning a project aimed at breaking the two-hour barrier within five years. He estimated the cost at perhaps $30 million and asked Nike and Adidas to back the effort. While both rejected his appeal—and then launched their own programs with the same goal—Pitsiladis has assembled a team of scientists and technology companies to work on improving nutrition and training, using sensors to monitor biomarkers such as heart rate and body temperature. Since Vodafone joined last spring, it’s developed an app for a smartwatch from China’s Huawei Technologies Co. that Bekele wears, sending data to coaches in real time during training runs (in competition, electronic communication with coaches is barred). “We’re using science and technology to provide athletes everything they need to improve their performance,” Pitsiladis says. “It’s very, very different from the two other projects. We understand that a shoe is going to be important. But it’s just a shoe.”

                I am a little puzzled by the sudden interest in a Sub-2 marathon. The world record is 2:02:57. Three minutes is a very long time to carve off the record without some kind of secret sauce. So now companies are spending millions of dollars trying to create that secret sauce and cash in on the publicity. It just seems like they all jumped the gun on Sub-2 and now they have to come up with some crazy innovation. To be clear, I’m not complaining about any of this, I think that we may see some very interesting technology emerge from this. I just think the sudden and premature obsession is a little strange.

Creepers: Gyms are full of scantily clad people putting their bodies through the full range of human motion. Some of these positions can be awkward, compromising, or even suggestive outside of the realm of exercise. Gyms are also full of people with smartphones, devices that can take a photograph and post it online. This is a powder keg that I am surprised hasn’t blown up yet. Not that there haven’t been incidents. DCist documented one such incident in which a gym-goer had their posterior photographed and posted online by another member. When the victim complained, this gym did not handle it all that well:

Thomas Circle Balance released a statement on Tuesday afternoon, after the incident was publicized, saying that the facility does "not allow members to take photos of others without their permission, for any purpose. We are committed to protecting the privacy of every member who wishes not to be photographed or videoed."

While that policy is part of the contract that members sign to join the gym, there is not any standard punishment for violating it. The statement says that the facility is developing a new policy, which will be distributed to members.

However, Thomas Circle Gym also cast blame on the person who is publicizing the incident in its statement. "The image posted was in response to a member who felt the other party was being disruptive and intimidating to herself and friends. The member should have brought this to our attention immediately but instead posted to what she thought was a private group, which obviously was not the case. While these details do not make the situation right, it was something that we took into consideration and we were hoping to come to an amicable solution for both parties."

The gym-goer says this is the first they're hearing about being "disruptive or intimidating."

                Blame the victim, always a winning strategy. One person surreptitiously took a photo of someone else’s butt and posted it to Instagram with a mocking caption. You should have a policy that allows you to revoke the offending party’s membership. It’s surprising that there are gyms that have not figured this out yet. It’s also surprising how often people want to blame the victim for complaining in the first place.

Fitness Franchises: Entrepreneur published a piece on fitness franchising. They are pro-franchise in general so they talked up the potential in franchising with a company like Anytime Fitness or Crunch Fitness. They also keyed in on some of the factors that are going drive the fitness industry forward. #1 is the “death of retail” leading to an opportunity for gyms to grab prime real estate.

“Seven or eight years ago, it was much harder to get good sites,” says Rondeau. “We were fighting with Best Buy and Barnes & Noble. Now landlords are looking for new business to drive traffic, and we’re getting much better locations at cheaper costs.” In other words, gym-goers show up several times a week. That’s routine patronage that strip-mall and shopping-plaza landlords can use to entice other businesses to stick around. 

#2 is an increasing focus on fitness:

The second driver, Rondeau says, is wellness mania. People want to look and feel better, and to make that happen, they’re deploying wearable fitness trackers, meditation apps and services, weekend mud races, organic-food delivery services and fitness centers. But it’s not a zero-sum game. Rather than choose one service -- or one gym -- consumers are increasingly combining several tools and memberships to build a custom wellness plan. The piecemeal approach is what Bryan O’Rourke, a brand consultant with 20 years of fitness-­industry experience, calls “lifestyle design,” and it’s where budget models have an advantage: Consumers view $10 a month as a bargain, even if they only occasionally work out. 

                I am very interested in the last part of that quote. I have seen this idea thrown around but never any numbers to back it up. How many people are mixing boutique fitness with a membership at a low-cost operator? Because that seems to be what they are implying there. Planet Fitness goes after people who are intimidated by gyms (and probably won’t show up to Planet Fitness either). Studios go after the type of people that intimidate Planet Fitness members. I’d like to see some more details on this.

#3 is that there is huge potential for growth in fitness:

There’s also ample room for growth. For every person who belongs to a gym, there are four more who do not, and many of the latter group could greatly benefit from working out. “Despite the unbelievable growth in the fitness space, more Americans are unhealthy,” says Chuck Runyon, CEO of Anytime Fitness. “They are not eating properly, they’re not sleeping very well and they’re not moving very often.” While nobody is celebrating this situation, unfit people do create opportunity, along with a shared sense of purpose, within the industry. “Everybody realizes that we’re not fighting each other,” says Vince Julien, a 38-year industry veteran with 10 Crunch clubs in Georgia and Florida. “The competition is the 80 percent of people that we haven’t gotten off their asses yet.”

                As a fitness professional, your number one competitor is the couch. The thing that the fitness industry lacks is a true leader. It’s such a fragmented industry that it’s tough to name anyone. I bring this up because there is a commonly held view that the industry leader’s responsibility to grow the industry. It’s also a smart strategy because if you own the biggest slice of the pie, then the best way to grow is probably to grow that pie. There is so much opportunity to grow fitness but we don’t have anyone taking on that responsibility yet.

Video Killed the Workout Star: Do you follow any professional athletes on social media? If so, then you have probably noticed the proliferation of workout videos being posted in the offseason. You can watch Brian Orakpo push a truck, Odell Beckham catch tennis balls, or James Harrison lift absurd amounts of weight. Sports Illustrated explored the rise of the pro athlete workout video. Reason #1: It’s easy. Everyone has a smartphone and social media has made it a lot easier to upload video in the last couple of years. Reason #2: engage the fans:

Nearly every player interviewed for this piece talked about posting these videos, first and foremost, to engage and motivate fans. Seeing the athlete work in the offseason may encourage a fan to hit the gym. But here’s the question that follows: How necessary is all of this? What’s the point of Oakland running back Marshawn Lynch running in boots on a beach or Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart doing the ladder drill in Santa Monica if not to simply impress visually? It’s no secret that these videos are at least in part about looking good.

                Reason #3: let your team know that you’re staying shape even if you skip voluntary team workouts. Reason #4: promote your private trainer:

Trainers are an important element in this rise of the athlete workout video, not just because of the workouts they’re putting the athlete through, but because they’re a major reason why athletes post the videos in the first place. Every NFL player interviewed for this story mentioned his respective trainer by name, and most tag his trainer in the videos to help them get more clients.

Reason #5: Because they’re millennials?

But this is also 2017, and if you believe the news, millennials like to be liked. There’s some ego stroking involved when you’re pushing a $60,000 vehicle or running on a remote beach as the sun sets behind you, and you only post the videos in which you look good.

Right because previous generations don’t like looking good and having their egos stroked. Millennials must have invented that. Previous generations of NFL players didn’t work anywhere as hard as the current crop does in the offseason. Everything is way more competitive now. Talk about that for once.   

Tidbits:

-Fitness livestreaming is taking off on Twitch

-Looking for an MMA gym in Hong Kong?

-Fabletics expands into footwear

-No Judgement Zone

-American Ninja Warrior finished on a high note

-Want to work out like you’re in prison?