Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Fitness Isn't

Fitness isn't about

machines, or the latest fad

or carb back loaded paleo keto butter in your coffee instagram posts

It isn't undulating periodized secret Russian training method

It isn't about how big the gym is or how much it costs

It isn't 3 stage orientation, induction, we do things differently around here with the same cookie cutter programme

It isn't in the trenches strength coaches selling their latest product

It isn't mens health, fitness model, this time I'm going to get a 6 pack workout

It isn't internet connected, watching TV while walking up a hill

It isn't superfood

It isn't celebrity diet, exercise DVD, bargain bucket when they balloon up again next year

It isn't long leaner muscles

It isn't fitspo

It isn't about gamification

It isn't easy

It isn't about the music in the background or what you wear or android apple app that tells you when to sleep

It isn't about hashtags and click bait

It isn't on demand or live streamed

It isn't social media, constant posts and noise and endless advice

It isn't the latest gadget GPS map my life heart rate variability how long should I recover

It isn't this training split or GVT

It isn't 'my method is better than yours'

It isn't 'this is the only way'

It isn't about paying a trainer to motivate you

It isn't this January it's going to be different and 3 weeks in everything is the same

It isn't goal setting, new year, new you trite slogans

It isn't fitness models with eating disorders pretending to be role models

It isn't a cult or a box or a licence fee branded workout

It isn't about your ex wife or your ex husband or 'i'll show them'

It isn't about that boy or that girl or for anyone else

It isn't about a medal

Fitness is never external

It is only ever intrinsic

The motivation is only ever internal

Look inside

There is no equipment solution to a fitness problem

Your body already knows what to do

It's about who you want to be

It's about what you were born to do

Fitness is movement

You were designed to move

Your mind already knows what to do

You half remember when you were a kid and it was effortless

When there was no plan, when there was no expectation

There is nothing new

Move, eat real food, sleep, simplify

Fitness is something more fundamental

You have the raw materials, all someone else can do is help you shape them

Why haven't you started

You know why

Just start

You already know what to do in 2015

Saturday, November 22, 2014

How to choose a gym

I wrote an article for my friends over at

It's called 'How to choose a gym', so you can probably guess what it's about, you can find it here

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Digital Disruption of the Fitness Industry. (Here comes the future and you can't run from it*).

"It's not sufficient to do things better. We need to do better things." - Mark Shayler

Fitness at its heart is very much an analogue activity. Regardless of the gadgets and fancy gear, you still have to lift the weight or run the distance.

Although the 'gamification' of the fitness industry has probably been overplayed. (go to any gym, like the one I am a member of and see how many people use The Trixter bikes, basically none, once the novelty has worn off). The way we engage with the public, get them to join our facilities and the products we offer need to move on and reflect the new way the market behaves.

Opening a gym used to be relatively simple, a 2 stage process:

1) Fill a room with machines
2) Hand out some leaflets and hope people joined

This process was then added to by some of the big players. And despite my claim at least one of them would go under, specifically LA Fitness in the last couple of years, they have more or less stayed afloat. Though, those of you who keep up with such things will know that LA Fitness had to close several sites, sold a load to Sports Direct and had to re-negotiate the rent on the others.

The process favoured by the standard industry representatives is:

1) Fill a room with machines
2) Hand out some leaflets
3) When people come in with the leaflet put them on a call list
4) Call them offering no joining fee until they join or tell you to stop calling them
5) Ignore them until their contract finishes and then call them again to ask about renewal.

Of course, this model forgets that the Internet, amazon, google and facebook have since been invented.

1998 called, it wants its marketing campaign back.
I have heard the same figures quoted for leaflets for the past 10 years, a 1 to 3% return. Don't forget this was the possible return rate in a world without facebook. These days you would be better off sponsoring the recycling bin because that's where your leaflets are going.

A brief history of the fitness industry.

We are also in a period where innovation is being driven from the bottom up in fitness.

In the last 50 years or so, fitness has gone through the following phases:

1) In the 1950 & 1960s. Guys who liked training in gyms, opened one up for their friends to train in.
2) In the 1970s & 1980s tennis clubs and squash clubs started to open. In the UK leisure centres started to spread. Some had a small gym attached, normally a multi-machine.
3) In the 1990s. The current modern era started, with various health club chains opening, this is the model most have joined the industry in the last 15 years or so are familiar with. The agenda was set by these companies in terms of how you set up a club. i.e. rows of cardio equipment, minimal weights, resistance machine, saunas & steam rooms. It was a top down model, and someone at the top decided what was going to attract the most members or the desired type of member.
4) Now. Guys and females who like training are opening their own micro gyms, or PT studios or Crossfit boxes. The agenda is now set by these clubs. Innovation is being driven from the bottom up.

The trend in kettlebells, HIIT training, functional rigs and so forth were all adopted by the big chains after they had been proven in smaller facilities.

And most of this disruption was driven digitally on facebook and youtube. With coaches and trainers posting videos of their facility, their clients and what they do.

Innovation in marketing.

The  main focus of this article will how to engage more people in fitness via the marketing we use and the ease with which consumers can access our products.

A quick look through the websites listed below and several things stand out:

Join online includes free PT
Still has tour de france promo from July on site
PT yes, no prices

Can’t join online, gives prices

Can’t join online, usual PT spiel, no price

Yes, can join online, includes bodyfirst PT sessions

Can’t join online, meet the PT section, seemed to have got away with work out of the day without being sued by crossfit

Arrange a visit, can't join online

Can join online

Can join online

Can't join online, you can get free membership until Jan 2015, plus they have a playlist app. Yep, a playlist app but no fitness or nutrition app.

personal training appt slots, prices per session and monthly on site

1) How similar all the websites are, the same stock images, the same menus at the top of the page, the same phrases.
2) How on some of them you still can't join online. They still have the gatekeeper mentality. You need to contact a sales advisor to be able to join. You might be able to buy a car online, or a holiday or a computer worth a £1000, but when it comes to signing up for a gym you have to go through the sales team still.
3) The prices range per month range from £10.99 to £70+ per month, and at first glance it is very difficult to discern any real difference between the different companies. They have the same classes on offer, the equipment is made by the same manufacturers. So obviously you are paying for the service...

There are no 'purple cows' as Seth Godin would say, no one is really standing out from the crowd. They all look the same, and offer more or less the same service.

These companies have become too big to innovate, they are fighting for the customer who occupies the mythical middle ground. The customer who so far has made most of their business models untenable.

The myth of incumbency is alive and well. You think these companies know what they are doing, they are the experts in the fitness industry. But hang on

"Sony missed the mp3... Kodak missed digital... and Nokia forgot about innovation." - Mark Shayler
Being the big guy on the block doesn't mean a thing in the face of the current technologies.

"The only source of competitive advantage now is a focus on knowledge of and engagement with customers." James McQuivey

The claims that they have 'built a gym package exclusively for you or me' can't be true. If any of these operators go beyond off-peak/ peak/ corporate and contract/ non contract I'll eat a bosu.

"Don't try to make a product for everybody, because that is a product for nobody." - Seth Godin

Before & After pictures - the calling card.

The current outlets of facebook, twitter and websites allow individual trainers and small companies to engage as much or more with their customers than large corporations.

Its not unusual for self employed solo personal trainers to have more facebook likes, more twitter followers and more interactions on social media than their big business counterparts.

Firstly, posting before and after pictures and testimonials is very powerful and most large companies don't do it or are poor at it. This could be related to the personal training model they follow (see below). Whereas, success coaches and PT's make it their business to post success stories and testimonials.

Secondly, in many ways it is easy for the lone trainer to engage with his audience on facebook & twitter. They do not have to go through a corporate filter or marketing department. They can be their authentic self.

"The way you break through to the mainstream is to target a niche instead of a huge market." - Seth Godin
This is the approach Crossfit took and small independent trainers can take. The large chains that think they just target the mainstream have forgotten that total marketing penetration for the fitness industry stands at about 12%.

For large corporations, there is always the chance that the opposite will happen. Check out Nuffields facebook page to see how former disgruntled employees will have their say or any other operator to see how unhappy members will rate your service or how vociferous they will be if something goes wrong with the service or their contract. This is then compounded by pages being updated sporadically, less than once a month, and the complete lack of member transformation stories. The PR war has been lost before it even begun.

Personal Training - not really part of the service.

Looking at the websites listed above, it is hard to find personal training on any them. It becomes doubly hard to find out how much personal training costs and just about impossible to book an appointment.

One provider, Fitness First, does provide some PT sessions as an option as part of the initial sign up package.

The reason for the difficulty finding PT is most operators don't see it as part of their core service. The trainers are normally self employed and pay a monthly rent to access the clients in the club. Again, you will be hard pressed to find any testimonials or before and after pictures on any of these websites.

How about integrating personal training into the member experience. Don't make them pay for it in blocks of 5 or 10 sessions. How about charging an enhanced monthly rate for personal training and rather than making the PTs freelance hired hands, make them the instructors that you pay an additional (decent) amount to for training clients. And how about measuring them in terms of results and PR generated.

App Attack.

I checked all the major app stores and couldn't find any current fitness operator who had delved into this market, except recently Nuffield with their health measuring app and David Lloyd with their playlist app.

Again, another missed opportunity. The public are using 'my fitness pal' and all sorts of fitness workout apps and the fitness industry was in the perfect position to produce their own one, but as far as I can tell no one did. We have the gyms, the staff, the workouts and the member base. It wouldn't have taken much much for one of the big players to release a fitness app which they gave to every new member for free, and/or sell it somewhere like the 'play store'.

The same goes for nutrition apps or even basic workout tracking apps. But it seems the industry waits for someone else to do it.

Outside the building.

As an industry, we are still very much in the mindset of  'put some machines in a room and people will come'. There is no reason why our products could not become more virtual. Even if apps are not developed there is no reason why you couldn't be selling nutrition and training programmes to people not actually in your gym. Freelance trainers from the USA and UK are doing this right now with online clients; but for some reason this is an aspect of business we dismiss.

If you start to develop clients outside your geographical sphere of influence you have just widened your market wider than you ever thought possible. But it has be done properly, a half arsed effort is not going to cut it in today's market place.

Joined up thinking.

I found only one website, a Crossfit one, where you could actually book a personal training appointment via the website. Surely, this should be the norm.

The following simple changes could make the difference

1) The front page of your web page should make it easy to join and obvious what the price is.
2) Your website should not consist of stock images of people sitting on swiss balls but real before and after testimonials from clients, people actually training in your gym with you.
3) The client should be able to book personal training or their first gym orientation online, most places let people book classes online now, why not this.
4) Integrate PT into your business model not as stand alone blocks of 5 or 10 sessions. Pay staff to be your personal trainers.
5) Widen your customer base to include distance coaching clients, online programme writing and more. If you have an IT department why aren't they developing a fitness app to give to your members or to place in an app store.
6) Don't try and be all things to all people, Crossfit doesn't, Zumba doesn't, the best TV programmes don't try to be - so why are you? Pick a market, and be authentic with how you represent yourself and your product.

But fundamentally start asking what your customer really wants and what you can do to stand out from the crowd.

Are you offering customers what they really want? Do they want rows of equipment? Do they want fast classes? Or do they want results? Do they want to belong to a tribe? Do they want to join with a friend or would they rather join and meet like minded people? Do we really know the answer to these questions or do we presume? Do we as an industry know the answer to these questions?

Standing out doesn't means starting some crazy fitness class that no one wants to go to but developing a product that is easily accessible and provides something that no one else is providing or they provide it but you just do it better.

If you don't start disrupting now, someone else will and you will be left behind.

"Just asking customers for feedback won't lead to the breakthrough disruptions... because customers don't always know what they want." - James McQuivey

Oh, and if anyone asks, I invented digital fit street.


Seth Godin (2003) Purple Cow: Transform your business by being remarkable. Penguin

James McQuivey (2013) Digital Disruption: Unleashing the next wave of innovation. Amazon publishing.

Mark Shayler (2013) DO Disrupt. Change the status quo. Or become it. DO Books Co.

"Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department." - David Packard

* line taken from Billy Bragg song Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Leadville. Random Thoughts and Observations.

I'm back! After a few months off writing it was time to re-activate the blog. I completed the Leadville 100 mile trail run in Colorado, USA, a couple of weeks ago, so now I'm having some down time, time to write and not spend all my spare time training.

Leadville. It looks like this. Source:

This post is just some random observations and thoughts. I will save the in depth discussion on training and running for another time.

So in no particular order:

  • The most popular running shoe on the run was the Hoka by a country mile. Followed by Salomon and Brooks I would say. The Hoka has gone from obscurity to the ultra running favourite. First time I saw anyone wearing these sponges on their feet was about 4 years on La Trans Aq run in France, when this couple suddenly appeared in front of me (yes, they had cut the course and were 'orienteering') wearing matching and bizarrely stacked shoes. Who would have thought they would take the ultra world by storm.
Hoka: the minimalist running trend has been usurped by these.

  • A few hardy souls were wearing sandals/ huarache's/ Lunas. But maybe less than 5. One barefoot guy had done the Leadman challenge - which means running the marathon, doing the 50 mile run or mountain bike and the hundred miler. Did he do the mountain bike barefoot or do Luna make a special clip-in huarache sandal for a bike?
A few hardy souls were running barefoot and in sandals. Be careful running down to Winfield, don't stub your toe. Is there a mountain bike clip in version of the huarache?

  • The barefoot minimal trend seems to be over, and as always with these things the pendulum has swung the other way to the super cushioned Hoka. For the record I was wearing Nike Pegasus and Inov 8 315s.
  • I was under the misapprehension that the first half of the course consists of a fair amount of road running. It doesn't. A few miles at most. Hence I was wearing the Nike Pegasus for the first 40 miles and the last 40 miles to cushion myself on the road, as I don't road run that much. As it turned out the Nike was fine, I didn't get one blister.
  • The de rigueur trail wear for female ultra runners is long socks (preferably brightly coloured, possibly compression) and 'sassy' shorts, topped off with a head band/buff.
  • Male ultra runner clothing breaks into 2 camps. The Kilian/ European school of thought - white Salomon compression sock, white Salomon compression shorts, trekking poles and the other school, the Anton/ Hobo runner school of thought - beard, no shirt, hand held bottles.
  • Americans are the most positive people on Earth.
  • The three most popular running vests were: Ultimate direction, Nathan, Salomon S Lab, and then hand helds.
  • Some pacers aren't pacing anyone, some pacers are basically Sherpas' carrying everything, some pacers are actually pacing.
  • Running across a field full of rabbit holes/ gopher holes is difficult during the day and almost impossible at night.
Caddyshack. I don't know if gophers live in Colorado.

  • Someone projectile vomiting by the side of the trail can really put you off noodle soup.
  • The aid stations were faultless. Big thanks to all the volunteers. As I ran in they asked if I had a drop bag, went and got my drop bag when I did, filled up my bottles and were generally awesome (in the truest sense of the word). If you are used to some British runs, where the aid station consists of a bloke with a bowl of Jelly Babies and a woman from the St Johns ambulance who can't be bothered to get out of her chair while moaning about her job as you run in after 40 miles (yes, I have witnessed this) then you are in for a treat. Special mention to the ad hoc Spacemen aid station at the top of Sugar Loafin Pass on the way back in the middle of the night. My girlfriend was running with me over the last 24 miles, and as we approached the the top of the powerlines we could see all the lights and hear the cow horn. Confused, I said it wasn't there on the way out. At the top were some locals who had obviously partaken in Colorado's legal Marijuana supply, they had cola and ginger beer, LEDs and some 'far out' postiive guys that really cheered me up at that stage of the game.
  • Marijuana dispensaries advertise on the local radio in Colorado.
  • Some people seem to be able to talk continuously while running one hundred miles. I can barely stand up and breathe, so I have no idea how they manage to do this.
  • Most of my calories came from energy gels & a carbohydrate/ protein drink.
  • Watermelon is a life saver.
  • If you wear a head torch too loose you will end up with a big bruise in the middle of your forehead. Now I know why people wear a buff under their head torch. 
  • Thanks to my crew, my Dad, his wife Vanessa and my girlfriend Tiss. When you are running time compresses after a while and you enter 'dream time', it doesn't seem like a day has passed. But for the crews it is hurry up and wait. Hours waiting at an aid station, then a big rush for 5 minutes, and then the runner is off again, and the crew has another 4 hours of waiting in the cold and dark. Being crew is a hard job.
At the top of Hope Pass with Tiss, On a course recce 5 days before the race

  • The training is what gets you up the hills, but something else keeps you awake and moving and I don't know what that is.
  • Hershey bars are terrible.
  • American coca cola and sprite is made with high fructose corn syrup and not sugar.
  • The river crossing doesn't get much of a mention when they talk about Leadville. Or to be exact the swampy water that is next to the river. You have to wade through several pools of this on a jeep track, above knee height, and some of it don't smell too good, the river water is clean and cold. I guess living in England has got me used to running with wet feet. But the smell of the swampy water is still embedded in my Inov 8 trainers.
  • I need to practice running downhill. Ascending I was strong, but got over taken all the time by people when going downhill including a fella wearing huaraches on the descent to Winfield (hats off my friend). At the end of the run the only muscle soreness I had was in my quads - like I had done a million squats.
  • Americans say 'Good Job' the same way French people say 'Bon Courage' on the trail. Again the friendliest, most positive atmosphere to run in.
  • The race briefing talk by the doctor was very entertaining.
  • To paraphrase Ken Chouber at the race briefing talk, this isn't a motivational talk, motivational speeches work until the first time your throw up. Something else gets you to the end.
  • My girlfriend wants to live in Colorado, preferably in a camper van. Mainly in the hope of bumping into Anton Krupicka.
  • Trekking poles, once the preserve of European runners are very popular in the USA now. (I used trekking poles for the first time).
  • I got my blood taken at the end as part of a research study. I got sent the lab results, sodium, potassium and glucose levels were all normal but I'm not sure how my kidneys and liver are still working, the results were 'abnormal but not unusual for an ultrarunner'. I luckily had no GI distress, and all bodily functions were normal during and after the run.
Beer is a recovery drink. Fact.

  • Most runners seemed to live in Colorado and most first timers had paced the race before. I met people from UK, France, Australia, Sweden, Florida, Washington, Oregon and probably a few other places.
  • Don't ask for a white coffee in the US, no one has any idea what you are talking about.
  • Ever wondered how The Beatles, Led Zep, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd still make millions of dollars every year. Its because American radio stations play them constantly - which is a good thing.
  • Put Body Glide everywhere, I mean lubricate absolutely everything!
  • Starting at 4am in the morning and running down 6th Street in Leadville while the residents of one of the houses play Springsteens Born To Run full blast - seems like a dream I once had.
  • British Airways are a rubbish airline.
  • I want to grow a beard like Rob Krar.

A list of the most common questions I have been asked after finishing Leadville:

  • Were you tired?
  • Did you stop?
  • Did you run all the way?
  • Did you sleep?
  • Did you do it all in one go?
  • Did it hurt?
  • I bet it was hot, is it hard running in the heat? (British people are obsessed with the weather and appear to think anywhere that isn't the UK is hot all the time)
  • Is it the hardest thing you've ever done?
  • Are you doing it again?
  • What's next?
  • Are you going to do the London marathon?
  • Did you eat anything/ what did you eat?
  • Were you sore the next day?
  • Have you lost weight?

"Life's barely long enough to get good at one thing. So be careful what you get good at." - Rust Cohle, True Detective (TV Series)
View from Sugar Loafin camp ground. Hope Pass in the distance. Time to stop.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Trail (Homecoming).

There is a map on the wall of a trail and it's old. You can see the creases where once it was folded, small tears where the corners would have been. There is a crumpled poster on the wall of a mountain, and that mountain is older than the map and the trail, it's real old. A holy mountain, Machapuchare, fish tail mountain. I remember the poster and I remember seeing the mountain too.

The trail on the map is just a line, its complexities hidden in a two dimensional image. The trail at night is different from the trail during the day, but the map doesn't tell you that. The trail changes during the seasons and the map doesn't tell you that. And the trail changes with you, and the map definitely doesn't tell you that. Of course, the terrain never really changes, you change. Living in the past - Running with ghosts. Living in the future - running with fear. Living in the present - just running.

The night runs are the ones where nothing seems real. You lose all sense of gradient and distance. Just a tunnel of light, senses heightened by the darkness. You tune into the sounds. You see strange shapes. And sometimes the strange shapes really are strange objects, coming across an oil field nodding donkey in the French forest. Deep in the forest, alone, there is a primal fear and a primal exhilaration too. I didn't think I'd make it this far, this is old ground.

On the nature of trail running.

There is purity in movement. There is death in inertia. The trail shows you. Its passive, you bring to it whatever you want, it doesn't care. It just is, in the elements, in the snow, and rain and burning sun. It will strip you to the bone. Where are you running too? Always returning home. And for those not running home, they just keep going and disappear. The trail is the home for them. But for most of us its an escape. Switch off. Long before gadgets and gels and training logs there were runners. And for a while you escape...

The road is different. The concrete, the noise. Running early in the morning in the dark and rain. Headlights like tracer rounds, the glare. So many people commuting. I see them, do they see me? Are they the same as me? Do they think I'm insane? The occasional nod and raised hand to someone else running out of the darkness. I wonder why they do this.

It never gets easier, it only ever gets harder. And still we continue. Searching, waiting for that perfect effortless moment when everything comes together and you feel like you can run forever. If you're lucky, you get one of those moments, and you spend the rest of your life waiting for it to happen again. Like the endless beach run, it went on forever, until I came around the corner and it was finished.

Come home, shower, go to work, like a normal person. (Is anyone normal? Or are there just some boring people?)

But in the background, one thing occupies your thoughts. Not the dreams of childhood, they burned away in the cold light of day a long time ago. These are different. Forged in the furnace of everyday mundanity. Some people take crystal meth, some people 'wash up and go racing in the streets', I entered Leadville. All choices are equally logical.

Sure 'there are other Annapurnas in the lives of men', but sometimes you have to get the Annapurnas out of the way first.

I needed a 'sunburn, a raincoat' or whatever. And I figured I had a 'whole lot of karma to burn.'

Sometimes one or two minutes pass when I don't think about Leadville or the trail or running.

But you've got to get these things in perspective.

Sometimes going for a run helps you do just that. The trail is always waiting.

Walter White - To hell with your cancer speech (Breaking Bad)

Cancer Patient: Its like they say man plans and God laughs

Walter White: That is... such bullshit

Cancer Patient: Excuse me...?

Walter White: Never give up control, live life on your own terms

Cancer Patient: Yeah...No... I get what your saying. But eh... cancer is cancer

Walter White: To hell with your cancer! I've been living with cancer for the better part of a year. Right from the start its a death sentence. That's what they keep telling me. Well guess what? Every life comes with a death sentence. So every few months I come in here for my regular scan knowing full well that one of these times. Hell,  Maybe even today day I'm gonna hear some bad news, but until then. Who's in charge? Me! That's how I live my life

Michael Herr Dispatches
Bruce Springsteen Racing In The Streets
Counting Crows Raining in Baltimore
Bob Dylan Desire liner notes
Maurice Herzog Annapurna
Breaking Bad TV Show Walter White Cancer speech