The gym of the future

By wellness reporter Rina Raphael

In the near future, your favorite fitness franchise might be located within your supermarket. Your cycle instructor will be replaced with an IMAX-like screen. And virtual reality headgear might become as commonplace as stretching therapists.

In my latest piece for Fast Company, I compiled a list of trends impacting the gym industry, ranging from wellness integration to unlikely real estate. I won’t go into all of them here—instead I’ll focus on just one I found rather intriguing: innovative tech adoption.

If heart rate monitors and wearables were once considered a bit gimmicky, the last few years solidified their use in the gym. More and more studios adopt activity trackers to offer data-driven insight not only during class, but throughout a user’s gym history.

I’m not just talking Orangetheory wristbands here, but rather embedded equipment and experiential tech. CKO Kickboxing, for example, employs wearable punch trackers—measuring speed, intensity, and punch count—in its classes.

Then there’s smart performance wear (shirts, shoes, socks) equipped with sensor technology to detect posture, technique, and form for real-time coaching. New York’s NOVA Fitness studio has clients don full-body suits harnessing electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) to create involuntary contractions within one’s muscles. These are just a few of the ways brands are aggressively courting the experience market. Read more: The gym of the future will be virtual, gamified, and totally immersive

Related: VR fitness startups want to to give you a IRL beach body
I wrote about a number of companies who think they can use VR to lure gamers and gym-phobes off their butts. Read it here.

In other news: I’m presenting several exciting trends at the Global Wellness Summit 2020 Trends Report press event on Jan. 28th in New York. You can order a complimentary copy of the research report here.

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News & trends:

Google releases 3 new wellness apps: They’re all designed to help you cut back on screen time. One called Envelope includes a set of PDF files you print and work into a blocker for your phone—allowing your phone to function as a camera, but with no visible screen. (BI)

Starbucks wants a piece of the functional beverage pie: The chain announced it will soon sell coffees infused with essential vitamins and trendy ingredients like turmeric. (BeverageDaily)

Cannabis startups start to struggle: Eaze, the “Uber of weed” delivery service, is reportedly out of cash. It’s one of several cannabis startups experiencing VC fatigue. (TechCrunch)

But no worries, the government wants to sell you weed: Rhode Island’s governor wants to launch state-run recreational marijuana stores. (Boston Globe)

Wine sales hit 25-year low: Is White Claw to blame? Americans aren’t buying wine like they used to, in part due to health trends that favor lower-calorie alternatives. (Marketwatch)

Huge week for plant-based companies: Alt-dairy maker Califia Farms nabbed $225 million to expand its oat-based “milk” line, while NovaMeat announced a realistic-looking 3D printed vegan steak—complete with meaty tissue texture. (Food+Tech Connect, Food Navigator)

Wellness travel gets its own TV show: In “Lost Resort” on TBS, a group of strangers “at their breaking points and fed up with traditional Western therapies” try everything from shamanic cacao ceremonies to orgasmic dance. Consider it the companion show to Netflix’s Goop Lab. (Deadline)

Fitbit adds blood oxygen tracking: This is how, as I previously reported, Fitbit wants to be your everything. (Engadget / Fast Company)

What’s the big deal about Beyonce’s athleisure line? Some predict Beyoncé’s Ivy Park x Adidas collection will be bigger than what Kanye did with Yeezys. (Morning Brew)

Blooming plant business: Houseplant startup Bloomscape secured a deal with West Elm, signifying major retailers’ increasing interest in the home wellness category. (Retail Dive)

The rise of #SelfcareSunday: The hashtag popularized by celebs and influencers is inspiring consumers to take me-time more seriously. (Glossy)

Fitness trackers can soon predict the flu: A new study suggests gadgets are the key to identifying flu outbreaks. (MBG)

The avant-garde athleisurewear revolution: Once again, Lulelemon partnered with one of my all-time favorite designers—Roksanda Ilinčić. The latest capsule collection is both fashionable and functional, and reflective of other collaborations I’ve seen of late that push the boundaries of gym-wear. Seriously, someone hire me to write a piece about the new wave in athletic fashion. (Lululemon)

Macy’s gets well: The retailer’s Story concept store encourages shoppers to “feel good.” In partnership with Well+Good, it will sell an array of wellness products and include Calm’s soundproof meditation booths. (Crain’s)

Deeper dives:

Good Catch on its way to becoming the Impossible Burger of the sea
Plant-based mania continues: Vegan fish brand Good Catch just netted $32 million in a series B funding round, with investment from General Mills. It’s the latest in this booming faux-meat (and well, now seafood) industry, which is predicted to be worth a whopping $85 billion by 2030.

I profiled Good Catch a little while back, noting that for all the hoopla over vegan burgers, there was not enough attention to re-creating ocean favorites at a large scale. Good Catch isn’t just revamping tuna, but also octopus, crab cakes, along with a “fresh”-like fish that can be cooked. 

Down the line, it plans to expand internationally, which means all kinds of regional fish. (For example, the U.S. might want tuna and salmon, while India likes catfish.) Glad to see this company finally get the investment and attention it deserves. (Fast Company, Food Dive)

Placebo vs. reality: Measuring the strength of wellness trends
Over the weekend, anti-Goop crusader Dr. Jennifer Gunter tweeted her staunch disapproval of bone broth, which she deemed “upscale consommé.” She lamented its high costs in relation to its “miraculous health benefit” claims. In fact, she went so far as to call it an “amazing scam.” (Note: The trend has exploded. Last year I profiled a bone broth company that somehow raised over $100 million.)

Well, it caught the attention of Chrissy Teigen, who had a few things to say about bone broth—namely, that whether it works or doesn’t work, it made her feel better. And isn’t that what matters?

“Mentally, it was Lexapro,” wrote Teigen. “If some stupid thing I buy makes *me* not want to jump off a building that day, I consider that a win.” The responses are, of course, quite spirited.

This is a debate I witness often within wellness and reflects much of the conflict surrounding the industry’s marketing. What matters when it comes to these products and practices, and how do we even attest to the efficacy of that which is solely focused on wellbeing? (Twitter thread)

Economists confirm: The midlife crisis is real (and getting worse)
In 2007, researchers studied 132 countries and found that across the globe, there’s a “U-shaped” curve of happiness over people’s lifetimes. It starts high in youth, descends over decades and hits bottom in middle age, and picks back up in old age. The unhappiest age is, on average, 48.

Why the rampant dissatisfaction? Mostly people hit a low point when they realize they won’t accomplish their dreams—compounded with the effects of aging and money-making stress. This year, the researchers revisited the study’s goals, but decided to specifically focus on why so many middle-aged adults are increasingly killing themselves in what’s been dubbed “deaths of despair.” 

“[Researcher] David Blanchflower believes this group is responding to not only the feelings of angst that come with middle age, but the lingering effects of the Great Recession. He also blames a long-term decline in social cohesion and civic engagement within communities as contributing to the problem. People feel more isolated.” (NPR’s Planet Money)

The Longing for Less: Understanding the meaning behind minimalism
In his new book, cultural critic Kyle Chayka attempts to understand why the idea of “less is more” keeps resurfacing. He’s not digging into the consumerist version of it—i.e, Marie Kondo—but the inherent human desire to live simply. As the NYT explains, “he sees it as a shadow to material progress, a reaction to abundance, a manifestation of civilization’s discontents.” (NYT)

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