In early October, I was fortunate enough to present to a group of students for the BU Strength & Fitness Club at my alma mater, Bloomsburg University. It was a mixed crowd, with some planning on creating a future for themselves in the field of health and wellness, while others were business students looking to learn more about the future of sports administration, and some were just gym attendees interested in the general direction fitness will be taking over the next decade or so.
From this lecture, I’ve compiled some of my thoughts and materials here. The information enclosed is just my thoughts on the state of fitness and the direction in which I think the industry will proceed.
The Future is Bright for Strength & Conditioning
Athletes, parents, administrators, and coaches across the board are rapidly accepting and implementing strength & conditioning programs. While there’s no doubt this is good for the S&C industry, this influx of demand is changing the game at light-speed.
This demand is changing the job market completely. Highly-educated and experienced coaches are being sought-after like never before. At high schools and universities, these coaches are being paid top-dollar to ensure athletes are stronger, faster, and better able to handle the demands of sport. Many of the programs leading the pack in this regard are also using these strength coaches to avoid regulations imposed by high school state and collegiate national governing bodies.
With this in mind, it is possible to achieve the role of a collegiate strength & conditioning coach and be salaried similar to that of a sport’s head coach. But job market competition for these positions is fierce. Those best qualified for these positions are individuals with:
- Extensive experience within the sport
- Graduate-level training in a related degree
- Previous on-the-job experience coaching similar populations
- Those with extensive knowledge of the rules and regulations of the sport’s governing body
Beyond college and high school, such positions are still available at private facilities. Because these are usually for-profit, the benefits and pay will likely be considerably less (at least to start). To be best prepared for these positions, individuals will benefit by:
- Being comfortable coaching in small and large group settings
- Demonstrating above-average communication skills
- Proficiency in various training techniques and movement screens
- Possessing a certification from a nationally accredited S&C or CPT program
Again, the future is bright here, but the amount of candidates for these jobs still exceed the positions available, making the job market fierce. Volunteering with teams and undergoing an educational internship make for stand-out entrance-level candidates.
CrossFit is a Toss-Up
Many industry insiders may have lost a few bets by now about the continued success of CrossFit. Those who still call CrossFit a “fad” are losing touch with reality. This is not to say that CrossFit is still without problems. In fact, there are one of two ways that CrossFit can go from here; luck, circumstance, and strategic business maneuvers will define CrossFit’s place in the fitness realm for years to come.
Firstly, for CrossFit to have some level of continued success, the company will need to address their plateauing membership and the simultaneous influx of CrossFit “boxes”. More and more of these gyms are opening up, paired with this membership flat-lining is creating internal competition. In essence, this means that moving forward without a change in the CrossFit hierarchy and new gym requirements will allow CrossFit affiliates to eat each other alive.
Like many other companies, CrossFit will need to diversify to ensure financial health. This may include something like CrossFit branded supplements, which may be a hard sell, given the companies affiliation with some supplement brands.
CrossFit’s best bet for market expansion at this point would likely be additional specialty certifications. This move will allow CrossFit to tap further into their existing consumer base, creating specialty gyms and experts, which may help differentiate some of the higher-end CrossFit gyms from the rest of the pack (thereby perpetuating their business model and simultaneously filtering out the gyms giving CrossFit a bad image).
Something that may be CrossFit’s worst nightmare would be the emergence of a new training model which could cut into CrossFit’s market share. While I don’t know what this training model may be (if I did, I’d be a very rich man), CrossFit’s appeal as cutting-edge and different may be lost to its audience when there is something more cutting-edge and more different.
Bodybuilding is a Likely a Thing of the Past
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that follows the sport of bodybuilding even remotely. The majority of revenue from the sport is attained through supplement sponsors, etc.. As less and less individuals idolize the figures of these individuals and turn to athletes like CrossFitters, more and more sponsors are beginning to bail–not the best situation for these federations to be in.
One of the few things that could redeem the sport, is natural bodybuilding. As the ‘un-tested’ athletes grow away from the figures and physiques of classic bodybuilders (i.e. the Golden Age Arnold-type physiques), natural bodybuilders may be the sports final stand and last chance as a mainstream and profitable sport.
Personal Training is Changing Rapidly
The idea of the 1-on-1 personal training model is losing its edge in the fitness community. Not only is 1-on-1 less profitable than small group or semi-private models, it is likely overkill and hugely inefficient.
This is not to say that 1-on-1’s will not stick around. It is likely that we’ll see these for a long time to come, but offered as a more premium service for higher-paying clients or elite athletes. In fact, rather you currently implement a 1-on-1 service or not, having this available as a ‘top-tier’ package may help funnel more clients into the aforementioned small group or semi-private classes.
SEO is Changing the Information Game
It’s likely no surprise that fitness information is getting muddied in an effort to reach the widest audience possible. Many of the large fitness publications are in business simply to create revenue by selling advertising space in their magazines or sites. This not only means that providing information in contrast to the mission of the advertisers (whether the information is scientifically viable or not) will not get published, but this also means that the publishers are trying to reach the widest audience possible.
To reach this audience, writers must adhere to strict editorial guidelines which are intended to maximize the likelihood that the publication will yield the highest result possible on a search engine’s web page.
This creates a system where those who are SEO savvy can market themselves much better than experts in the field who are trying to provide more pertinent and detailed content.
This idea applies within this lecture because this is not a trend that is in any way slowing down. Click-bait articles are becoming more and more prevalent, and content which intermediate or advanced fitness trainees can use and apply are becoming more and more scarce.
As we’ve seen over the past few years, there has been a rise of paid/membership sites. The growth of these will likely parallel the growth of SEO and its significance in growth of online media.
Challenge Races are Indiscernible
Initially in this presentation, I didn’t even make reference to the idea of challenge/ obstacle course races; this would have been a mistake and done this presentation a disservice.
Challenge races are on the rise as individuals look for new and different ways to challenge their fitness in an environment packed with like-minded individuals. These include Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, etc.. Many of these have a niche following, but not enough to set themselves out among the pack.
As time progresses, I expect one of these to somehow create a greater sense of brand-loyalty than the rest. This will likely tip the balance of power in their favor, giving that particular challenge race greater market share and brand recognition among outsiders making them the ‘go-to’ for challenge races (much like CrossFit has done in the cross-training niche).
Psych 101 and Sports Business Success
This is yet another point which I would be remiss not to include. While I primarily used this to demonstrate the success of models like CrossFit or semi-private training, this idea has implications across the board in the fitness industry.
If you’ve been in the field for any length of time, you know how volatile the fitness market is. During recessions, fitness spending is one of the first things to get dropped, but during economic recovery it is quick to rebound.
One way to tell how a sports business will fare throughout changing economic conditions, is where the business falls in a group of individuals hierarchy of needs. For most recreational gym goers, training (and therefore spending) is limited to the top 1 or 2 tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy (see picture above). This means that individuals are more likely to train to find fulfillment by developing their esteem and find some sense of self-actualization.
What the best fitness companies have done is tap into the love/belonging tier; ever hear of CrossFit being called a cult? By creating an environment which fosters belonging, people are less likely to forgo membership because they are meeting a wider base of their psychological needs (i.e. sense of community — think CrossFit gyms or something with a unique brand identity like Mark Fisher Fitness).
The Future is Mixed, but the Fitness Industry Only Grows Stronger
If time has taught us anything, it’s that as we move forward as a society and more and more needs are met, fitness in some form or fashion grows as a mainstay in our day-to-day lives.
The remaining questions are more about how people will aspire to feel healthier from day to day rather than if. Aligning your brand to help individuals meet these needs in an innovative and fun way is a recipe for success. Maintaining recognition as an innovator can be problematic, but keeping these ideas in mind should provide a likely framework for the future of fitness.
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Late last month, I was invited to provide an in-service presentation for CrossFit Fluid and Fearless Barbell in Deer Lake, PA. The presentation was based around “Movement Correction for Health & Long-Term Athletic Development”–a topic that I’m rather passionate about, which led to a much longer than anticipated presentation and group discussion.
This is a widely-encompassing topic and lecture, which went off in various directions. But below are some of the talking points that had the best feedback and sparked the most interest.
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Tonic Muscles vs. Phasic Muscles
The idea of tonic and phasic muscles is not one that many deal with on a day-to-day basis. But because I was presenting for a CrossFit staff, the was much more applicable than usual.
In this breakdown, rather than considering muscles as fast twitch, slow twitch, type I or type II, muscles are grouped as tonic or phasic. Tonic muscles are those which have an evolutionary basis in maintaining support, or muscle tone, whereas phasic muscles have a basis in locomotion or movement.
Again, this idea has some significance in CrossFit because of the nature of the exercises and activities therein. For example, throughout a set of high-rep snatches, the phasic muscles (which should be primary movers in this exercise) quickly become fatigued. The tonic muscles are then relied on for completion of the exercise bout. Over time, this creates reliance on the tonic muscles (which are prone to tightness), while the phasic muscles (which are prone to weakness) become less and less active.
To ensure patterns of misuse don’t become long-term, activation of the phasic muscles and the release of the tonic muscles are both necessary. Consider the hip extensors; a phasic hip extensor would be the gluteal muscles, while the hamstrings and spinal erectors are tonic. In this case, we would need to implement myofascial release on these tonic muscles, while activating the gluteal musculature with various exercises and drills.
Mobility is Flexibility
The fitness world has gone to an extreme with some of its terminology. One such instance is the idea of mobility. Coaches will frequently say that they enjoy implementing mobility drills, but do not concern themselves with stretches because of the noted decrements to performance. While these coaches may have the right idea, this separation of terminology is not entirely accurate.
Flexibility is an umbrella category that mobility falls under. Rather than suggesting that static stretching (which creates passive flexibility) leads to these noted decrements to performance, these coaches vilify the broader and more general terms of stretching and mobility.
Stability is Multifaceted
Beyond some intricacies with terminology, the idea of mobility is much more simplistic than the idea of stability. This is, in part, due to the various types of stability within the body, as well as role that the central nervous system plays in creating stability .
Since the joints within the body largely alternate between providing mobility and stability, the mechanisms for stability at each junction alternate as well. While stable joints will inherently provide stability, mobile joints must be stabilized by the surrounding musculature.
If this musculature is weakened, the chance of pain, injury, or asymmetry is very likely. The fix for this requires the aforementioned muscular activation.
Lifestyle Modification for Optimal Health
When trying to improve a client’s health or fitness, frequently coaches look at existing workout protocols, and how they can optimize a program to better suit the client, but this is only a small piece of the fitness puzzle.
Exercise likely doesn’t take up any more than 2 hours a day. With off days in addition to the likelihood of exercise bouts being much shorter than two hours, we are left with a great deal more time out of the gym than in it.
To best improve a client’s health and fitness, we need to consider an approach than is going to be fully-encompassing, rather than limited to 1-2 hours per day. This idea means creating better daily habits, postures, diets, and so on.
The idea of changing these patterns falls within the psychological realm and within the idea of behavior modification. To best change someone’s diet, resting postures, etc., it is best to have an extended plan, implementing 1-2 changes at a time for several weeks, before compounding these newly formed habits with additional changes.
The fields of health and fitness are truly multi-disciplined. To best understand this topic, fitness professionals must continuously develop and maintain an extensive intellectual background on topics that may seem outside of practice, utility, and convention.
Early last month, I was featured on the Swimming Science Podcast. The topic of discussion was strength training for elite swimmers. While the podcast only scratched the surface of the intricacies associated with exercise programming for high-level athletes, this post is filled with some thought-provoking content.
Within the podcast, Dr. Gary John Mullen and I discuss CrossFit for swimmers, the application of strength training for non-elite athletes, dryland program fundamentals, and more.
To explore more of my publications, visit the Featured Publications tab on this site.
Are We Asking the Right Questions?
Our comprehension of nutrition is fundamentally flawed. This topic is taught very frequently in terms of independent and isolated variables (consider the controversies surrounding isolated Vitamin C consumption). In some respects, this can be useful. We can use the isolation of variables in conjunction with the scientific method to determine cause and effect, a variable’s relationship to our health, and so on.
But what we tend to overlook is the bigger picture. This includes the why, as well as the association between variables. To delve into this idea further, let’s consider some food as well as its respective feedback systems.
Our relationship with organisms which fall within our diet is complex and has its basis in evolution, and natural selection.
Some of these organisms, like fruits, directly benefit from their relationship with consumers. When such a fruit is filled with more nutrients, it is more likely to be consumed by a greater variety of organisms thus spreading the fruit’s seed further and further. Over millions of years, this creates a feedback cycle which continues to perpetuate the qualities which its consumers find the most beneficial.
In this case, the benefit to the various consumers are an influx of nutrients, be it vitamins, minerals, or macronutrients such as carbohydrates. Therefore, the consumers must also evolve to have the fastest access to this food source.
In some instances, the producer can also screen its consumers–consider the various defense mechanisms fruits have against bacteria and viruses. This occurs because viruses cause the seed to sprout in close proximity to the parent plant, creating competition within the species (killing out these weaker, disease prone genes in a species over time).
Processed and Designer Foods
The feedback system of these foodstuffs are entirely different. Here, the feedback loop encourages food to be designed to meet consumer demands. This demand is traditionally taste or convenience.
Even when processed foods are labeled as ‘healthy’ in some form or fashion, be it gluten free, fat free, sugar free, etc., the feedback isn’t necessarily creating health, but rather the image of health, while still encouraging mass-market appeal via taste and branding campaigns.
A Bigger Picture Approach
As an individual focusing on your diet, it can be far too time-consuming to hone in on specific nutrients when we can consider bigger-picture concepts, such as this idea of feedback systems within our dietary choices.
Consider why have you been presented with a particular food, or even a particular piece of information. Will a food genuinely benefit you? Who else is benefiting from the food you are about to consume?
When you consistently ask these questions, you can begin to notice patterns in the world around you, as well as motives of those involved in a particular system, and so on. A purely ‘paleo’ style diet, which this post may seem to favor, may particularly benefit few individuals (i.e. those selling books or paleo-friendly supplements), but this can be a good place to start for those new to dieting. Especially over diets which ignore food choice as long as caloric intake and macronutrient breakdown are met.