Gonna make you sweat

If I were to tell you that there was an entire industry that overcharged the vast majority of its customers, but those customers were fully aware they were being robbed, and that was the only way to make the business viable, what would you guess?

If you’re a member of a gym, you will be aware that for the first month of the year the place is horribly packed out with sweaty and unfit people, all the classes are booked up and you can’t get on any of the machines you want. If your interaction with the keep-fit industry is more along the lines of walking past the gym on the way to the cake shop, you might be more aware of the equally curious fact that commercial gyms always seem to have a heavily advertised ‘special’ membership deal going on. Paying the full whack listed rate at a gym is actually a pretty difficult thing to do — much more so than paying full freight rack-rate for a hotel room — unless you do the single most expensive thing you can do in physical culture, and join the gym shortly after the Christmas holidays.

SWEATY BETTY Having seen the books of a gym chain or two, we can tell you that the ‘Sweaty January’ phenomenon is not an urban myth or a joke — it’s absolutely fundamental to the economics of the industry and it’s basically impossible to run an economically viable gym without taking it into account. Usually about 75 per cent of all gym memberships are taken out in the month of January. Not only this, but the economics of the industry absolutely depend on the fact that a very great proportion of January joiners will not visit more than three or four times in total before their membership comes to a floundering flop of weight not lost at the end of the year. The founder of Colman’s Mustard used to claim that his fortune was based on the bit of mustard that everyone left behind on their plate, but gym memberships have really pushed things to the limit when it comes to this model of making people pay for a lot more of the product than they have any likelihood of using.

On the bizarre economics of gyms. The spatial inefficiency of gyms is something I hadn't ever spent much time thinking about.

Human nature being as immutable as it is, most gyms are great investments (other than Bally Total Fitness, which reached too far, too fast). In fact, human nature is so predictable that a company like Planet Fitness can come along and offer memberships for just $10 a month and still not be overrun with people. It's found money.

If you're feeling particularly fitness motivated this month, maybe wait a month and see if the impulse passes along with the January prices.

A more affordable, convenient way to measure V02 Max?

The iriverON Heart Rate Monitoring Bluetooth Headset makes a unique claim for a heart rate monitor, at least that I've seen: it can measure V02 Max.

V02 Max is a measurement of the maximum oxygen your body can deliver to its muscles and consume during exertion. Usually, to test this figure, you have to go a lab where they put a mask over your face and have you run on a treadmill. Aerobic exercise can improve your V02 Max.

Endurance athletes bandy V02 Max figures about like bodybuilders discuss body fat percentages or basketball players discuss vertical leaps. The average person has a V02 Max in the 30 to 40 range (ml/kg/min). As a point of comparison, some of the great aerobic athletes of all time have had tested V02 Max of 80 and higher. Miguel Indurain, the great cyclist, was said to have confirmed V02 Max of 88.

There is more to being world class at a sport than just a high V02 Max, one's lactate threshold matters, too, but to date only professional or very serious athletes have had access to regular V02 Max testing during training. I've always been curious to see where I stack up and how my figure shifts from working out, but traveling to a testing facility and paying hundreds of dollars for each test has always been prohibitive.

I have no idea how accurate the iriverON measure of V02 Max is, but I'm going to give it a try and will report back here. The methodology is one I've never heard of; CEO Steven LeBoeuf (no relation to Shia, I hope), explains in this post

Valencell has designed a highly miniaturized sensor module that is capable of fitting inside virtually any earbud or audio headset. The sensor module shines light into the ear region and measures how this light interacts with blood flow.  

This information is then processed by novel signal extraction algorithms to pull out blood flow information (which is actually very faint) from what amounts to be an incredible amount of noise.  For example, the signal from blood flow is more than 100-1,000 times weaker than the signal coming from motion noise and environmental noise (like sunlight).    

Next, Valencell’s novel algorithms process this information into important vital signs metrics, such as heart rate, respiration rate, energy expenditure, and more. These vital signs metrics are then sent wirelessly to select smartphone applications (Android and iOS devices) that generate real-time fitness assessments such as  resting heart rate, training load, VO2max, personalized heart rate zones, and recovery time. 


I have yet to hear of a more convenient way to measure one's lactate threshold that doesn't involve running on a treadmill and continually pricking your fingertip to draw blood.