The Future of the Gym Is Hybrid (Just Like the Office)
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The Future of the Gym Is Hybrid (Just Like the Office)

Fitness studios are combining virtual and in-person classes.

By Nicole Ngyuen
Mon, Aug 30, 2021 11:17amGrey Clock 4 min

Every morning, Daniela Costanzo wakes up at 5, drinks a cup of coffee, feeds her two dogs, then heads to DFit, the Montclair, N.J.-based workout studio she’s owned for the past decade.

Last Wednesday was no different, except for one relatively new pre-class ritual Ms. Costanzo added to her routine during the pandemic. Before the early risers arrived for her first class, she powered on her laptop and started a Zoom meeting.

Two virtual clients popped on-screen, while eight students made their way into the studio. At 7:15 a.m., the crew started its full-body workout all together: a series of heart-pumping shoulder presses, squats, rows, lunges and core work.

In the Before Times, gyms and studios such as DFit were destinations—spaces with nice equipment, freshly laundered towels and, critically, no distractions from partners, kids or pets. Meanwhile, people who couldn’t get out used apps and connected platforms, such as Peloton, designed for home use. The pandemic forced the former to take a page from the latter, and many studios and gyms decided to continue providing home workouts, even after Covid restrictions lifted.

“I’m committed to it 100%,” Ms. Costanzo said. One reason, she says, is that going virtual is cost-effective. A Zoom business license costs about $20 a month. DFit currently offers six virtual classes a week, alongside indoor and outdoor workouts.

For now, the virtual classes are more of a necessity as the threat of the Delta variant looms large. While the studio is seeing more new clients looking to lose their pandemic pounds, attendance still isn’t at pre-Covid levels. Teaching over Zoom is also a drain on instructors, who typically draw energy from loud music and packed classes. Tracks have to be quiet, so students can hear the instructors.

“It feels like I taught four classes when it was just one. That’s how much energy it takes,” Ms. Costanzo said.

At the start of the pandemic, DFit instructors streamed live workouts free on Instagram. Some garnered over 100 participants—much more than a typical studio class. “For such a bad, uncertain time, the energy we felt through Instagram was phenomenal,” Ms. Costanzo said.

A week later, the studio began hosting Zoom classes for paying customers.

Clients can reserve classes through DFit’s online portal, which is operated by booking software Mindbody. About 12 hours before the class, a DFit employee manually emails each participant a Zoom link. Clients are charged normal prices—up to $25 a pop or unlimited access for up to $255 a month.

Ms. Costanzo’s regulars love the flexibility. “Right now, we’re in the heat of vacation season. But I have people joining us from Hawaii and from Germany.” One longtime client moved out of state to Philadelphia. “We’re thrilled we still have her as a client,” Ms. Costanzo said.

A Mindbody survey from February found that 65% of respondents intended to complete workouts both in person and at home in a post-Covid world. And in a survey from July, 86% of respondents who do virtual workouts said they continued to do them as much or more, even as studios are reopening.

Sunil Rajasekar, president of Mindbody, said that convenience is the push behind this consumer shift. “The experience is not the same as an in-person class, but it is way better than not taking the class at all,” he said. “It is also a great way for wellness businesses to expand their reach.”

During the height of the pandemic, Peloton and other at-home workout solutions soared, while gym operators struggled to survive. The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association estimates one in four gyms permanently closed in 2020. Nationwide fitness chains Flywheel and YogaWorks permanently closed all studios that year.

“The chaos of the pandemic forced us to innovate,” said Joey Gonzalez, chief executive of Barry’s Bootcamp, which has 70 locations around the world, offering combination strength-and-cardio workouts.

Before 2020, Mr. Gonzalez wasn’t considering digital fitness for the company. The studios tout perks that can’t be offered in an app: workout rooms drenched in a nightclubby red glow, high-end treadmills with shock-absorbing belts, salon-grade products in its locker rooms and a recovery smoothie bar.

But Barry’s did eventually transition to Zoom workouts during the pandemic, featuring instructors streaming from their living rooms, dealing with audio and Wi-Fi issues like the rest of us.

“One of the most surprising things for us was people were coming to us from places where Barry’s doesn’t exist, like Dublin and Hong Kong,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

To reduce its dependence on Zoom, the company recruited an external agency to create its own Barry’s-ified live video-enabled workout experience, with trainers in a dedicated studio. Earlier this month, it launched Barry’s X, which streams via an app, website or the Forme smart mirror. Live streams cost between $12 and $20 a piece, or can be accessed through a monthly membership, which also includes a library of prerecorded workouts.

There’s some indication that the at-home boom is starting to bust. Peloton recently lowered the price of its original bike by 20%, in anticipation of slowing growth. And at the end of July, Barry’s studios were at 86% of pre-Covid attendance. But Mr. Gonzalez acknowledges that the Delta variant is hampering a full in-person comeback.

Equinox, the luxury gym chain, launched an on-demand fitness mobile app in March 2020, right as the global quarantine began. The app, called Equinox+, includes workouts from SoulCycle, Solidcore and other Equinox subbrands. A subscription costs $40 a month, but for Equinox members, who often pay upward of $200 a month, access to the app is included as a perk.

According to the company, those who visit a club and use the Equinox+ app are the most active members, working out one or two more times a week than those using the club or app alone. What’s funny is that some people even use the Equinox+ app inside Equinox clubs.

So it seems our desk-sharing, partially work-from-home future won’t be the only hybrid model in our lives. Some might refer to the new exercise paradigm as the hybrid gym. Others might say it’s “gym as a service.” I’m just hoping no one will call it “GaaS.”

Reprinted by permission of WSJ. Magazine. Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: August 29, 2021.


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Electric Cars and Driving Range: Here’s What to Know

How far can an electric car really go on a full charge? What can you do to make it go farther? We answer these and other questions that EV buyers might ask.

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Many people considering an electric vehicle are turned off by their prices or the paucity of public charging stations. But the biggest roadblock often is “range anxiety”—the fear of getting stuck on a desolate road with a dead battery.

All EVs carry window stickers stating how far they should go on a full charge. Yet these range estimates—overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency and touted in carmakers’ ads—can be wrong in either direction: either overstating or understating the distance that can be driven, sometimes by 25% or more.

How can that be? Below are questions and answers about how driving ranges are calculated, what factors affect the range, and things EV owners can do to go farther on a charge.

How far will an electric vehicle go on a full battery?

The distance, according to EPA testing, ranges from 516 miles for the 2023 Lucid Air Grand Touring with 19-inch wheels to 100 miles for the 2023 Mazda MX-30.

Most EVs are in the 200-to-300-mile range. While that is less than the distance that many gasoline-engine cars can go on a full tank, it makes them suitable for most people’s daily driving and medium-size trips. Yet it can complicate longer journeys, especially since public chargers can be far apart, occupied or out of service. Plus, it takes many times longer to charge an EV than to fill a tank with gas.

How accurate are the EPA range estimates?

Testing by Car and Driver magazine found that few vehicles go as far as the EPA stickers say. On average, the distance was 12.5% shorter, according to the peer-reviewed study distributed by SAE International, formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers.

In some cases, the estimates were further off: The driving range of Teslas fell below their EPA estimate by 26% on average, the greatest shortfall of any EV brand the magazine tested. Separately, federal prosecutors have sought information about the driving range of Teslas, The Wall Street Journal reported. Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The study also said Ford’s F-150 Lightning pickup truck went 230 miles compared with the EPA’s 300-mile estimate, while the Chevrolet Bolt EV went 220 miles versus the EPA’s 259.

A GM spokesman said that “actual range may vary based on several factors, including things like temperature, terrain/road type, battery age, loading, use and maintenance.” Ford said in a statement that “the EPA [figure] is a standard. Real-world range is affected by many factors, including driving style, weather, temperature and if the battery has been preconditioned.”

Meanwhile, testing by the car-shopping site Edmunds found that most vehicles beat their EPA estimates. It said the Ford Lightning went 332 miles on a charge, while the Chevy Bolt went 265 miles.

That is confusing. How can the test results vary so much?

Driving range depends largely on the mixture of highway and city roads used for testing. Unlike gasoline-powered cars, EVs are more efficient in stop-and-go driving because slowing down recharges their batteries through a process called regenerative braking. Conversely, traveling at a high speed can eat up a battery’s power faster, while many gas-engine cars meet or exceed their EPA highway miles-per-gallon figure.

What types of driving situations do the various tests use?

Car and Driver uses only highway driving to see how far an EV will go at a steady 75 mph before running out of juice. Edmunds uses a mix of 60% city driving and 40% highway. The EPA test, performed on a treadmill, simulates a mixture of 55% highway driving and 45% city streets.

What’s the reasoning behind the different testing methods?

Edmunds believes the high proportion of city driving it uses is more representative of typical EV owners, says Jonathan Elfalan, Edmunds’s director of vehicle testing. “Most of the driving [in an EV] isn’t going to be road-tripping but driving around town,” he says.

Car and Driver, conversely, says its all-highway testing is deliberately more taxing than the EPA method. High-speed interstate driving “really isn’t covered by the EPA’s methodology,” says Dave VanderWerp, the magazine’s testing director. “Even for people driving modest highway commutes, we think they’d want to know that their car could get 20%-30% less range than stated on the window sticker.”

What does the EPA say about the accuracy of its range figures?

The agency declined to make a representative available to comment, but said in a statement: “Just like there are variations in EPA’s fuel-economy label [for gas-engine cars] and people’s actual experience on the road for a given make and model of cars/SUVs, BEV [battery electric vehicle] range can exceed or fall short of the label value.”

What should an EV shopper do with these contradictory range estimates?

Pick the one based on the testing method that you think matches how you generally will drive, highway versus city. When shopping for a car, be sure to compare apples to apples—don’t, for instance, compare the EPA range estimate for one vehicle with the Edmunds one for another. And view all these figures with skepticism. The estimates are just that.

Since range is so important to many EV buyers, why don’t carmakers simply add more batteries to provide greater driving distance?

Batteries are heavy and are the most expensive component in an EV, making up some 30% of the overall vehicle cost. Adding more could cut into a vehicle’s profit margin while the added weight means yet more battery power would be used to move the car.

But battery costs have declined over the past 10 years and are expected to continue to fall, while new battery technologies likely will increase their storage capacity. Already, some of the newest EV models can store more power at similar sticker prices to older ones.

What can an EV owner do to increase driving range?

The easiest thing is to slow down. High speeds eat up battery life faster. Traveling at 80 miles an hour instead of 65 can cut the driving range by 17%, according to testing by Geotab, a Canadian transportation-data company. And though a primal appeal of EVs is their zippy takeoff, hard acceleration depletes a battery much quicker than gentle acceleration.

Does cold weather lower the driving range?

It does, and sometimes by a great amount. The batteries are used to heat the car’s interior—there is no engine creating heat as a byproduct as in a gasoline car. And many EVs also use electricity to heat the batteries themselves, since cold can deteriorate the chemical reaction that produces power.

Testing by Consumer Reports found that driving in 15- to-20-degrees Fahrenheit weather at 70 mph can reduce range by about 25% compared to similar-speed driving in 65 degrees.

A series of short cold-weather trips degraded the range even more. Consumer Reports drove two EVs 40 miles each in 20-degree air, then cooled them off before starting again on another 40-mile drive. The cold car interiors were warmed by the heater at the start of each of three such drives. The result: range dropped by about 50%.

Does air conditioning degrade range?

Testing by Consumer Reports and others has found that using the AC has a much lower impact on battery range than cold weather, though that effect seems to increase in heat above 85 degrees.

I don’t want to freeze or bake in my car to get more mileage. What can I do?

“Precondition” your EV before driving off, says Alex Knizek, manager of automotive testing and insights at Consumer Reports. In other words, chill or heat it while it is still plugged in to a charger at home or work rather than using battery power on the road to do so. In the winter, turn on the seat heaters, which many EVs have, so you be comfortable even if you keep the cabin temperature lower. In the summer, try to park in the shade.

What about the impact from driving in a mountainous area?

Going up hills takes more power, so yes, it drains the battery faster, though EVs have an advantage over gas vehicles in that braking on the downside of hills returns juice to the batteries with regenerative braking.

Are there other factors that can affect range?

Tires play a role. Beefy all-terrain tires can eat up more electricity than standard ones, as can larger-diameter ones. And underinflated tires create more rolling resistance, and so help drain the batteries.

Most EVs give the remaining driving range on a dashboard screen. Are these projections accurate?

The meters are supposed to take into account your speed, outside temperature and other factors to keep you apprised in real time of how much farther you can travel. But EV owners and car-magazine testers complain that these “distance to empty” gauges can suddenly drop precipitously if you go from urban driving to a high-speed highway, or enter mountainous territory.

So be careful about overly relying on these gauges and take advantage of opportunities to top off your battery during a multihour trip. These stops could be as short as 10 or 15 minutes during a bathroom or coffee break, if you can find a high-powered DC charger.

Before embarking on a long trip, what should an EV owner do?

Fully charge the car at home before departing. This sounds obvious but can be controversial, since many experts say that routinely charging past 80% of a battery’s capacity can shorten its life. But they also say that charging to 100% occasionally won’t do damage. Moreover, plan your charging stops in advance to ease the I-might-run-out panic.

So battery life is an issue with EVs, just as with smartphones?

Yes, an EV battery’s ability to fully charge will degrade with use and age, likely leading to shorter driving range. Living in a hot area also plays a role. The federal government requires an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on EV batteries for serious failure, while some EV makers go further and cover degradation of charging capacity. Replacing a bad battery costs many thousands of dollars.

What tools are available to map out charging stations?

Your EV likely provides software on the navigation screen as well as a phone app that show charging stations. Google and Apple maps provide a similar service, as do apps and websites of charging-station networks.

But always have a backup stop in mind—you might arrive at a charging station and find that cars are lined up waiting or that some of the chargers are broken. Damaged or dysfunctional chargers have been a continuing issue for the industry.

Any more tips?

Be sure to carry a portable charger with you—as a last resort you could plug it into any 120-volt outlet to get a dribble of juice.


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