August 11, 2016

Book Review: Sweat Equity

We’ve all lamented how much money we spend on fitness. Running is supposed to be free – all you need is a pair of sneakers and you’re good to go, right? But I will fully admit to spending a lot of money on fitness – from clothing and gear, to race entry fees, to my beloved Classpass subscription.

Sweat Equity: Inside the New Economy of Mind and Body, by Jason Kelly, takes a fascinating look at the business of fitness. Even though I’m not looking to invest in any fitness companies anytime soon, I was captivated by all the behind the scenes stories of how certain fitness institutions evolved as they did. Sweat Equity profiles just about every aspect of fitness and shows how it’s evolved to make money – starting from big box gyms like Bally’s, to today’s boutique studios, to the various running and obstacle races and how different races have attempted to capture different demographics.

The intense cover reflects the fact that the content isn’t light – this is a great book for an outside investor to better understand the industry, even as it fascinates those of us who just love the activities for fun 🙂

Although the book goes into a lot of well-researched details (with lengthy source lists at the end of each chapter), I found it fascinating and read it in just a few days. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had personal experience with just about all the fitness trends Sweat Equity covered – I guess I have really gotten around the fitness scene! If you’re the type of person who’s tried every class that hits your market and has experimented with different races, you’ll love getting a look at how those trends got started and how they’ve evolved over the years.

For me, one of the most interesting chapters was about a race I hated: The Color Run. When I did The Color Run, I thought it was a regular 5K that happens to have the addition of some colored powders; I was really disappointed to do the whole “race” and then realize I wasn’t going to get a finish time. But after reading the chapter in Sweat Equity, I understood the more casual, social demographic the organizers were targeting, and that gave me a new appreciation for The Color Run. Plus, it was neat to think of the race from a business perspective: the organizers were targeting an untapped demographic. Fitness for everyone!

The only downside of Sweat Equity for me was that the chapters were kind of long. Each one had a certain theme, but the theme took twists and turns through different companies and industries, to where I think most chapters could have been split into two or three smaller chapters. The long chapters made the book really hard to put down in the middle, but sometimes I just needed to go to sleep – and yet I had 20 pages to go! But some of that could have been just me – I am fairly anal about only wanting to stop reading when I’m at the end of a chapter 🙂

Want a taste of Sweat Equity before buying? Well & Good NYC, one of my favorite sites for wellness news, has been featuring excerpts of a few chapters. (Note that the “excerpts” aren’t whole snippets; there are extra details in the book even within the stories you’ll read.)

Let me know if you’ve read Sweat Equity, and what you thought!


8 thoughts on “Book Review: Sweat Equity”

  1. This looks really interesting! I just ran Seawheeze (the lulu race) and am SO curious about the $$ and marketing plan/rationale involved. Thanks for sharing!

  2. What an interesting read, it’s an incredible what a business/industry the fitness world has become! I want to pick up a copy and give this a read.

    Living in Vancouver – the “hometown” of Lululemon – you REALLY see the influence of the company and how intertwined they are in the lives and community of people here.

    1. I have very little experience with Lululemon; that would be really interesting to see what the hometown atmosphere is like!

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