This image, a fixture in our gym, Brand X® -The Lab, for years, now proudly hangs in my home gym. Its significance lies in the story it tells—a tale of seven young men who embarked on a 3-hour, 200-mile journey to compete in a two day functional fitness competition among over 200 teen participants. Allow me to delve into why this picture holds profound meaning for me.
Among these seven, only one had been involved in sports outside of our gym when they first walked into Brand X®. That means six kids discovered their athleticism within our walls. Remarkably, four out of the six went on to become state record holders in powerlifting. Three pursued college athletics, one became a police officer, and another serves the country as a special forces operator. All seven spent more than five years with us, and three of them remained part of our community for a decade or more. Though I’ve lost contact with two, the remaining five continue to stay active, working out, competing, and engaging in various activities of their choosing.
Back in 2008, Brand X® initiated discussions about the risks of early sport specialization. By 2010, we were sounding the alarm about the increase in catastrophic injuries, such as non-contact ACL injuries, in youth sports. In 2012, our conversations shifted to the loss of common human movement, social norms, and mental health in youth, driven by a startling decrease in free play. These issues are now openly discussed in the media, and coaches are joining the crusade. Brand X® has, in a way, been the canary in the coal mine on youth issues, foreseeing these problems long before they became mainstream concerns.
Looking ahead to the next ten years, the challenges for our industry loom large. What does the future hold for functional fitness gyms, obstacle course racing, parkour gyms, and fitness racing?
Research warns that over half of today’s children are projected to be obese by the age of 35 (obese, not just overweight) —an alarming statistic implying a future where a substantial portion of the population may lack the physical health necessary for intense fitness activities. Studies dating back to 2013 underscore the link between poor functional movement patterns and obesity, emphasizing the importance of addressing movement quality in youth. These ingrained movement patterns set the stage for a generation that may struggle to adapt to the demands of functional fitness or even have the desire to try.
The next decade poses formidable challenges for the functional fitness, obstacle course racing, and fitness racing industries. The rising trends in obesity, lack of physical activity, and poor movement patterns among today’s youth raise concerns about the sustainability of these sectors. To thrive, these industries must actively engage in initiatives promoting physical well-being from a young age, invest in inclusivity, and create environments that encourage individuals of all backgrounds and abilities to participate in fitness activities. The future health of these industries is undeniably linked to the collective effort to reverse current trends and foster a culture of health and fitness for all.
And so, we circle back to the picture—a snapshot of seven boys who traveled three hours to compete in a fitness event for two grueling days. Four of them knew they wouldn’t stand on the platform; they were never the first in a workout, not even in our gym. But they wanted to compete, to fully challenge themselves….and be with their friends. The path forward involves embracing programs like The Brand X Method®, which teach kids to move well, expand their physical literacy, and increase their strength in a supportive, engaging environment. This approach produces individuals and communities, capable of taking on any sport or activity with confidence and fearlessness. The way forward, to counter the trend towards a rapidly diminishing participant pool, is to begin acting on the message the canary is sending.