The Planet Fitness Myth

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We’re stuck in an emotionally devoid rut. And Planet Fitness isn’t helping.

I am all for showering my fellow humans with compassion and empathy. Treat others as you’d like to be treated isn’t a bad way to go about doing things.

However, taking politics out of the conversation1, it’s a safe observation to note we live in an era where we have a proclivity to shield people from “bad” feelings or from experiencing failure or hardship.

Social media plays into it. I mean, everyone on Facebook and Instagram lives in a world of butterfly kisses and rainbows (and delicious looking entrees), and it’s hard not to compare and feel up to snuff amongst everyone else’s hunky-doriness.

Society, in general, plays a massive role too. All we need to do is look towards the idea of participation trophies and “safe spaces” to note how we’re seemingly desensitizing people from a wider spectrum of feelings and uncomfortableness.

NOTE: I’d highly recommend checking out the Pixar movie Inside Out. The whole vibe of the movie is to demonstrate that feeling sad or angry or scared is okay…and that it’s a normal, nay, a necessary component of growth.

In today’s guest post by Texas-based personal trainer, Shane McLean, he does a brief “deep dive” into the phenomenon of Planet Fitness and how it mirrors much of the sentiment above.

I.e., shielding people from failure and uncomfortable situations. Is it really helping?

Don’t worry, it’s not an anti-Planet Fitness diatribe. There’s no need to preach to the choir here. However, bringing the (albeit slight) nefarious side of why Planet Fitness even exists is something I find very interesting and something worth discussing.


The Planet Fitness Myth

The first time I entered a weight room, I had absolutely had no idea what to do or how to get started. However, isn’t that the case with almost everything we do for the first time?

The start of the New Year brings a stampede of newbie gym-goers who enter a gym for the first time disappointed by their ever-growing waistlines. They usually head straight to the cardio machines to watch TV or to the dumbbell rack to do endless variations of biceps curls hoping their belly will magically disappear.

The regular gym folk may get annoyed when ‘their’ gym is full or the machines have all been taken or the biggest granddaddy of them all, the squat rack is being used for biceps curls. This one makes me mad. How mad? This mad.


These newbies are looking to lose a few pounds and think doing endless sets of curls is no big deal. They just want to look better naked and are (usually) not interested in strength or performance goals.

The newbies may feel judged or intimidated because of the looks they receive from the regulars or from the lack of help they receive from the gym staff. Whether these feelings are real or imagined, they have led to a rise of gyms, like Planet Fitness, who market themselves as the “non-gym.”

Planet Fitness, which started in 1992 in Newington, New Hampshire now has over 1000 locations and 7 million members making it one of the largest health clubs in the U.S.

With their cheap per-month membership and their slick advertising slogans such as Judgement Free Zone®, Gymtimidation® and their world famous Lunk™ alarm, Planet Fitness is doing a great job of attracting these disenfranchised exercisers.


Planet Fitness has built its reputation on maintaining a non-competitive work environment which has led to banning of certain exercises (which happens to be my favorites) and certain types of lifters.

They keep their costs down by omitting fancy stuff like juice bars and personal trainers and by not following every exercise fad. They stock their facility with good old fashioned cardio, weight machines dumbbells and barbells and not much else.

I think Barney the dinosaur and LSU would approve of their color scheme. However, I’m not a fan of purple

They also offer free pizza, bagels and even tootsie rolls to their members on the gym floor. What an ingenious idea. Can you imagine holding a slice of pizza in one hand and doing curls with the other? It boggles the mind with other possibilities.

It’s not my intention to rag on Planet Fitness because the facts speak for themselves. They are doing quite well and have cornered their share of the market, and they keep on growing.

However, I take exception to the way they portray non- purple commercial gyms.

Our first commercial gym experiences were probably similar. We were surrounded by people who were in much better shape than we were. They were bigger, faster and stronger and most of them knew what to do.

We’d scan the room and realize, “Shit, I’ve got some work to do.”

Sure, we may’ve felt slightly intimated or maybe even judged by the other regulars at the beginning but those feelings will fade with time and sweat equity.

Being out of ones “comfort zone” is necessary for growth, don’t you think?

Instead of cowering in the corner and waiting for free pizza, I used this as motivation to get better. People who have taken the time, effort and sacrifice to get in shape should be role models to others and not kicked out of the gym because they’re ‘too muscly’ or for making too much noise.

The gym floor isn’t a church after all.

Furthermore, in my experience these type of people are more than willing to help and share their tips, tricks and techniques. Sure, they might be intimating, but once you get to know them, they could be as gentle as a pussy cat.

Planet Fitness fits right into the era where we give out trophies for participation and ribbons for finishing last. Nobody likes to lose and nobody wants to get his or her feelings hurt.

However, this doesn’t fit with real life. We lose. We get our feelings hurt. We get judged. We get intimated by a situation or a person. Either we pack our bags and go home or use this as a learning situation and move onward and upward.

I’m assuming I’m preaching to the converted here. You take your health and fitness seriously and invest time, money, effort and sweat equity into it. However, if you have a friend, family member or co -worker interested in joining Planet Fitness, tell them this

  • The deadlift is an awesome exercise that strengthens the whole body. Have them read THIS.
  • Having temptation around when trying to make a change is a sure way to fail.
  • Excluding certain people from the gym doesn’t mean judgment and intimdation stop.
  • Those feelings described don’t last. Whether they’re real or imagined, use them for positive change.
  • How can you tell if people are judging you anyway? They might just be checking you out.

Wrapping Up

There will always be gyms who compete only on price and price alone. However, most people’s health and fitness is worth way more than $10 per month and free tootsie rolls.

No matter how delicious they are.

About the Author

Shane “The Balance Guy” McLean, is an A.C.E Certified Personal Trainer working deep in the heart of Texas. Shane believes in balancing exercise with life while putting the fun back into both.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.
  1. Which is a cluster fuck of fuckedness I’d like to avoid.

Comments for This Entry

  • Shane Mclean

    I hope your audience gets something out this. Great introduction Tony. Spot on.

    January 30, 2017 at 11:17 am | Reply to this comment

  • BeesMakeHoney

    I belong to planet fitness. I can manage a pretty intensive workout with the dbs, bbs, squat racks, etc that they have. Oh - and I deadlift. I have never been to the once a week pizza night, but the daily 6AM group that I encounter does not look disenfranchised to me. All shapes, sizes, ages, levels of fitness doing their own thing. I have never seen anyone "excluded", and people do grunt, and sweat, and swear under there breath. In rural WI I also don't have many options - I refuse to pay 700 bucks a year at the Y. I suppose I am their perfect customer in your eyes - but am cool with that. I hope you can open your eyes just a little bit to the realities of life.

    January 30, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Logan

      I'm glad PF is sufficient for you. I checked out my first PF in Appleton and found they had zero squat racks, zero benches set up for barbell bench, only smith machines. They also had no 45lb olympic barbells or plate weights so I couldn't deadlift! I did find the facilicty clean and the staff friendly.

      January 30, 2017 at 2:03 pm | Reply to this comment

    • JofJLTNCB6

      Sounds like yours is a PF location that PF-corporate hasn't gotten around to "updating" yet. Give them time. They will eventually. And when they do, no more squat racks and you'll be lucky if there are still barbells. But meanwhile, absolutely, enjoy. That monthly rate is awesome. (Unrelated note: the most awesome public weight training facility I've ever used was in a Y in a small rural town in Missouri. So much old-school, well-worn but well-maintained equipment. It was awesome. I would gladly pay $700/year if that was an option where I lived.)

      January 30, 2017 at 2:34 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      I don't feel the article was a personal attack to you Bees, or PF as a whole. Of course there are MANY people who get after it in planet fitness, but I'd have to think you'd realize you're a bit of an outlier given PF's marketing campaign.

      February 6, 2017 at 8:54 am | Reply to this comment

  • Andrew

    Love the intro Tony - couldn't agree more. I had a weird sense of relief just knowing there's someone else out there who feels the same way. Nothing against planet fitness. The portrayal of the modern day mentality is right on the money however. I will say that planet fitness seems to fit one of our other current societal themes - the emasculation of men. Not just because of their color scheme. Planet fitness is just a symptom of our softened society. I know a number of guys who go there who are in good shape. Mostly because of location and price. Plus I hear there's a lot of hot girls at the particular location. Maybe because it's just in an area where a lot of young pretty girls live, but not such a bad thing for motivation either. Heavy weights, cleans and deads are the backbone of my training, but if it came down to it, I'd still get a great workout anywhere with just my own body weight if need be.

    February 1, 2017 at 10:49 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Shane Mclean

      Thanks for reading Andrew. Glad you enjoyed it.

      February 2, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      I can't cry foul to those people who go for convenience sake. You can still get a KILLER workout without a squat rack and the ability to drop a barbell on the floor. But the psychology mindfuck PF plays is Jedi mindshit level.

      February 6, 2017 at 8:58 am | Reply to this comment

      • Andrew

        Agreed - PF's PCness - It's ok to criticize someone for working hard and being in shape but not someone who doesn't or isn't. No one ever got in great shape by being sheltered from (perceived) intimidation or criticizing others for working hard and being in shape. I'm sure PF's advertisers and marketers don't care as long as they get their money - even if their members never get in shape or even come back at all. In a different world or If PF's ad team thought more like us they might frame their ideal member as the underdog with heart who comes in and busts their ass despite challenges. Everyone loves and respects this kind of person no matter how big or strong they are.

        February 7, 2017 at 6:22 pm | Reply to this comment

      • Shane Mclean

        Jedi mindshit level. Will have to remember that one. :)

        February 8, 2017 at 1:40 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Andrew

      Agreed - In PF's PC skewed world, it's ok to criticize those who are in shape and work hard, but not those who aren't. No one ever got into great physical condition being sheltered from (perceived) potential intimidation or criticizing others for working hard and being in shape. People with this mentality will have a real hard time succeeding. But I'm sure advertisers and marketers don't care as long as they get their money - even if most of PF's members never come back or ever come close to reaching their goals.

      February 6, 2017 at 9:45 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Kris

    I get the business model - really clever. My wife used to work out there buying into their theme, but hated the fact the employees completely ignored her - nobody feels welcome when you walk into a place and the workers don't even say hi. Forget not using your first name, which is easy for them to see when you check it. We're talking nothing - so she left for a local gym where people do say hello.

    February 5, 2017 at 5:13 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Bodynsoil

    I went to a Planet Fitness once and that was enough for me. I was lunked for loading my weights to loud on the bar. I get the feeling that the low monthly price melds well for the part-time fitness enthusiast who might go weeks or months between visits.

    February 12, 2017 at 10:24 am | Reply to this comment

  • Fred

    I guess I am old school. I got my first set of weights back in the 60s which consisted of a bench and some weights and bar. Later, when I went to work for the Dept of Defense, you couldn't swing a cat and not hit a gym. There were all kinds of gyms everywhere. I continued lifting and working out. Fast forward 30 years and I am still working out but now, I work out at the local PF. The staff is friendly and always helpful. The place and machines are clean and well maintained. I can't say this for 75% of the other gyms I have been a member of over the years. As far as no squat rack goes, well when you have been made to learn to do with what you have rather than being spoon fed with whatever you want, you learn know how to improvise. Recently, my body building grandson came to visit and after making fun of my for going to PF, he, reluctantly gave in to going to work out with me. He looks like something that stepped out of a body building magazine but the snot nose couldn't curl more than 50 lbs so the 60 lb barbells were sufficient. He now knows how to do squats on a Smith Machine and he is now saving $400 each month that he was pissing away at another local gym that has since closed for lack of business and he is now in better shape than he ever has been in the past.

    September 24, 2018 at 2:54 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Justin

    Someone up above said "No one ever got in great shape by being sheltered from (perceived) intimidation" and I gotta tell you, you're wrong. That wasn't *your* experience, but that doesn't mean it's no one's experience. I am going to the gym consistently for the first time and am in the best shape I've ever been in, and I have a PF membership. I've maybe gotten to the point where I'd like to have access to other equipment, but while I was getting comfortable in a gym environment it was very beneficial to be in a place where I know nobody was going to try to bro out on me. Some people feel intimidated and it encourages them to challenge themselves, and others just get discouraged. We all have different life experiences. Neither is wrong. There should be gyms that cater to both groups. PF isn't for you. That's fine. We all have to start somewhere. The fitness crowd have plenty of places to go, but there's one gym that deliberately caters to the rest of the world and everyone rolls their eyes about it. That's the kind of snobbery that makes people uncomfortable in other gyms in the first place.

    October 5, 2018 at 3:51 am | Reply to this comment

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