HomeFitnessFitness trends › The Scary Truth Behind Planet Fitness

You may have seen the commercials, or heard about the message, but the commercial gym chain Planet Fitness touts itself as a refuge for the casual exerciser, free from the annoyances of most other gyms. But in creating this separate workout mentality, is Planet Fitness causing more harm than good?

Sean Kelly, contributing writer to the fitness website T-Nation.com, recently uncovered many startling truths about the up-and-coming commercial gym. Planet Fitness, Sean writes "markets itself as a 'judgement free' gym for newbies, but what it really does is discourage results." To accomplish this, Planet Fitness does not allow grunting, dropping weights, or 'typical muscleheaded behavior.' That's wonderful that they're actively trying to 'improve' the gym experience for most folks. Unfortunately, as Kelly reveals with mind-blowing results, it turns out the mission that Planet Fitness is currently on may not even promote getting fit at all.

In theory, Planet Fitness has the right mindset: trying to limit poor behavior you may see at some gyms. While it is true that nobody likes a musclehead in the gym, or their antics, some of the behavior displayed by the worst culprits is a very small percentage of what you'll see in most gyms. In addition, it's a good motto to think that there are 'no critics' in the gym judging the moves of beginners. However, the 'critics' that exist in some gyms are few and far between -- most people just want to get their own workout in, and get on with their lives.

Not A Real Gym?

But the issues that Kelly was able to uncover in his detailed examination of the Planet Fitness model go much deeper than mission statements. For instance, Planet Fitness wants to separate itself from other commercial gyms, but that comes at a drastic cost. Kelly explains that the real concept of Planet Fitness is far different from what they tend to promote:

"Planet Fitness seems to represent a sort of "fitness methadone" concept. It looks like the real thing and it kinda-sorta feels like the real thing, but it's not the real thing at all. Instead, it's a fascinating place where getting people into shape simply isn't the primary goal. In this regard, Planet Fitness turns the very idea of a "gym" completely on its head.

A typical gym generally represents a form of linear progression. That is, you go there to improve physically, but no doubt there are people there who started before you, have more experience, eat a healthier diet, and/or have great genetics.

So there are likely going to be folks who are in better shape and some who are in worse shape than you, whether you're comfortable with that or not. It's generally understood though that people are at the gym to improve physically.
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Essentially, a gym is designed for each person's individual goals; how they pertain to a certain individual. It doesn't matter which end on the spectrum you exist, so long as you're doing what works for you.

No Grunting Allowed!

Part of the big push away from traditional gyms involves people trying to distance themselves from heavy grunters -- or even yellers and screamers. Back when I was in college, I was working out with a partner at a different commercial gym, and my buddy needed an extra small grunt to get the weight up. One of the gym's managers sauntered over to ask if we could 'keep it down.' The issue here isn't that we were trying to create noise -- it was necessary to complete the exercise set. But Planet Fitness has a policy that you're not allowed to make noise, so as to be respectful to other gym members. As Sean Kelly writes:

"Physical improvement inherently involves continuing physical adaptations. The body adapts, so you must keep increasing (and changing) the stimuli for adaptations to continue.... Thus we have the occurrence of grunting as a natural expression of greater physical efforts. That is exactly why people in a gym trying to improve will be heard grunting during physical exertion."

Therefore, in order to get fit, it needs to be accepted that people might make a noise that corresponds to doing more than they previously could -- there's simply no way around it. He continues to mention Planet Fitness' 'no weight dropping' policy, and why doing so is necessary:

"Testing limits (the "trying really hard" part) can naturally lead to the point of muscular failure where a weight is occasionally dropped involuntarily. This is one reason why most gyms have rubber floors or rubber coated weights. Yet, like grunting, dropping weights is also highly prohibited at Planet Fitness."

Yes, when people take these behaviors to the extreme, it creates a very undesirable atmosphere in the gym. But banning all said activity -- even to those who are simply trying to put in their best efforts without annoying others -- creates the wrong environment for self-improvement via exercise.

Bullying the 'Bullies'?

Separation from what is considered 'normal gym' activity is, in a way, creating an habitat of exclusion. In a weird way, Planet Fitness is taking the way some people felt at other gyms -- unwelcome -- and creating that sense by making others feel unwelcome (such as hard workers in the gym). As Kelly noticed, this extends to even the way people tend to dress:

"There have been several notable instances where members were asked to change clothes because (according to the members) they were told by staff that they were"intimidating" other members by being too fit. Planet Fitness denies this, stating that all shapes and sizes are welcome and these were simply dress code violations.

Regardless, the message seems clear: Planet Fitness isn't the gym for people who look like they go to a gym. And if you're a female who looks great, don't you dare"bully" other members by wearing workout attire that shows off your hard work."

As you can see, it's a strange double standard to openly discourage certain behaviors, simply because you can associate them with outlying members of the 'fitness community.' Why should people who may accidentally grunt, drop a weight, or wear proper fitness clothing be chastised for trying to work out hard in a place where you're supposed to be working out hard? It just doesn't make sense.

The Benefit of Keeping People Unfit

These efforts to discourage 'meathead' or 'gym bully' behavior mask a much more awful truth behind the mission of Planet Fitness -- keeping their members unfit, and away from the gym. This begins with probably the most important aspect of getting in shape -- getting a handle on nutrition -- and that is information Planet Fitness simply does not provide. However, this continues with bizarre 'perks' of being a member of the gym, as Sean Kelly describes:

"It's universally accepted that the food one eats is an important part of losing fat and getting healthy, yet I either toured or called over 20 different Planet Fitness locations in over 12 different states and got the same answer. No nutritional guidance is provided since there are no trained nutritionists, and the trainers are there only to advise members on training and using the equipment - not food choices.

What's worse, Planet Fitness provides its members with free candy at the front desk and free pizza and bagels monthly. Maybe the marketing strategy here is 'keep them fat and addicted to junk food and they'll keep renewing their contracts.'"

Even from a mindset that wants to discourage intimidating gym behavior and characteristics, there should always be an encouragement on the part of a gym to get people into the best shape of their lives. Isn't that the whole point of what we call a 'gym'?

The problem is that Planet Fitness has caught on to one of the other reasons people join a gym, having nothing to do with getting fit. Instead, a lot of people out there simply like the concept of being a 'gym member,' despite the fact that they may never set foot inside (other than to join up in the first place). This type of individual, unfortunately, is content enough to understand that there exists an avenue to get in shape, just in case they ever wanted to go. It's just that they never actually do, and this mindset is beginning to be exploited.

The proof is in how Planet Fitness is structured as a business model. Most gyms operate by having an ideal amount of members given the gym space; if you have too many members for a given area, overcrowding can lead to customer dissatisfaction. This, in turn, drives the average price of a commercial gym membership up. So how would a Planet Fitness survive by only charging a mere $10/month for memberships? As Kelly describes the situation, it's all about looking to those who don't show up:

"If, as studies show, the average membership in a typical gym or health club is 1645 members, all things being equal and given the same average attendance rates, a Planet Fitness would need to have a roughly 5.5 times the number of members of a typical club just to attain average industry gym revenue. That would require (at a minimum) a mammoth 9,048 members.

Planet Fitness gym attendance would likely swell to the point of severe overcrowding if even the paltry 33% average number of members showed up regularly. Further, with the $10.00 monthly membership rate, any profit would turn to severe loss if a good number of members did show up with any regularity and total membership counts had to be restricted.

Indeed, this business model seems highly dependent on the vast majority of members not showing up at the gym with any frequency, if at all."

Therein lies the issue that brings Planet Fitness into darker territory: they make money off of the expectation that a low percentage of folks regularly work out.

The bottom line is these facts and figures don't represent 100% of the mission statement of Planet Fitness. There are no doubt many thousands of people who enjoy working out and being members of these gyms -- nationwide -- and those who are also making great life changes, with amazing success stories. The concern lies with the possibility of exploiting some folks who don't feel comfortable in most other gyms; offering them a sanctuary, of sorts, that may not be the most ideal environment for beginning a journey towards getting in shape.

 

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