If you’re an investor, or looking for a franchise opportunity with the sole purpose of making money, then Planet Fitness might be for you. The brand is on the rise, thanks to a heavy dose of gimmicky but slightly clever marketing, and profits for PF franchises are up. If you give a damn about your health, your actual fitness, and your quality of life, however, you will spend the extra dough and take your training elsewhere.
“Why?” you might ask. On paper, PF doesn’t seem that bad. $10 a month, no aggressive sales staff, and no silly stuff like juice or smoothie bars. Then you keep reading. “A comfortable, friendly” place to train. “Brand name cardio and strength equipment,” but don’t go in expect any power racks or Olympic weightlifting platforms (think Nautilus, not Eleiko). Hell, you’re not even allowed to deadlift anymore.
See, heavy weight lifting equipment breeds “lunks,” big, strong, powerful meatheads who “judge” others for being weaker, and project a “look-at-me” vibe. And PF is a “Judgement Free” zone. In fact it’s so judgement free, that if you’re judged to be a lunk, they sound the alarm and the manager comes out and publicly shames you in front of the entire gym. That, or they just cancel your membership and ask you to leave.
Never mind the fact that endless cardio ellipticals and weight training machines will never get anyone into the kind of shape they actually desire (if they did, CrossFit wouldn’t be riding the wave that is their revolution in fitness). Let’s focus more on the fact that the company so verbally against the judgement of fitness novices is in turn judging those at a more advanced level of fitness. “…Members have accused the gym of judging with extreme prejudice, saying the club humiliates members whose physiques are too chiseled and who take their workouts too seriously.”
Some have argued that it’s a good thing. They argue it’s a place to train for those who normally get the “sand kicked in their face” by big mean meatheads. There are two major problems with this argument. First, this model is static. Sure, it’s a nice little club for all the insecure newbies to hang out at and hold hands while they spin or pump five pound weights. It won’t however lead to any meaningful change, any development of their bodies or minds. When they leave the door, they’ll come back out into a real world filled with real assholes once more, and they’ll still be weak, scared, and get sand kicked in their face.
In contrast, if they trained correctly, improved their strength and size, they’d find themselves no longer preyed upon, and with the backbone to kick sand back (should they wish). Go into any given gym and you’ll find firsthand accounts of people young and old who transformed their lives, their attitudes, and gained both physical and psychological strength through weight training. Did they all suddenly become raging asshole lunks because their squat went over 315-pounds? Of course not. Lifting weights is a neutral force. If you have an angry, vengeful personality, it can amplify that. It can also reinforce your kindness and give you the strength to withstand more than you ever imagined.
“Muscle mass does not always equal strength. Strength is kindness and sensitivity. Strength is understanding that your power is both physical and emotional. That it comes from the body and the mind. And the heart.” – Henry Rollins (a great man who knows a thing or two about personal struggle and growth)
The second reason the Planet Fitness argument falls flat is simple: Most of your big strong gym rats are actually great people. It can be intimidating to walk into a dungeon of iron and sweat and be surrounding by bodies built over years of discipline. Yet every single one of those bodies was once like yours; powerful physiques are forged, not inherited. Every great lifter was at one time a clueless beginner, and most remember it. Most are happy to share advice, insight, tips, or give you a spot. Many will mentor, coach, and guide you if you just ask. Why? Because contrary to Planet Fitness’ marketing, they want to see you succeed and achieve your goals.
Ultimately, however, what Planet Fitness is selling you is fiction and fear. There’s no progression in Planet Fitness’ model, no path for growth for their weaker members, and its attitude towards their stronger members disregards an entire aspect of the Iron Life important to many of us, one that Henry Rollins wrote so beautifully about. Planet Fitness would do better instead to create an environment filled with members and staff that teach, mentor, and encourage its members to get stronger, faster, and more confident in themselves. An environment with community that celebrates strength rather than asking it leave once it exceeds a certain point. An environment that reinforces proper nutrition and weight training, not cardio machines and SlimFast and free pizza.
You get what you pay for. And if you care about your health and fitness, you should take your money someplace other than Planet Fitness.