Reasons People Don’t Consider Planet Fitness To Be A ‘Real Gym,’ And Why That’s OK

Since reporting on the Planet Money podcast that detailed the ways in which Planet Fitness (and other low-cost gyms) manipulate its members into not going to the gym, I’ve received a lot of feedback about Planet Fitness. Much of it is along the lines of, “Screw you! It’s not Planet Fitness’ fault if you don’t go to the gym. It’s the members fault for not having the willpower to take advantage of the $10 a month membership fees.”

But remember, Planet Fitness actually tailors itself to out-of-shape people it knows are unlikely to follow through on using its services. In fact, on the other side of the equation, I heard accounts from several people that Planet Fitness actually discourages gym-obsessed people from using their gym. After all, when their facilities have 6000 members and only accommodate 300 people at a time, frequent users of their gyms are actually bad business for them.

So, I dug a little deeper (based, in part, on anecdotal evidence from readers and friends) and found a few ways in which Planet Fitness is actively trying not to be a “real” gym.

1. As a The Daily Show segment illustrated back in 2011, Planet Fitness may bill itself as a “Judgment Free Zone,” but in reality, it judges what they call “lunkheads.” In fact, “no grunting” policy and a “Lunk Alarm” that sounds whenever weight lifters make too much noise — or grunt — while lifting weights (which is not common, given the fact that Planet Fitness typically does not stock incredibly heavy weights).

2. There was a huge uproar last year after a Reddit user reported that his Planet Fitness removed the squat rack after another member complained that it was too intimidating. A few days before that, another Reddit user complained that his Planet Fitness removed the free weight benches and all dumbbells over 75 pounds for “insurance reasons.”

3. In March of this year, another Planet Fitness member was kicked out of the club because her “toned boy” intimidated others. According to Tiffany Austin, who was wearing a midriff on the treadmill, 15 minutes into her first workout, a staff member came up to her and said, “Excuse me we’ve had some complaints you’re intimidating people with your toned body. So can you put on a shirt?” In April, she contemplated bringing a suit against the gym.

4. A few years ago, this 49-year-old man was banned from Planet Fitness after making a video demonstrating the results he got from working out at PF.

5. A while back, Planet Fitness discontinued their personal training services, and actually insulted the personal trainer industry. The CEO of the company wrote a letter, according to Fittalknews, noting:

That most people doing personal training are “just renting friends.” … “who the hell needs a friend for 50 bucks an hour?” “For us to be selling personal training is a fraud and downright condescending to anyone who can breathe,” he wrote.

Despite all of this — or in fact, maybe because of it — Planet Fitness continues to be the fastest growing gym franchise in America by focusing on the 85 percent of Americans who typically do not work out and by offering them 3 million pieces of pizza a year. Ten percent of all gym members in America belong to a Planet Fitness, and they don’t downplay incidents in which members are kicked out for being “lunkheads.” They embrace it. In fact, they are proud of the fact that they are considered the McDonalds of gyms.

Honestly, as a Planet Fitness member myself, I’m happy with the low cost, with the ability to get in and out without being bugged, and with the fact that I can skip a week or two and not feel guilty about it. It’s the perfect gym for those of us who like to exercise sometimes, when we feel like it, maybe, if, you know, we can watch The Daily Show while we’re on the elliptical.