Update as of 11/12: Most of what I’m saying below still stands. But it seems that Planet Fitness is becoming more corporate. I had taken some time off of gym training because I was exercising outdoors so much in the summer. So I came back, bringing along my jumprope, a great training tool. A staffer came over and said, you can’t use that here. I said, really? He said that they are only insured for their official equipment. [mild expletive], I thought. What to do next? I love pullups, and their one pullup station sucks. I often do pullups on the Smith Machines, but they were all taken. So I got up and did a quick set on the True Stretch thingie. Ding! Another youngster staffer came up and said you can’t use it that way. It must be too cheap and flimsy, even with all that metal! Fast forward to today – I was over there, and because I was only training my upper body (I’m a bit sore from jump squats) I just had plain jeans on. Ding! The guy said that jeans hurt the equipment. [mild expletive!!!], I thought. So I guess I’ll see what they complain about next time. Very discouraging, but I’m not quite ready to cancel my membership yet. Maybe I’ll see if I can set a new violations record on my next visit. I could wear 2 different colored sneakers….
In the past, I’ve been a member of Gold’s Gym, actually two of them. They were quite nice, had many good features, and provided a good workout environment. Sometime ago, though, I asked the manager if it would be OK to train my exercise clients there if they were also gym members. I got a flat no. It was stupid of me to be honest, probably. I should have simply done it and kept quiet about it. The reason, though not stated aloud, was obvious – they want to upsell any client to use their own trainers, and if I were training them, this would be a lost “revenue opportunity”. This sort of extreme inflexibility is so typically old-school corporate, where you’re just a number, not a person with individual needs, or needs that may differ from place to place. I decided to quit the gym entirely, and you should have heard the amount of begging that took place trying to get me to come back – it was quite hilarious – I think he was actually reading off a script.
No Trainers Allowed in Gold’s?
Some years before that, I had actually inquired about possibly becoming a Gold’s trainer. I was freshly certified by the NSCA at that time. They explained that they have their own “certification”, and this is what they have their trainers do. I found out that essentially this amounted to going to a weekend seminar. A prominent part of becoming a Gold’s trainer is to get your trainees to purchase dietary supplements from the gym, yet another revenue opportunity. It was also implicit that they really want trainers who are really young, as in just under or slightly over college age. Even if I had been the right age, being asked to pimp supplements really isn’t my style.
Despite all these negatives, I always thought Gold’s was a good place to work out, so when my wife decided to join a gym, I went along. We had been members together at Gold’s, so that’s where we went. When we got there, the staffer told us that the salesperson was away at lunch. Could we just get some information and a price list? No, you’ll have to wait until she comes back, sorry. I’ve always been astounded that you can’t get a price list over the phone or even in person. But again, the old outmoded corporate thing is to force potential clients to spend time with the sales staff, who get a chance to drain as much of your wallet as they can while they have you in the room. At least the staffer was polite. But my wife said, you’ve just lost a sale, and we walked out.
Disappointed, she wondered what to try next. I noted that there was a Planet Fitness nearby. They had bought out Bally’s, a firm that I’d had some reservations about, but I suggested we give them a try anyway. We were pleasantly surprised! We got a warm greeting from a very energetic and affable staffer, who gave us an excellent presentation, and the kicker at the end was that they were offering a super-low monthly price, and we were just under the wire, with two days left on the offer. After looking around and talking briefly, we both signed up, even though really I was only going to help her find a place! I like working out at home, and I was not planning to join a gym again.
Even When Busy, Planet Fitness Works Pretty Well
Planet Fitness really has done a nice job of thinking things through. To me, the main problem with Bally’s was overcrowding. Signing up on a sheet to get into a queue for a Stairmaster was not my idea of a good time. So they’ve dispensed with a few frills, like a track and a pool, which take up tons of space, but are not used by all that many members. I miss having a track just a little, but not the pool. We had enjoyed the pool at Gold’s, but only swam maybe 5 times in all the time we were there. And they’ve filled up that space with more equipment, so even at the busiest times, you can pretty much find a machine if you want it. I’m sure not having a pool (and other cost-cutting measures) have made it easier to offer low rates to members, too.
A Little Less Macho Than Other Gyms
Another nice element there is that they emphasize the “no judgement zone”. A big problem at gyms is the discomfort that many people feel there, especially women. Not only might you be stared at by horny (and possibly smelly) guys, but you’re standing there in skimpy clothing that reveals a body that you may not be especially proud of. This unease is made worse by a class of guys that you see in almost any gym – the hardcore gymrats who like to show off how much they can benchpress, do a lot of loud grunting, drop weights on the floor whenever possible, hog equipment so they can finish their precious little superset routine, and are generally extremely annoying. Somehow they think they’re impressing the babes. So PF has a prominently displayed “Lunk Alarm“, which ostensibly is set off when they discover one of these gym-addled testosterone cases bahaving like an ass. I’m not even sure that they ever set it off, but just the idea that it’s there seems to moderate behavior somewhat. There are still a number of these guys that could be on steroids, this is nearly inevitable, but there are definitely fewer than in other gyms.
btw, I just asked my favorite PF staffer if they’ve set off the alarm, and she said they do, but rarely, and that it’s really loud, something like a fire siren. I asked her if I should act like a macho jerk for a minute to she could test it again, and that made her smile. A couple days before that I had come this close to asking them to set it off when some macho moron was loudly dragging a bench the length of the gym. Of course, if he had been a real man, he could have just carried it. It’s related to the phenomenon where people fight for the closest gym parking place so that they won’t have to walk a few more feet to get to their workout.
Another subtle touch is that the dumbbells only go up to 75 pounds, and there are not unlimited free weights available. So this automagically would screen out some of the growth hormone cases. And 75 pound bells are enough for even a very strong person to get a great workout if they know what they’re doing.
Some things don’t change in any gym. It’s very funny to see the guys doing shoulder lifts with dumbbells while watching themselves in the mirror. The actual amount of weight they can handle is just not impressive enough, so they grab bigger dumbbells and swing their whole body to lift them, making funny faces and sounds, doing their best to convince themselves that they’re stronger than they really are. I used to do that myself before I became a trainer. I suspect that it’s not even just the spectator thing – I think they’d do the same thing at home alone. Ironically, if they were to use good form with a lighter weight without swinging, they might actually get a good shoulder workout.
So it isn’t Curves, but at least it’s a better mixed and comfortable environment there. But wait – for the Curves fans they have an area that essentially duplicates the Curves-style workout, so even those people’s needs are addressed. And all the gym’s exercise machines are more clearly marked than at other gyms so unfamiliar equipment is easier to use.
I had a couple little nitpicks… no plain chin-up bars, and chins are a very big staple in my own workouts. They do have an assisted-chin-up machine which can be used without the assist, with some drawbacks: it’s somewhat high off the floor, you can’t change how far apart your hands are as much as you can with a bar, and there’s only one machine. But I noted that I could get that functionality by doing chin-ups on what I would call their Smith machines, weight bars enclosed in a frame. I just need to bend my knees to clear the floor, because they’re not very high! Maybe a squat rack would be nice. But I can get a huge amount of lifts using dumbbells, and I generally prefer them anyway. And I miss having a track a bit, but then again I like to run outdoors, sometimes barefoot.
For those of you who like to exercise at odd hours, at the time of this writing they are open 24 hours a day Monday through Thursday here in Syracuse.
So for us, Planet Fitness is the clear winner, and is less expensive than Gold’s! We’re really glad that the Gold’s salesperson was out to lunch! I think that Gold’s is generally out to lunch, and that Planet Fitness may start eating their lunch!