A couple of years ago I wrote an article entitled “The Planet Fitness Nightmare”. I was very thankful when this piece was posted on T-Nation. It ended up being quite popular and evoked some rather spirited commentary.
It seems like only yesterday that I was hiding under my bed, curled up in the fetal position with my hands over my ears screaming “PLEASE! MAKE IT STOP!” I just couldn’t understand all of the angry comments I read from so many people I had never met. Many of those folks were deeply offended by the notion that Planet Fitness should be so critically scrutinized. Then it hit me, “Wait a minute, there were just as many if not more folks who strongly agreed with that article.” So, I slid out from under the bed, dusted off the hairballs (got to clean under there – at least every 5 years!) and went about writing this response to the other folks who were so upset – even though it seems many did not bother to read the first article.
Here are some commonly accepted definitions of the word “Fitness”:
- Capability of the body of distributing inhaled oxygen to muscle tissue during increased physical effort.
- The state or condition of being physically sound and healthy, especially as the result of exercise and proper nutrition.
- A state of general mental and physical well-being.
(The American Heritage® Stedman’s Medical Dictionary)
Now, please take into consideration the second word in the name “Planet Fitness”. So, one can only assume that the average person is joining a Planet Fitness to become, well…FIT! Now this premise summarizes the point of that original article. That is, the chasm-sized difference between Planet Fitness ideas and methods which its members are mostly compelled to follow and the most scientifically proven methods and ideas on how to successfully get into an exceptional state of “fitness”.
That article would never have been written if the name of this company was “Planet Fun” or, perhaps “Planet Recreation”. At such a place activities available could also include: bowling, checkers, badminton, video games, chess, and perhaps ping-pong. Hell, I might join myself. I like recreation centers! I just wouldn’t go to one for help with serious health, body weight, or “fitness” issues.
To me, it is also irresponsibly cute and coy that one of the Planet Fitness taglines is “We’re not a gym!”, as though this one-line caveat exempts them from the inherent responsibility any gym should take in somehow helping its members achieve the goals for which they joined. Strangest thing, when you walk into Planet Fitness it sure as hell looks just like a gym!
The original article was not written for the Planet Fitness members who generally understand how to achieve and maintain adequate levels of fitness. They are able to pay a very low membership rate and still navigate a typical Planet Fitness to get in their “workout”, however arguably suboptimal. Rather, it was written to address the exploitation of those people with serious health and bodyweight issues; those who are unknowingly patronized and otherwise misguided by this business. These people are often plagued with terrible depression, self-esteem, function and lifestyle issues related to their body fat and ill health problems. The first article, if critical, was actually written as a warning to, and in defense of those Planet Fitness members.
The diet and fitness industry should be taken seriously. That’s because it serves as a barrier (or when irresponsible, a pre-cursor) to another far more dire one – the medical industry. The next stop can be an otherwise pre-mature introduction to the funeral industry. As such, regarding efficacy, the diet and fitness industry should be deadly serious. For many people, a healthy, functional and happy future will literally depend on it. Yet, this industry continues to fail the vast majority of us while raking in $ billions. It is rife with hucksterism, fads, misinformation, and the pervasive phenomenon of telling people lies they wish to hear instead of truths they need to hear.
A good gym should be honored by the fine people who walk through its doors and pay for a membership. To me, this represents an unwritten contract that signifies that members are giving their trust and confidence to the gym they choose to join. Here is where I would challenge detractors of the logic behind the first article. I submit that the goal of any credible gym must be to ensure its members…
SUCCESSFULLY ACHIEVE OR EXCEED THEIR GOALS!
In contrast, making members feel exceedingly comfortable by ensuring they won’t apply any real effort, feeding them fattening, unhealthy and addictive foods, and inflating them with artificial, ephemeral “self-esteem” by ensuring they are not exposed to any really “in-shape” people are NOT part of this prime directive. On the contrary, these things impair it.
One does not generally go to the hospital for emergency surgery and tell the surgeon “No, I think I have a better idea. I just want to do this my way”. In this respect, especially for people who are dangerously overweight and in poor health, any responsible gym should operate much like an “ethical hospital”. It must help paying members with the best information and equipment available rather than telling them only what they wish to hear. Watered down, patronizing, and at best sub-standard methods, ideas and equipment are clearly not in the best interest of these people. In fact, these things act as huge, confusing obstacles blocking the way to the health and fat loss these people urgently need.
I compare the treatment at Planet Fitness with the gyms such as the one I attend. Here we begin with proven, easy to follow dietary advice from leading evolutionary biologists. Healthy foods suggested include naturally raised meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds prepared in many delicious variations. This helps ensure fat loss success. The work of the world’s most renowned coaches, doctors and scientists regarding the most proven information on creating optimal human performance and “fitness” is applied. Members push, pull, squat, lift and carry resistance. They also walk, run and jump.
For people who cannot complete these natural, biomechanical movements with their body weight, there are huge foam blocks, counter weights and reverse bands. There are also wooden bars and plates for new people or those who are injured. Those movements are then scaled with responsible incremental resistance creating maximal function, strength and muscle in the most efficient way possible.
There is no attitude. There is no stigma. No one is patronized. The strongest help the weakest (thank you Louie Simmons for that one). The environment is positive and fun. Everyone supports and helps everyone else. The methods and ideas employed are congruent with micro-economics and adhere to the min/max principle – the minimum amount of work for the maximum results. People succeed.
Gyms like this can actually be quite similar to Planet Fitness in some ways. Gratuitous, unnecessary noise is discouraged. Neither management nor members will ever tolerate bullies or intimidating or arrogant behavior. Any good gyms should be exceedingly welcoming and friendly to new members, especially those with no experience. These particular areas though are where the similarities end.
Imagine if anything close to the truth about how to eat and how to get into great shape in the most efficient ways were suddenly revealed and promoted at Planet Fitness. Members would be fighting over the minimal free weights available. They would quickly outgrow the light dumbbells and barbells and demand heavier free weights of all kinds. The rows of cardio machines would be collecting dust. Worst for Planet Fitness, members would be showing up multiple times per week because of the sudden positive results achieved. The business model would likely fall apart due to unmanageable over-crowding.
The apparent absurdity of Planet Fitness logic makes one think of other examples of common physical problems we would never consider trying to solve using the same type of flawed model. Please consider an aching cavity or simple tooth decay. One would require a qualified dentist in a professional dental office to quickly solve this problem – RIGHT!?
Now, just imagine instead a large clinic that is much, much cheaper than a typical dentist’s office, or even insurance – only $10.00 a month. Let’s call it “Planet Dental”. There are very few, if any people with healthy teeth there. Most clients have varying degrees of serious tooth decay.
Tooth paste and tooth brushes are free, but they have bristles that are so soft, they can’t really brush and clean your teeth effectively. Only “Planet Dental” toothpaste is provided. It comes in flavors like “cotton candy” and “chocolate fudge”. It’s not really effective though because it contains sugar and just the tiniest bit of fluoride to ensure that the flavors are not ruined. Yes, there is dental floss, but it is so thin, it breaks every time you try to use it. That’s okay because it’s edible and comes in a variety of candy and fruit flavors. ANY outside dental expertise, supplies, equipment, or advice is STRICTLY prohibited at Planet Dental.
Members at this clinic enjoy mostly soft foods that are sweet and enjoyable, so their teeth don’t hurt when they eat. Everyone gets free pain killers, as much as they want: Valium, Oxycontin, and the most popular – laughing gas. No one is in pain; everyone is, well…”happy”.
There are no registered dentists or hygienists. Those people are way too scary and far too intimidating with their needles, drills, and dental outfits! There are instead….”Ahum”…”Dental Buddies” who dress casually and get you whatever you need. The first Thursday of every month is “No Judgements – Free Hard Candy and Soda” day. Children up to the age of 12 are an especially successful demographic for Planet Dental.
Are people with perfect, healthy, gleaming white teeth allowed at this clinic? Yes, but they are strictly prohibited from smiling, or otherwise showing their teeth. If a “Dental Buddy” catches one of these people showing their healthy teeth, they are quickly kicked out of the clinic and forced to pay a $150.00 “exit fee”. Once, one of these members with “nice teeth” was witnessed smiling and giving advice to a member with severe tooth decay. She even slipped him an “outside” toothbrush with advice on how to brush. The police were called and that member was permanently removed from the clinic.
Your teeth? Your dental issues? Well, they likely won’t get much better. They might even get worse, but no one will ever judge your teeth at Planet Dental and there is no pain, so it really doesn’t matter. Membership at this clinic is pretty much permanent because the problems with your teeth tend to persist and because of the low, low monthly $ fee. After all, it’s a harsh world out there, full of scary, expensive dentists and perfect teeth. Why on earth would anyone leave?
Planet Dental represents a very successful business model and it recently made the Forbes list of top franchises in America. At last count there were over 1000 locations with new ones opening at a frantic pace.
WHERE IN YOUR MESSAGE, PLANET FITNESS IS THERE ANY INDICATION, WHATSOEVER THAT YOU WILL SUCCESSFULLY HELP ME BECOME LEANER, STRONGER, HEALTHIER AND MORE MUSCULAR?
I’M QUITE SURE THOSE ARE PRECISELY THE REASONS I CAME HERE IN THE FIRST PLACE!?!
The underlying premise behind Planet Fitness is fascinatingly ambitious. Diminish the idea of “changing the person” and making him or her healthier. Rather, just temporarily change the person’s entire environment instead. This creates an illusion for many members, but only while they are within the coddling, condescending walls of Planet Fitness. They might as well have installed “fun house” mirrors that provide an “extra slim” reflection. To me, using this illusory model with a practically non-existent membership fee to lure in people who really need help while disallowing the best principles and ideas to actually help them improve is cruel.
The door we walk through when we leave Planet Fitness leads to the real world. I can assure anyone (especially having been 50 pounds overweight myself) that in this harsh real world the joys of robust and vital health, physical function, improved sexual attractiveness, and just looking so much better in (and out) of your clothes are indeed priceless. These benefits will completely transcend the efforts you apply to achieve your healthy state. This is why “fitness” becomes a permanent part of your life once it is achieved in an economically viable way. The methods must actually work though.
For those who appreciated the logic of the first article and perhaps this one, things are getting really silly in the fitness industry. It seems that the financial success of the Planet Fitness model has caused many large players in the fitness industry to not only get nervous, but to quickly jump on the bandwagon. Many national gym chains have adopted an “if you can’t beat’em, join them!” strategy complete with the approximate $10.00 per month membership model.
The industry pendulum is quickly swinging toward the absurd. Consequently, desperate and worried companies are chasing it with typical hypnotic hysteria. As a result many “Planet Fitness-esque” gyms, complete with their own signature brightly colored equipment seem to be opening up everywhere. Regardless, the minority of people and gym owners remaining decidedly at the other end of the spectrum will just shake their heads. Those other people know the truth and as the Gym industry lurches the other way it will only make them look even better.
The truth is a powerful thing and a few years from now I have no doubt that pendulum will swing back our way with a vengeance. My bet is that when this happens, there will be a massive surplus of gently used purple, red…and yellow….and fluorescent green…treadmills and assorted muscle isolating circuit machines all for sale at rock bottom prices.
#FortisFitness #RealGyms #Truth