Why Does Planet Fitness Think I’m Such a Loser?
Planet Fitness is in many ways a godsend for us full-time van-dwellers. For only $20 a month, we can visit any franchise location in the country and grab a hot shower. The only downside is that you have to spend time at Planet Fitness! It really is its own Planet. Every time I walk in, my first impression is that I’m in a Chuckie Cheese’s for adults, but instead of an animatronic rat they have vaguely condescending marketing and chairs shaped like giant yellow hands. They even have a prize counter! You can go to the front and pick out earbuds, water bottles and cliff-bars displayed behind the clerk. Aside from the arcade-like atmosphere, the Fitness planet cultivates some odd cultural practices and clientele.
When you first land on the planet, you will first be inundated by their state religion, which is built around the idea of “gymtimidation.” Gymtimidation is apparently what happens when someone too fat, skinny, sweaty, pale, or otherwise unattractive is confronted with exercise equipment. Their words, not mine. Their signage desperately wants to reassure me that no matter how profoundly unattractive I may be, their gym has bent over backwards to carve out a safe space for me and others like me. Before I spent so much time in Planet Fitness, I had no idea how unwelcome I was everywhere else! I mean, now that they mention it, I may not be at the top of the male hierarchy… but I didn’t realize just how low I truly am. My favorite sign lets me know that working out here is “like gym class, but without all the dodgeballs hitting my face.” Why do they think I’m such a nerd?!?
Many of their gymtimidation slogans are clearly just corporate attempts to dodge liability twisted into a faux “inclusiveness” agenda. For instance, the locker rooms are full of signs asking me to protect others from gymtimidation by avoiding clothes that are “intimidating, revealing, or offensive.” I suppose the vague enough language allows employees to kick people out at their discretion. They also ask that you not wear jeans with grommets to “prevent gymtimidation,” which reminds me of hotel room signs asking me to save the earth by reusing my towel. You’re trying to save money on detergent, not the planet. And if you don’t want jeans with grommets to tear your upholstery just say so.
Planet Fitness’ marketing department seems to believe that everyone who uses their gym is a complete loser. And to be fair — some of the Planet’s denizens are working hard to prove them right! I’m allowed to say that because I am a citizen of the Planet Fitness, so I’m not punching down, I’m punching laterally. I show up in mud-spattered clothes, take absurdly long showers, and never actually exercise there. I get my fair share of side-long glances from people wondering why I’m wearing long underwear and work boots in a gym. But he truth is, I’ve never been made uncomfortable by my fellow gym goers being too attractive. Just the opposite, actually.
Most of the citizenry of Planet Fitness aren’t grotesquely overweight, or paper-thin waifs with wedgie-related PTSD. Many are typical gym-dudes who just want a cheap membership fee. Those guys can be found flexing poses at themselves in the locker room mirrors. I would report them for gymtimidating me to the Planet Fitness Gestapo, but I’m usually more gymtimidated by the guys pinching off a loaf post-workout. Planet Fitness is well-known for the “lunk alarm” they set off if you grunt too loudly during your reps or whatever. As it turns out, those unspent grunts are stored for later and released all at once inside the toilet stalls. The way these guys moan, I swear they must have to grip the sides of the stall to stay upright. Based on my experiences in Planet Fitness locker rooms, I think their clientele has an overconfidence problem.
My last shower attempt was postponed for half an hour by an incredibly elderly man choosing to air dry spread-eagle and stark naked directly in front of the only available shower. This guy was old enough that I could have counted his wrinkles like rings on a tree stump. I might have tried to squeeze past him, but he spread his toiletries and shaving supplies around him like a protective fairy circle. Planet Fitness’ judgement-free zone must be working, because that guy was almost supernaturally devoid of shame.
Things are less chaotic once you manage to stake out a shower for yourself. The experience is only intruded on by the men talking to themselves in the next stall over. It happens surprisingly often. A recent visit was going well, until the guy in the toilet stall next to me started projectile vomiting. The sound alone was pretty graphic. It went on for a solid 5 minutes, and it sounded like he was drowning himself in the toilet, if the toilet was full of chili. I just waited it out, and wondered if his disease was now airborne.
That was an especially memorable incident, but really the locker rooms in Planet Fitness are almost always a shit-show. This is a strange sentiment, but I actually think the scary thing is that most of them aren’t mentally ill. No, the aberrant behavior in Planet Fitness locker rooms is conducted in large part by your everyday citizen. The difference is that your “everyday citizen” isn’t filtered out of by a measly $10 per month membership fee.
At the end of the day I’m grateful for Planet Fitness, and I don’t really mind their colorful clientele. If it was a classier gym, I wouldn’t have a membership! I do think that there is a major gap between who they think they are catering to and who their customers actually are. The company paints a picture of themselves taking in the huddled masses: the out of shape, the perpetually nervous, people with unresolved trauma — people who need protecting. In reality, I think they should lean in to who actually uses their gym: cheapskates, wanderers, and people who are far too comfortable in public spaces. If they pull it off correctly, they could attain a sort of punk-rock-grunge vibe that would attract more yuppie dollars.
I’ll happily step over pubic hair trimmings if I can continue exploiting their unlimited hot water. I actually look forward to my visits, [Plantars] warts and all. But for God’s sake, stop treating the people who use this gym like delicate snowflakes. The experience is more like getting on a subway car in a metropolitan area than entering a padded safe space for the chronically unloved.
For more rambling, misinformed opinions, and stories from my travels, follow me on Medium, or check out my website: yarrowandoak.com (I publish to my website far more often)