You can get your mid-day “protein fix” with buffalo chicken pizza on Mondays, start your morning with a bagel (& a schmear of cream cheese) on Tuesdays, and snack on Tootsie Rolls whenever.
But hoo boy, don’t you dare try something as silly as a deadlift.
Planet Fitness (AKA: the “anti-gym”) catches quite a bit of heat from the amateur bodybuilding community because of its questionable food offerings and sheer lack of power racks.
And, the anti-deadlift mentality is rightfully a major flaw in every PF club across the country.
So do you cancel that unbeatable $10/month membership to switch to a “real” gym? Or, do you suck it up and settle for the ‘ol Spongebob lower body?
What about option #3? While you can’t perform deadlifts at Planet Fitness gyms, you can do this.
Why Did Planet Fitness Ban Deadlifts?
Contrary to popular belief, Planet Fitness never technically “banned” deadlifts, at least according to the PF Twitter handle that replied this to a shade-throwin’ tweeter:
“We do allow deadlifts and overhead presses on our smith machines and free barbells. There aren’t any exercises that ‘are not allowed’ at Planet Fitness. We just don’t allow grunting and dropping weights.”
In business-speak: Planet Fitness didn’t ban deadlifts or have a rule against them.
Their clubs simply don’t:
- Have power racks
- Have loadable barbells
- Allow steel plates to clink against the floor (it’s totally different).
The franchise’s deadlift “ban” is no accident; it’s by design.
Inspired by the regular folks craving a lunkhead-free training hub, the gym founders decided to do away with the gear that drew them in like teens on TikTok to Tide Pods.
So Planet Fitness ditched the “intimidating” equipment like bench press and power racks. And they replaced it with resistance training machines and a lifetime supply of treadmills. (In PF’s defense, this approach does minimize noise and helps to not piss off other members.)
How to “Deadlift” at Planet Fitness
The bad news: you can’t deadlift at Planet Fitness. The good news: you can deadlift at Planet Fitness (again, it’s different).
Unlike most gyms, there isn’t a single deadlift platform, pulling block, bumper plate, or loadable barbell in any PF club. But one piece of gear allows you to get “close enough”: The Smith machine.
(These monstrosities are hard to miss, even at PF, where everything is purple/yellow.)
The Smith machine is a safety-driven rack alternative that “spots” you as you lift.
The Smith machine bar attaches to vertical rails that allow the bar — and loaded weight — to slide up in a controlled manner. Just roll your wrist toward you to latch the bar onto the hooks and end the set.
How to Perform Smith Machine Deadlifts at Planet Fitness
Remember, you’re at Planet Fitness. Don’t load the machine up with an absurd amount of weight.
For one, literally, nobody around you will care how much weight you can lift. Two, the only thing worse than triggering the Lunk alarm when dropping weights is doing so accidentally because you were gloating.
Get a feel for the Smith machine first by mastering proper form with lighter weights:
Getting Into Position
- Begin with the bar latched onto the lowest-possible hooks; stand inside the machine.
- Position yourself so that your feet are shoulder-width apart and mid-feet are under the bar.
- With your back flat, “sit” back as if you were lowering yourself into a chair.
- Grab the bar with both hands shoulder-width apart, with palms facing toward your body
Performing the Lift
- Take a deep breath.
- Drive both hips forward in an almost explosive motion.
- “Lockout” and straighten your whole body.
- Slowly bring your hips back to their starting position as you lower the bar.
The Smith deadlift allows you to deadlift similarly to the real thing and hit most of the same muscle groups. The difference is you don’t drop the bar (not your choice here) and drag the bar in a straight line (also not up to you).
Pros & Cons of the Smith Machine Deadlift
Many will argue it’s not a true deadlift, but we can’t deny that the Smith machine deadlift has its perks. Here’s a look at its pros and cons to help you decide:
- It’s the closest alternative at Planet Fitness. If you can’t create a more traditional set-up in your basement or garage (or invest in a pricier gym membership), it’s your only option.
- Even amongst elite powerlifting athletes, 12–31% of all injuries stem from the deadlift (2018 research). The Smith machine’s rail system controls that back-and-forth motion that often results from weak form, potentially lessening the risk of strains and back injuries.
- In a study published in 2019, researchers compared how using a Smith machine, free weights, and a wobble board impacted squat performance. Spoiler alert: the Smith machine group had greater improvements in the trained exercise, particularly in the 10RM, likely because of the stability the machine adds to compound lifts.
- If you accidentally overload the bar or fail mid-rep, there’s no embarrassing barbell-crashing sound, bumper plates rolling across the gym, or a blaring siren overhead. All you have to do is rack the weight on the closest hook and de-load a few plates.
- It’s a solid choice if bragging rights mean anything to you. In a 2020 study comparing the Smith machine vs. barbell bench press 6RM improvements, the Smith machine group reported a 5.7% greater boost after ten weeks. Feel free to boast on Snapchat about your record-setting 300-pound deadlift (just don’t mention it was on a Smith machine!).
- Smith machines are the closest alternative for just about every traditional barbell or Olympic bar exercise at Planet Fitness. When the gym crowd rushes in the late afternoon, you’ll be competing against those doing shrugs, squats, bench presses, and (*shudders*) biceps curls in the Smith machine.
- The fixed vertical movement could create an over-reliance on the machine. The stabilizer muscles that control your form play less of a role. When you eventually transition over to “real” deadlifts, you’ll fall short of that impressive Planet Fitness deadlift PR.
- The Smith machine’s bar never really rests on the floor as it would in your standard deadlift; it actually starts far too high at about mid-shin level. You could try to DIY a box at PF, but let’s be honest: you’ll look like a total jackass.
The Final Verdict:
If you’re hell-bent on powerlifting or can’t fathom:
- Spending more than $10/month on a gym membership, and
- Trying any non-barbell-ish alternative exercises, the Smith machine isn’t the last resort.
It’s your only real option.
Yet, the strict range of motion that makes the machine so beginner-friendly and the PR bragging rights that follow will lose their pizzazz quicker than ordering GrubHub every day during the lockdown.
If the Smith machine deadlift isn’t the answer, what in the world is?
Muscles Worked With the Smith Machine Deadlift
Here’s a rundown of the muscles that get worked with the smith machine deadlift:
- Erector spinae
From the list, the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus maximus are the primary muscles worked during a smith machine deadlift exercise. They’re responsible for the majority of the work. These muscle groups work together to extend the hips and knees, which is the main movement required to perform the exercise.
Without strong quads, hammies, and buns, it would be very difficult to lift the weight off the ground and maintain proper form. Now, don’t get me wrong, the other muscle groups on the list are also important, but these three are definitely the stars of the show.
They’re the ones doing the heavy lifting (pun intended).
Smith Machine Deadlift Mistakes to Avoid
- Facing the wrong way while standing and deadlifting on a smith machine can cause too much hip extension and lead to lower back injury.
- Rounding your shoulders during the exercise can cause spine injury. Instead, pull your shoulder blades behind to maintain proper form and a neutral spine.
- Arching your back during the exercise can place to much stress on the back and cause injury. You should maintain a neutral spine with any deadlift and keeping your head in a static position can help.
- Avoid jerking the bar, as the movement can lead to injury. Instead, move the bar slowly in a controlled manner.
- Don’t let the bar be too far from your shins. The distance from your shins and the bar shouldn’t be more than 1 inch so you’re not fighting against the bar path.
Deadlift Alternatives at Planet Fitness
The internet has spoken, and the consensus seems to be that the smith machine deadlift — or smith machine anything for that matter — is “cheating.”
We understand both sides. (Though, we consider it more Tom Brady “Deflategate” cheating than Barry Bonds claiming the home run record with a little help from his PEDs cheating).
That brings us to the alternatives to the alternative to the deadlift.
If the smith machine deadlift isn’t your style, try these PF-friendly exercises instead. Each will target similar muscle groups while staying within the gym’s guidelines.
Smith Machine Rack Pull
(We said no more smith machine deadlifts; we didn’t say no more smith machines!)
The smith machine deadlift isn’t exactly pretty. In fact, since the bar hovers about mid-shin at its lowest setting by default, it’s actually closer to a rack pull than a classic deadlift anyway.
The smith machine rack pull is the next logical option.
To perform this variation, adjust the stoppers so that they’re somewhere around knee height. Then, complete the movement as usual to emphasize the upper portion of the deadlift.
Somewhere in the midst of the treadmills, ellipticals, and random resistance training machines is a small rack of fixed barbells (up to 60 pounds). But once you max out on those, then what? How do you continue deadlifting for hypertrophy?
The only “free weight” deadlift alternative at PF is with dumbbells.
- Place the dumbbells on the floor in front of you, shoulder-width apart for easy grabbing.
- With your knees slightly bent, bend your hips and grab a dumbbell in each hand.
- Take a deep breath to fill up your stomach and brace your core.
- Pull the dumbbells while pushing through your legs and heels into the floor and unbending your hips.
- Keep the dumbbells close to your body by letting them drag on the front of your legs.
- Lockout your knees and hips at the top, but don’t overextend.
- Reverse the movement and lower the dumbbells slowly back to the middle of your shins for another rep.
PF also has at least one of those honkin’ big pulley machines with several attachments, making cable pull-throughs a good alternative for a little glute and hamstring emphasis.
It’s also one of the few hamstring-targeting exercises you can do at Planet Fitness. This makes it a good alternative for Romanian deadlifts too.
Aside from a few creative and smith machine exercises, all that’s left is the basic leg curl machine.
Here’s how to do them:
- Set the pulley machine to one of the lowest height settings and make sure it has a rope extension attached to it.
- Grab onto the rope extension and position yourself so your back is facing the pulley machine
- Bend over to about a 90-degree angle at the hips.
- Using the strength in your glutes and lower back, extend your upper back backward until you’re in a standing position.
- Slowly lower your body back to the starting position.
Find Another Place to Do Deadlifts
In a perfect world, you wouldn’t need to find a different way to keep deadlifts in your bodybuilding routine when you discover your current gym doesn’t allow certain exercises, let alone have seemingly “basic” gym equipment like squat racks.
Instead, look for other gyms to train at that don’t “ban” (but also not ban) them.
Each of these exercises will run their course once you max out on the weights available at Planet Fitness. Or, you’ll realize just how much time you wasted when you eventually transition to real deadlifts.
Neither of those is an ideal situation.
Crunch Fitness is about the same price as — and sometimes even a few cents cheaper than Planet Fitness if cost is an issue. They also have multiple power racks (not smith machines) and deadlift platforms.
Or, you can set up a home gym that’ll pay itself off in a few years.
Planet Fitness Deadlifts FAQs
Can you deadlift at Planet Fitness?
Technically, you can still do deadlifts at Planet Fitness with a smith machine. But the standard deadlift is superior to the smith machine deadlift for targeting the same muscles.
How do you use the deadlift machine at Planet Fitness?
To perform a smith machine deadlift at Planet Fitness start by unlocking the bar and lowering it to its lowest position. Next, with your feet hip-width apart and your toes pointed slightly outward, grasp the bar with an overhand grip, shoulder-width apart. Then, keeping your back straight and core engaged, lift the bar up by pushing through your heels and extending your hips and knees. Lower the bar back down to the starting position.
Why does Planet Fitness not allow deadlifts?
Planet Fitness doesn’t allow traditional barbell deadlifts because the company decided they’re too dangerous and can lead to unnecessary injury. But you can still do deadlifts at Planet Fitness with a smith machine.
Is it OK to deadlift on a smith machine at Planet Fitness?
Yes, it’s okay to deadlift on a smith machine at Planet Fitness as long as you perform the exercise properly. Using the smith machine for this exercise will neglect certain stabilizer muscles worked in traditional deadlifts, they’re easier for beginners and they reduce the chances of injury.
Are there any deadlift alternatives at Planet Fitness?
Yes, there are deadlift alternatives at Planet Fitness. For one, you could use the smith machine to do deadlifts at Planet Fitness. Other alternatives include the smith machine rack pull, dumbbell deadlifts, cable pull-throughs, back extensions, good mornings, and leg presses.