It’s the butt of hundreds of overdone yet somehow hilarious internet memes. It’s an entire personality trait amongst self-proclaimed “real” lifters. It’s … it’s … hating Planet Fitness.
Peeved bodybuilders shame the popular gym chain’s obnoxious Lunk Alarm siren, ban on weight-slamming, and lack of legitimate squat racks.
The semi-ironic anti-lunk atmosphere (so much for the “Judgement Free Zone”) and elbow-deep Tootsie Roll jar at the front desk only add fuel to the “Planet Fitness isn’t a real gym” fire.
But how’s this for a strange hill to die on — Planet Fitness really isn’t that bad.
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Why Planet Fitness Has Such a Bad Rap
To be clear: We’re not oblivious to why the die-hard fitness community readies its pitchforks whenever Planet Fitness comes up in conversation. But the fiery wrath that PF receives for its unconventional initiatives and casual atmosphere is also wildly overblown.
Here are five reasons PF sparks such controversy (and why it’s probably not warranted):
The Planet Fitness Pizza Monday tradition began in 1999 when a New Hampshire-based club went a few days without hot water and thanked its regulars for continuing to train (despite the ice-cold showers) with free pizza. The rest — as they say — is history.
The average Planet Fitness club now serves over 5,500 slices per year — or about 458 slices and 57 pies each Pizza Monday. Yet, the anti-PF crowd echoes the same-old sentiment: pizza has no place in the gym … and they might be onto something.
They Aren’t Wrong
With 285 calories, 10.4g of fat, 35.7g of carbs, and 640mg of sodium per slice, plain pizza is far from healthy. However, that didn’t stop the U.S. Department of Agriculture from trying to dub tomato paste a vegetable — and by extension, pizza — in 2011.
The high sodium (28% of your recommended daily intake) and 4.8g of saturated fat per slice carry a risk of high LDL cholesterol, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. Of course, adding pepperoni, sausage, or buffalo chicken doesn’t make pizza any “cleaner.”
In Defense of Pizza Monday (Sort Of)
We’ll be the first to admit that any possible nutritional benefits of pizza are drowned out by the high sodium and fat content in every slice. But a single slice of pizza on the first Monday of the month also won’t push your diet over the edge.
Those who sporadically break their diet are also more likely to maintain weight loss, according to research published in the International Journal of Obesity. Psychologically, occasional cheat meals can make you less likely to fall into the binge-eating vice or fall off your diet permanently.
If your weekly (or monthly) cheat meal happens to be a slice of pizza at Planet Fitness after a workout routine that shreds 300+ calories, Pizza Monday isn’t the enemy many make it out to be.
After the raving success of Pizza Mondays, Planet Fitness had another trick up its sleeve to lure massive crowds and spike memberships — Bagel Tuesdays — the second Tuesday of every month.
Each Planet Fitness club now doles out 2,600 bagels per year — or about 217 holey delights every Bagel Tuesday. The now-2,000-club chain handed out over four million bagels in 2020 alone. That’s just shy of 2% of America’s total bagel consumption.
This decision earned the already-controversial budget gym a predictable wave of backlash.
Many questioned the logic behind refueling with a 270–300-calorie post-workout snack packing 56g of carbohydrates, 2g of fat, and 11g of protein (not including cream cheese or butter).
But Bagels Are Unhealthy
A single plain bagel one Tuesday a month after a calorie-burning and glycogen-depleting workout won’t “waste” the session or set you on a downward spiral.
Bagels are a source of refined grains where the manufacturer strips away some of the grain kernels for a finer texture and a longer shelf life. However, many local bagel shops use enriched flour in their recipes to replace lost nutrients like vitamin B and iron.
The high-carb nutritional profile can cause a concerning blood glucose spike for those with (or at risk for) diabetes. But if you’re generally healthy, a bagel won’t do you in, and it could actually be a decent post-workout meal if you lather it up with all-natural peanut butter.
What the Science Says
Consuming a bagel after a workout can actually help your body replenish the glycogen stores your body burned in the gym to prevent muscle breakdown.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology analyzed the effects of 100g of carbs an hour after exercise. Compared to the placebo group, the carb group saw minor improvements in net muscle protein balance — or slightly reduced protein breakdown.
Men’s Journal even dubs bagels one of the “surprisingly beneficial post-workout junk foods” because of their dense carbohydrates and post-workout glycogen-refueling effect.
Tootsie Rolls at the Front Desk
One of the first things to welcome you at Planet Fitness — aside from the purple and yellow everything — is the jar of Tootsie Rolls at the front desk.
Now, let’s clear the air. Planet Fitness haters talk smack on the Tootsie Rolls because they feel candy has no place in the gym. It’s not because Tootsie Rolls are arguably the most underwhelming candy on the planet.
(Just north of four million Americans ate five or more servings in 2020.)
Let’s Get Real
We can’t pretend that Planet Fitness has gone completely rogue here. Gummy bears, gummy worms, and even Pixy Sticks are a popular post or intra-workout fuel source for hardcore bodybuilders — and Jim Stoppani is one of their most vocal supporters.
Stoppani’s post-workout candy obsession is more of a love for dextrose, the leading ingredient in these types of sweets. This simple sugar is remarkably similar to our primary fuel source (glucose), and the body can break it down rapidly to replenish depleted glycogen (or energy).
Without boring you to death with the details, dextrose has a high glycemic index and spikes the body’s glucose levels faster than regular table sugar. These higher glucose levels also increase insulin, transporting more muscle-building nutrients from the blood to the muscles.
Research shows that meals with a high glycemic index can increase muscle glycogen by as much as 15% three hours after eating.
But are Tootsie Rolls on the same wavelength? Survey says — no.
During World War II and the Korean War, U.S. troops relied on Tootsie Rolls for a quick burst of energy during battle. But regular sugar — like the first ingredient on a Tootsie Roll label — won’t pull you out of a slump for a more-focused workout, according to a meta-analysis from 2019.
But Still, They’re Not That Bad
There’s very little science to back up Planet Fitness’s passion for Tootsie Rolls. But, realistically, the bucket of Tootsie Rolls is most likely the adult equivalent of surviving a dentist appointment as a child and walking out with a Charms lollipop.
Either way, a single Tootsie Roll on your way out of Planet Fitness is hardly a diet-ruiner. In fact, a lone mini Tootsie Roll has a measly 23.3 calories, 0.5g of fat, and 3.3g of sugars.
But a whole handful of Tootsie Rolls would put you alarmingly close to the daily upper limit of sugar for men — which is 37.5g — without delivering any real nutritional value.
A Short Supply of Weightlifting Equipment
The Pizza Mondays, Bagel Tuesdays, and Tootsie Rolls are completely avoidable and worthy of an eye-roll if you can control your temptations. But Planet Fitness’s flat-out odd choice in resistance training equipment is hard to ignore and the top complaint about the franchise.
The math is simple: PF is a bodybuilder-free zone. Barbells, squat racks, power cages, deadlift platforms, and traditional bench set-ups lure these “meatheads” in. Get rid of the bait, and you remove the gym members that leave everyone else intimidated and shaking in their boots.
Barbells & Dumbbells
Most clubs have a pre-loaded barbell set in ten-pound increments, but those typically cap out at about 60 pounds. So unless you’re a complete newbie, you can forget about traditional barbell curls, military presses, or any bench press variations.
But Planet Fitness almost redeems itself with an entire free weight corner or wall with dumbbell sets weighing up to 70–80 pounds (in 5-pound increments). Most clubs also pack in half a dozen (or more) flat and adjustable benches to add even more exercise variety.
For the barbell snobs out there, dumbbell training can be just as effective. For example, one study comparing the neuromuscular activity of standing, seated, barbell, and dumbbell shoulder exercises determined that standing dumbbell exercises activated the deltoids most.
If nothing else, Planet Fitness clubs have dozens of resistance training machines to target literally every muscle group in the body. That includes calf raises, leg curls, preacher curls, rear delt flies, triceps pushdowns, chest presses, and more.
“But it’s not the same.” That’s true, to an extent. Yet, a 2020 clinical trial comparing the effects of free weight and machine-based resistance training in newbies discovered that both groups boosted size and strength gains similarly after ten weeks of training.
Additional research links free weight training to greater levels of free testosterone than machine-only training. However, both groups in the eight-week study reported very similar strength and size increases.
Machine-only training obviously isn’t ideal or exciting if you want to crush deadlift PRs or add inches to your arms. But we can’t knock PF for its beginner-friendly approach to equipment.
Planet Fitness clubs may not have legitimate power cages or squat racks (womp, womp), but they come decently close via Smith machines. A Smith machine is essentially a barbell attached to two vertical rails that limit the bar’s path to straight up and straight down.
Many PF members have a love-hate relationship with everyone’s favorite machine to hog. But to really sink our teeth into the pros and cons of the Smith machine, we dug through three studies published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (here, here, here).
The consensus: While you may lift the heavier weight on the Smith machine, the studies concluded that free weights are generally better for muscle activation by as much as 43%.
The controlled bar path also rips the stabilization aspect right out of full-body exercises like the back squat. Instead of tightening the core to keep the bar stable on your back, with the Smith version, you simply have to sit back into it and let the twin rods do the rest.
But let’s not forget that Planet Fitness is a laidback gym where noobs are supposed to feel welcome. The rigid movements during squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and shoulder presses and the Smith’s safety hooks make it a semi-safer option for beginners unsure of proper form.
Smith machines are a solid option for building foundational strength before transitioning to a so-called “real gym” later on.
The Anti-Gym-Timidation Stance
The very vocal lunk-head crowd turns PF’s “Judgement Free Zone” mantra on itself, claiming that dubbing them lunks or kicking them out for being “too fit” is a judgment.
But they fail to recognize that gym-timidation is so real that nearly half of gym-goers admit feeling intimidated while training alongside someone fitter than them. Another 70% report feeling judged while exercising.
Mock the concept all you want, but PF is a “safe space” for the unathletic, unconfident, or unfit crowd to train alongside their own — just like Gold’s Gym is a hub for amateur bodybuilders.
But being anti-anti-gym-timidation is also a really, really hot take. Slamming weights and obnoxious grunting are two of the cringiest things you can do at any gym — let alone Planet Fitness — and go against common sense gym etiquette.
The gate-keep-y bodybuilding crowd loves to publicly post photos of Planet Fitness members using machines incorrectly. But, ironically, they feel personally offended when a staff member calls them out for their obnoxious behaviors by triggering the Lunk Alarm. Go figure.
Lunks Are Allowed (Just Don’t Be So Obvious About It)
Honestly, if you’ve ever stepped foot into a Planet Fitness location, you’ll notice that 30–50% of the gym-goers are actually lunks on the DL. They’re not slamming weights or grunting, and they’ve got their earbuds in and lay low for an hour.
If you want to spend $10 per month on a gym membership and don’t mind the lack of resistance equipment or the occasional food freebies:
- Stop hogging equipment
- Wipe down the equipment after using it, for god’s sake.
- Let others work in between sets.
- Bring a regular water bottle.
- Let the weights down gently.
- Avoid the gym at peak hours (to avoid getting on anyone else’s nerves).
- Stop shouting “LET’S GOOOOO” or grunting after every set.
Really, nobody is standing at the door to confiscate your gallon jug or to kick you out because you look like a weight-slammer.
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In Defense of PF: Planet Fitness Is a Real Gym
(We didn’t get into the whole potentially cancer-causing tanning bed thing or the lack of kettlebells, TRX, or less traditional gear. But just know that we didn’t forget about those things.)
Planet Fitness may not be a traditional gym by any means, but for newbies looking to build strength and size or lose weight, PF can absolutely be an ally.
For some $10 a month, you literally gain access to a 24/7 gym with:
- Personal training
- Group fitness classes
- Rows and rows of cardio equipment
- Dozens of resistance training machines
- Smith machines
- Dumbbells up to 70–80 pounds
- Adjustable and flat benches
- A cable machine or two
- 12-Minute Ab Circuit
- 30-Minute Circuit
If you’re an intermediate or advanced athlete and Planet Fitness either doesn’t meet your needs or you don’t agree with their initiatives … don’t go. Find another affordable gym — like Crunch Fitness — or splurge a little more for a so-called “real” gym membership at Gold’s Gym.
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