Planet Fitness vs. the lunkheads: Why is a health club trying to alienate people who love to work out?

Health and medicine explained.
May 9 2011 6:45 AM

Gym Rat Control

Why is the Planet Fitness chain of health clubs trying to alienate people who love to work out?

(Continued from Page 1)

Although it seems paradoxical—like setting up an all-you-can-eat buffet with a "No Fatties Allowed" sign—there's a lot of money in tailoring a fitness club to people who don't actually want to work out. The percentage of Americans who belong to some sort of health club has been holding at 15 percent for years, according to Stuart Goldman, managing editor of Club Industry, a magazine for fitness-business professionals. That's left companies looking for new ways to tap into the doughy majority and capitalize on casual exercisers.

Planet Fitness isn't the only chain that's working this angle. Many others have lowered prices, scrapped long-term contracts, and ramped up their programs for children, who comprise one of the fastest-growing demographics in the business. Another industry trend: Cordoning off the weightlifting areas from the cardiovascular machines. If you're not going to kick the lunks out altogether, you might as well hide them in the back.

"Planet Fitness is run by smart businessmen," says Meredith Poppler, vice president of industry growth at the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. "There are thousands of average Jane's and Joe's for every big lifter. Many of those Janes and Joes are intimidated by grunting and 50-pound dumbbells. So, they decided to cater to the thousands at the expense of a smaller segment. It seems to be working quite nicely for them."

So it does, but should we take the success of special-interest gyms like Planet Fitness as a welcome shift in the culture of exercise? Or could it represent a sad departure from the one-size-fits-all health clubs of old?

We've already seen how the echo chamber of Internet news helps us to ignore any opinions or facts that we don't want to hear. What if something analogous were to happen in the fitness world? Imagine if every group had its own place to work out—a gym for muscleheads, a gym for fatsos, a gym for vegans, a gym for Slate readers. The pursuit of health might succumb to its own form of groupthink.


Sure, no one likes it when a loud, aggressive dude is intimidating people in the weight room. But there may be something to learn from living (and lifting) in the sweaty melting pot of American exercise. Even the most odoriferous lunk might have something to teach us, after all—whether it's a reminder of what we're trying to avoid, or a reassurance that it's possible to max out. Ultimately we all have to share the same planet. Sharing the gym might be a good place to start.



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.