Planet Fitness’ ‘judgment-free zone’ doesn’t extend to muscular women

Planet Fitness has been trying to carve out a niche for itself as a gym where so-called normal people can exercise in a “judgment-free zone” but ironically they can’t quite seem to accomplish that goal without coming across as judgmental assholes themselves.

Their previous ad campaigns have taken aim at so-called “lunks,” who they portray as mouth-breathing troglodytes who can scarcely manage to grunt single-syllable words in between picking up heavy things and putting them down.  They have a “lunk alarm,” which is a siren that sounds whenever someone grunts too loudly or drops one of the non-existent heavy weights on the ground.

The anti-grunting policy was so strictly enforced at one gym that the club’s manager actually canceled the grunter’s membership, a move that led to the exiled member being escorted from the gym by police, and later, a lawsuit that was settled for an undisclosed amount.  A writer for Slate said he had been lectured by staff members for breathing too hard.

Basically, if you are serious about lifting weights, Planet Fitness doesn’t want your money.  Shit, if you are serious at all about getting fit, they don’t want your money.

And yet, that wasn’t enough, as they don’t seem to be content just alienate the so-called “lunk” population.  They also don’t want muscular women or trans women to patronize their services.  Check out this commercial below:

Isn’t it hilarious?  She’s a woman!  With muscles!  Which means she looks like a man!  And that’s funny!  Right?  Right?

Except, it’s not.  We live in a world where people look at a picture of a woman like Jessica Biel and say she looks “manly” because she has some shoulder muscles, where women avoid strength training – despite the numerous health benefits that strength training gives them – because they “don’t want to look like men,” where women starve themselves because our culture equates smallness with femininity.  You’ll have to excuse me if I fail to find the humor in an ad that hinges entirely on the tired notion that women who lift heavy weights will be rendered indistinguishable from men.

And can we talk about the wretched transphobia of this ad?  Trans women face incredibly high rates of harassment and violence as it is, and the fact that the so-called gender confusion takes place with regards to the bathroom is doubly awful, too, as bathrooms have historically been a site of violence and oppression for trans women.  This ad isn’t a light-hearted joke, not when we live in a world where trans women have been beaten for using women’s bathrooms.

In this light, the refrain “dumb dumb dumb” at the end of the ad seems rather fitting, doesn’t it?

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39 responses to “Planet Fitness’ ‘judgment-free zone’ doesn’t extend to muscular women

  1. I can’t believe a place like this would exist. They are definitely NOT interested in getting members into any kind of fitness level at all. I watched a couple more commercials that popped up in YouTube after that. They offer free food every week, stuff like pizza and bagels smeared with heavy cream cheese or free tootsie rolls. That’s not even remotely a healthy environment. I’m ashamed to learn that we have one in my town. I hope to discourage anyone from considering joining.

  2. Wow. I’ve never liked Planet Fitness for a variety of reasons, but damn… That’s the worst. Courtney’s right; that merits a strongly worded letter. I think I’m going to have to make that happen.

    (Also, can we just pause and appreciate what a terrible commercial it is? Even if it weren’t breath-takingly offfensive, it’s still really, really dumb. Kid doesn’t know what bathroom she belongs in = COME TO OUR GYM! OUR EMPLOYEES ARE STUPID! HOORAY! Wha???)

  3. I love you so much for writing this post. I have had a long time personal stance against PF because of their “anti-meathead” advertising angle, but this new one really takes the cake for the worst and most offensive. I think the reason I find the ads so lame is that they cater to people who want to put others down to make themselves feel better. Like in highschool…that girl is pretty? Well then, she MUST be dumb! It’s really really sad that this is such an accepted concept in our society that it’s effective as an advertising campaign.

  4. Can we just send them a copy of Halberstam’s Female Masculinity with the bathroom problem section highlighted and underlined?

    In all seriousness, I actually belong to a Planet Fitness purely for affordability reasons. Other gyms out here charge about $50 to $90 a month for one membership, and the husband and I just cannot cough up that kind of money right now.

    Luckily our staff doesn’t really enforce any of the “lunk-alarm” type things at our gym – perhaps it’s the whole North Dakota Nice atmosphere?

    But that doesn’t stop them from strictly adhering to gender norms. The thing that annoys me most is how the men’s locker room always has CNN, Fox News, or other informative television channels on with the dialogue pumped in through the speaker system. The women’s locker room? Always something like HGTV, E! News, or similar programing on with music pumped in to the speaker system.

    Could other gyms please be more affordable so I can stop hating society when I work out? Thanks.

    • I think more gyms are recognizing that there is a market for a low-cost no-frills gym – at least, they are down here in Florida. There’s one that has become really popular – YouFit – which I belonged to for a couple of years. They had lots of cardio machines, weight machines and a free weights section. They kept their costs down to something like $20 a month by not offering classes or childcare. And best of all, you never encountered any of the “anti-lunk” bullshit. They didn’t have a squat rack but they had heavy dumbbells and a good selection of weight plates. I’d recommend that place to anyone who wants to join a gym but doesn’t want to pay a ton of money to do so.

    • ALL gyms play reality TV/OPRAH!-type fail in the ladies’ locker rooms. I’d like to tell you it will be better elsewhere, but wouldn’t want to lie to you.

  5. Sigh. Stories like these make me wish I had infinite money to create a “shame-free” gym. The rules: you cannot hit on people. You cannot stare at people. You cannot correct a person’s technique (special “safety trainers” would be on-site in case someone is about to injure themselves with incorrect form). No unsolicited advice. No body-, gender-, or clothing shaming. Every member will have a card that says, “Hi talk to me!” on one side and “solo workouts today” on the other to indicate whether or not other members may talk to them.

    Oh, and any negative self-talk will result in a one-month membership suspension.

  6. I love that Planet Fitness say things like “No Critics” and “Judgement free zone”, yet they seem to be super judgmental of people(especially of those with muscles). Also, I would like to know who these bodybuilders are that would help this company make these commercials to promote such a close minded gym. This place seems ridiculous to me, and I wouldn’t care how cheap they are, any place that promotes people being shamed for their bodies no matter if they are muscle bound or carrying extra weight, would never get a penny from my wallet. And free food(pizza bagels and tootsie rolls)… are you effing kidding me????

  7. I just joined a pf and I like it a lot, because it’s cheap and it’s clean and it has lots of machines, so I don’t have to wait. However, this type of advertising is discouraging and I hope they change their mentality. I get that they’re trying to create a niche for themselves by attracting guys like me that just want to stay in shape and aren’t fitness fanatics … but there’s no way around the fact that this advertising is judgemental. Years ago I used to belong to a Gold’s Gym and I found the “lunks” to be super friendly and super helpful in teaching me proper technique and encouraging me in my lifting goals. pf isn’t for the serious lifter … there aren’t enough free-weights for them anyway; pf doesn’t need to use judgemental advertising techniques to identify and attract their target market. It’s a shame they do this … I want to feel good about the ideals of the gym I’m using and this doesn’t help.

    • Paul, you make a good point that I think often gets overlooked, which is that the “lunks” I’ve encountered have rarely been jerks and in fact are often quite helpful and knowledgeable. They can seem intimidating based on appearances because they are big, muscular men, but I’ve never had a bad experience with any of them.

    • I don’t know – I’ve been morbidly obese since I was 14 years old, and the only exercises that I ever found that I enjoyed seem to end up being the ones that the slender, the attractive, and the super-fit also want to use. So I have enjoyed having two very fit young women (same age as me at the time) standing behind me, making loud comments (I could hear them through my ear phones) about me. They were not positive or encouraging comments – just saying – because I was occupying one of the four machines that one of them preferred (they were all stairmasters, I mean, seriously.) I have had a guy frighten me right out of the gym, to my car, where I drove away and asked someone else to go back and get my stuff. I have felt massively intimidated about trying to use weights appropriate to my health because I felt I was interrupting the group of five very healthy men making an awful lot of noise over there by the free weights. I’ve also been moo’d at while I try to take a jog outside, been passed on both sides (at the same time, being jostled) while I try to run on an inside track.
      Has it all been bad experiences? nope. I’ve been trying to exercise more and get more healthy since I was 14, so I am speaking from 28 years of experience. I may hate the ads, and want very much to look like the lady in the ad (wouldn’t that be AWESOME?) but knowing that at THIS gym I can go to someone and ask for help from the bullies, rather than being shrugged at (being shrugged at happened a couple of times).

      • Ugh, people can be such shits. I’m really sorry that you’ve had all of those experiences. I guess I have been very fortunate in that the gyms I have worked out at have never tolerated any of that kind of nonsense.

  8. There are a lot of problems with Planet Fitness, it’s true. I find that commercial offensive, and I hate that they are also constantly reminding me that they’re a proud sponsor of The Biggest Loser (which is, to me, far, far more problematic than PF). That said, I think you are overlooking some important factors here. First, how are you defining fitness? Is fitness only being able to lift extraordinary amounts? Does cardio fitness not count? Because I’m an endurance athlete and I’ve trained at PF, so SOMETHING is apparently happening when I work out there. Also – and this is the primary reason that I use this gym – PF is the only chain gym that I know of that doesn’t have have scales, much less actively promote fitness as a means of weight loss, so it’s truly the only gym that is safe for me to go to as someone recovering from a long battle with eating disorders. Gold’s Gym, while perhaps more affirming to those who want to do some serious lifting, has literally brought me to tears with some of their body-shaming, weight-focused ad campaigns. And socioeconomics comes into play here as well. Planet Fitness of often the cheapest gym around, and the only one that many of us can afford. Does it have problems? Absolutely. Do other gyms also have problems? Of course. Sadly, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a mainstream gym that is trans-affirming. I generally love your analyses because you do such a good job at incorporating intersectionality, but I feel that you lost sight of some other important issues on this one.

    • Hey, thanks for the comment. Just so you know, I am also an endurance athlete, and I don’t lift heavy because I’ve found it’s counter productive to my sport. I’m aware that there are lots of ways to be fit, and that extends beyond being able to run for long periods of time OR being able to lift heavy weights.

      As far as the rest of your points, I guess I have a different perspective due to my geography, as we have plenty of low-cost, no-frills gyms in my area, all of which manage to advertise their businesses and do pretty well without resorting to the mean-spirited advertising techniques of Planet Fitness. For a couple of years, I went to YouFit, which gave me access to cardio machines, some free weights and some machines for about $20 a month. The advertising wasn’t all about losing weight, but rather about the fact that it was a place where people who didn’t have a lot of money could go to work out. I don’t know. I don’t know where you live or what the gym marketplace is like in your area, but I know that PF is not even close to being the only option here. (And neither is Gold’s Gym – in fact, in my 7+ years of regular gym attendance, I have never set foot in either a PF or a Gold’s Gym.)

      I’m glad that you have found a place that works for you and provides you with space to work out that doesn’t trigger your eating disorders, though. So I guess that is something PF has going for it. :)

  9. A week later and I just saw this post… Shame on them. I have a lot of respect for ANYONE who trains hard and has the body or performance to show for it, regardless of the sport or gender. True, I don’t venture into the free weight section of my gym, but it’s mostly because I don’t want to lift. And, as someone else stated, many of the really muscular people at the gym actually seem really nice. Although, I have to say, this can vary widely according to the gym atmosphere. I’ve belonged to several…The one I am at now (LA Fitness) seems to attract creepers, or at least to enable them, due to its architecture. I was happy with the atmosphere at the Gold’s I used to go to (for 5 years!) and ALL of the weight lifters I spoke to there were polite and happy to talk fitness. But you know what? By far, the best gym experience I ever had was at the Y. Low pressure, low creepiness. Just happy, helpful staff and clients.

  10. WOW….. I watched a couple of the PF commercials, and I am SHOCKED. I am a personal trainer, and work at gym with ‘lunks’, I may in fact be one of them. :)
    I promote fitness whenever and where ever I go, and its shocking to think a gym would use this stereotype of people that have worked hard to be fit. No, a body building gym is not for everyone, however what PF is advertising is simply slanderous.

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  13. Hell to the yes. I mean, I’m not even a particularly hugely muscular woman — and I’m cisgendered. And even I feel totally unwelcomed by this ad. I like weight training. I’m not a competition level weightlifter or anything, I’m not even all that bulked up… but I love, love, love weight training. It is the heart of my fitness regimen, and one of the great joys of my life. And there is no way in hell that I would join a gym that mocks me for wanting to lift more than tiny pastel weight.

    And April: My gym doesn’t play reality TV/OPRAH!-type fail in the ladies’ locker rooms. It doesn’t have TVs in the locker rooms at all. It may be common, but it’s not universal.

    • I’m in the exact same situation. I don’t have big muscles (yet) and I’m not competitive – I just make weights a regular part of my fitness routine because I enjoy it and I get some great physical and psychological benefits out of it. I would strongly encourage all people, regardless of gender, to take up weight training in some way. And yet the idea that women shouldn’t lift weights, or if they do they should be teeny tiny ones, continues to persist, to the point that many women don’t even go near them. Anything or anyone who contributes to that idea earns my everlasting scorn.

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    • I meant to personalize this post a bit more to not appear as a creepy troll. I’m so happy that you’ve taken up this issue from a feminist perspective; such accounts are always a breath of fresh air for me. I’m trying to gain traction with my petition, and I would like to ask if you could share this with your followers. It seems like a good way to let Planet Fitness know that we’re not going to stand for this disrespectful and misleading representation of gender variant individuals.

  16. Oh, dear, this is what I get for having a “frantic” month and not catching up on my blogs. All I can say is — thank whatever power runs the universe that I don’t have a television so I don’t have to see PF ads.

    Because my wonderful, badass, grungy, scrappy musclehead gym franchised with PF a few years ago, as a business survival move. I think my disgust radiated off me in waves. Like you, Caitlin, I’ve found “lunks” to be the most generous and nonjudgmental of all people when it comes to workout advice and encouragement… actually I find I seem to be a lunk. I do heave weights, the bigger the better, and do handstand pushups, and wrestler’s bridges, and if someone mistook me for trans I’d just say damn, finally getting some mass on me, took long enough.

    I tolerate the PF crap for some of the same reasons as others on this thread — in my location no one pushes the bullshit very hard, and the $10 a month dues mean a lot to someone whose business is taking a hit from the economic downturn, plus there is a tight little community that goes way, way back to before they painted the place like a Rainbow Brite version of Howard Johnson’s. The free weight section is a room apart from the area where the “civilians” trudge through their treadmill and circuit workouts, but we cross paths enough that some of us have a chance of spreading the infection of real exercise exhilaration.

    My worst beef is that with all the sumptuary laws about headgear, etc., PF has yet to instruct its new recruits in basic gym etiquette — like NOT CAMPING ON THE EQUIPMENT. If I am ever ejected, like in some of those ads, it will be for throttling a person who is lolling on the adductor machine between sets, playing with his or her cell phone.

    But I don’t understand why PF thinks this sort of juvenile nonsense is necessary. I haven’t ever met *anyone* who dislikes working out next to muscular people. I get the feeling one person’s neurosis fuels this chain’s whole identity.

  17. Planet Fitness made a mistake. But several other companies have over the years, but we still use their products. I think that this is a mistake they should not have aired, but come on, their prices are INCREDIBLE! lol

    • True. But I also think that part of being a conscious participant in capitalism is calling out companies when they do shitty things. We can still make the decision to use their services or not, but the crap should not be allowed to go unremarked upon.

      • I prefer not to solicit the services of companies with unethical practices as much as possible. On the other hand, I drive a car, so I am at the mercy of megalomaniacal gasoline corporations just to get from point A to point B in busy, snarly Los Angeles. Also, if I become homeless, I’m not going to martyr myself by not eating the forbidden fruit of unethical companies who produce it. The point I’m making is that as ignorant consumers, we carry the world on our backs and revel to consume the scraps of our domination. As informed consumers, we have a responsibility to support or not support companies who carry out unethical and discriminatory actions against minorities. Someone has got to stand up for the little guy, right???

        In writing this, I’ve become interested in finding a study that weights the the political and economic power of the lemming. Do we have more power in supporting or protesting a company than we do with our meager and well intentioned votes? I will share one if I find it, but I predict that our consumer choice is more powerful but much less informed than voting in an election.

        MANY companies profit because others are oppressed, and A FEW INDIVIDUALS would like to see that system continue for their selfish benefit. I hope one day that “good prices” are no longer the currency used to purchase our consent. They oppress us and we beg for more, they rape our mother earth and she has no voice to cry for help. Sadly, even if she could be heard, her voice would fall upon deaf ears because we’re sated by consumer technology, processed sugar, and the best-deals-of-the-years. I urge us to make decisions with our heart rather than our pocket books, lest we become the monsters we hate or overdose on the capitalist Kool-Aid of the masses.

  18. I belong to Planet Fitness, I also belong to a “meathead gym” These are the only affordable gyms that are close enough to me (I live in New York City, so we all know every price is inflated) I don’t go to classes, and I just want a gym to go do my workout and go. Planet Fitness is perfect for me because it has a ton of strength training equipment and a massive amount of cardio equipment as well. The other gym I go to with my boyfriend, Planet Fitness doesn’t have anything heavy enough for him. I would just stay at the “meathead” gym but there has been a lot of times that I have had to wait to get on cardio machines, they only have 4 ellipticals and 12 treadmills. I honestly like that gym more, and I do have a hard to supporting planet fitness, especially since my boyfriend is considered one of the “lunks” but with the lack of equipment and my tight time schedule it just makes it hard. I wish there was a gym that was the best of both worlds in my area.
    I do have to say a year ago I was one of the people that planet fitness was targeting, over weight… didn’t know what i was doing, and scared and intimidated to see all those “perfect” bodies. But honestly seeing those really motivated people helps me be motivated, they even help me with my form, work out ideas, and are so nice it just took me a little bit to realize it.

  19. I got to Planet Fitness and luckily I really like the people who workout there and the people who work there are nice, too. I couldn’t view the commercial because it said the video didn’t exist anymore… I’m sure it was dumb. If that’s what the company represents, it’s sad. Luckily my local PF franchise is a very welcoming place.

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