The “Average Joe” Gym is now a reality.
In one of the more memorable scenes from the Hollywood film-farce “Dodgeball,” Lance Armstrong casually consoles Vince Vaughn assuring him, “I’m sure you must have a good reason to quit”. The story hails the “Average Joe” gym as a place where everyone can feel comfortable and actually fit in without fear and intimidation from muscle-heads, egomaniacs, or singles-bar refugees. But now the concept of the mainstream exercise environment is real. Far from struggling financially, they are rather taking the country by storm and running the competition right out of town! Not just imaginary gyms like “Globo Gym” from a screenwriter’s imagination, but solid well known organizations like Golds, and even the YMCA and the JCC are being bested at their own game. Who is working this Main-street magic in small towns and metro cities alike all across America? There are a few players, but without a doubt the king of the hill is Planet Fitness. They have been derided for their pizza night and bagel morning, both staples at the health club. Planet has the dubious distinction of being labeled as one of the “softest” centers in America, right after Slimmons, Richard Simmons personal aerobic studio. In spite of this the runaway business model is making real headway, with more than 400 successful locations and literally more opening every day, this organization clearly has something great to offer.
What makes these new-age middle-of-the-road upstarts tick? What are they doing to separate themselves from other gyms? First, there is the slogan, “The Judgment Free Zone,” but empty slogans are, well, just that. Closer inspection reveals the reality that this is truly a concept-driven institution built from the ground up. The equipment is more user friendly with easy to interpret illustrations installed directly on every station. The paltry rates, typically between $10.-$20. Per month carry no long term contract for a basic membership, so literally anyone can afford to belong. Full-body high-tech circuit training is aerobically customized for the beginner, but resists plateau problems by using traditional cable/weight stack resistance machines (unlike a big national women-only franchised studio with a similar concept). A virtual sea of aerobics machines greets the would-be better-toned constituent. Clean well appointed locker rooms have replaced the mold and athletes foot cocktail found at many large not-for-profit organizations.
The psychology of the business is what changes the feel of the gyms the most. Psychology in fitness is rarely spoken of but perhaps THE most important aspect of getting and staying fit. It is difficult enough for the fledgling member attempting to do the hard work of becoming fit. Add to the mix annoying fitness fanatics cruising the gym, whether simply nosy members, compensated trainers, or worst yet unqualified members of staff who interrupt the novice participant with unsolicited advice. None of this is permitted at a Planet Fitness (PF). The obvious reaction from the fitness fanatic crowd is “what about prevention of injury?” It is true that the under-instructed participant performs many exercises incorrectly. However, it is the responsibility of that person to learn how to train correctly! Furthermore, statistics on injury in exercise show that these minor form flaws are not actually likely to produce injury. There were approximately 45 million Americans with a gym membership in 2009*, but only 224 reported free weight and weight machine injuries at emergency rooms during the entire year nationwide according to Sports Insurance Risk Management administrators in their latest online article**. Ironically the treadmill was more than twice as dangerous, (575 occurrences) and it is by far the most popular choice of the health club newcomer. The would-be more-fit upstart will be put at ease by the fact that most PF members look and act just like them, being unfamiliar with hardcore training or weightlifting, and simply wishing to spend some of their precious time improving their health. (copyright by author 2010)