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Luke O'Neil examines the insanely cheap (in every way) and insanely successful (in the only way that matters) gym chain Planet Fitness:


I'm not what you would call a bodybuilder, mind you, or a regular Planet Fitness member, either. But I have been to number of different Planet Fitness locations in the past few years, mostly as an "emergency gym" when I'm traveling. (The fact that I even have an emergency gym should tell you something about my approach to working out.) In some respects, it's not a bad place to lift weights--very clean and quiet, and set up in an unusual yellow and purple design scheme with painted signs reading, "Judgment-Free Zone." No one will judge you, presumably, if you partake of the bowl of candy on the reception desk, or of the weekly Pizza Mondays promotion. (Yes, they serve pizza in the gym.) 

Then there's the fact that certain bodybuilding exercises--like dead lifts and clean-and-jerks--are prohibited. CEO Mike Grondahl has further promised, "We'll be the only fitness chain that can say we'll never try to sell you personal training. A lot of people will say we are dead wrong with this historic move. But the world was flat once, and who the hell needs a friend for 50 bucks an hour?" The facility also comes equipped with a "lunk alarm"--a siren that is supposed to go off whenever someone grunts too loudly or drops a heavy weight on the floor. (The latter is a moot point at most Planet Fitness locations, where they don't even have any large weights.) I've never set off the alarm, but on more than one occasion, in different locations around the country, I've been lectured by staffers for breathing too hard when lifting, and I've gotten dirty looks for excessive sweating in the weight room. Clearly it's not my planet either.

Such a weird place. I left my gym a few months back. I loved it, but given the scheme of family, and my life, it wasn't worth the money. I love the park more. And it's free.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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