Cheap ‘n’ cheerful chinups: Canada welcomes Planet Fitness, the $10 gym for those bad at gym

Planet Fitness offers a judgment-free zone.

At Planet Fitness, the first thing that hits you is the colour.

It’s unlike any other gym on first impression, but that has nothing to do with the place’s ethos (we’ll get to that later). It’s sensory. You don’t get the smell of sweat, the sounds of exertion or the feeling of heat, hung in the air by a room full of fast-moving, hard working bodies. The first thing that hits you is the colour purple.

“It’s sort of a down-market colour scheme,” offered the Planet Fitness employee who signed me up for my membership on Monday night at the fitness franchise’s first Canadian location, in Toronto, when I brought up the club’s somewhat garish decor. Indeed, while “down-market” might not be the exact terminology Planet Fitness’s literature opts for, it is illustrative of the gym’s most immediately distinctive characteristic: it’s cheap as hell. Ten dollars a month gets you a basic membership; $19.99 gets you a few more perks. And that’s it. No catch, no frills, no whopping cancellation charges and a yearly admin fee that’s less than $30. It’s almost too good to be true.

“We’re really not about the $10,” Planet Fitness CEO, Chris Rondeau said in a telephone interview a day after my Planet Fitness visit. “We’re more about the atmosphere.”
Rondeau — who noted that, in moving north of the border for the first time since establishing Planet Fitness in 1992, he’s targeting the 80% of Canadians who don’t already have a fitness club membership — was referring to Planet Fitness’s trademark Judgment Free Zone, which is, depending on how you look at, it the greatest or weirdest thing about the franchise. The fitness club empire (500 locations in the U.S. and a second planned for Brampton, Ont., in the first quarter of 2015) has grown to its current size based on a customer base that is, to put it mildly, noncommittal. “The bulk of our members aren’t looking to run a marathon,” Rondeau says. “We’re more for an occasional user.”`

It didn’t take me long at Planet Fitness to figure out that I am their ideal customer — I am the “occasional user.” The gym and I are both honest with one another about the fact that, at $10/month, neither of us actually considers fitness a top priority: I’m not going to wear out the machines and, in exchange, Planet Fitness isn’t going to make me pay a lot of money. But when I do show up, Planet Fitness is only going to give me 10 bucks’ worth of comfort: the change rooms are extremely clean (but I’m probably going to have to wait for a locker), the equipment is plentiful (no daycare, classes, spa services or pools — that drives up membership costs) and the pizza is free on the first Monday of the month (wait, what?).

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