I’ve lifted at plenty of gyms over 8 years in weight training — private, public, spacious, cramped, loud, quiet. I’ve seen quite the array of training facilities. The most intimidating of them all?
Up until 7th grade, I had virtually no interest in sports of any kind; they never appealed to me, even though I had every opportunity to play. Year after year, my parents asked me to join some sort of club:
“Wanna play baseball this year?”
“Al, wanna give soccer a go?”
“We’re signing you up for karate.”
I had no desire for organized, physical activity whatsoever. As a kid, I was much more intrigued with drawing, race cars, constructing paper cities in my room, and reading Spider-Man comics.
No, I wasn’t fat or pudgy.
No, I didn’t sit in my room all day (I loved to play outside).
Yeah, I was shy and kinda nerdy.
But one year into middle school, everything changed. Maybe it was my suddenly deep[er] voice. Or the one and a half hairs sprouting from my chin — it could’ve been the fact there were girls to impress now. Whatever it was, my attitude towards physicality seemed to transform overnight.
One day I got home from school, walked into the kitchen and said “Mom, I’m going to play football.” She looked at me half-strange. “Football… like helmets and tackling football?”
Never in all my years of growing up would she have thought to suggest a vicious sport like hockey or wrestling — let alone football. The very next year, I signed up, strapped up, and ran around smashing into other kids 6 days a week, 11 months a year. I went on to play (and start) at every level up until my senior year of high school; it was quite the turnaround.
Football was my way into the gym.
My sweaty journey to gains, athletic agility, and optimal health really started in 8th grade. My 2nd season of middle school football came to an end which meant freshman football was right around the corner.
And with that came my first taste of weight training.
At 13 years-old and roughly 120 pounds, I was every bit of pessimistic when it came to weight rooms… in other words, I was terrified.
I vividly remember my first experience inside a real gym:
Our bus had just arrived at Simon Kenton High School for the first week of football practice. All us scrawny 8th graders hopped out and made way to the lifting complex. We had to pass through the gym to change and store our bags before practice.
One twist… the burly varsity football men occupied the room.
This lead to a horrendous first experience.
Upon entering, the smell slapped me in the face; it reeked of pulverized metallic and over-stored meat. The room, compact and crowded, was about the size of two classrooms put together. Lockers full of dirty underwear bordered the equipment which inadvertently added to the stench. The mirrors fogged up from ass-steam of 300-pound linemen and grunts came in every direction.
Once the varsity team caught wind of us freshman, you can imagine the storm of yelling and harassment that turned up; suddenly we turned to bait.
“Oo, look who we’ve got here… freshman!”
“I can’t wait to run over all you scrubs!”
“That kid’s the size of my right leg!”
It felt like prison.
But the hassle and intimidation didn’t last long. We soon formed together as a team and the gym became a special place; it changed into a brotherhood.
I began to look forward to lifting. I loved the atmosphere of the weight room — a space for physical evolution, progress, and hard work. As young men, we took pride in our new-found comradery. Everyday, it was about “gettin’ big,” gettin’ after it, and becoming fu*king men.
If you don’t know, Plant Fitness, or PF, is an American chain of fitness centers. It’s one of the largest clubs in the world. They boast their “Judgement Free Zone” motto and market themselves towards the inexperienced and elderly.
Their ultimate goal is to make everyone feel welcome; no shrew behavior and no predisposition they say…
Post-high school, I’ve been a member of a handful of gyms: Snap, LA Fitness, a local underground gym, a college lifting facility and I’ve been a guest at plenty of others, too.
I’ve always felt very comfortable at these places and never once felt I was being judged. I never get the impression other people are being looked down upon either.
Are we all adults here or not?
Big or small, people in the gym are typically respectful and disciplined people. No one drives all the way out to a gym just to make fun of fat nerds struggling to understand a calf machine. No one cares. Everyone’s doing their own thing.
Nevertheless, I understand why PF has decided to occupy this niche.
The irony though? Plant Fitness, a “Judgement Free Zone,” judges like no other — they are the one public gym I’ve seen pass bias.
First of all, they have what’s called a “Lunk Alarm.”
Yes, it’s a giant siren that blasts throughout the entire facility whenever someone “breaks the rules” or messes up. You think it’s a joke, but it’s not. I’ve seen some employees take this thing way serious. I hear it sound off all the time.
The Planet Fitness heavens forbid you…
Drop a weight in the gym? Lunk Alarm.
Wear the wrong style of clothing? Lunk Alarm.
Breath too loud while pushing plates? Lunk Alarm.
“We’re a judgement free zone!”
Apparently, you can screw up your choice of water containment too. “No drinking from a gallon!” Seriously, who really gives a flying f*ck about a water jug? Like what is wrong with adequate hydration?
Also, I’d hate to be the poor soul named “Ricky” — PF has made this guy their indefinite scapegoat for ultimate gym-douchery (his name is on every alarm). They just blatantly call him out and suggest his name sounds like a jackass.
In rare cases, if you’re too strong, you may be asked to leave the gym.
But remember: “Here at Planet Fitness, we’re all about making you feel welcome and wanted… just don’t break our rules or we’ll judge you!”
Oh, the irony.