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Teens Are Taking Over Gyms. The Adults Aren’t Pumped.

Oh, come on. Don't you secretly wish you were back in high school? It's fun. Honestly, I hope they never go back this fall.


Teens Are Taking Over Gyms. The Adults Aren’t Pumped.

Planet Fitness offers free memberships to high-schoolers, and some 2.8 million sign up. Cue the generational clash over etiquette.


By Ben Glickman, WSJ

Aug. 13, 2023 9:58 am ET


In Orange County, Calif., Taylor Mason, a 33-year-old high-school teacher, relishes her summers without teens. One of her usual happy places is her local Planet Fitness gym.


This season, she can’t get away. Adolescents are filling the gym, and she says they leave equipment in the wrong place and wear jeans and Crocs on the treadmill. They take too long to use machines because they are distracted by their phones.


Bent out of shape

“If you watch one more TikTok without doing one crunch, I’m gonna lose my mind,” Mason says.


Regulars at Planet Fitness locations across the U.S. are now working out alongside throngs of high-schoolers who are participating in the chain’s popular promotion: free membership for teens in the summer. Some young people have settled on the chain’s purple and yellow bedecked air-conditioned gyms as ideal hangout spots.


Younger clientele misuse equipment, cause crowding and don’t clean up after themselves, some say. Even minor transgressions by teens, from scrolling on social media to congregating in groups, have become fodder for gripes by the older paying members.


The generational clash resembles the kerfuffles that pop up in January, when gym regulars must navigate a wave of newbies inspired by New Year’s resolutions. Instead, battles over gym etiquette are breaking out in the dog days of summer between grown-ups and kids.



In Fresno, Calif., Mary Richards, a 23-year-old auto technician, thinks adult gym members are being too harsh on their younger counterparts. “You just sound like a cranky crab apple,” she says of them.


At her Planet Fitness gym, she finds the younger groups friendly, if a little odd. One teen called her “mommy” when she asked him to watch her weights. His gaggle of friends giggled.


Planet Fitness views its free teen “Summer Pass” as a way to inspire young people to exercise and join gyms early in life, says Bill Bode, the chain’s division president for U.S. franchises. There are benefits for teens’ physical and mental well-being, he says.


The program started with a 2018 New Hampshire pilot that drew about 2,500 sign-ups; this summer, some 2.8 million teens nationwide have signed up.


Planet Fitness knows many of them might not know gym manners and has explained the dos and don’ts in the Planet Fitness app and on TikTok, with sitcom-style “repisodes,” complete with piped-in laugh tracks.


“If ya liftz it, spritz it,” says cast member Quinn in an episode that instructs teens to wipe down equipment after use.


Jamie Medeiros, chief brand officer for Planet Fitness, said the TikToks on gym etiquette have gotten traction, but unsavory feedback is inevitable. “Of course we’re going to see comments, both positive and negative,” she says.


On balance, Medeiros says feedback has been more positive than negative, and when members do complain, Planet Fitness works to address the issue. The company isn’t seeing more cancellations this summer than in previous quarters. Plus, the Summer Pass has juiced sign-ups: Last year, the gym chain saw 600,000 new paying members linked to the program, both parents and teens.


Planet Fitness’s own recent Facebook posts, noting “Teens work out for FREE until Aug. 31,” have drawn hundreds of comments, including some venting.


“Y’all ruined your own gym by doing that free high school summer pass,” wrote a patron. “That’s why I stopped going—who wants to pay for a membership to deal with loud immature kids.”


Other commenters bashed the teen-bashers and said adults can also behave poorly.


“Wow! Perhaps PF should also institute a No-Whining Zone policy.”


(The chain’s catchphrase is “Judgement Free Zone.”)


Kourt Hill, a 26-year-old office coordinator at a physical therapy clinic, says high-schoolers at her Dallas-area Planet Fitness will hog one machine for half an hour or clog walkways.


“Every third word is ‘bruh,’ ” she says.


She finds some of them amusing, and understands summer boredom, though she is bugged by a trio of teens she deems “the three stooges.” They have taken videos of fellow gym goers they find entertaining—sometimes for simply working up a sweat on a machine.


In Griffin, Ga., Al Brown, a 34-year-old IT recruiter, likes to zone out to music in his earbuds while working out at his local Planet Fitness. A new sound has broken his focus recently, one he describes as a “moose in labor.”


A group of teens clustered at a weight machine took turns lifting and slamming down a barbell onto the mat, grunting theatrically after each rep. Brown says the “lunk alarm”—Planet Fitness’s blaring siren activated when a gym goer is being too loud—has been going off more.


“It’s not really the Planet Fitness vibe,” he says.


Another time, after being caught directly in the background of a young woman’s video, he complained to staff, but was unsatisfied with the response. So he feigned interest in following the teen on TikTok, found the post in which he was featured and reported it.


The program has also exposed awkward high-schoolers to the lives of their teachers outside work. Chad Pettit, a 43-year-old English teacher, has had regular encounters with his students this summer in a Planet Fitness in Killeen, Texas. Many have greeted him with befuddled looks.


Pettit likes to imagine they are surprised that teachers don’t live in the school.


In Pasadena, Md., Anakin Norton, 14, uses his Summer Pass to train for wrestling and says he minds his manners and works out alone. He did see three teens pestering an adult the other day because they wanted to use the weight bench he was on.


“Some teens can be a real nuisance,” he says.


He’s grateful for the program and says it is better than sitting around playing videogames.


“This has me on my feet,” he says of the gym. “I would rather be on my feet than my butt.”


Write to Ben Glickman at ben.glickman@wsj.com

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