Planet Fitness doesn’t get the best reputation among the weightlifting community.
They have free pizza on the first Monday of the month, and free bagels on the second Tuesday of the month (probably not the best way to go about carb-loading).
There’s a “lunk alarm” if any gym rats grunt too loudly, drop their weights, carry a gallon jug of water, or even wear a tank top (Translation: You have to lay low if you plan to go hard).
And there’s no bench press.
That last point—the lack of a bench press—makes the $10/month Planet Fitness membership virtually useless for anyone serious about bulking up or weightlifting, in general.
Let’s talk about why Planet Fitness doesn’t have a bench press.
What is Planet Fitness?
Planet Fitness is a wildly popular gym chain with over 2,000 locations across the U.S. (and four other nations) and more than 10 million members worldwide.
At just $10/month, it’s also one of the most affordable gyms in America.
Also known as the “Judgement Free Zone,” Planet Fitness has a bit of a unique client base.
Rather than tailoring the atmosphere toward gym rats pumping iron and setting PRs, Planet Fitness is a gym for the average Joe.
That means no dropping weights, no water jugs, no tank tops, and no free weight barbells—all of which can be intimidating if lifting doesn’t consume your life.
Instead, the average Planet Fitness location will have countless rows of cardio equipment, strength training machines, dumbbells up to 80 pounds, and a few adjustable benches.
It’s a decent set-up, but clearly not designed for serious lifters like yourself.
What is the Bench Press?
The bench press is one of the critical compound exercises that target the upper body “push” muscles, specifically the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
Here’s a brief run-through of how to do the bench press:
- Lie down on the bench with your feet flat on the floor and your eyes just below the rack supporting the barbell.
- With an overhand grip and hands a bit further than shoulder-width apart, remove the bar from the rack and hold it with arms outstretched over your chest.
- Lower the bar down in a straight line toward your chest until your arms hit about a 45-degree-angle.
- Exhale deeply and push the bar directly upward until you’re back in your starting position.
Fortunately, you don’t need a proper bench press set-up to do a bench press variation, though this is the “gold standard.”
You can also do the bench press with a standalone barbell, two dumbbells, a Smith machine, or a bench press machine.
Planet Fitness Caters to the Non-Athletes
At some point, Planet Fitness did have at least a squat rack and even a bench press or two in some of its fitness center locations.
But nice things can’t last forever.
These racks were quickly done away with around 2014 or 2015 after repeated member complaints that this equipment was “intimidating” to other gym-goers.
When you have a bench press or a squat rack in any gym, you’re also going to draw in a crowd of serious lifters. $10/month for a gym is cheap and having this equipment makes it a “steal.”
And since Planet Fitness caters to the 85% of people who don’t obsess over their gains, keeping this equipment meant potentially discouraging customers from keeping their memberships.
The bench press and squat rack’s removal put even more distance between Planet Fitness and places like Gold’s Gym.
And nothing keeps Planet Fitness members coming back more to squeeze in a workout than the feeling that they’re not working out at a typical gym rat oasis.
So PF isn’t the best place to try a program for getting shredded.
A Lawsuit Waiting to Happen
Another glaring issue with having this type of equipment in a gym like Planet Fitness is safety.
The bulk of Planet Fitness members are brand new to exercise and have little to no experience with free weight barbells.
Attempting a bench press that’s too heavy or not using a spotter is a lawsuit waiting to happen, especially for a gym that only charges members $10 a month to keep their membership.
All it takes is a beginner dropping the bar on their chest or tipping the bar and having plates roll into other gym-goers to cause a severe injury and a loss of millions in revenue.
As such, this type of equipment also comes with substantial insurance policies that would nearly ruin the steady stream of income that Planet Fitness pulls in every year.
Like everything in life, it comes down to money.
Bench Press Alternatives at Planet Fitness
Planet Fitness may not have a bench press, squat rack, or power rack, but that doesn’t mean you need to jump ship and find another (more expensive) gym altogether.
You just have to be willing to get a little creative and give up the standard bench press that you know too well.
Here are some bench press alternatives for a good workout at Planet Fitness.
Smith Machine Bench Press
Most Planet Fitness locations have at least two or three Smith machines where you can crank out everything from squats and deadlifts to bench presses and calf raises.
The Smith machine is the closest you’ll get to the real bench press at Planet Fitness.
It’s also far safer.
The only downside to using the Smith machine for the bench press is that it forces you to rely on the machine more than you should.
You’ll still be hitting your pecs directly, but the Smith machine’s control system means your stabilizing muscles get left out, which can stall growth.
Barbell Bench Press
Though Planet Fitness doesn’t have loadable barbells like your run-of-the-mill gym, most locations do have a small rack of pre-loaded barbells.
These are usually in 10-pound increments up to 60 pounds.
Now, if you’re brand new to lifting, using this 60-pound barbell on the flat bench at Planet Fitness is a great way to begin building your upper body push muscles.
But you’re likely already well-past 60 pounds.
So this may not be an option for you.
Dumbbell Bench Press
The lack of barbells at Planet Fitness is a real bummer, but the gym does have a pretty decent stock of heavy dumbbells: Up to 75 or 80 pounds, in most places.
Most guys opt for the dumbbell bench press in place of the standard bench at PF.
Why Doesn’t Planet Fitness Have a Bench Press?
Planet Fitness doesn’t have a bench press because this gym chain is specifically for the average person, not the serious bodybuilder.
As such, having gear like a bench press, squat rack, or power rack is intimidating to the typical Planet Fitness member and only encourages “lunks” to overrun the gym.
A bench press in a gym where very few people have experience lifting can also be a potential safety hazard and trigger lawsuits if accidents were to happen.
Fortunately, Planet Fitness does have Smith machines, pre-loaded barbells, and dumbbells weighing up to 75 pounds, so you do have alternatives despite not having a real bench set-up.
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