A Judgement Free Planet

When I’m not getting treated to personal training sessions or experimenting with new ways to torture myself with infrared hotboxes, my home gym is one of Hattiesburg’s newest facilities, one that just happens to have won Best Place to Work Out in this year’s Best of the Pine Belt awards – Planet Fitness. 

Now, you might think if you’ve been to one mega-gym, you’ve been to them all. Planet Fitness is here to prove your pre-conceived notions of gym culture wrong – in a comfortable, safe and judgment-free way. As soon as you grace the front doors of the two-story structure that sits at the edge of Hardy Street and U.S. Hwy. 49, a sense of community abounds – friendly desk staff greets you by name, scans your key fob and sets you loose in their spacious facilities, where within feet you’re sure to see at least three different friends just working on their fitness. And while large flat screen TVs silently play a variety of networks (side note: if you’ve been meaning to catch up on any of the WB series from the late 90s, you can see entire seasons of Charmed or Supernature while you burn away the weekend on a gliding elliptical), others are used to display real-time tweets and Facebook posts from other PF members touting their gym journeys and successes.

If you’re a cardio junky, you need not travel more than the first wave of equipment – treadmills, stair climbers, two (TWO!) different types of elliptical machines as well as stationery bikes (upright AND recumbent) – which lines the main area of the first floor. Assorted strength training machines with easy-to-read instructions follow just beyond the Cardio Corral (not a formal name, but if they’re taking suggestions… ) and end in a well-stocked free weight and cable area. If you’re trying to get your hustle on, Planet Fitness even offers a helpful chart of peak-use times, so you can craft a workout schedule as devoid of interaction as you prefer. 

Watching silently over the weight area is a large siren-esque light dubbed The Lunk Alarm. Since Planet Fitness is dedicated to creating a friendly and non-intimidating environment, the Lunk Alarm exists as a warning to those who forget the PF message – weight-slammers, grunters, man-splainers BEWARE! Drop those weights one more time and become responsible for the air raid level sirens that erupt over the gym floor – my biggest nightmare come to life. The desire to remain Lunk-free provides me some extra consideration and control during my weight training sessions. 

Head up the stairs to a mezzanine of cardio equipment that opens into a free training area. Enter the SYNRGY360 machine. Not (just) a fancy term to use in your next client meeting, the SYNRGY360 features several modules or stations that allow users to craft nearly limitless workout options – pull-up bars, battle ropes, cable systems, step-up platform, TRX stirrups – it has it all, especially if you include the kettlebells and medicine balls nestled into its storage platforms. The SYNRGY360 machine is perfect for group workouts – which it should come as no surprise, Planet Fitness also offers. An on-staff certified trainer helps members craft customized exercise plans, explains safe equipment usage and provides area-focused workouts, limited to groups of five, several times a day. If you prefer to go your own way, but don’t have a ton of time to spend in the gym, submit to the 30-Minute Circuit. Strength training machines mingle with cardio interludes to provide a low-impact total body toning session in just half an hour. 

Best news yet, you can enjoy all these amenities 24 hours a day, seven days a week (excluding some national holidays). Take advantage of free day-use lockers for small storage or opt for a full-size one in the well-equipped locked rooms. If you happen to be hulking out on the first Monday of the month, treat yourself to some free pizza or if you prefer mornings, a bagel and coffee spread waits for you the second Tuesday of every month. And of course, every time you finish a work out and are welcomed to come back, grab a Tootsie Roll as you walk out the door.