How to Get Jacked with Free Weights at Planet Fitness

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If you’re a water jug-carryin’, tank top-wearin’, weight-slammin’, gruntin’ gym bro, passing as a “normie” at Planet Fitness takes a bit of camouflage and a lifetime of self-control.

(So much for the “Judgment Free Zone,” huh?)

To make matters even worse …

There’s no legit power rack, loadable barbell, bench press set-up, or trap bar insight. But hidden amongst the sea of treadmills and resistance machines is a decently stocked free weight corner.

Now, here’s how to get jacked with free weights at Planet Fitness:

Is Planet Fitness Good for Weight Lifting?

Planet Fitness is good for weight lifting for a select few, mainly beginners building foundational strength, mastering the “Big Five” lifts, and maximizing muscle mass in those newbie days.

But for those with previous training experience, PF can feel nothing short of underwhelming.

Some two-thirds of the club’s 20,000-square-feet features countless rows of treadmills, ellipticals, recumbent bikes, and the occasional cross-trainer (it’s every cardio fiend’s dream!).

Unfortunately, the remaining third feels like a jumble of random resistance training gear:

  • Dumbbells (in five-pound increments up to 80 pounds)
  • Fixed barbells (in ten-pound increments up to 60 pounds)
  • Adjustable benches
  • Smith machines
  • Basic resistance training machines
  • Cable/pulley machines
  • TRX units
  • And more (depending on your PF club)

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Some tried-and-true gym junkies would even argue that the best Planet Fitness doesn’t rival the worst Gold’s Gym — at least for anyone looking to build mass.

It’s not ideal. But with some ingenuity, a well-laid-out routine, and knowledge of exercise science, it’s possible to “make do” with the PF free weight section to get jacked this year.

Here’s how:

6 Ways to Get Jacked at Planet Fitness

For one, avoid becoming a statistic: a concerning 67% of people allow their gym memberships to go completely to waste. So step #1 is actually scanning your key fob and touching the iron.

That leads us to step #2: choose a Planet Fitness-friendly mass-building routine (while rare, they do exist). The sheer amount of equipment at PF can feel intimidating; always walk in with a plan!

Now that we’ve covered the basics, follow these six tips:

Learn About (& Avoid) Peak Hours

For whatever reason, Planet Fitness has two distinct modes: a crowd hovering around every Smith machine (and a sopping wet towel on every bench) or not a soul to be found.

Allowing others to “work in” sets while you rest is one of the unspoken rules of gym etiquette. And, if there’s no leeway in your program, you’ll have some downtime while waiting for the 30s.

But being considerate could wind up threatening your gains and stalling your progress.

There’s a tidbit of research to back that up!

A 2009 review study from Sports Medicine settled on 30–60 seconds of rest being “ideal” for those targeting hypertrophy, especially when paired with moderate-intensity training.

So in the time it takes to re-configure the plates on the Smith machine or jumps from dumbbell flies to French presses, you’re slipping away from that tight range.

(Not to mention the pre-workout jolt will start to fizzle out with every delay.)

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The trick here isn’t being impolite or hogging gear; it’s outsmarting the crowds!

The PF app now features a widget known as the “Crowd Meter.” So at any given moment, you can see just how packed the joint is; or you can schedule your next session around peak hours!

Explore the Gym for Unique Free Weight Options

The squat rack, power rack, barbells, and traditional bench press are noticeably absent from your local PF club. But while that limits your free weight options, it doesn’t get rid of them entirely.

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Planet Fitness normally tucks its free weight hubs into a corner or along the far wall. However, the chain also scatters a few equipment gems if you’re willing to scope out the club.

For example, some will stock kettlebells, medicine balls, yoga and stability balls, and even suspension trainer units (like the TRX).

But what difference does any of that make? None of these can replace the unstoppable barbell and power rack duo.

You’re absolutely correct!

Yet, findings from a 2021 study suggest a hard-to-challenge counterpoint: the importance of exercise variety for muscle growth. (In other words, bowing out of a zillion bench press varieties.)

Researchers discovered that with equal training volume and intensity, the group performing more exercises experienced more hypertrophy in all 12 test areas (two more than the other group).

So PF’s extra free weight equipment swings the door wide open to exercises like:

  • Kettlebell chops (obliques)
  • Medicine ball push-ups (chest)
  • Inverted suspension trainer rows (back)
  • Stability ball glute-ham bridges (lower back)

Aim for 2–4 exercises per muscle group, experiment with various equipment and choose weights that allow you to hit 8–12 reps per set (as recommended by the ACSM).

Find the Closest Exercise Alternatives Possible

Standard barbells work magic for the ego, especially when you can drop the ‘ol “Guess how much I benched today?” line in the boys’ group chat (or while chatting up the ladies on Tinder).

Yet, when PF ditched the squat rack in 2014, it didn’t only stir up some controversy in the more athletic edge of their base; it also complicated heavier compound lifts like the deadlift and rows.

That means it’s your job to pick up the slack, fill the gaps, and find exercise alternatives.

For example:

Instead of a …  Do a … 
Barbell bench press Dumbbell bench press decline push-upDumbbell fly Incline dumbbell bench press
Barbell back squat Kettlebell or dumbbell lungeGoblet squat bench step-up dumbbell plie squat
Barbell deadlift Dumbbell Romanian deadliftDumbbell hamstring curlKettlebell swingFixed barbell good morning
Barbell overhead press Dumbbell Arnold pressDumbbell shoulder press dumbbell upright row (or front raise)Dumbbell lateral raise
Barbell row Kettlebell pulloverDumbbell or kettlebell row dumbbell shrugDumbbell lying reverse fly

Once you dip into a plateau (or realize the lad cooped up on the bench isn’t logging his sets in an app but rather texting a former flame), you have plenty of Big Five alternatives to swap in!

But just how many sets is reasonable? A study review published in 2010 uncovered something startling: 4–6 sets per exercise can trigger up to 85% more growth than a single set.

Just try to top weekly sets per muscle group at 10–20.

Don’t Skimp On the Isolation Exercises

(If you were waiting on permission to add biceps curls, triceps kickbacks, and other isolation exercises to your routine, here it is. Feel free to shout it from the rooftops!)

Planet Fitness can be a total buzzkill for more traditional weightlifting routines.

But its free weight corner deserves applause elsewhere: in the isolation exercise department.

Though 2015 research implies that multi-joint (compound) and single-joint (isolation) exercises are equally effective for growth and strength, iso exercises can better target stubborn growers.

That includes muscle groups notoriously reluctant to upsize, like the:

  • Forearms
  • Calves
  • Core
  • Shoulders
  • Quads

That leaves you with two options to make the most of PF’s gear: a classic bro split where you put a few groups through the wringer each workout or closeout workouts with isolation burn-out sets.

For example, finish your “push day” in a PPL routine with skull crushers.

Don’t forget that your triceps act as synergists (assist muscles) during the dumbbell bench press. So there’s no need to double-up on triceps volume with 10–20 extra sets at the end of a workout.

(This applies to all major and minor muscle groups … read your body!)

Get Creative In the Free Weight Area

“Getting creative” in a Planet Fitness club can go one of two ways: you’ll add inches to your thighs and slowly uncover a six-pack, or you’ll wind up in the Hall of Shame on r/muscleconfusion.

It’s a line you need to toe carefully, especially with a Lunk Alarm in play.

All we mean is to be open to new exercise variations.

For example …

  • Adding height to your step-ups by stepping onto a taller bench
  • Infusing core stability to your bench press by balancing your back on a yoga ball
  • Turning two-handed exercises into single-handed exercises when you can max out
  • Bringing resistance bands for exercises like resistance banded dumbbell bench presses
  • Sporting a 20-pound weighted vest for slightly heavier squats or lunges
  • Propping your feet on a bench for tougher decline push-ups

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Don’t get too freaky with the dumbbells or start tossing 15-pound kettlebells into the air. Always use equipment as intended, and start with lighter weights until you master perfect form.

If an exercise becomes too easy, mix it up a little to trek closer to failure!

Supersets, Supersets, Supersets!

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the best way to beat the Planet Fitness crowds while simultaneously getting jacked is with a superset routine. Of course, that’ll stir up a little debate amongst traditional lifters.

But research published back in 2017 supports supersets!

Compared to traditional sets, the average superset workout cut the total workout time by 43% while also ramping up RPE by an extra 2.4 points and nearly doubling efficiency.

Though, there’s little evidence that it spurs any additional growth.

Some examples of Planet Fitness-friendly supersets include:

  • Dumbbell bench press & dumbbell bent-over row
  • Dumbbell biceps curl & kettlebell triceps extension
  • Dumbbell goblet squat & dumbbell hamstring curl

If you plan to stick to opposite exercises, splitting your routine into an upper and lower body day is a solid choice. Otherwise, you can pair completely different exercises (like calves and shoulders).

Do a set of #1, jump into a set of #2 immediately after, and then allow yourself a 60-second rest.

(To keep the target off your back, combine exercises that require the same or similar equipment. That way, you can knock out eight dumbbell-based sets in the time it usually takes to do four.)

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Does Planet Fitness Have Free Weight Squat Racks?

Planet Fitness doesn’t have free-weight squat racks for the same reason it lacks bench press and deadlift gear: to keep so-called “lunkheads” from intimidating casual guests who make up the bulk of the franchise’s base. So the closest PF-friendly squat alternative is a Smith machine squat.

What is the Heaviest Weight at Planet Fitness?

The heaviest weight at Planet Fitness is the 80-pound dumbbell in the free weight section. However, some clubs cap their dumbbells at a much lighter 50–60 pounds (it depends on club location). Most Planet Fitness clubs also have a rack of fixed barbells that top out at 60 pounds.

Are Planet Fitness Weights Accurate?

Planet Fitness’s weights are just as accurate as any other weights, although some suggest that PF weights are lighter than described. Typically, standard weights are within 1–5% of their marked weight; a 30-pound dumbbell could weigh between 28.5 and 31.5 pounds.

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Getting in shape isn’t easy. But this program gives you a real-life approach to building a leaner, more muscular body without obsessing over fitness 24/7.



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