You can get your mid-day “protein fix” with buffalo chicken pizza on Mondays, start your morning with a bagel (& a schmear of cream cheese) on Tuesdays, and snack on Tootsie Rolls whenever.
But hoo boy, don’t you dare try something as silly as a deadlift.
Planet Fitness (AKA: the “anti-gym”) catches quite a bit of heat from the amateur bodybuilding community because of its questionable food offerings and sheer lack of power racks.
And, the anti-deadlift mentality is rightfully a major flaw in every PF club across the country.
So do you cancel that unbeatable $10/month membership to switch to a “real” gym? Or, do you suck it up and settle for the ‘ol Spongebob lower-half?
What about option #3? While you can’t deadlift at Planet Fitness, you can do this.
Why Did Planet Fitness Ban Deadlifts?
Planet Fitness never technically “banned” deadlifts, at least according to the PF Twitter handle that replied this to a shade-throwin’ tweeter:
“We do allow deadlifts and overhead presses on our smith machines and free barbells. There aren’t any exercises that ‘are not allowed’ at Planet Fitness. We just don’t allow grunting and dropping weights.”
In business-speak: Planet Fitness didn’t ban deadlifts. Their clubs simply don’t:
- Have power racks
- Have loadable barbells
- Allow steel plates to clink against the floor (it’s totally different).
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The franchise’s deadlift “ban” is no accident; it’s by design.
Inspired by the regular folks craving a lunkhead-free training hub, the gym founders decided to do away with the gear that drew them in like teens on TikTok to Tide Pods.
So Planet Fitness ditched the “intimidating” equipment like bench press and power racks — and replaced it with resistance training machines and a lifetime supply of treadmills.
How to “Deadlift” at Planet Fitness
The bad news: you can’t deadlift at Planet Fitness. The good news: you can deadlift at Planet Fitness (again, it’s different).
While there are no deadlift jacks, pulling blocks, bumper plates, or loadable barbells in any PF club, one piece of gear allows you to get “close enough”: the Smith machine.
(These monstrosities are hard to miss, even at PF, where everything is purple/yellow.)
The Smith machine is a safety-driven rack alternative that “spots” you as you lift.
The bar attaches to vertical rails that allow the bar — and loaded weight — to slide up in a controlled manner. Just roll your wrist toward you to latch the bar onto the hooks and end the set.
How to Do a Smith Machine Deadlift at Planet Fitness
Remember, you’re at Planet Fitness. Don’t load the machine up with an absurd amount of weight.
For one, literally, nobody around you will care. Two, the only thing worse than triggering the Lunk alarm when you drop weight is doing so accidentally because you were gloating.
Get a feel for the Smith machine first by mastering proper form:
Getting Into Position
- Begin with the bar latched onto the lowest-possible hooks; stand inside the machine.
- Position yourself so that your feet are shoulder-width apart and mid-feet are under the bar.
- With your back flat, “sit” back as if you were lowering yourself into a chair.
- Grab the bar with both hands shoulder-width apart, with palms facing toward your body
Performing the Lift*
- Take a deep breath.
- Drive both hips forward in an almost explosive motion.
- “Lockout” and straighten your whole body.
- Slowly bring your hips back to their starting position as you lower the bar.
* The Smith machine deadlift allows you to deadlift similarly to the real thing: don’t drop the bar (not your choice here) and drag the bar in a straight line (also not up to you).
Pros & Cons of the Smith Machine Deadlift
Many will argue it’s not a true deadlift, but we can’t deny that the Smith machine deadlift has its perks. Here’s a look at its pros and cons to help you decide:
- It’s the closest alternative at Planet Fitness. If you can’t create a more traditional set-up in your basement or garage (or invest in a pricier gym membership), it’s your only option.
- Even amongst elite powerlifting athletes, 12–31% of all injuries stem from the deadlift (2018 research). The Smith machine’s rail system controls that back-and-forth motion that often results from weak form, potentially lessening the risk of strains and back injuries.
- In a study published in 2019, researchers compared how using a Smith machine, free weights, and a wobble board impacted squat performance. Spoiler alert: the Smith machine group had greater improvements in the trained exercise, particularly in the 10RM, likely because of the stability the machine adds to compound lifts.
- If you accidentally overload the bar or fail mid-rep, there’s no embarrassing barbell-crashing sound, bumper plates rolling across the gym, or a blaring siren overhead. All you have to do is rack the weight on the closest hook and de-load a few plates.
- It’s a solid choice if bragging rights mean anything to you. In a 2020 study comparing the Smith machine vs. barbell bench press 6RM improvements, the Smith machine group reported a 5.7% greater boost after ten weeks. Feel free to boast on Snapchat about your record-setting 300-pound deadlift (just don’t mention it was on a Smith machine!).
- The Smith machine is the closest alternative for just about every traditional barbell or Olympic bar exercise at Planet Fitness. When the gym crowd rushes in the late afternoon, you’ll be competing against those doing shrugs, squats, bench presses, and (*shudders*) biceps curls in the Smith machine.
- The fixed vertical movement could create an over-reliance on the machine. Muscles that would normally stabilize your form play less of a role. When you eventually transition over to “real” deadlifts, you’ll fall short of that impressive Planet Fitness deadlift PR.
- The Smith machine’s bar never really rests on the floor as it would in your standard deadlift; it actually starts far too high at about mid-shin level. You could try to DIY a box at PF, but let’s be honest: you’ll look like a total jackass.
The Final Verdict:
If you’re hell-bent on powerlifting or can’t fathom 1) spending more than $10/month on a gym membership and 2) trying any non-barbell-ish alternatives, the Smith machine isn’t the last resort.
It’s your only real option.
Yet, the strict range of motion that makes the machine so beginner-friendly and the PR bragging rights that follow will lose their pizzazz quicker than ordering GrubHub every day during the lockdown.
If the Smith machine deadlift isn’t the answer, what in the world is?
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Deadlift Alternatives You Can Do at Planet Fitness
The internet has spoken, and the consensus seems to be that the Smith machine deadlift — or Smith machine anything for that matter — is “cheating.”
We understand both sides. (Though, we consider it more Tom Brady “Deflategate” cheating than Barry Bonds claiming the home run record with a little help from his PEDs cheating).
That brings us to the alternatives to the alternative.
If the Smith machine deadlift isn’t your style, try these PF-friendly exercises instead:
Smith Machine Rack Pull
(We said no more Smith machine deadlifts; we didn’t say no more Smith machines!)
The Smith machine deadlift isn’t exactly pretty. In fact, since the bar hovers about mid-shin at its lowest setting by default, it’s actually closer to a rack pull than a classic deadlift anyway.
The Smith machine rack pull is the next logical option.
To perform this variation, adjust the stoppers so that they’re somewhere around knee height. Then, complete the movement as usual to emphasize the upper portion of the deadlift.
Somewhere in the midst of the treadmills, ellipticals, and random resistance training machines is a small rack of fixed barbells (up to 60 pounds). But once you max out on those, then what?
The only “free weight” deadlift alternative at PF is with dumbbells.
- Place the dumbbells on the floor in front of you, shoulder-width apart for easy grabbing.
- With your knees slightly bent, bend at your hips and grab a dumbbell in each hand.
- Take a deep breath to fill up your stomach and brace your core.
- Pull the dumbbells while pushing through your legs and heels into the floor and unbending your hips.
- Keep the dumbbells close to your body by letting them drag on the front of your legs.
- Lockout your knees and hips at the top, but don’t overextend.
- Reverse the movement and lower the dumbbells slowly back to the middle of your shins for another rep.
PF also has at least one of those honkin’ big pulley machines with several attachments, making cable pull-throughs a solid alternative for a little glute and hamstring emphasis.
It’s also one of the few hamstring-targeting exercises you can do at Planet Fitness. Aside from a few creative dumbbell and Smith machine exercises, all that’s left is the basic leg curl machine.
Here’s how to do them:
- Set the pulley machine to one of the lowest height settings and make sure it has a rope extension attached to it.
- Grab onto the rope extension and position yourself so your back is facing the pulley machine
- Bend over to about a 90-degree angle at the hips.
- Using the strength in your glutes and lower back, extend your upper back backward until you’re in a standing position.
- Slowly lower your body back to the starting position.
Find Another Place to Do Deadlifts
In a perfect world, you wouldn’t need to find a different way to keep deadlifts in your bodybuilding routine. Instead, you’d simply find a different place to train that doesn’t “ban” (but also not ban) them.
Each of these alternatives will run its course once you max out on the weights available at Planet Fitness. Or, you’ll realize just how much time you wasted when you eventually transition to real deadlifts.
Neither of those is an ideal situation.
Crunch Fitness is about the same price as — and sometimes even $0.05 cheaper than — Planet Fitness if cost is an issue. They also have multiple power racks (not Smith machines).
Or, you can set up a home gym that’ll pay itself off in a few years.
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