Free Access for Kids? Not a Good Idea at Your Gym.

A teenaged boy smiles as he rides an exercise bike in a large fitness facility.

Planet Fitness is giving away gym access to teens from May 15 to Aug. 31.

The High School Summer Pass program is for U.S. and Canadian kids between 14 and 19—they can sign up, download an app and then work out for free.

So should you give away free memberships if you run a facility that sells coaching instead of just access to equipment?

No—you definitely should not do that.

A head shot of writer Mike Warkentin and the column name "Pressing It Out."

The Summer Pass program is a marketing effort and an advertising campaign of sorts.

Quick details:

  • At the time of writing, Planet Fitness memberships are generally $10 for the Classic package and $25 for the Black Card, which allows you to bring a friend, use massage chairs and tanning beds, get 50 percent off some drinks, and so on.
  • The Summer Pass program sends you a digital club pass through an app.
  • A leaderboard tracks signups from schools, and the Top 5 in Canada and the U.S. will each get a $10,000 grant.
  • Kids—10 total—will have a chance to win $10,000 scholarships if they submit videos on TikTok.
  • The Planet Fitness spend for this program is about US$175,000 if you factor in the exchange rate on Canadian grants and scholarships.

Some perspective:

  • Giving free access to teens won’t cost Planet Fitness much—the machines are already there and the classes are already running.
  • The app, like all others, gives Planet Fitness a direct line to consumers. This is huge. These consumers will no doubt be bombarded with advertising, promotions and branding designed to encourage sign-ups after the program ends.
  • Teachers and administrators are motivated to point kids to Planet Fitness. Physical activity is a good thing for kids, and grant money is a big deal for schools. But it’s clear that this play is also benefits Planet Fitness.
  • Kids who publish on TikTok in hopes of receiving a scholarship are creating a “semi-organic” ad campaign for Planet Fitness—it’s not really organic, but it will appear that way.
  • Kids have parents who will see Planet Fitness branding, hear about its programs and drop kids off at its facilities. Some parents will even buy memberships to accompany their kids. That might actually be the real play.

Access and Coaching Are Different

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not criticizing the program. Anything that gets kids moving is great.

I’m just pointing out that this is clearly a marketing campaign that leverages space and equipment that’s already in place and likely underused, especially during summer.

If you run a coaching facility, you are not in the space and equipment game—and you should not attempt to compete with Planet Fitness this summer.

You sell coaching—let’s call that “time.” You only have so much time, and giving it away will cost you a lot of money.

Further, you sell a high-value service. Personal trainers should probably charge in the range of $75 or more for sessions, and Two-Brain gyms regularly charge more than $200 to $300 a month for other service packages that can include group training. Rates for kids programs should not be lower than rates for adult programs.

Coaching is a premium service, and discounting it or giving it away devalues that service.

You can see how the plan works for Planet Fitness: A free summer membership isn’t that far off from a $10 Classic membership in fall. And someone at the Planet Fitness corporate office definitely has a plan to encourage that transition.

At a coaching gym, you won’t have a lot of success converting three months of free training to a membership that costs $150-$300 a month. The jump is too great, especially after you’ve accidentally told someone coaching is worth $0 for three months.

Planet Fitness is offering free access. You just can’t afford to give away time and coaching for free.

Do This Instead

So how should you get kids into your gym this summer? By creating and marketing a paid program for young ones. Here’s everything you need to do that:

1. The linked articles in this series will tell you exactly how to price, schedule, staff and grow a profitable kids program at your gym: “Building Youth Programs.”

2. This video (or podcast) will give you about 10 clever ways to market a kids program without devaluing your service or draining your time:

3. If you want a complete PDF guide to growing a kids program without devaluing your service, you can request it in our Gym Owners United group on Facebook (if you aren’t a member yet, join and then request the guide).

If you’re even a little bit tempted to give kids free access to your gym this summer, reconsider.

There are much better ways to grow a kids program that serves young ones and helps your gym generate profit.


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.