By Scott Etkin
Teenagers on the Upper West Side can work out for free at Planet Fitness gyms this summer. The chain’s national High School Summer Pass program is intended to give kids a way to stay active when school sports programs and after school activities are closed. It runs from today, May 16 to August 31.
“Especially here in New York City, when you see the violence, the gun violence on TV, in the news every day, it’s a great safe way to keep kids occupied in those summer months when they’re not in school,” said Dale Paden, Vice President of Marketing at a group that operates 80 Planet Fitness clubs in four states.
The program debuted in 2019, but was skipped the past two years because of the pandemic.
The closest Planet Fitness gyms to the UWS are on 55th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, and 125th Street between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevards. In 2019, 278 teens participated at the 55th Street location and 1,035 participated at 125th Street.
The program is open to teens aged 14 to 19 and makes use of Planet Fitness’ website and app, since teens often prefer digital options. Teens can sign up online and their parent/guardian can also give consent through the website, which is needed for kids under 18. “Obviously, it’s 2022, and that generation is very online focused,” said Dale. “So we’re trying to make it as easy as possible for them.”
How familiar each teen is with using fitness equipment varies, said Dale. To help educate newcomers, each workout machine has a QR code that teens can scan to bring up an instructional video.
“With that demographic, they’re on TikTok all day, they’re on Snapchat all day, so having the PF app in your pocket with the ability to see workouts, to learn new techniques, it’s very useful,” he said.
Trainers at the gyms are also available to give pointers for free. “Every location has at least one certified trainer on staff,” Dale said. “They’re always out on the floor. The teens can ask any staff member or the trainer on how to use the equipment.”
The program is also intended to help address issues of physical and mental health among teens. Rates of teenage obesity and depression have increased in recent years. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open, during the pandemic less than 15 percent of teens met the recommended amount of 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Planet Fitness suggests a healthy commitment to fitness could improve these trends.
Dale said an influx of teens isn’t expected to disrupt the experience of existing Planet Fitness members. The 55th Street and 125th Street locations are among the two largest spaces, he said. Before heading to the gym, members can check how crowded it is using the Planet Fitness app.
All Planet Fitness gyms basically have the same equipment, so members will have a similar experience no matter which gym they choose. The 55th and 125th Street locations are both open seven days per week, but the Harlem location is unique in that it’s open 24 hours.
“I hope teenagers aren’t there too late,” he laughed. “But it is a nice perk.”