June 13th was a momentous day this year for health and fitness lovers: it marked the reopening of gyms and other exercise facilities throughout New South Wales. It had been a long twelve weeks since the closure of gyms at the height of the coronavirus peak in late March. Under the public health orders that shut down all non-essential businesses to slow the virus’ dangerously increasing spread, gyms closed their doors until further notice, leaving many members feeling lost without a place to work out. But as Australia’s COVID-19 numbers began to come under control, members of the fitness community stepped up to lobby for the reopening of their facilities – and few were as passionate and determined as Dallas Rosekelly, Founder and Managing Director of Planet Fitness Australia.
Planet Fitness is a name that’s familiar to many fitness fanatics around Newcastle. Dallas founded the brand in 1994, opening his first gym in Lambton after having moved from the country to Newcastle “to see what this whole gym thing was about”. His decision to enter the fitness industry came after several years spent on various business ventures. Through the toughest of times, and with barely a cent to his name, working out became a lifesaving source of stress relief for Dallas – so when it came time for him to decide what to do next, the answer was obvious. He would follow his passion and open a gym of his own.
Today, Planet Fitness’ Newcastle arm includes clubs in Lambton, Charlestown and Belmont with further locations in Tuggerah, Gosford and Casula as part of a joint venture with US-based Planet Fitness Inc (same name, yes, but the two brands had no affiliation until teaming up in 2019!) The Planet Fitness empire only continues to grow; up to 40 more clubs are in the works, expanding the brand through various locations along the east coast.
So what is it about Planet Fitness gyms that has made them so popular? Essentially, it all comes down to one thing: a judgement-free philosophy. You’ll find no loud, intimidating, ego-driven or antisocial behaviour at a Planet Fitness club. Instead, you’ll be working out as part of a safe, supportive community where you feel comfortable and accepted. “We pride ourselves on providing a non-intimidating space, beyond image and stigma to welcome everyone – no matter who you are,” Dallas says. “We accept every single person who walks through our doors.”
Affordable membership options are a big drawcard, too. With Fast Track memberships starting at just $5 per week (and the most expensive membership, at $10 per week, still cheaper than many other gyms), Planet Fitness aims to make health and fitness more accessible for all. And the more people who are able to experience the benefits of regular exercise, the happier Dallas is with the direction his life’s work has taken. “I am doing what I love,” he says. “The journey has been empowering and satisfying. The enormous amount of Novocastrians and people we have helped and changed their lives in some way – it will never stop being satisfying.”
Sadly, along with countless other aspects of life, many people’s fitness journeys were put on hold as the COVID-19 pandemic hit our communities hard. But gym closures and stay-at-home orders didn’t just put a strain on people’s physical health – the mental and emotional impact of being locked down was felt just as strongly. Dallas himself heard from many members who relied on their Planet Fitness visits to reduce stress and keep their mental health in check. “I was able to use my own personal gym [throughout the lockdown], so obviously I was a lucky one. It made me appreciate what I had, as I know it was tough mentally on people not to have access to a gym,” he says. “This was the most common phrase people would tell me – that they were mentally not doing well, staying at home.”
Like many business owners, it was a difficult and uncertain time for Dallas as well. Having frozen all payments and memberships during the closure, and with no official reopening date on the horizon, the future of his business was in question. To deal with it all, he made a point of walking six kilometres by the ocean each morning to clear his mind and help him focus on the tough decisions ahead. But Dallas is no stranger to difficult periods in business, and the lessons he’d learned in the past only made him more determined to push on through the coronavirus crisis.
“I think that you only learn when you go through very tough times, and I have been through a number of those. It instils in you the belief that when times are tough, you must work harder and smarter,” Dallas says.
“That’s why we worked on bettering our health clubs when COVID came and put in place better systems right across the board. We sold all our old equipment to members for a very reduced price so they could work out. We made workout videos for free and posted them online for people to access. We took the time to do renovations at our gyms so that when the members came back, they knew that we were stronger than before. We turned a negative into a positive.”
In addition to providing support for the Planet Fitness community and preparing the clubs for members to return to, Dallas decided it was time to begin actively campaigning for the reopening of gyms Australia-wide. As restrictions began to ease in May, gyms appeared to be absent from the government’s reopening priorities. That was something Dallas couldn’t sit back and stay silent about – and with a lack of health and fitness industry representation in government lobbying efforts, he decided to take matters into his own hands. “I had contacted the head body of Fitness Australia because I didn’t think the industry had been lobbying well enough to the government,” he explains. “I realised I was sitting back thinking other people were doing it. I started lobbying myself; I contacted the State and Federal Government.”
Part of Dallas’ efforts included contacting Tim Crakanthorp, State Member for Newcastle, who confirmed that he had made representations to the NSW Minister for Health on Dallas’ behalf and remained in contact with Dallas. Then it was time to continue the fight on an equally influential platform: social media. “I had to push the benefits of health and fitness centres – that is what we are, not just a gym. The stress and mental health side of it were being ignored,” Dallas explains. “My posts were shared among many prominent names in the fitness industry. I think I stood up at the right time.”
Planet Fitness Lambton
And the right time it certainly was. On June 2nd, the government announced that NSW fitness facilities including gyms, indoor pools, and Pilates, yoga and dance studios would be permitted to reopen from Saturday, June 13th. Restrictions still apply, with facilities limited to 100 people at a time and classes capped at 10 participants. But it’s a start – one that Dallas and thousands of Planet Fitness members were very relieved to see.
In addition to capacity limits, all Planet Fitness clubs have implemented stringent safety, hygiene and cleaning measures to ensure their members feel safe and comfortable returning to the gym. The equipment has been spaced out to allow for social distancing; hand sanitiser and disinfectant stations are available throughout each club; a “No Towel, No Workout” policy is strictly enforced; and staff practise regular and thorough cleaning procedures with COVID-appropriate products.
So what has the response been like from members since Planet Fitness centres finally reopened? “It has been incredible,” Dallas says. “Our members have spread themselves through the different times of the day to not overcrowd, they are cleaning and sanitising, and they are all social distancing. We already had a great protocol with members having to bring a towel to work out and wiping equipment down. I can’t speak highly enough of the positive energy from members. It has blown my mind.”
Dallas does point out that it will likely take many months for gyms, in general, to get back on their feet financially. And even though NSW COVID-19 cases remain at low levels, it’s vital that gyms and their members stay vigilant and work together to ensure fitness centres remain a safe, healthy environment for their communities. It’s still a long road ahead, but the positive response to the new rules and regulations so far seems to be a good indicator for the future of Planet Fitness and gyms nationwide.
And speaking of the future: what exactly is on the cards for Planet Fitness moving forward? Well, it’s safe to say that Dallas and the team aren’t letting the pandemic slow them down.
We are in a growth phase – with lots of exciting and big moves on the way,” Dallas explains. “We plan to open a number of new Planet Fitness centres that are bigger and better, as well as introduce a new brand of fitness called ‘Urth Fitness’. This will be classed as a super club, extending above and beyond what the Lambton club has always resembled.
The growth and expansion of the Planet Fitness empire promises to introduce countless more Australians to the physical and mental benefits of getting fit. Many people might have pledged during lockdown to take better care of themselves in the future, and health centres like Planet Fitness offer the perfect opportunity. All Newcastle locations are open 5 am–late each weekday, and all day Saturday and Sunday for weekend workouts. The clubs feature clean, modern facilities and state-of-the-art equipment.
Across the three venues, you’ll find cardio, weights and specialised training areas, toning circuits, spin and group fitness rooms, and personal training options. There’s plenty of parking on offer and even outdoor training facilities at the Lambton and Belmont clubs. All venues also feature the Planet Fitness Spa, including massage chairs, HydroMassage and infrared sauna (though due to COVID-19, only massage facilities are currently available). Basically, Planet Fitness offers everything you need to get started on your fitness journey or take it to a whole new level.
For those who have never worked out at a gym, but might be considering a membership now that restrictions have eased, Dallas encourages them to visit Planet Fitness and take a look around. “It costs nothing to come and have a look. We are safe and friendly. We are everyday people trying for a little bit of health and fitness – we all want to improve our lives in some way,” he says. “Once you walk through the doors, the hardest part is done. We will help you with the rest.”
Planet Fitness Newcastle clubs are located at Lambton, Charlestown and Belmont. Learn more and become a member online at www.planetfitnessnewcastle.com.au, or contact your chosen club to arrange an in-person visit.