Planet Fitness opens Haddon Township outdoor gym – free for first responders

Gabrielle Saulsbery//August 14, 2020

Planet Fitness opens Haddon Township outdoor gym – free for first responders

'It's not a test run back in the parking lot, it's a real experience'

Gabrielle Saulsbery//August 14, 2020

With gyms still closed throughout the state, Planet Fitness in Haddon Township has taken its machines outside.

The gym opened its 6,000-square-foot outdoor fitness facility at 49 Haddon Ave. Friday morning for free use to health care workers, first responders and Planet Fitness members.

Owner Billy Olson, who along with partner Bill Fither owns 18 Planet Fitness franchise locations throughout South Jersey and some locations in San Diego, Calif., said it’s his way of giving back to first responders and the local community.

“We’re in the health and wellness business. We’re at the beginning of that continuum. We are deeply committed to community, and [gyms] are community-based assets. People come here to reinvent themselves,” he said.

“We’re not part of the problem. We’re ready to open indoors,” he went on to say, but noted that until that’s allowed to happen this is what the Haddon Planet Fitness is going to offer.

Planet Fitness opened its outdoor facility in Haddon Township on Aug. 14, 2020.
Planet Fitness opened its outdoor facility in Haddon Township on Aug. 14, 2020. –

Weekday hours are from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and weekend hours are from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The outdoor gym will be in a large tent with installed flooring and featuring treadmills, ellipticals, bikes, ARC trainers, weight machines, dumbbells and benches.

From concept to opening, it took no more than 10 days, Olson said. He pitched the idea to Chief Executive Officer Chris Rondeau, who was immediately on board, and they got to work.

“The biggest challenge was finding a tent that was big enough, that was strong enough, that had all the reinforcement we needed; and the flooring. Once we got it, we were able to bring everything out, and the electricity, and the music. It’s not a test run back in the parking lot, it’s a real experience,” Olson said.

“It was out of love and joy and profound respect, not only for the first responders, but it was also because we’re in the community and we deeply believe we are the solution,” he said.

First responders and Planet Fitness members aren’t the only ones who can show up and work out, he said: Anyone can. He doesn’t plan on turning anyone away, so long as they’re willing to respectfully follow the rules, stay masked, sanitize the equipment, and respect others.

“I thought, if I’m in the principal-based business, which I am, it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Gyms in California, where he also owns Planet Fitness locations, were reopened for five weeks before the governor shut them down as COVID-19 rates increased. The increases weren’t coming from the gyms, Olson, said: As a gym that records every visitor that walks in its doors, Planet Fitness has a strong contact tracing system. While the COVID-19 rates in California were 1 in 55,000, Planet Fitness’s were 1 in 135,000 during the weeks that they were open, he said.

In addition to contact tracing capabilities, his locations have hydrostatic sanitation machines that will allow for a safe reopening, once they’re allowed, he said.

“I admire and respect [Gov. Phil Murphy] because I believe he drives a purposed driven life, we just diverge on this one issue,” Olson said. “We’re the beginning of the health and wellness continuum, people can exercise and feel good safely in our clubs today, and inside. But we can’t do that yet, so let’s put some good karma out and do the next right thing.”