How to Choose the Best Gym Membership
How to Choose the Best Gym Membership
Choosing a gym membership is a big deal. Whether you’ve never worked out before or you’re just looking for something new and different, we can help you learn how to choose the best gym membership.
Are you one of those people who is overwhelmed by lots of choices? That’s me. I want to know I have choices, but also, I just want someone to sit me down and tell me what to do. It’s too much pressure to make a big choice about something I don’t know a lot about.
It’s that time of year. You know the time. The time when everyone and their cousin starts signing up for gym memberships.
I remember the first time I had to choose a gym, In college, I just used the university gym (and it was BEAUTIFUL), but when I moved home to Phoenix, I had to decide where to go and it was no easy choice.
We’ve provided this guide to give you an inside look. You’ll find the pros and cons of 10 different fitness options. This way, you’ll be sure to find the right one for you.
Or, if you’re not sold on the whole gym membership, learn more about creating your own home gym.
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Popular Nationwide Gym Options
Here, we’ve got your basic gyms. They’re available nationwide and they are the traditional workout space you imagine when you hear the word “gym”.
“I love LA Fitness because it has everything I need in one place. They have a lap pool, sauna, basketball court, free weights, cardio equipment and more. Their prices are good and there are so many locations to choose from.” – Michael | Chicago, IL
LA Fitness is known for its convenience. Where do you live? There is probably an LA Fitness within 10 minutes. In fact, there are at least 4 within 10 minutes of my house.
The great thing about LA Fitness is they really have just about everything you need – cardio machines, weight room, lap pool, sauna, classes, daycare – there’s not a lot you could need from a gym that they don’t have.
I feel like LA Fitness is the place for people who generally enjoy working out and care about being healthy (and looking good – the people there do care about aesthetics), but don’t want to spend a lot of money on a ritzier gym. It’s a great middle-of-the-road gym that attracts lots of first-time and consistent members.
Pros of LA Fitness
- Affordable membership fee: Membership fees start around $20/month.
- Many convenient locations: Seriously, they’re everywhere.
- Lap pool: I used LA Fitness to train for my half ironman. The lap pool was a huge asset for me and the main reason I continue my membership.
- Classes: Before the days of marathons and CrossFit, I lived for the classes at LA Fitness! Spin, water aerobics, bodyworks – they have a ton of great classes to choose from. If you love group fitness, this is a big perk.
- Good for cardio, strength training and Olympic lifting: There’s an area for everything. I can walk in and do the same lifting program I’d do at CrossFit if I ever want to go in on my own. Look for one that’s recently been updated because some of them have some pretty outdated machines.
- Daycare: You have to pay extra, but they have daycare available if you need it.
Cons of LA Fitness
- It’s kind of the “bro” gym: Or, at least that’s its reputation. You will see a lot of beefy men doing bicep curls in their weight area, I can’t lie. I’ve also gotten plenty of “What are you doing here?” looks as a woman walking into the weight room. It’s not necessarily the most inviting crowd. Personally, I don’t care what anyone else thinks but, for newbies, this can be intimidating.
- Not the most welcoming vibe: Just like its members, I’ve never found the staff to be overwhelmingly friendly. Again, I don’t really care. I’m just there to workout. But that’s important for some people.
- Typically comes with contracts and high start-up fees: Yep. You have to be willing to really commit.
“I had an expensive gym membership that I wasn’t using. It was overpriced and the gym and members there were quite intimating. I was looking for a better deal (less money is better!). I was shocked that there was a gym that had a low membership fee, clean facility, a modern look and feel, and isn’t intimidating. Planet Fitness has changed my idea of working out and has made me comfortable and able to achieve my goal to get into shape!” – Ashley | Tempe, AZ
Planet Fitness is known for their “Judgement Free Zone”. They are a super affordable ($10/month – holla!) gym that understands the pressure people feel when walking into a traditional gym.
I find that beginners, women and people looking to lose weight typically love Planet Fitness. It’s not a traditional gym filled with 6 packs and body builders. This is a place for people who just want to live a healthy lifestyle.
Don’t get me wrong, you can totally achieve your 6 pack abs at Planet Fitness. They have great facilities and machines. You just don’t have to be a serious athlete to join. That’s what most people love about it.
Pros of Planet Fitness
- Low membership fee: You really cannot beat $10/month.
- Accepting atmosphere: No matter who you are, you can walk into Planet Fitness and feel comfortable.
- Well-kept facilities: You’d think for such a low price point, it might be kinda dumpy, but they keep everything very clean and up-to-date – it’s great!
Cons of Planet Fitness
- Limited bells and whistles: You’re not going to get daycare, a lap pool, a sauna or many other bells and whistles more expensive facilities offer. If you’re training for a triathlon or require daycare, it probably won’t work for you.
- No Olympic lifting area equipment: Not everyone cares about this. I do. No barbells and I’m out. But you decide what matters to you.
- Beginner focused: This is also a pro, but can be frustrating for those with more advanced fitness goals, like competitions.
“I love working out at the YMCA. The atmosphere is so friendly and inviting. I never feel nervous walking in the way I have at other gyms. They also offer financing to families who need it.” – Lisa | Phoenix, AZ
Just ask The Village People, YMCA is where it’s at! In all seriousness, the YMCA is known for being the most family-friendly gym atmosphere. They offer affordable memberships for the whole family and they have great programs for everyone from kids to seniors.
This is an open, welcoming environment where people of all ages go to achieve or maintain a healthy lifestyle. They say “When you join the Y, you don’t just join a gym, you join a family”. It is very inclusive and supportive.
Pros of YMCA
- Family-friendly. Great for parents, grandparents and kids.
- Family pricing. Your monthly fee typically includes you and your family.
- Group fitness classes. Zumba, spin, kickboxing, yoga and more!
- Financial assistance. I love this. For people who can’t typically afford a gym membership, you can fill out a form for financial assistance. YMCA is all about everyone having the opportunity to lead a healthy life. So awesome!
Cons of YMCA
- Limited bells and whistles. You’re not going to get a juice bar or schedule your massages here. They have your basic workout equipment and the classes are a bonus.
- Limited weightlifting area. Like Planet Fitness, this is not where you train for an Olympic weightlifting competition.
- Beginner focused. Great for beginners, not awesome for athletes training for big events with specific needs.
- Individual prices can be high. If you don’t get a family plan or financial assistance, the price of an individual membership starts off pretty high, around $40/month.
“So, I originally went to EOS fitness when it was Gold’s Gym, and at that time their gym on Country Club and Southern was the largest free weight gym in town. Which was a great selling point for me, since I don’t use a ton of machines. The gym was never really crowded, and I could get in and get out in no time. But over time, Gold’s closed that gym, and I had to go to one of their other locations located on Gilbert and Baseline. Since being bought out by EOS, the gym has gotten a lot of new equipment which is nice, and they continue to get more. One thing I really like about EOS is that it is a gym where the people go thre to actually work out. I want to be inspired when I work out and going to a place like EOS you definitely are. Also, the price for the gym is great with plans starting at $9.95 a month. Can’t really beat that.” – Lamont | Mesa, AZ
EOS Fitness now owns the well-known Golds Gym. They are unique in that they offer quite a bit for a really low price.
EOS is also unique in that their gyms aren’t 100% consistent. They have varying levels, with some offering more bells and whistles than others. However, all locations are excellent for someone looking for a no-frills, inexpensive place to get their workout done.
Their machines and equipment are great and they have just about anything you’d look for in a gym.
Pros of EOS Fitness
- Price: With plans starting at $10/month at a gym that includes group fitness classes, that is pretty impressive.
- Lots of class options: The list on their website goes on for pages!
- Everything you need in a basic gym: Cardio, free weights, barbells and more.
Cons of EOS Fitness
- Limited locations: You’ll find EOS nationwide (sometimes under the name of Golds Gym), but they’re not as common as LA Fitness.
- Hit or miss with the amenities: As I mentioned, some are upping their game with lap pools and basketball courts, but some are older and could really use an upgrade. Some plans do allow you to use any location, but they are more expensive.
“Lifetime Fitness is a 24 hours gym and has everything from 2 full size basketball courts to 8 Power racks with Olympic lifting platforms. I love the abundance of fitness equipment because there is always room for you to workout. The training staff and all employees are upbeat, friendly, and helpful. The overall gym atmosphere is positive and I feel great working out in this gym.” – Josh | Chandler, AZ
AKA ‘The Fancy Gym’. Listen, if you want a “normal” (meaning –> not specialty like what you’ll see below) gym with locations across the country, Lifetime really is the best of the best.
They have the best equipment (new machines, Olympic lifting area, free weight area, TRX, the list goes on), amenities and services of any other national gym out there. Now, whether or not you need all those bells and whistles is an entirely different story.
Lifetime typically includes a more serious crowd because of their high prices. However, if you can afford it and you want to start in a place that is beautiful and makes you want to workout, Lifetime could totally be that place for you.
Pros of Lifetime Fitness
- All of the bells and whistles: Classes (and lots of them – everything you could ever want), the best daycare (I have friends that switched gyms just for their awesome daycare), a lap pool and WATERSLIDE. If you want it, they have it.
- Very clean and well-kept: You get what you pay for. This place is beautiful.
Cons of Lifetime Fitness
- Price: Memberships typically start around $60/month. That’s twice as much as LA Fitness. It’s also twice as nice.
- Fewer locations: Lifetime Fitness is nationwide, but it’s not one you’ll find on every corner. Often, there are less locations, making them less convenient than gyms with more locations.
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Group Fitness / Specialty Gym Options
Sometimes you want a gym that’s not a normal gym. These days, specialty or ’boutique’ fitness is just as (if not more) popular than traditional gyms. People are realizing that fitness doesn’t have to consist of slogging through a miserable 45 minutes every day on a cardio machine.
You can actually find a gym that you enjoy going to! For some people, that’s a traditional gym, like the ones listed above. For others, that means finding more of a fitness hobby. That’s the type of thing we’ll talk about below.
“I swam on a swim team for over 10 years. I was able to push myself along with my team, and that support kept me motivated. After a few years of life getting in the way, I wanted to get back out there to get motivated to get back in shape. I found Orange Theory Fitness. After taking my first class, I realized I got the same feeling as I did when I was on the swim team. I was able to work out with a group of people who wanted the same goal. I got that satisfaction that I’ve been looking for.” – Maxine | Queen Creek, AZ
Orangetheory offers group fitness with heart rate based interval training. The movements aren’t anything too different from what you would do in a typical fitness class (plyometrics, dumbbell movements, bodyweight exercises), but a coach and a group tend to push people to work a little harder.
If that’s not enough, you can see your heart rate and zone projected on the screen so you know if you’re not giving it your all. And, technically, everyone else does, too. But the truth is, everyone is just focused on themselves so you don’t need to worry about people judging you for being out of shape.
Pros of Orangetheory Fitness
- Beautiful, well-kept facilities: Orangetheory is just as beautiful as any Lifetime Fitness. They take really good care of their gyms.
- Unique, heart rate focused training: This is pretty special and unique to Orangetheory. There’s a lot of science backing their approach and it’s great for both fat loss and conditioning.
- Group fitness/coaching: This is just something I prefer, in general. I love having a coach there to tell me what to do. I also love my workouts being a social thing so I love classes and working out with fitter people that push me.
- No preparation necessary: When you go to a normal gym, you have to decide what you’re going to do. You have to plan your workout unless you’re following a specific plan. I love not having to think about it and having all of the mental work done for me. Just tell me what to do and I’ll show up and do it!
Cons of Orangetheory Fitness
- Price: Ouch. The good news is there’s no contract. The bad news is that 4 classes/month starts at $59 and unlimited classes start at $159. You have to really be committed to their program if it’s going to be worth it.
- Group fitness is not for everyone: I love group fitness, but some people prefer their workouts to be their alone time.
- Specific locations & class times: There are way less of these babies than something like Planet Fitness and you have to go based on their class schedule. The times are usually convenient, but it’s not necessarily for everyone.
“As a former college football player used to lifting 200-300 pounds, I couldn’t believe what pulsing with two to three pounds could do to the body! The [FlyBarre Challenge] is what I needed to get over the hump of becoming marginally proficient in this newfound conditioning program. At some point, I’d expect to see more men involved with FlyBarre! It develops a core that’s central to everything you do.” – Robert | Seattle, WA
Fly Wheel has been on my list for.ev.er. It’s basically spin class on crack.
This spin studio includes classes with dumbbells for upper body weights while riding and even classes with choreography on the bike. And if you’ve never taken a spin class, it is one of the best workouts you will ever do. And you control the resistance/intensity so you can start at any fitness level.
You can choose classes anywhere from 30-90 minutes and Flywheel is known for only hiring top notch instructors to lead you on your spin adventure.
Pros of Flywheel
- Great equipment and instruction: Their bikes and technology are top notch. So are their instructors.
- Full body spinning workout: It’s not like a typical spin class where you only work your legs. They have you working your entire body throughout the class.
- Group fitness/instruction: Again, I love this. Someone does all the planning and is there pushing you throughout the class. This helps me work harder than I would on my own.
- Lots of options: They have custom rides, custom races, different focuses and different class lengths. If you love spinning, you will find everything you need in one place.
Cons of Flywheel
- Price: Oy. This varies by location, but the least expensive is $150/month ranging all the way up to $500/month. Of course, you can also pay for drop-in classes, but if you’re looking at using this as your main form of exercise, it is going to be costly.
- Limited locations: There are Flywheel studios across the country, but usually only one per city. If it’s not close to you, it could be a big bummer.
- Less variety than traditional gyms: While the classes themselves do have a ton of variety, it’s all variations on spinning. At something like Orangetheory, you will be doing different movements and using your whole body in a multitude of ways every single class.
“I love CrossFit because it’s different every day and you get to know the people you work out with. They encourage and support you. The balance of my strengths and weaknesses keeps me going and pushing hard everyday. And if I don’t show up, someone will call me on it!” – Michelle | Tempe, AZ | CrossFit Tempe
Okay, disclaimer: I am a total CrossFit junky. If it sounds like I think CrossFit boxes (gyms) are way better than any other gyms, it’s because I do. For me. I know that’s not the case for everyone. That’s why I gave you so many options!
CrossFit is known for being a little cult-like. People who do CrossFit love CrossFit. The real definition of CrossFit is functional strength – the goal is to do things that make you strong enough to live your everyday life. If you like group fitness, friendly competition and lifting heavy things, CrossFit might be something for you to try. You’ll know right away whether you love it or you hate it.
CrossFit combines Olympic lifting, gymnastics and cardio. If you like group fitness, friendly competition and lifting heavy things, CrossFit might be something for you to try. You’ll know right away whether you love it or you hate it.
Pros of CrossFit
- Community: If you’re at a good box, the gym will feel like a second home and the people you workout with, a second family. When you’re struggling at the end of a workout, you’ll hear your friends and your coach cheering you on. If you do a competition, your gym will show up to support you. And when life gets tough outside of the gym, they’ll be there for you then, too.
- Scalability: You can start CrossFit at 600lbs or you can start as a marathoner. Either way, it will still be difficult. And either way, there will be a scaling option for you. And if you’re just crazy buff? You can always scale up!
- Intensity: No matter how fit you are, CrossFit will give you a great, intense workout.
- Measured improvement: My favorite part is that I can track my progress through my weights and times and see myself improving. You’ll see yourself go from scaling movements to being able to knock them out in a workout.
Cons of CrossFit
- Price: Yes. It’s expensive. Even the best deals usually start around $100/month.
- Can be intimidating: There are a ton of super fit people doing CrossFit. And you will see people doing some crazy movements. Both of these things can be intimidating. Although, if you don’t feel welcomed right away, I suggest trying a different box because that one is probably lame.
- Not everyone is into barbells: And that’s okay. You do you.
- Not all boxes are created equal: I started off at a horrible box and now I absolutely love my gym. They’re not all the same and it does require research to find one in your area with a good rep.
“I did a month of classes with Barre3 in Seattle. I wanted to try something new. I’d heard good things and they were offering $100 for unlimited classes. I absolutely loved the workouts! While the classes were calm and left me feeling energized, they still kicked my butt and felt like a solid strength workout, but less intimidating than the weight room at any basic gym I’d ever been to. The biggest deterrent for me was the price. When I can pay less than $40/month for a really great gym, it’s hard to justify a $150/month membership. But I definitely enjoyed that the classes were pretty women-heavy and the instructors were amazing.” – Heather | Seattle, WA
Not just for ballerinas! Barre workouts are a whole body workout that will make your legs shake like you’ve never worked out before. It is intense in the best way possible.
Barre combines light upper body weights (but don’t be fooled – they will burn!) with lower body barre work and center core work. Unlike something like CrossFit where you’re doing big, dynamic movements, Barre focuses on smaller, controlled movements. It’s one of those workouts you look at and think “Oh, I’ve got this” and then 15 minutes in hate yourself for being so cocky because it is not easy.
Pros of Barre Workouts
- Unique, full body workout: This is a workout like no other and it will make you work from head to toe. Literally. It will even make your feet sore!
- Fun and brutal in the best way possible: If you like a tough workout, but you also want to have a little fun, you’ll love the barre workouts.
- Group fitness/instruction: You know my thoughts on this by now. 😉
- Helps with balance and coordination: These are both really great daily life skills that are an added benefit of barre fitness.
Cons of Barre Workouts
- Price: Monthly memberships typically begin around $125/month.
- Intimidating for non-dancers: I’ve heard a lot of people say they don’t want to go in and embarrass themselves. The truth is, no one is judging you and no previous experience is required.
- Limited locations: They’re all over the country, but there may not be one down the street.
“ClassPass is great! I love the variety and how it allows me to try new workouts. It’s easy to use and I’ve never had abad experience.” – Amanda | New York, NY
This isn’t really a gym. Class Pass is super cool because it allows you to try out and experience multiple specialty and boutique gyms/fitness studios.
How it works is you purchase a membership and then you can use that many classes at any participating studios. There are different rules/regulations for how many times you can visit one studio each month based on your plan.
This is perfect for anyone who likes a lot of variety or has a wide range of interests.
Pros of Class Pass
- Variety: You can try just about anything anytime. It never gets boring. And all that variety is constantly challenging your body in new ways.
- More affordable than drop-in prices: Drop-in prices for fitness studios usually range from $15-40. That’s bananas. Class Pass makes trying out new studios affordable and accessible.
- No commitment: You’re not choosing one place to go forever. There are no contracts and you can cancel at any time.
Cons of Class Pass
- Max 10 classes per month: That’s 2-3 workouts per week. For me, that’s not enough. I would have to supplement with a regular gym membership, which would make it pretty expensive
- Less consistency can lead to slower results: If you’re splitting your time and focus between spin, pilates, boxing and barre, you’re not going to get better at any of them. Or at least not quickly. Our bodies just cannot be good at everything at once.
- Still pricey compared to a traditional gym membership: Plans for 10 classes per month start at $79/month and vary by location. That’s still more than fancy schmancy Lifetime.
The List Goes On
Between yoga, Zumba, boxing, you name it, there is something out there for everyone. If I tried to mention every gym out there, we’d be here all day.
The point is, there is something out there for you. You can and should find a gym and workout program that makes you happy and motivates you to show up.