If you’re reading this blog then you’re no doubt interested in working out. Whether you want to lose weight, get in shape, add muscle, get ripped or just to have a place to hang out and get sweaty if you make your fitness a priority then you may be in the market for a joining a health club or attending an exercise studio. If that’s the case then you’re probably trying to make the decision between paying for a (potentially) expensive monthly membership at a club or going the ‘pay-as-you-go’ route by going to fitness studios that only charge a fee for each class you attend.
This can be a difficult decision and there is no 100% right answer, but only you can determine which environment will be best suited for your needs and interests. To identify the best place for your fitness experience it’s important to consider your workout goals – trying to gain muscle, get stronger, lose weight, meet potential suitors? your specific goal(s) can help determine the best place you should be sweating, your specific personality type, the amenities you want – really, who wants to carry a wet towel with them all day, and, finally, (and let’s be realistic about it) your financial status.
Going to different studios – like indoor cycling – offers variety but paying as you go can get pricey $$$
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you want to join a studio that focuses on one format of exercise?
- Can you afford to pay the high fees for an unlimited amount of instructor-led workouts?
- Do you want to pay the initiation fee and monthly dues required to join a commercial health club?
- Does your company or health insurance offer a discount to certain clubs or subsidize exercise classes? (some health insurance companies offer discounted rates at national health clubs and some employers will have available money that can be used to help pay fees at a training studio – ask your benefits people).
There are a number of differences between each of these choices as you are making your decision about which would work best for your specific needs here are specific things to consider.
If you find yourself in the market for a health club keep in mind that there are many similarities between the health club and restaurant industry. Just like there are many different types of restaurants from fast food to fine dining, health clubs offer a wide variety of fitness experiences from full-service clubs with amenities such as cafes, spa services and luxury locker rooms to scaled-down health clubs that only provide the basics such as weight-lifting and cardiovascular equipment. In some cases fast food works because you just need something convenient and quick whereas other times you are more than happy to invest the time and money in making a reservation at the nicest place in town. Here are some pros and cons of health clubs that can help you identify the best one to meet your needs.
- Most health club memberships include amenities like full-service locker rooms with showers and towels so you can clean up after you workout.
- Health clubs include a wide variety of equipment such as treadmills, elliptical machines, resistance training machines and free weights so you have numerous options to meet your fitness needs. The larger health club chains have the resources (and can negotiate better pricing due to scale) to purchase the latest equipment (often a couple of times a year).
- If you enjoy group workouts consider the fact that many commercial health clubs offer a number of scheduled classes that are usually included in the cost of the monthly membership as well as
- For the most part health clubs only hire qualified, certified personal trainers and group fitness instructors so you can be sure that you’re working with someone who has the qualifications to help you meet your needs.
- Many health clubs are now offering fee-based small group training programs which can create a studio experience with the additional resources such as a variety of equipment and locker rooms with amenities like towel services, saunas, whirlpools and snack-bars that are simply not an option at most studios.
- A number of health clubs offer memberships that can be cancelled with thirty days notice but these are more (sometimes significantly more) expensive than a membership with an annual contract. Here’s a little secret: a club can only claim the revenue for the contracts on hand, so the more year-long membership contracts the greater the revenue on the books. Therefore it’s in their best interest to have members on an annual contract since month-to-month members only provide thirty days of membership revenue. When shopping a club, wait until the end of the month – each club has to hit a monthly membership goal and at the end of month they will offer more incentives to have you join sooner rather than wait until the next month.
- Joining the right health club (often a more expensive one) can provide significant networking opportunities that can help you both professionally and personally (full disclosure: I met my wife in a health club, she was one of the group fitness instructors). If you want to move up in your company or industry you may want to research where decision makers and/or thought leaders workout then join the same facility. If they see you sweating at the same time it becomes an easy way to establish a relationship outside of the workplace.
To be more competitive with the studio experience many large gym chains are adding space for tire flipping and sled pulling (yay!)
- Staff turnover can be high at health clubs so once you find a couple of instructors or a personal trainer that you like they might move on to their next employment opportunity.
- Health clubs can be extremely crowded during peak times making it difficult to access your favorite equipment. When shopping a club ask for a week pass (most companies will provide this) and go when you will normally use it so you can see how crowded it will be.
- There has been a lot of recent activity in the mergers and acquisitions of health clubs, the club you join today may be sold or purchased in the near future which can change the entire experience for the end-user.
- Because health clubs buy new equipment on a regular basis your favorite piece could disappear without any notice.
- Due to nature of exercise, specifically sweating, and the high usage there can be a concern about cleanliness and germs.
Health clubs can be a great place for people watching OR watching gym fail videos in action – this could actually be a benefit.
Fitness studios provide a wide variety of exercise options that have traditionally not been offered by commercial health clubs. These studios offer a specific type of workout led by a dynamic instructor and are a great option for people who enjoy different workouts without the commitment of paying a monthly membership fee. Here’s a secret about instructors at studios – many instructors at high-priced studios will often teach at area health clubs so they can get the free membership from working there. If you don’t want to pay per class for a favorite instructor – scour the group fitness schedules of area clubs to see where else he or she might be teaching FOR FREE as part of the regular group fitness program.
- Many indoor cycling, yoga or Pilates studios charge a fee per class with the option to reserve spots and pay through a mobile app making them convenient for people who live their lives through their phones.
- A majority of studios that offer a specific format of exercise like CrossFit or other forms of instructor-led circuit training workouts charge fees of $150 and up per month but this is for an unlimited amount of classes led by an instructor trained in how to deliver that specific format. While the price point might seem expensive the fact that you receive customized group workouts under the supervision of an instructor and you can attend as many workouts as you want in a month means the more you go the less you pay per visit. Considering that one-on-one coaching can cost upwards of $100/hour paying up to $250/month for coach-leg group workouts is a great deal.
- If you attend workouts at a consistent time you usually workout with the same people leading to new friendships helping you to expand your real-life social networks which can also help you stay committed to your goals.
- Some class-based studios, like CrossFit, offer open-gym time when you can come in and use the equipment for your own workouts.
- Many studios will provide social opportunities for their customers outside of workouts by hosting education events or happy-hours.
- If you feel strongly about supporting local businesses studios are often locally owned by one of your neighbors and are able to meet the specific needs of their customers.
Joining a studio can be a great way to enhance your social circle with like-minded friends (who enjoy 90s day-glo fitness outfits).
- Limited locker rooms with few to no amenities such as towels and many only offer changing rooms with no showers. Waiting for a shower only to get cold water can be a bummer at any time of the day, especially in the morning.
- It might seem that a health club with monthly dues of $50 and up is expensive but compare that to fitness studios that often charge rates of $20 and up per class which can get expensive rather quickly if you take a number of classes.
- It’s important to know that most studios strictly enforce a 24-hour cancellation policy so if you make a reservation and pay for a Wednesday class on a Monday but get stuck working late you are also stuck paying for a class that you can’t attend.
- Space can be limited, if you love that yoga instructor the chances are that other people do too meaning that the class you’re paying a premium price for is extremely crowded which can detract from the experience.
Only you can decide which of these options will meet your needs. For example, if you enjoy the variety of different instructors and spaces then by all means go the studio route. As you start the shopping process be honest about what you can afford and what you want to receive for your money. There is nothing wrong with any of these options, the purpose of this post is to raise some questions that you should address before deciding where to spend your money. As former reporter and consumer advocate David Horowitz often advised his audience when being a consumer, “Stay aware and informed.” And have fun sweating!