Most Los Angeles natives have been working out in gyms since they were practically in diapers. In a state lorded over by muscular former Mr. Olympia Arnold Schwarzenegger it seems fitting. You don't have to be Carmen Electra to be concerned with bodily health and fitness. Beyond celebrities and celebrity culture, gyms, gym culture and the healthy lifestyle are a huge part of LA’s identity.
But choosing a gym can be a daunting task. Many health club representatives come on like gangbusters with the hard sell and it can be difficult to tell what’s actually true beneath all the pitching and promises. In the end, it’s not about choosing the so-called "best" gym, but about finding one that is tailored to your needs and budget.
Weight Loss or Long Term Health? Figuring Out Your Needs
It’s a good idea to make a list of your needs and priorities before going on the gym prowl.Take a trip--in your head--through what a daily routine at the gym might feel like, considering all the equipment you might use and the time spent on travel to and from the fitness club. God is in the details, as the saying goes.
Some Possible Questions:
- Do I need to lose weight for a specific occasion, making mine a short-term plan?
- Are specialty classes like Pilates or Tai Bo important to me?
- Do I prefer going it alone with weights and machines?
- Will I be using the gym as a social outlet?
- Do I need a trainer?
- Would month-to-month at a higher rate be more sensible considering my budget and financial schedule, or a lump annual fee?
- Would I like to join a full-service club and have access to massages, a nutritionist, healthy cuisine or a juice bar?
- Would a women only gym (if applicable) feel more comfortable?
Trimming the Fat on Gym Pricing
In the good old days, negotiating a health club membership felt like taking a trip to a Moroccan souk: haggle, haggle, haggle. These days, many of the larger (corporate owned) gyms will tell you upfront that the price they’re offering you is set--no ifs, ands or (perfectly sculpted) buts. While that may be true as a rule of thumb, don’t underestimate the power of haggling during a sluggish economy or off-season. It never hurts to ask or even suggest.Trimming Ideas:
- Gyms may be willing to tack on an extra month or two than to slash the price on your membership
- Many health clubs are open to waiving the initiation fee
- Ask if they'll throw in a few free training sessions (of course only useful if you were planning on getting a trainer in the first place)
- Some healthcare providers like Anthem Blue Cross participate in partnerships with certain gyms. Anthem's GlobalFit program offers up to 60% off selected fitness clubs
- Ask about trimming services when it comes to lower membership rates. One small local gym I know offers two separate rates: one that includes classes and the other for general equipment usage. Which brings us to the topic of gym size...
Big Gyms vs. Small Gyms
It's not always true that size matters. It's often a matter of preference. Some people like the familiarity of a small gym with a small staff that acts like a microcosmic community. Others prefer the spaciousness, brand credibility, sense of anonymity and national reach of a bigger corporate owned fitness club like Crunch or Bally's (many of the chains offer nationwide membership which allows you access to out-of-state clubs while you travel). It’s up to you.
Because small gyms are not subject to red tape and corporate hierarchies, they usually make it easier to get deals and immediate assistance. Often the owner is right there making sure everything runs like clockwork. Of course if you like to Zen out while you sweat, a smaller gym can feel cluttered, claustrophobic and less anonymous. There is often less equipment and it is more tightly spaced together. However, direct access to the owner means that when you want to suggest they offer a class in exotic poll dancing (a popular class in LA) or make a comment about facilities or services, it usually doesn’t fall on deaf ears--or layers of staff and corporate protocol.
Big gyms are great for frequent travelers who enjoy a workout or two while on business or leisure trips since they often have branches in a lot of major US cities. Usually the array of equipment and variety of classes is mind-boggling at some of the larger establishments. And of course, there is far less of a chance of encountering crowds when you’re working out at the bigger clubs.
Many larger gyms are also open quite late or even 24-hours which is great if you have an odd schedule. There is almost always some trainer or other on-hand to answer questions. The downside of this is that some trainers at large health clubs are like used car salesmen with nice abs. They can be extremely pushy, especially (I’ve noticed) to women and they’re very competitive with each other so you could be approached more than once.
This is one of the most important factors, in my opinion, in choosing a gym. Most of the health clubs in town have the standard elliptical machines and tracks that are commonly used in cardio. Of course some of the pricier gyms pride themselves on state of the art equipment—from rowing to abs, Pilates machines to stationary bikes with virtual reality routes. If you’re tech-inclined you’ll want to make sure to look into all of this before you join.
I already know which equipment is a must-have for me. So right away when I take a tour of a gym, I am looking for specific machines. It’s nice if a health club has brand new weights but it doesn’t put me off if the weights are older and cosmetically less appealing (since I’m just lifting them free-form anyway). A sauna is a plus for me, but not a necessity. A juice bar is another nice add-on that some the gyms feature.