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To Join or Not to Join…

That is the question.

Do you have a gym membership?  Or are you an at-home kinda person.  Are you a lucky one with tons of equipment (i.e. a treadmill, full weight rack, a dip bar, a bosu, and other fun favorites?).  Or are you a light at home fitness junkie (dvds, maybe a set or two of weights, a yoga mat and some awesome running shoes to take outside?).

Speed work last summer with my pups

I’m technically somewhere in the middle.  I have some fitness equipment like a pull up bar, weights, a yoga mat (which I want to upgrade as a birthday gift to myself), a small collection of DVDs (I have a love/hate to love relationship with Jillian Michaels) and I have totally taken advantage of some of my mom’s goodies in the past.  But I also have a gym membership.  Which is currently suspended due to my little bundle sleeping on my lap as a type this post. 🙂

My reason for typing this is because, I LOVE my gym.  I literally day dream about it.  I have always called it my happy place. Although I may have to break up with it (tears will fall my friends) in the not too far future (details below) – I thought I’d write a post about finding your perfect gym.  Because as I evaluate mine I am slowly starting to feel as though it isn’t the perfect fit for me anymore. 😦 (it really is like breaking up… the thought hurts my soul)

** We live in the Chicago Land area, so we have lots of options as far as fitness facilities go and my examples of clubs may not apply to you.  Please note, these clubs may not be found in your area but I’m sure that there is something out there for everyone if you are looking to join a gym.  If a large scale club isn’t near you – look into park districts, local schools and even hospitals (my gym is located in a hospital.. and it is amaze-balls, seriously)! ❤

1.  Location:  Is your gym easy to get to?  Seems pretty simple, right?  Well a lot of chain gyms offer a membership to their location as well as other locations.  Or for a small fee (or large, better ask!) you can go to some of their higher-end gyms.  Examples are Xsport Fitness (Piper’s alley costs more as well as some other centrally located clubs), and FFC (Fitness Formula Clubs) (a few of their city options are more money).  Some fitness facilities, like mine, only have one location.  So I don’t have an option to go to a place that is close to work, close to home or on the way home or on the way to work that larger chains can offer.

* My gym is currently located VERY CLOSE to my work.  But is not convenient from home, which is one reason we might have to break up.  With a new baby, I can’t just run to the gym after work anymore, I’m going to need to bring my little nugget home.  Which brings me to my next point… hours.

FFC West loop pool (Source

2. Hours:  Are you a morning person?  Night person?  LATE night person?  Hours at a gym  are pretty essential.  Some are very limited (again, like my gym 5 a.m. – 10 p.m., shorter hours on weekends).  Or some are open 24-7 like Xsport.  FFC is open 24 hours Mon-Thursday close at a later hour Friday and have long but not overnight hours on the weekends.  This may vary, by state but it is how it is in IL.  Be sure to think long and hard about this, before I was a mom the limited hours at my gym worked.  Now it might be kind of nice to have extended hours because as many new moms know, sometimes you get up at 2 a.m. and can’t go back to sleep, why not get in some weights or a swim or a long sweaty run? And leave the sleeping (or not) baby at home with daddy 😉

3. Price:  This is usually what people focus on the most.  In my experience, the higher prices are usually worth it.  But there is something out there for everyone, even those on the tightest budget (Planet fitness offers a year membership for 100 bucks, or like $9.99 a month, crazy… Yep!).  But at Planet fitness, you are getting the bare minimums if it is your thing to just go sweat and leave… this is the place to go, not much there but what you need to get in a decent workout. Bally’s is now LA Fitness – I would say they are the next cheapest but I’m not sure on the pricing at LA Fitness as they are pretty new to our area but I think they might be closer to that of XSport which will run you from the low 30s a month to around 40 and maybe more if you opt to use their special gyms (like described above).  FFC offers a more high-end experience than the run of the mill Xsport and it usually comes at a price of around 65-70 dollars a month.  They do have a nicer facility and more amenities usually.  If you live in Chicago, you can always go the East Bank route, but prepare to dig deep into those pockets.  A membership will cost you around 150 a month, plus parking 😉 – I’m not going to lie, the facilities are sorta worth it… but you can check it out yourself, here.  If you are one who drools over celebs, that is the gym to visit.  I’ve been lucky enough to see and try out the insides (thank you my dear friend! amazing.) and it is pretty much a dream facility, oh no wait… it is THE DREAM facility.  *sigh* Equinox is another high end gym, which offers some pretty sweet amenities but this club will also run you about 100 bucks plus a month.

**Note, these prices are estimates, be sure to check around for pricing and deals and really work with the people at the facilities to see if you can get a better deal.  A little birdie told me that the best time to join is in the summer (sorry folks, late post) because not as many people join in summer months.  Also, many facilities have a initiation fee so be sure to discuss that with whoever you sign up (see if you can talk them down a bit).  Are you signing up a whole family?  Many places will give discounts if more than one member joins or if you refer a friend.

4.  Amenities:  This is super important to note.  Are you someone who is just going to get on a tredmill and hit the weights and call it a day?  Are you going to want to shower at your gym?  Lock stuff up in lockers?  Do you need a pool?  A steam-room? Do you want to take a TRX class? How about some Zumba?  Hot yoga? (YES! some gyms now offer hot yoga!! FFC West Loop!!! and LIFETIME fitness clubs!) Oh how about a rock-wall?  Before making a commitment to a gym, be sure to check out all the contenders in your area.  A 10 dollar price difference may make your experience go from OK to amazing.  I know, that I have fallen IN LOVE with my gym’s basketball court, pool, and women’s only steam room and sauna.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to join a gym that doesn’t offer these things (and trust me, they all don’t).  Have a child?  Do they offer child care?  Do they have ways to get your children involved?  Do you need a massage?  FFC, Equinox and many other gyms around the 70 dollar plus range offer spa services (with extra charge of course).  

No idea where this gym is, but it is pretty isn’t it? Does your surroundings matter to you? I found that a prettier gym motivates me a bit more 😉 – Don’t get me wrong… I can just hammer it out anytime and anywhere – but a nice facility is worth it to me. (source)

**MOST gyms especially ones priced around 70 or below a month will offer free passes.  Don’t be afraid to use these!!  It is crazy important to see how that gym may work for you! Try things out.  How do things smell? (no really, does it smell like crazy BO or are the machines dirty?) How is the staff?  How is the parking?


(above is the AMT machine, love it for cardio – so many options)

My list could continue forever, but the main points are to be sure to find a place that offers what you need.  One that keeps you excited and a place you LOVE to go.

My current gym is AMAZE-BALLS (as Guiliana would say, she works out at East Bank, btw).  I love everything about it, except the no childcare room and sorta crappy hours.  The staff, the machines (fat ropes, kettle bells, weighted balls, bosu, TRX bands, you name it… they have it), great stretch areas, huge indoor basketball court, the class offerings (yoga (not heated), Pilates, spin, zumba and others), indoor track, pool and awesome locker room complete with closed in showers, a whirl pool, sauna, and steam-room (no boys – they have their own!).

I look forward to returning to it, and daydream about my sweaty workout sessions.  However, for several reasons I may have to break-up with my gym.  My heart aches at this, so I’m not going to make any crazy decisions, yet – but I do need to roll with the punches and make sure I am at a gym that I use frequently, and that has the best hours, location and family friendliness I need.

Do you love your gym?  Do you prefer to workout at home?  What are your gym must haves?  Is it your happy place too?

Quick breakdown:

Cheaper (under $20 bucks a month):  Planet Fitness, HOME!! (although, buying equipment for your home can be expensive and I’m obviously not including those costs)
Middle range ($50 or less a month, even with upgrade package):  LA Fitness, Xsport (including Piper’s Alley and other Chicagoland locations)
Upper middle (Between $60-$80):  FFC, Loyola Fitness
Pricey (yep, about $100 plus):  East Bank Club (EBC), Equinox and LIFETIME fitness (not really in the Chicagoland area, but surrounding suburbs).

I’m sure I’m missing a bunch of places so feel free to leave some feedback.  Do you LOVE Your gym?

Again, do yourself a MAJOR favor.  Try out a gym before you commit.  That is the best piece of advice I could give.  🙂

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