While we love boutique fitness because of its many perks (small classes, rocking playlists), most studios are pretty expensive. And since a budget should not be what breaks your New Year fitness resolutions, we’ve rounded up the most affordable gyms out there.
While you shouldn't expect fluffy towels, some fitness health club chains offer more amenities than you'd expect—from saunas to swimming pools—and group classes or equipment with serious calorie-burning and fun potential. Plus, depending on what month you join, you can expect waived enrollment fees, special offers, and, of course, perks like sweatbands adorned with your host gym's logo.
Just keep in mind: while researching, we found that many of these 13 chains make it nearly impossible to get out of your contract (a true-to-life cliche!). So read the fine print before signing up—and then make a beeline for that open elliptical.
Editor's note: We realize your favorite affordable neighborhood gym might not be included. For this article we focused on the nationwide chains only. Feel free to tell us about your budget pick in the Comments section. And please note that all prices are estimates and don't include fees, which vary according to time of year and location.
Originally posted January 6, 2014, updated March 11, 2016.
Various locations, $34–$94.99/month
Who’s it for: Swimmers and night owls
Its home base is in California, but 24-Hour Fitness is a massive operation, with more than 400 clubs in 18 states, each designed to fit its location and members. (Soho’s includes lots of exposed brick, for example.)
There are three levels of membership, Sport, Super-Sport, and Ultra-Sport, that come with access to different amenities and services, but even at the lowest level, the perks are surprising for the price: many of the clubs have indoor pools for swimming laps, saunas, and steam rooms. Yes, even in New York.
The class selection is decent, with some top instructors (like Natalie Uhling and Keoni Hudoba, who've since moved on), and cool partnerships like Nike Training Club, and, of course, some (not all) clubs really are open 24-7, for those who like to get sweaty at 3 a.m.
Various locations, about $45–$60/month; Gold’s Gym Express locations charge $9.99/month
Who's it for: Heavy lifters/bodybuilders, movie buffs
Gold’s Gym in Venice, CA, was the weight-lifting landmark where Arnold Schwarzenegger trained in his bodybuilding years. And to this day the brand has catered to heavy-lifters of all stripes, who expect state-of-the-art equipment, and perhaps saunas and tanning beds (even today!), but not fluffy towels or pretty interior design. Trainers who work at Gold’s tend to have bodybuilding training backgrounds, giving them a leg up on the affordable gyms without solid staff education.
Since Gold’s is a franchise, money is spent on equipment is up to owners, so locations can vary widely. Some have clean, spacious locker rooms with mouthwash and lotion. Others will inspire you to shower at home. And some have a Cardio Cinema, where you can be distracted by feature-length films on a giant screen while walking on the elliptical. (Rocky on repeat?)
You’ll notice a lot of women working out on Gold’s site, and there are other indications that the brand is going after this market, with Curves-style audio circuits and classes such as Zumba, yoga, cycling, and more.
Various locations, $15–$25/month
Who’s it for: Never-leave-the-elliptical gym rats or those who want to try personal training
This Equinox-owned budget-friendly gym offers the modern design, quality equipment, and cleanliness of its parent company, with fewer amenities and almost no group classes.
The best part of the affiliation is that you get access to personal trainers who were trained by Equinox for a fraction of the cost ($30 for 30 minutes or as low as $27 with a package). And with more and more locations opening every month, there’s likely to be a super convenient one in your neighborhood soon.
Various locations, $70–$100/month
Who’s it for: Group class junkies
Crunch is hands down the most affordable spot for those who like to work out with friends—and flair. Its group classes include the requisite yoga, Pilates, barre, and spinning, but also fun and wacky offerings from Broadway or hip-hop cardio dance to drumstick-based POUND to Olympics-themed conditioning.
There’s huge variation from gym to gym in terms of how nice the facilities are, so take a tour first if you’re a clean freak. In terms of amenities, they recently started stocking Bliss products in locker rooms.
Various locations, $25-$30 per month
Who's it for: Popular pick for the girl who likes to get her sweat on—without feeling self-conscious
Lucille Roberts founded the first of the 45 locations in 1969, right near Macy's in New York, for women who felt vulnerable in coed gyms, and the no-guys-allowed brand is still dedicated to helping members worry more about their fitness routine than their hair and makeup.
They have over 50 varieties of classes like Caribbean Dance and Chick Boxing, and workout support goes beyond the cardio machine lineup to an online community, where experts post recipes, workout tips, success stories, and more.
Online chatter surrounding Lucille Roberts isn't all positive, however. Many members headed to Consumer Affairs to post about unauthorized charges, contract issues, and filthy facilities. One Brooklyn member posted on her gym's Facebook page to say that "roaches have been around so long...they could do Zumba!" Another ex-member created a blog called LucilleRobbers during her five-year battle to have her membership canceled.
Perhaps tellingly, we had some trouble connecting to someone about membership options, and the automated message involved a super-long promotion for $100 in free dining, and often ended with a dead dial tone.
Various locations, rates start at $29/month
Who's it for: Fitness history buffs and goal setters
Bally was once the biggest fitness club in the country before struggling financially for several years and selling off many of its gyms, and it comes with even more fitness history—it took over workout icon Jack LaLanne's chain of gyms.
Now with 60 locations, it offers a slew of group classes and some gyms have pools, steam rooms, and saunas. A great perk: Upon signing up, members can take advantage of complimentary assessments to make a plan they can stick to and track progress.
A warning: A 2010 lawsuit accused the brand of sending fake past-due notices to former members to get them to renew, and Bally gym-goers have found it next to impossible to cancel their memberships. Also, locations may be closed on Sundays, especially in Manhattan.
Various locations, about $35-$50/month
Who's it for: Your mom?
You probably know Curves as a women’s-only, mirror-free fitness center that appeals to your mall-walking Aunt Helen and track-suit-wearing granny in Tiny Town, USA. (Though there are locations in cosmopolitan cities.) Curves has just one 30-minute strength-training and cardio workout, done exclusively on circuit machines, and set to an audio tape that cues you to move the next machine. (“Coaches” are scant.)
Centers, of which there are more than 3,000 nationwide, are often an empty room that have a school-classroom or church-basement feel. (This one pictured is one of the most luxe we found.) A decade ago the founder's pro-life comments outraged members and franchise owners, and un-trendy Curves has been rehabbing its image ever since. More recently, they've launched a meal-plan program, and, in 2014, the company launched a yearlong partnership with celeb fitness trainer Jillian Michaels, who helped them add 12 new moves and circuits. As for some much-needed panache? You can be the judge of that.
Various locations, $24.99–$99/month
Who’s it for: Frequent fliers and functional training devotees
The Town Sports family of Sports Clubs are a solid option for any exerciser, with reliable machines and decent-to-great classes depending on the location. Because of their popularity, though, they can be crowded: During peak hours in Manhattan clubs, you may have to wait for a treadmill or elliptical.
They’re also great options for athletic types (and the CrossFit curious), since the UXF Training Zones are stocked with functional training equipment like battle ropes, sleds, TRXs, and kettlebells.
Education of the personal training staff is uneven, with gems and duds. Maybe try a few trainers before deciding on one? But you'll generally feel good about hitting the tidy locker rooms before you head to work. (Just beware the rough, nearly exfoliating towels.) Bonus: If you travel between major cities for business, a $99/month passport membership allows you to use any club around the country.
Various locations, plans start at $10/month, annual memberships available for $99 per year
Who's it for: Serious bargain hunters, cardio enthusiasts, those who like to use machines
With more than 500 locations nationwide, Planet Fitness markets itself as a “judgment free zone” that discourages grunting bodybuilders from using its facilities. The policy may make regular guys (and girls) feel welcome, and staff members are trained to be friendly and encouraging.
At some locations, Planet Fitness is the size of an airplane hanger. You'll find rows and rows of cardio equipment and strength machines that work just fine. The free-weight area is often smaller and therefore crowded. Group classes are not offered. But there are perks that have nothing to do with staying in shape, like free pizza, bagels, and cupcakes. Really.
You'll feel like you need to wash your hands after being there for just a little while, but since you're paying just $10 a month, you'll be able to afford really nice soap—and maybe those yoga classes you've been dying to try?
About 10,000 locations nationwide; plans start at $10–$95/month per year depending on location
Who's it for: Swimmers, those who believe in a democratic right to fitness, and budget-hunters
Every town in America with a population over 20,000 has a Y, so rates, facilities, and offerings range more widely than the costumes of the Village People. In New York, where Ys share a website, you can pay $93–$95 at the swanky Vanderbilt or 14th Street outposts, about $70 at the Dodge Y in Brooklyn, or about $15 back in your hometown.
Indoor tracks, multilane swimming pools, and steam rooms are common amenities, as are weight rooms. Classes may include more programing for kids than adults, but in New York they include yoga, boot camp, Pilates, cycling, MELT, and may also be taught by cool fitness pros in need of real estate.
The client demographic ranges from runners and freelancers to budget-observing individuals working on reducing their cholesterol and blood pressure. In 2010, Michelle Obama launched her “Let’s Move” campaign against childhood obesity at the YMCA in Alexandria, VA. That same year the YMCA rebranded as the Y, leaving off the outdated references to its origins.
Various locations, $9.95–$19.95/month
Who's it for: Suburban treadmill devotees
The chain’s franchised locations are like budget kid brothers, called “Essentials” for obvious reasons: They don’t come with nearly as many bells and whistles. There are basic machines and weights, and fewer classes.
The classes you do find won’t be the marquee releases (at least, not until maybe a year or two after they run their course at regular Crunch gyms).
They’re also generally located outside of major urban centers (there are none in Manhattan, for example). But like Blink, they're are multiplying like crazy, with many opening in the next few months, in New York's outer boroughs and across the country.
Various Locations; $19-$29/month
Who's it for: Nostalgic gym-goers who'd trade swanky digs for movies, smoothies, and tanning sessions
With its red-and-yellow color scheme, Retro Fitness could be confused for a McDonald's—and frankly, their monthly prices wouldn't set you back much more than a Big Mac.
You won't get fries with your workout at one of the chain's 130 (and counting) locations, but you will have access to the Retro Blends smoothie bar, the elliptical-filled movie theater playing '80s films on loop, and group fitness sessions with surprisingly good instructors (whose classes at other studios cost as much as a full month's membership here).
Just don't expect much in the way of bathroom amenities (there's not much more than soap and toilet paper offered up), and be aware that—like other low-cost gym options—this one is notorious for its hard-to-break contracts.
Various locations; $30-$50/month
Who's it for: Out-of-towners, business travelers, and commitment-phobes
If you want the flexibility of using multiple gyms without the hassle and cost, Snap may be your best bet. All 2,000 locations (1,100 of which are located in 44 US states) are accessible 24-hours a day, for no extra fee.
The gym itself has the basics—rows of treadmills and ellipticals, machines for circuit training—but not much else. But for commitment-phobes, that shouldn't matter: There's no binding contract, so you simply pay-as-you-go. Find yourself #overit by Day 30? As long as you've either clocked in 30 minutes a day for three times a week, created a Web page on mysnapfitness.com, or signed up for equipment orientation or fitness assessment, you can get a full refund. (Don't say they don't care.)
Can't make it to a gym? These are our top picks for online workouts you can do at home.
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