This guide will help you sort through the 200+ general purpose gyms in Chicago.
The first section highlights the best rated gyms across four different categories. We then discuss how to evaluate gyms and get preferential pricing.
Chicago has a huge selection of general purpose gyms, which we divided into four categories. “Globo Gyms” are the most popular option, but we believe the other three categories generally provide the best value.
Globo Gyms are large facilities with amenities such as group classes, pools, saunas, courts, and a ton of equipment. However, they also tend to have large crowds and a corporate feel.
Every year we rate these gyms using our FitGrade™ algorithm, which considers size, cleanliness, equipment variety, customer service, and other factors.
Local gyms are small, independently owned facilities. Many are basic, but have service levels that far exceed the average Globo Gym. These gyms are perfect for those looking to “get the job done” without fancy extras.
Given the high number of gyms in this category, we chose to feature only those that have received exceptional FitGrades™. Other facilities can be found using our Gym Locator tool.
- Edgewater Athletic Club | Edgewater | FitGrade A | $12 per day | $59-79 per month
Equipment aside, you would likely guess you were at a Great Gatsby party rather than a fitness center at this 15,000 sq. ft. space located in the historic Sovereign Hotel. But don’t worry, the members are much more down-to-earth than the gym’s lavish décor, which includes a chandelier and ornate trim adorning the weight training area. And what luxury workout experience would be complete without a splash in a Junior Olympic pool?
- i.d. gym | Lincoln Park | FitGrade A | $24 per day | $59-65 per month
This laid back facility in Lincoln Park is less like a gym and more like a fitness laboratory, featuring innovative group classes such as Parkour, Fly Yoga, and Caveman Workout, taught in some of the largest group studio spaces available in Chicago. Feeling antisocial? The gym also has a range of basic cardio and strength training equipment designed for individual workouts.
- Know No Limits | Edgewater | FitGrade A | $15 per day | $63-75 per month
Know No Limits is like a bed & breakfast of gyms – it’s cozy, inviting, and has a wonderful owner that actively engages with her “guests”. People of all ages and body shapes come here to use the gym’s top-of-the-line equipment or get their butts kicked in the free group fitness classes. Membership is capped, which means there is rarely a wait for machines.
Specialty gyms are those that target a specific niche audience, such as bodybuilders, women, or overweight people.
Chicago may not be Muscle Beach, but it does have a couple of gyms that were designed specifically for strength training. These facilities typically have multiple dumbbell sets and a range of specialized lifting equipment, from power racks to cable machines.
- Quads Gym | Lakeview | FitGrade A | $13 per day | $50-75 per month
If the 1980’s version of Arnold Schwarzenegger were still around, he’d probably be a member at Quads. Whatever this facility lacks in fancy amenities, it makes up for with hundreds of specialized strength training equipment crammed into its 40,000 sq. ft. space in Lakeview. It’s no surprise that Quads has been featured in magazines such as Muscular Development and Muscle & Fitness. If you’re not (yet) a body builder, don’t worry – the general atmosphere is far less intimidating than the hardcore equipment may suggest.
- B&W Gym | Andersonville | FitGrade B | $10 per day | $24-48 per month
B&W is like an AC/DC music video: it’s a little dark, filled with dudes in tank tops, and will seriously pump you up. The 9,000 sq. ft. facility may not have TVs, or a juice bar, or even showers, but it makes up for it with an onslaught of serious lifting equipment, including prowler sleds, Atlas Stones, and other machines that we were too scared to try. We especially like B&W for its commitment to the community – the gym has sponsored over 100 bodybuilding and lifting competitions in its 35-year history.
A couple of gyms focus on total lifestyle transformation, particularly targeting the overweight demographic.
- Downsize Fitness | Near West Side | FitGrade A | $59-249 per month
This facility claims to be the world’s first overweight-only gym. It’s ironic, but it works. The member experience is a unique blend of individualized fitness sessions, nutrition counseling, and motivational support, all in a comfortable, judgment-free atmosphere. The results are a total body and lifestyle transformation (check out the before and after pictures). Several membership packages are available.
- Farrell’s eXtreme Bodyshaping | Near North Side | FitGrade A | $425 for 10-weeks
Farrell’s specializes in 10-week transformational programs that include cardio, strength training, and nutrition planning. The structure may seem a little daunting (45 minute workouts six days a week), but the program consistently delivers results, whether you’re a complete beginner or an experienced athlete.
WOMEN ONLY GYMS
Women’s fitness is one of the fastest growing categories in the industry, so it’s no surprise that several women-only facilities have been popping up in Chicago. These facilities tend not to perform well on our FitGrade™ scale, but nonetheless remain a decent option for women who may be looking to avoid the judgmental or “meat market” feel of other gyms.
- W3 Women’s Workout and Wellness | Multiple locations | FitGrade C | $30 per month
While the atmosphere tends to be friendly and comfortable, the facilities are bare-bones and the equipment is pretty basic. The highlight is the group classes included with membership, such as Zumba, Body Fit, and Turbo Kick.
- Curves | Multiple locations | FitGrade C | Rates vary
Curves is perhaps the best known women’s-only chain in the U.S. There are six locations across Chicago, none of which excite us. The facilities tend to be small and have a basic mix of equipment.
Chicago Parks District maintains a network of 70 fitness centers that are a low-cost alternative to private gyms. Membership rates range from $30-60 for a three-month session. Please refer to the CPD website for additional information.
Given the overall expense and contractual commitment required for gym membership, we recommend a 4-step evaluation process before making a selection.
Consider Your Alternatives
General purpose gyms may seem like an obvious option, given the variety of equipment and amenities provided. However, we can’t ignore the statistics that suggest they may be the worst choice in fitness:
- They provide the worst member experience, according to our FitGrade™ evaluation process. Boredom and poor customer service are the most cited complaints.
- They have low customer retention - some figures suggest that up to 40% of members churn every year, which suggests they lose interest within a relatively short period.
- They are underutilized, as roughly 50% of members go less than twice per week. These gyms simply don’t provide the encouragement or motivation needed to succeed.
CrossFit, combat sports, yoga studios, and other specialized facilities often offer a better experience and faster results than a general purpose gym. That being said, this category is still a good option if you want maximum control over your workouts.
Focus on Convenience
Convenience should be at the top of your list when choosing a gym. According to a study by the University of Virginia, location and hours are the most frequently cited reasons for continuing a gym membership. Amenities, on the other hand, were rated as neutral or not very important (despite being a top reason for initially joining).
We generally agree with the “15 minute rule”, which suggests choosing a gym within a 15 minute commute from your home. Another option is to join a gym close to work so you can exercise during lunch or rush hour. Better yet, join a gym that provides access to multiple locations, such as Equinox or FFC.
In terms of hours, you should check the class schedule to ensure there are convenient options (some gyms offer less than 10 classes per day). Also, check the weekend hours (often limited) and open play times for courts and pools.
Try it Out
Once you narrow your options, call the sales office of the gym and plan a visit. Nearly every gym offers at least one free visit, with some offering a full week. Also, special discounts are often available for first time members.
We would suggest visiting the gym at least twice, ideally during peak hours. Many budget gyms have no membership caps, so pay attention to the crowds and equipment waiting times. Also, ask current members either how they like the experience.
Read the Membership Contract
The gym contract seems to be one of the most hated documents on the planet. In fact, many newer gyms are moving away from contracts and instead offering month-to-month memberships.
If you do get stuck with a contract, pay attention to the following clauses that could end up being a major headache:
- Cancellation policy. Many gyms require a 30-day notification period. Otherwise they’ll bill you for an additional month. The worst gyms actually make you show up in person to cancel, rather than doing it over the phone or internet. (If this happens, we suggest going through your credit card company to stop payment).
- Account freeze. Check for any fees associated with pausing your membership. This may come into play if you plan on extended travel or taking a season off.
- Fees. Some contracts contain initiation costs or annual maintenance fees in addition to the monthly dues.
- Renewal. Some contracts will automatically renew unless you explicitly cancel.
Gym Pricing & Discounts
We spoke with several experts and conducted our own research to understand gym pricing trends in Chicago. Additionally, we discovered several ways to get discounted membership rates.
According to our analysis of 70 multi-purpose Chicago gyms, monthly membership rates range from $10 to $180. The median rate is $50, which is slightly below the national average of $55.
Location is a significant contributor to the variance. Luxury gyms tend to be concentrated in River North and downtown, with budget gyms more likely to be located further on the north or west side. Approximate median monthly cost by region is provided below.
Many members underestimate the amount they will spend at the gym. In fact, 33% of gym revenue is derived from non-dues sources, particularly at large, multi-purpose clubs. Of this additional revenue, spa, racquet programs, food & beverage, and children programs account for a significant percentage.
In general, it is safe to assume that you’ll be spending at least 20% above the advertised membership rate, particularly at the midrange to luxury multi-purpose clubs in the city.
It generally pays to do some research around gym rates. Below we highlight several discounts that may be available to you.
The easiest way to get savings may be to negotiate with the gym’s sales person. This is particularly true at budget chain gyms, as sales people are paid on commission and have flexibility to lower rates or waive initiation fees (similar to a car dealership). Simply ask them to lower your rate or waive the fee. Often, their desperation to land you as a member works in your favor.
Many gyms are moving away from this model, as consumers have lodged complaints about pushy sales staffs and questionable pricing tactics (rightfully so), but it still exits at some of the gym chains. The worst they can say is no, so it’s in your interest to ask.
FAMILY & SPOUSE
Most gyms offer family and spouse packages that are 10-30% cheaper than signing up as individuals. This is one of the easiest and most popular discounts available.
Groupon, Living Social, YouSwoop, and other deal sites frequently provide discounted rates for fitness activities, although these are often geared toward yoga and group training rather than multi-purpose gyms.
Corporate discounts generally take one of two forms:
- Fitness Benefit. As part of the benefits package (or in partnership with the health insurance provider), your employer may provide a fixed stipend that can be applied to the cost of a gym membership. Under this structure, employees are reimbursed for a portion of monthly or annual membership costs. Inquire with your company’s HR department.
- Volume Discount. Some gyms offer discounted pricing when a group of five or more people enroll together. If you are able to get your colleagues interested, all of you may be eligible for reduced rates. Inquire directly with the gym.
Discounted rates are sometimes available to certain professions, such as active-duty military, police, and teachers. For example, Chicago Parks Department provides full discounts to military personnel and Pow! Mixed Martial Arts offers discounts to law enforcement and fire department personnel. Gyms often don’t publish these rates, but it’s worth asking.
Chicago universities maintain some of the nicest fitness facilities in the city, to which their students can typically use for “free” (i.e. included in their tuition bill). Some universities also provide discounted membership to outside gyms. For example, Northwestern students in Chicago receive discounted rates at River East Club.
Additionally, some gyms offer discounted rates directly to students. B&W Gym, for instance, offers up to 25% discounts on annual rates and i.d. gym offers $150 summer memberships to college students with no initiation fee.
Some Chicago gyms provide discounted rates specifically for seniors. Chicago Park District, for instance, provides free or half-priced group fitness classes to the senior population.
Other discounts may be available through organizations such as AARP, who often negotiate directly with health and fitness providers on behalf of their members.
YMCA is at the forefront of discount structures geared toward low-income families. Under this structure, members can apply to receive rates set based on a sliding scale of household income. We’re hoping that some of the chain gyms will eventually follow in YMCA’s steps.
HEALTH INSURANCE DISCOUNTS
Some insurance carriers, such as BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois, have built a network of contracted fitness centers that beneficiaries may join for a reduced rate. We expect this trend to grow, given that exercise is perhaps the most cost-effective form of preventative health.