Is a $10 gym membership really worth it?

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There are many ways to start an exercise routine, and as we point out here, it’s not always worth worrying about the details. But does it matter what kind of gym you join? Gyms with squat racks and weights give you plenty of options to get stronger, but it’s rare to find one with rock-bottom prices. Meanwhile, boutique fitness studios, Crossfit boxes, and yoga studios tend to be ridiculously expensive. How much are you really sacrificing by opting for something like Crunch or 24 Hour Fitness?

You won’t get any fancy extras, but you may not need them

If you buy a barebones gym membership, it may include access to equipment during certain hours, and nothing else. If that’s all you need, you’re good to go.

Fancy gyms and upgraded memberships at cheaper gyms will include more benefits. These may include towel and laundry service, 24/7 gym access, the ability to go to multiple chain locations, the ability to bring a guest with you, admission to group classes, sessions free with a personal trainer or sauna. or use of the pool. Expensive gyms may also have fancier equipment. If there is something specific that is important to you, be sure to ask about it before signing up for a membership.

But if the main reason you go to a gym is to lift weights or get on a machine, you can get by without the rest. It’s not the end of the world if you need to bring your own towel, or even need to shower at home because you chose a place that’s so basic that it doesn’t have real changing rooms. I trained for years in a gym like that, and it went well for me. You can too.

Weights aren’t everything

As someone who primarily trains with weights, I understand the need to make fun of a place that doesn’t have any. Veteran readers may remember that I put together an exercise program for our senior food editor, Claire Lower, when he needed to get stronger so he could hunt elk with a bow. His gym at the time was a Planet Fitness. Uh-oh, I thought. But she had already joined, so this is what we had to work with.

What was available? Cardio machines, strength machines, cable machines, Smith machines (the ones that look like a squat rack except the bar is permanently attached), and a ton of dumbbells. YesI thought, we can work with this. This selection is fairly typical of cheap gyms; you can also find some kettlebells, resistance bands, and other sundries.

Here’s the good news: This is fine. If your goal is to get stronger and/or healthier, you can do it with this equipment. You don’t need weights. Now, if your goal is to compete in a barbell sport like powerlifting, or you want to use weights because you think they look cool, then yes, you would need to find a gym that has them. Otherwise, you can stay right where you are.

Machines can make you strong

Cheap gyms tend to have machines instead of free weights because it’s much easier for beginners to walk up to a machine and figure out how to use it without hurting themselves. They’re also easier for gym staff to keep tidy: no more chasing plates and necklaces that end up all over the room.

Let those things be a benefit to you too. You can figure out machines just by looking at the pictures on them, and if you’re really stumped, you can look them up on YouTube. (We have also instructional videos compiled for 10 of the most common gym machinesif you’re curious.) It’s totally normal and okay to do a workout that fully used machinesno free weights.

Smith machines, in particular, get a bad rap from people who don’t know how to use them properly. If you try to squat on a Smith machine like it’s a squat rack, you’re going to feel super uncomfortable. But if you know that you need to put your feet in front of the bar and lean back against it, you can work your legs easily and effectively. There is a similar trick to bench pressing on a Smith machine. you may want to read our smith machine guide here.

Don’t sleep with dumbbells either.

Another important feature of cheap gyms is that they usually have a good selection of dumbbells. If you are very big and strong, the dumbbells may not be heavy enough; they can reach a maximum of 75 or 100 pounds each. If you’re a big person and get really strong, you might outgrow the equipment your small gym has to offer. But if you are a beginner or just a smaller person, you can be satisfied with that selection for a long time.

There are many lifts you can do with dumbbells, and yes, there are dumbbell only training programs. In addition to the obvious presses, curls, and rows, you can also do dumbbell lunges, step-ups, Romanian deadlifts, and more. Lifting a pair of dumbbells tends to be more difficult than lifting a barbell of the same weight, so don’t let the numbers fool you.

See the pricing structure

Because cheap gyms are so cheap, they often get their income from places other than the $10 (or whatever) monthly fee. There may be additional membership levels or add-on services that provide benefits not in the basic membership, so be prepared to resist the upsell.

They may also try to lure you into a personal training contract. While it’s great to pay for personal training if that appeals to you, read the fine print in your contract and make sure you have reasonable options to cancel if it doesn’t work out.

And don’t forget the hidden fees. Some gyms charge an initiation fee or an annual renewal fee. But if you’ve put a price on everything and feel like you’re getting your money’s worth, enjoy! Even a basic membership will give you plenty to work with.

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