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POP Pilates at 24 Hour Fitness
POP Pilates at 24 Hour Fitness

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Do Classes at Regular Gyms Hold Up Against Boutique Fitness?

Comparing New York City's biggest all-inclusive fitness spots

If you own your own spin shoes, are constantly laundering leggings, and have downloaded the Mindbody app to your iPhone, odds are you're in deep with fancy fitness — and have the scary credit card bills to prove it. Boutique exercise is eating our budgets alive like bottles of wine at mid-week dinners used to (before socializing and sweating came hand-in-hand), and it's crazy how it got away from us so easily.


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Those who aren't math-inclined might view the all-inclusive Classpass buffet and studio bulk-class deals as a free-for-all, but the truth is that it's costing you $1,500 a year at the very least. And that's without the occasional full-priced SoulCycle class and unavoidable last-minute cancellation fees.

But what if we told you there was a glorious place that had enough classes to keep your newly athletic heart content, not to mention showers aplenty, shiny equipment, and towels free of charge? It's the place you left in the cold the second spin studios started popping up on every corner —€” your good ol' neighborhood gym. So, we asked ourselves a newfangled question: Are we all out of our minds for spending this much money to take these fitness classes when we could have them for so much less?

Like the random Pilates mat class you went to near your office and hated, not all New York gyms are created equal, so we dove in first-hand to see if we're all fooling ourselves with the studio experience, and whether hitting the same gym classes on the regular — more than the three times Classpass would let you —€” could get you just as fit (and having just as much fun) as all our beloved bourgeois boutique spots.

While visiting four of New York's biggest power players, we learned a lot. Generally speaking, gym classes feel short compared to boutique fitness, and we've been battling for a spot in class sign-ups or in the second row with more vigor than necessary. Gyms have less competitive crowds and have embraced advanced sign-ups, too — even holding spots for spontaneous members who stroll in minutes before the start time. Trading in the complimentary rose water face cleanser for padlocks and crowds of people wasn't easy, though. Fingers crossed that we can hopefully save you from sweating your account balance instead of your workout in 2016.

Courtesy of Crunch

Crunch

Where: 13 locations in Manhattan and nine across Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx. and Staten Island.

Facilities: If you've lived in New York as a twenty-something, you've probably wound up in a Crunch sometime in your life. It's basically exactly the same as you remember —” Bliss shower products, tons of cardio machines, roomy exercise studios, and a large influx of young people. The facilities are sorta nice, the locker rooms are sorta clean, but you're here for the brand and its dedication to making fitness fun, not a cedar-paneled steam room. Each location offers a veritable buffet of fitness offerings and unlike most competitors, Crunch's spin curriculum (Cycle Karaoke! HIIT cycling!) is more vast that your favorite studio (and mood-lit well enough to match). If you're joining to jog on a treadmill, you're missing the point.

Classes On Offer: If you're a Classpass-a-holic, Crunch is basically the unicorn that you've been ignoring in favor of a boring old horse this whole time. The gym regularly embraces new equipment and techniques, so you can try out the latest and greatest in Shark Tank-reminiscent exercises without having to breathe the dank, sweat-filled air of Pearl Studios. (Ick.) Offerings include a firefighter-themed workout, yoga spinning, and a ‘90s dance class, so€” if you're thinking about opening Pandora's Box and hitting the classes hard at a gym, this is the one to hit up. Just be sure to double-check the schedules before joining, since€” classes on offer vary between the different clubs.

Courtesy of Crunch

What We Tried: Transformer with DISQ, a class centered around a weighted cable contraption that makes you feel like a one-woman Megazord of strength training. The full-body workout, which connected my arms and legs to a belt with weighted dials, was interesting and a bit weird, but most importantly made a weekend workout exciting and not dread-worthy for once.

On the (literal) other side, Antigravity Yoga legitimately opened a door to a world of exercise I'd never known and am now obsessed with. Holding core-strengthening positions for the first-timers was challenging and scary, and yet we were all able to accomplish it within minutes. Extra bonus? Hanging upside down in a hammock would have cost $22 a pop elsewhere for the same exact class.

Perfect For: The studio obsessive who is always down to try a new spot, explore options, and keep exercise different so it doesn't get snoozy. Crunch is so much more experimental than any other gym (and most boutique spots!), allowing members to try really interesting classes without having to fork up extra dough.

Not For You If: You're deep into boxing or weightlifting. There are plenty of straightforward weightlifting TRX classes, but frankly, those err on the boring side —€” and Crunch is anything but.

Estimated Cost: Crunch is offering 75% off enrollment fees for new members, which now costs $49.99 and expires January 28th. Locations cost $90—$110 month-to-month, on average; prices vary for Crunch Essentials clubs, which are located in The Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and some parts of Brooklyn. Racked readers can get a five-day guest pass for free —click here for more information.

chelsea-piers_2015_04

Sports Center at Chelsea Piers/Virtual Tour Group

The Sports Center at Chelsea Piers

Where: 60 Chelsea Piers

Facilities: This fitness center is top-notch in a near-suburban way. Expansive doesn't even begin to cover it — when you need directions to get into the gym, you know this place will be on another level. Not only does it have gym goldmines like a swimming pool and indoor track, but there's also sand volleyball, rock climbing, rowing —€” you could sweat a hundred different ways before it feels repetitive. The locker rooms are massive, too — you'll never wait for a shower, worry about a towel being dirty, or feel germy while passing through.

Classes On Offer: Chelsea Piers classes will get you fit as a fiddle (or a fitness Instagrammer), but are more geared towards the athlete than the boutique attendee. However, they still manage to appeal to both: There's still plenty of variety and novelty with offerings like trampoline cardio classes, SurfSet taught by the same wonderful instructors as the East Village spot and a stand-alone barre studio. But the champion-focus is not just a vibe — triathlon training is a big sell, along with select for-pay class programs such as Sprint Club, which supposedly produced a 400m National Club Champion.

Scott McDermott

What We Tried: Tabata Barre, which despite its name felt like a laid-back version of broader chains such as Pure Barre or The Bar Method. Still, with regular teacher adjustments and straightforward curriculum, you could have blindfolded me and I wouldn't have been able to tell if I was at a gym or paying $32 for a trendy toning workout, which says a lot.

A bit less on-par was Wake n' Box, which had real gloves, real bags and real no-bullshit coaching. In true fight-training form, I got picked on for being the token weak woman in the group, so you've gotta be tough to handle the heftier classes at Chelsea Piers. Case in point: I was told I should have better reflexes for a 21-year-old, which is either a compliment to my complexion or an acknowledgement of how much lifting I should have done since being that age more than a few years ago.

Perfect For: Anyone who's brought up to a Tindr date that their high school track team went to state. If your MindBody account is constantly switching between labor-intensive rowing classes and HIIT, this might be your spot. Early risers and/or anyone who works near the West Side Highway can live especially large here, too, for both proximity and variety of sunrise-hour workout classes.

Not For You If: You've only slightly enamored with boutique fitness because of the glamour, a teacher with a killer playlist, or the glee of athleisure. Basically, if what's getting you in the door is anything other than pure endorphins or seeking the first-place spot on the Flywheel or Peloton boards, you'll be lighting your money on fire here. After all, only a true sweat-seeker can brave the treacherous winter wind off the Hudson River and a walk so far west that it could be a workout in itself.

Estimated Cost: Membership rates range from $120 to $175; weekend-only, student, and corporate memberships are  available. Join in January and get February free; offer expires 1/31/2016.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

24 Hour Fitness

Where: UltraSport locations in Midtown East, Madison Square Park and Soho; Sport locations in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

Facilities: Though they operate smaller gyms around the country, the three in Manhattan are Ultra-Sport locations, making them top-tier and mega-huge. From steam rooms and endless rows of machinery to the occasional pool, there are perks at each —€” but the no-frills locker rooms will leave much to the imagination. It's clean, organized and reliable, but not much to write home about. For most purposes, when you imagine a bustling, big gym, you'll picture a place like this — which isn't meant as a bad thing.

Classes On Offer: 24 Hour Fitness' GX24 schedule is like a partnership roundup — all classes are branded and operate on a core curriculum that's set out-of-house. Les Mills covers the majority of high-intensity, weight-focused, and boxing classes; Zumba is the main cardio dance outlet, and Insanity —€” yes, of late-night infomercial fame —€” even pops up throughout the schedule. If you're a serious class junkie, 24 Hour Fitness' schedule can be tough, as there can be as few as two classes and only as many as six offered each day, and each individual class structure doesn't change all too often throughout the month.

What We Tried: POP Pilates, a mat class that was recently added to the schedule (it's also the lead photo). Cassey Ho, the brainchild behind the workout, is best known for her Blogilates YouTube channel, which features her peppy demeanor and bright smile throughout brutal fitness challenges set to poppy radio hits. The in-gym version is similar in the best ways — upbeat instruction, music you actually like, and deeply demanding of core strength —€” and felt straight out of a boutique set-up. It does seem counterintuitive to recommend a gym class based on an online video series, but clearly, if we were privy to at-home workouts in teensy Brooklyn apartments, NYC's fitness studio boom wouldn't exist anyway.

Perfect For: The Barry's Bootcamp or Mile High Run Club attendee who is second-guessing if they really need to be yelled at to run that fast. HIIT junkies and circuit training obsessives, that goes for you, too — you could mix treadmill sprints with Les Mills classes and achieve the same results at half the price.

Not For You If: You will not exercise without the regimented structure of a class atmosphere. 24 Hour Fitness' classes are straightforward but the schedule is skimpy, meaning you'd have to swap in a machine workout every other day, or clear your social calendar.

Estimated Cost: Membership prices vary between clubs; contact individual locations.

Courtesy of NYSC

New York Sports Club

Where: 37 locations throughout Manhattan and 16 across Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island.

Facilities: If you've never been to an NYSC before, I'll spell it out for you: it's middle of the road. A rare few locations offer basketball courts, indoor pools, and saunas, but most are just gym, and less tricked-out locations tend to not be particularly glamorous. UXF, NYSC's answer to Crossfit, sets them apart from other gyms, though. With a weight-centric area and TRX machinery, the club section is dedicated to recurring group fitness classes (members sign up for the series 120 days in advance) and available for general access when not in use. But, still, NYSC is essentially the Applebee's of workout facilities.

Classes On Offer: It's an understatement to say classes are not the focus here, but that doesn't mean they're not worth attending.  They're a bit all over the place — some gyms are full-stop closed on Sundays, others have a cool new Star Wars-themed workout — so, naturally, class schedules can vary wildly between locations. The offerings are similar with 24 Hour Fitness (Les Mills and Zumba are sprinkled throughout the schedules here) but other classes, like non-contact boxing, jump rope intervals, and power dance make the lineup more unique.

Courtesy of NYSC

What We Tried: Similar to the schedules, the attendance is scattered. The dance class next door was fairly packed, but I was the only person who showed up to PiYo — free and unexpected personal training! The class, a BeachBody export that mixes pilates and yoga to sculpt without any traditional cardio impact, felt easy to me, but it ends up that's the point. I spoke with the instructor after class, and she told me she began teaching after dropping a ton of weight from PiYo and being featured in their commercial as a before-after example. A no-nonsense workout that doesn't feel like a nightmare and clearly gets results? Not bad!

Perfect For: Anyone who's a boutique fitness wallflower. If you're constantly hiding in the back row of dance cardio —€” because let's be real, studio classes can be intimidating AF —€” this could be your chance to shine in a comfortable and possibly less-challenging environment. Also, if you like working out but are questioning if your boutique membership is worth it, you'll be saving some serious dough by signing up here.

Not For You If: You adore the studio experience and its€” free tampons, handy beauty products, instructors who could likely end up in your #squad, and are willing to pay for it. The vibe is more low-end than the facility actually is, and transitioning from life among the complimentary face wash and unlimited dry shampoo to a proper gym like this one will be brutal.

Estimated Cost: Membership prices vary between clubs; contact individual locations.