My guilty pleasure is that I like to try out different gyms and compare their amenities. I’ve worked my way through most of the hit franchises, including the likes of Gold’s Gym, Planet Fitness, Equinox, LA Fitness, and countless others.
Needless to say, I haven’t found one destination that is quite perfect. All of them have their own sets of benefits and limitations. But with so much experience, I definitely know a thing or two about whether or not it’s worth paying for a specific gym membership.
A while ago, an acquaintance of mine mentioned YMCA in passing, and I visibly scoffed. After all, it’s more of a community-oriented health club and not an actual gym, right?
But my habit and curiosity got the best of me, and I finally decided to try out the YMCA gym.
Like in every other case, I went online and conducted a little background check. I was glad to find out that there are more than 2,400 YMCA facilities just in the United States. As one of my major pet peeves is driving long hours to get to the gym, being able to find a nearby club was a good sign.
After completing my tenure with the existing gym, I signed up for the standard YMCA membership (more on that later) and set out for the new experience.
So, was my investment worth it? I’ll tell you all about it.
Is YMCA a Good Gym?
Yes; for what I paid for it, the YMCA definitely offered a great space to work out comfortably. Moreover, there were tons of other amenities that I could enjoy on my off days when I wasn’t particularly feeling good enough to work with weights.
But that’s because I did my homework before purchasing the membership. I had talked to a couple of my friends who had been a part of the Y community for years. Among them, Dave, my co-worker, mentioned that I should definitely look into individual YMCA locations before signing up.
Turns out, this piece of advice was really important. Not all YMCA gyms are as well-equipped as each other. Some are smaller in size; others have fewer amenities. That’s why you’ll see a large difference in the membership costs in different locations.
So before purchasing the gym membership, it’s always good to contact the helpdesk and confirm the availability of the amenities/facilities that you are particularly looking for.
To get a good judgment of different YMCA gyms, I purchased their standard nationwide membership. That gave me access to all their facilities across the United States, something that I liked very much because I travel a lot.
The standout qualities that I noticed at the YMCA gyms are that they are spotlessly clean, well-stocked with all kinds of machines and equipment, and filled with likable and helpful people.
It was everything that the YMCA marketed itself as – a community devoted to health and fitness. I loved seeing families work out together in the gymnasium or enjoy themselves in the pool section. It was unlike any other gym that I had been at and was strangely a good feeling.
My own experiences were no less exciting. At other gyms, I would simply train, stretch, and walk back home. But at YMCA, it felt like I was making the most of my gym membership.
Using the gymnasium was a part of my YMCA curriculum, but it was not the entirety of it. There are just so many avenues that you could explore – pilates, yoga, group fitness sessions, and so on.
In most cases, I didn’t even remember that I was actually working out and was supposed to feel tired and exerted.
Overall, my experience at the YMCA was a relatively positive one, especially while exploring my options outside the community’s gymnasium facilities.
The only drawback that annoyed me greatly was that nearly all YMCA gyms are filled to the brim during rush hours. So, if you like to work out between 5 pm and 7 pm, you might need to wait your turn to use popular machines like bench presses and squat racks.
Same with their parking space – there is just enough room for the entire crowd. Mostly, I just walk or ride my bicycle to the gym. But on the few occasions when I had to use my car, parking was a big issue.
Nevertheless, for me, these were just some minor inconveniences that could be dealt with easily. For others, the crowd might be a bigger issue.
Does YMCA Have Good Equipment?
Whenever I asked my friends about the YMCA, they would always talk about the premium amenities like swimming pools and yoga classes. But none of them would ever talk about what you would find inside the gymnasium.
While I do appreciate all the extra facilities provided at different YMCA clubs, my primary reason for paying the membership cost was to get access to their gyms. And so, I was really worried if I was going to find the right equipment for my workouts.
I’ve been to around 3-4 different YMCA clubs, and all of them had the same standard equipment as any other commercial gyms that I had been a part of.
Before signing up, I was worried that the YMCA might have smith machines instead of the traditional bench presses and squat racks. But I was pleasantly surprised to find both in the weightlifting section.
The good thing is that they have a lot of the same kind of equipment. So even if the place is getting too crowded, the wait time is not too long.
The machines are generally clean, and all the members follow proper gym etiquette to keep them like that, which is a small plus point for me. But that is something that you should expect at all gyms.
The weightlifting section, therefore, had everything that I wanted – resistance machines, power racks, dumbbells up to 100 pounds, and so on.
The cardio section was decent and had a wide selection of machines like:
- Stair Climbers
- Rowing Machines
- Stationary Bikes
These are the standard machines and equipment that you should expect at any YMCA gym. But the more high-end and premium Ys have additional amenities like ladder treadmill machines and air runners.
I found that the quality of the equipment was decent. There were hardly any creaks or friction while I worked out, which is something that I would expect at any place where I work out.
Overall, the gymnasia sections are pretty good. The only drawback is that YMCA’s gyms don’t compare to commercial fitness clubs in terms of size and space for working out. There are other amenities at the YMCA that require optimum allocation of space, so that was understandable.
In other commercial gyms, you would just complete your workout routine and walk out, like I used to do before YMCA.
But many of my friends who had been working out at different Ys for years recommended that I try out the franchise’s diverse programs and classes.
While I haven’t tried all of them out yet, I’ll talk about the ones that I’ve experienced first-hand.
- Group Training Classes: Group training sessions are fun and one of the most popular attractions of the YMCA. Fitness enthusiasts of all ages can come together and participate in programs like “Balance and Flex Together”, “Defense Together”, and so on.
- Yoga and Pilates: I am not big on yoga or pilates. But since these classes came free with my membership plan, I decided to try them out. These were pretty standard sessions that helped me to relax and stretch my muscles a bit. The trainers were all experts in the field and they helped me learn that so many of my muscles were tighter than I had expected. While I did not continue with these classes for long due to time constraints, these sessions did improve my mobility and reduced pain during workouts.
- Barre Classes: I also signed up for some weekend programs, including the enormously difficult Barre classes. I only work out five days a week, so trying out the Barre classes on weekends felt as if I were having an extra workout. Needless to say, I couldn’t continue for long. But it’s a great program for people who have just gotten into exercising and need that extra push.
There are many other programs, including Body Pump classes, Hip-Hop Classes, and Dance classes. But not all the classes are available at different clubs, so you might want to speak with the staff to confirm what program could be best suited to your requirements.
Pool & Spa
The YMCA community considers itself America’s foremost swimming instructor. That being said, most of the locations do have swimming pools for their members.
The clubs that I have visited had multiple pools. Some of the common ones that you could find are:
- Standard indoor/outdoor pools for recreational swimming.
- Lap pools.
- Olympic-sized pools
If you want to learn your way around the water, there are several programs and aquatic activities that you can try out, including:
- Swim lessons for all levels and ages.
- Water exercises.
- Playing area for children, splash pads, etcetera.
- Water slides.
- Water aerobics and calisthenics.
- Water yoga.
- Aquatic jogging and running.
Needless to say, spending my time at the pool was one of the extracurricular activities that I enjoyed the most at the YMCA. The pools were clean, safe, and filled with instructors who would regularly enforce protocols and hygiene standards to keep the momentum smooth.
What about spas?
Many locations, including the one where I go, offer traditional spa services like saunas and massages.
But I didn’t see a full-fledged spa facility anywhere, which was fine by me because I was not looking for that particular amenity anyway.
I am not built for treadmills. Honestly, the idea of wasting miles’ worth of energy and still not moving an inch forward bores me.
Which is why I was ecstatic when I found that my YMCA gym had a circular running/walking track.
It helped me practice my sprints, time my runs, and experience the real feeling of moving forward and changing directions. In my honest opinion, using a running track might be a far more effective option instead of using a treadmill.
Most major YMCA facilities have a track. But a few smaller ones don’t, so it’s best to confirm the availability individually by checking the franchise’s official website.
While there are no skateparks in any of the YMCA branches near me, there’s one each at Edina and Hudson. I spoke to some of my interstate friends about that particular amenity, and they positively raved about it.
They are no professional skateboarders, but they described the YMCA skatepark as an inclusive space where people could just learn and enjoy skating safely. I am yet to try that facility, but I am definitely planning to do that, thanks to my nationwide membership.
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Other Amenities at YMCA
I have been a member of the Y community for a long time now. And every time I visit any of the previously-undiscovered YMCA clubs, I come across a new amenity.
The YMCA is unlike any other fitness franchise that I have known. Apart from providing a decent space for working out, they offer tons of facilities that you could take advantage of.
Some of them are:
- Steam Rooms
- Jacuzzi (in some locations)
- Zumba Classes
- Private Lockers
- Showers with Soaps
- Basketball and other Sports Courts
- Smoothie Bars
- Women-Only Sections (in some locations)
- Red Light Therapy (in some locations)
There are many other attractions, like theater rooms, that are limited to some premium clubs. But overall, the YMCA community offers a lot for a reasonable price.
I do not relate to Child Care services at the gym because of obvious reasons. But I do feel that it is a necessary facility that can encourage many members to sign up and focus on their health & wellness.
Denise, a co-worker of mine, for example, had to give up going to the gym because she couldn’t juggle between being an accountant, a mom of 3 young children, and a fitness enthusiast.
Fortunately, she came to know about the YMCA and signed up as a member. She got free access to the franchise’s childcare services, where the kids undergo insightful and interactive sessions and programs while she works out at the gymnasia.
She is not the only one to be using these services. A lot of members at the Y come with their families. The older kids can work out with them. But the younger ones, especially pre-teens, need some looking after. And that’s where the childcare services come in.
I haven’t seen the children’s section personally, but Denise mentioned that it’s a lovely space filled with children of different ages interacting and having fun with each other.
What are the Pros and Cons of YMCA?
As I had mentioned in the introduction, none of the gyms that I have been to were absolutely perfect. Likewise, there were upsides as well as downsides in my experience at the YMCA.
- Wide range of premium amenities.
- Excellent space for workout out with high-quality equipment.
- Great space for families to work out together, especially with YMCA’s family plan.
- Good value for money.
- Availability of a wide array of training programs and specialized classes.
- Inclusive and comfortable environment for beginners and experienced bodybuilders alike.
- Affordable rates compared to other premium gym franchises with competitive amenities.
- Pool times are limited.
- Overcrowding during rush hours.
- Premium amenities like saunas and steam rooms often have long wait times.
- Limited hours of operation. The weekend and holiday policies of some branches are particularly difficult.
- Memberships often require a long-term commitment.
- Inconsistent quality of customer service in different locations.
It’s important to recognize that a lot of these positives and negatives might vary depending on your location and the amenities you choose to enjoy.
How Much Does a Membership at YMCA Cost?
The membership price at the YMCA is pretty decent, considering the number of premium facilities the franchise provides.
For an adult, the average monthly cost is around $50-$60. The number can go higher or lower depending on the location and the amenities offered by the club you choose.
I have seen some YMCA clubs charging as low as $30 per month.
For students, membership costs can be as low as $25 per month. There are several other types of memberships, all with varying costs and features.
Which YMCA Membership is Best?
YMCA offers a lot of membership options for different people, including specialized plans for students, senior citizens, single parents, and so on.
The best and the most attractive membership option, in my opinion, is the family plan.
A family plan will cost around $90 per month and covers the married couple plus all their dependents (children, parents, and so forth).
If you have a large family and you want to work out together, the cost per head will be lower than what you would pay at some of the most affordable gyms like Planet Fitness.
To get a more detailed list of different YMCA memberships and the associated costs, read this in-depth article- YMCA Prices & Membership Cost.
Does YMCA Have Hidden Fees?
While signing up, you have to pay a one-time initiation fee at the YMCA. I had to pay $50 for this because I had signed up as an individual adult.
The fee amount can go as low as $15 for students and $75 for the family plan.
Apart from that, some locations also include a janitor’s fee of around $25. But that is not the case for all YMCA clubs.
Is YMCA Worth It?
Choosing between the YMCA and other commercial gym franchises like OrangeTheory or Planet Fitness might be difficult. But in my honest opinion, spending almost the same amount of money on being a part of the Y community is always better.
Firstly, YMCA clubs are not just gyms. You get tons of other facilities like pools, saunas, massage, and so on. So, if you have premium requirements, a monthly membership of around $50 can cover all of them.
Even on the bodybuilding front, commercial gyms have no competitive edge over YMCA clubs. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the weightlifting section in my YMCA branch was better equipped than the Planet Fitness outlet that I had tried a few years ago.
The cardio section had all the necessary machines that you would expect – nothing out of the ordinary, but certainly everything that you need.
My experience at the YMCA was definitely worth the investment that I made. Apart from my time at the gym, I also had some excellent experiences in their group training classes, swimming pools, running tracks, basketball courts, and so on.
Moreover, YMCA is highly community-oriented. They host tons of events and programs that are meant to solve local and nationwide issues. I have participated in some of these movements, and it was the most pleasant experience to get to know fitness enthusiasts outside of the weightlifting section.
Overall, I feel that the YMCA can give you a really holistic outlook on health and fitness. It will definitely be a good investment, even if you go for the more profitable year-round membership.
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On the outside, I did not think that the YMCA would be a good fit for serious weightlifters and bodybuilders. After all, it is marketed as a community-oriented wellness facility.
Fortunately, I was proved wrong on my first day there. From weightlifting and cardio to swimming and sports, the YMCA gave me some of the most enriching experiences of my life.
Sure, there are some things about my previous gyms that I miss (like larger spaces for working out and thinner crowds), but the overall barter worked out eventually.
If you want to really enjoy your workouts and become a part of a larger community, the YMCA is definitely the right place for doing so.