Excuse No. 2: I have no money
You don't have the scratch to work out at Oprah-fave East Bank Club. No worries: There are plenty of inexpensive gyms-and free trial memberships-that'll shape up your broke ass.
I’ll always associate Bally’s Total Fitness with its old Sheena Easton infomercials. Sadly, I suspect no amount of running (or waxing) could get me looking like her, but it’d be nice to lose that “new parent” weight a little sooner.
Bally makes things remarkably easy for anyone who wants to try it out. To my relief, my visit to the Webster Place location catches the gym understaffed, which means missing out on any hard-sell tactics: The people at the front desk let me and my two-week trial membership (which I scored online at ballyfitness.com) stroll past the gates after filling out only a few forms.
Inside are the usual selections of free weights and a half-dozen rows of running/climbing/cross-training machines. There’s hardly anyone there this particular morning, so I’m able to try out all the equipment that catches my eye, and there’s plenty of space to stretch out in the sauna.
At $19 a month for three visits a week, I’d still have plenty of cash leftover for other purchases, like the jogging stroller I’ve been eyeing. Were the notorious army of Bally sales reps in full force, no doubt they would have steered me toward the lifetime memberships, which are also available on eBay for anywhere between $500 and $1,500 (not including inexpensive monthly dues as low as $4). That may seem like a lot until you realize that lifetime fee wouldn’t even cover a year at the East Bank Club, which for a cheapskate, puts things in perspective. 1455 W Webster Ave, and locations throughout the city (ballyfitness.com).
Thanks to Ladies Workout Express, a women-only gym known for its signature 30-minute, body-sculpting workout, budget-conscious, time-crunched women across Chicago needn’t blow their dough on high-priced luxury gyms. Operating like a game of musical chairs, LWE works almost exactly like the Curves workout regimen. The LWE gym is divided into 20 workout stations, half of which are hydraulic exercise machines designed to target your arms, legs, abs or butt; the other half are cushioned platforms designed for cardio. Exercisers begin at one station, then switch every 30, 40 or 60 seconds as dictated by a robotic voice that interrupts the gym’s continuous stream of radio tunes to tell you it’s time to move on. (LWE trainers set the time increments and intensity level of the machines, so you’re never doing the same workout twice).
Workouts are approximately 30 minutes—and if a half hour isn’t enough to give you the rock-hard bod of your dreams, LWE members also can hit the free weights; the truly devoted can work with a personal trainer for just $15 per 30-minute session. What separates LWE from other gyms is that it’s missing the very things big-name gyms tout—fat-burning classes and throngs of perfectly sculpted hardbodies gracing the locker room. What you will find are trainers who understand your body and ability levels (since they take your body mass index and give you progress reports), a laid-back crowd of twenty- and thirtysomethings and everything you need for a full-body workout. Locations throughout the city and suburbs (800-833-LADY, ladiesworkoutexpress.com). $40 per month; specials run throughout the year.
The price is right
If you’re looking for a cut-rate gym, you’re not going to get a steam room, fancy soaps or cucumber-infused ice water. But I’m all about stretching a buck, so when I heard Cardinal Fitness memberships are $19.95 a month and include access to its 40 clubs in the Chicago area (many in the suburbs), I had to check it out.
At such a bargain-basement price, I expected a cramped storefront spot, but was pleasantly surprised to find a clean, well-lit, 7,000-square-foot space filled with more than 40 pieces of cardio equipment, an array of weight machines, a free-weight area and a small abs room. The crowd on the weeknight I visited was made up of primarily twenty- to fortysomethings who were fit, but not intimidatingly so.
I scheduled a free 30-minute appointment with a trainer, who walked me through what had previously seemed like a torture chamber of weight equipment and taught me how to use each piece. He also schooled me on the importance of strength training because, as he explained, you can do tons of cardio (which I prefer) and still have a squishy body (which I do).
Since I don’t have a car and there are only three locations in the city, Cardinal wasn’t a good fit for me. But if you’re looking for a solid, affordable gym and there’s a Cardinal in your ’hood, you might be out of excuses. 1301 W Madison Ave (312-226-2400), 2545 W 111th St (773-445-3700), 5985 S Archer Ave (773-582-9000), plus suburban locations; cardinalfitness.com. $19.95 individual, $31.95 couple.