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Why Are High-End Gyms That Much More Expensive Than Budget Ones?

Someone’s gotta pay for the chilled eucalyptus towels and complimentary bottled water, duh

When it comes to working out, we’re not all strongmen like Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (aka The Mountain). In fact, many of us could go our entire lives and still have no clue how a lat pull-down differs from an incline bench. Which is to say, there’s no shame in not knowing your way around a gym, or how to start the process of getting in shape. Plus, that’s what we’re here for — to make sure that when you’re in the gym, you at least never have to sweat the small stuff.

I’m thinking about joining a gym for the first time in a long time, but I’m confused why some gyms are super affordable, and other gyms are crazy expensive. Aren’t they just rooms with weights and machines in them? What’s the difference I’m not seeing?
Gyms are a lot like cars: At their most basic, they exist to get you from point A to point B. In the case of a car, that’s a literal distinction, because you use a car to travel. In the case of a gym, it’s a metaphorical one, because the traveling you’re doing is usually from “unfit” to “fit.”

But like a luxury car, some gyms have amenities — or like a German automobile, they purport to pay a bit more attention to detail — in an attempt to get you where you want to go faster or to make your fitness journey more enjoyable. 

And for those amenities, you pay: Here in L.A. for example, there are the economy-car gyms like L.A. Fitness at $29.99 per month for a multi-club membership, and luxury-car gyms like Equinox at $240-plus per month

So what’s the difference, and why is one soooo much more money than the other?

“At Equinox, we don’t refer to ourselves as a gym; we prefer to refer to ourselves as a club, because we offer unparalleled service, best-in-class amenities and a sense of community,” an Equinox rep tells me over the phone. “You’ll notice that each of our clubs is different — they don’t look like gyms at all, they look almost like spas. You’ll never wait for weights at Equinox, and we have machines you’ll look at and be like, ‘What is that? I don’t even know how to use that!’”

Now, compare that to what an L.A. Fitness rep tells me: “Our gyms are cleaned daily, we have complimentary group classes available, and unless you come in after work, you probably won’t have to wait for a machine. If you do come early in the morning, though, you might have to wait for the leg machines because women like to get in leg day before work.”

“At Equinox, cleanliness is our number 1 priority,” the Equinox rep counters. “We have a rule: No fingerprints on anything, and when you use our locker room, you’ll notice there’s always multiple people in there cleaning every surface. We also have eucalyptus-scented towels!”

“Do you have eucalyptus-scented towels?” I ask the L.A. Fitness rep.

“I don’t know what that is, but we have towels,” he responds.

So yeah, there might be some different levels of service between the two. Not only that, but the Equinox rep adds that they stock nothing but the highest-quality products — Kiehl’s, specifically — and they offer complimentary toiletries like toothbrushes, deodorant and shaving cream. “The only thing you need to bring is your workout clothes; we’ll supply the rest.”

Further, the rep claims, “It’s a great place to network. If you’ve just moved from out-of-town, it’ll be one of the best business moves you can make. I wish I’d joined Equinox when I first moved here!”

At the end of the day, though, they’re both gyms. And so, you really need to consider whether you actually want all of the things at a high-end gym like Equinox versus what you’ll get at a gym like L.A. Fitness. Or simply put, as nice as complementary eucalyptus towels sound, are they worth the money when all you want is to use a StairMaster three times a week for 30 minutes? Similarly, is hobnobbing with a more affluent clientele worth spending six times the amount of money per month for the privilege? 

Personally speaking, I say save your money. I’d be willing to bet that if I took a blacklight to the locker room benches at an expensive gym, I’d see the exact same stains you might find at the budget spot around the corner. And unless some bigwig likes your form on the bench press and wants to offer you a job, you could probably get your name out there better at an actual networking event than you ever could in the steam room at Equinox.

Besides, Keihl’s is so 2005 — it’s all about Korean beauty now.