So you just decided to join a gym. Maybe you moved to a new location, you’re tired of the wife yelling at you for the loud grunts you expel when powerlifting in the basement or you just want a location with more equipment. Whatever the reason, you’re searching for the right gym and, low and behold, after an initial Google search the first local joint to pop up is LA Fitness.
Yes, it’s a national chain. In fact, it’s one of the top five largest gym chains in the United States (behind the likes of Anytime Fitness, Snap Fitness and Planet Fitness in terms of total location numbers).
But does having a national brand really make a difference when it comes to finding the right gym?
Well, it depends, and we’ll get into that and so much more with our review of LA Fitness.
A Little Background on LA Fitness
Before diving into the LA Fitness review, let’s cover a bit of the gym’s backstory. Chin Yi opened up the very first LA Fitness location in Covina, California (which is about 25 miles or so east of Los Angeles) in 1984. Knowing very well that Covina Fitness wouldn’t really stick, Chin went with the name LA Fitness. Over the next decade or so, Chin and his business partners bought out struggling gyms throughout Southern California and expanded its brand.
By the mid-1990s, the company had developed a specific identity and brand image, which allowed it to maintain a unified look throughout all of its gyms. By 1998, the company expanded outward, first to Arizona and eventually throughout the United States.
In order to expedite the expansion process, LA Fitness started to buy out smaller, regional chains in other areas of the country. This included Lifestyle Family Fitness Clubs, based out of Florida, Pure Fitness Arizona (based in Phoenix) and Vision Question Sports and Fitness (based out of Seattle). This business model has allowed LA Fitness to increase its total number of gyms quickly, which is why it now stands as one of the largest chains in the United States.
Is LA Fitness Different From Other Major Chains?
When looking for different gyms, you probably have a few other chains in the area. Because of this, you really need to compare the chains. Now, just about all national chains have more or less the same kind of cardio equipment. You’re going to find the elliptical machines, the bicycles, and the treadmills. Some locations will have the build in television screens on the cardio equipment while others have larger screens placed on walls throughout (forcing you to share the TV with other guests like a sucker!). So in reality, comparing cardio equipment isn’t going to get you anywhere. Instead, you need to look at the weights.
For us, one of the biggest problems with a gym like Planet Fitness is the lack of free weights. Yes, we get it, having machines keeps the gym looking clean and uninformed. Every Planet Fitness you walk into has the same purple equipment and looks like it’s out of a showroom. That’s fine and all for Instagram photographs, but we want free weights.
Machine weights limit your range of motion and the amount of pressure placed on stabilizer muscles, which reduces the quality of your lift. To us, when picking out a gym, if there’s not a big difference in price (or if the price difference doesn’t matter) we always suggest going with the gym that offers the free weights.
Thankfully, that’s what LA Fitness provides.
Yes, LA Fitness does have machine weights, if that’s what you’re looking for (in some instances, there’s a time and a place). However, it also has free weights. This way, you can maximize your weight lifting workout. This feature alone is enough for us to recommend the gym chain over other chains.
More of a Fitness Club Than Gym
LA Fitness really is more of a fitness club than a gym. Now, there may be some slight variations depending on the location, but for the most part, we’ve found the vast majority of LA Fitness destinations feature more or less the same kind of equipment and gear (naturally, if you’re in a densely populated location like New York the gym may not be as large, as rent for such a large facility would be insane, so keep that in mind that it may vary).
In the LA Fitness destinations, you’ll find there is space for classes (from spin classes to Pilates, although this generally is more location specific than anything else), basketball courts, racketball courts, pools and a wide range of other athletic opportunities for you to take advantage of.
Most other national gym chains are just that: gyms.
You don’t get all the extra perks and club features. Of course, for some, this may be worth it. For others, it may not be. Because you will pay for it in the end. Maintaining these kinds of facilities does likely increase what you’re paying over what you’d pay for just a regular gym membership, so think to yourself whether this is worth it or not. We know plenty of people who just want weights, cardio and maybe a classroom for the occasional Zumba class, while others want a spot to shoot hoops during the winter or access to a pool. This is a decision you need to make.
LA Fitness Membership Fees
Whatever you’re looking for, your gym membership likely comes down to what you’re plunking down per month. The standard fee is broken down into two different categories: multi-club/multi-state access and single club access. For both clubs, you’ll pay an initial $99.00 initiation fee. For the multi-location option, you are billed $29.99 per month. The single club option is $24.99 per month.
Also, there’s a bit of fine print the website kind of sneaks in on the bottom of the page (why it doesn’t include this right up front with the pricing information kind of bothers us as it comes across as the gym trying to pull one over on potential members). Three months after joining, you’ll be billed an additional $35 annually. This is billed every single year.
So basically, you’re paying $99 to sign up, $35 annually (just because) and $24.99-$29.99 monthly. Realistically it’s still not a bad price and the $35 annual fee isn’t terrible compared to other gyms. We just don’t like how it’s snuck in at the bottom.
Additionally, the fine print on the site indicates additional pricing (it uses the term “different pricing,” but that rarely means it will be cheaper) exists for Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Delaware and metro locations in New York.
When you sign up for a membership you are not on a month to month basis. You sign up for a set period of time (a year, for example). When you sign up you will pay both the first and last month at the same time. So, if you’re signing up for the multi-location option, you’re initial monthly payment will be around $160, your second month will be around $30, your third month will be $65, and then you’ll be back to around $30 a month for the next twelve months.
Pricing and payment is a bit convoluted and there should be ways to make this easier, but in the long run, if you completely intend on staying with the gym for the long run, the price isn’t terrible. Do note though that if you try to cancel early, there are fees for doing so.
Only sign up if you know you’ll stick with it.
Money Saving Options
Now that we just went through the rundown of what it costs to sign up for LA Fitness, there are some money saving options available. If you head over to the LAFitness.com and check out the available email special, you’ll find a discount for 20 percent off the initial new membership fee (as of March 2018). This email special might change from time to time, but in general, it’s a solid money saving opportunity to take advantage of.
Basically, don’t input your email into this area until you know you’re going to sign up. Then do it a few days ahead of time, wait to receive the discount code in your email, and use the information when you sign up online.
Test Out the Gym
Always, always, always test out the gym before signing up for anything. We can’t stress this enough. If a gym doesn’t allow you to test it out for free it’s not worth your time. You need to know whether or not the gym is able to meet your personal workout requirements and the only way to do this is to actually work out in the gym. LA Fitness does provide a five-day pass for you to test it out. There’s no obligation to sign up for a membership after testing it out.
We recommend testing out several different gyms before going with one. It’s kind of like buying a car.
You don’t want to test drive one car off the lot and call it a day. Shop around, do your homework and go with what feels best. So take part of the five day trial period at LA Fitness and then check out the other options. You may find it more or less meets your personal workout needs, but another gym in the area is less expensive.
It Can Get Really Busy
So here’s the thing with a chain like LA Fitness. The gym can really get busy. Because there’s the option of going to different gyms regardless of where your home gym is there’s the possibility of the gym becoming especially crowded (there’s always that New Years gym membership rush that lasts a few weeks or so). You’ll discover the ebb and flow of the gym should you decide to go with it, but chains with national brand recognition tend to fill up more than a lesser, one-off gym.
When you sign up for a membership you are given what is known as a “Fitness Assessment.” This is conducted by a personal trainer on site in order to identify what your current fitness level is. You can have a body composition test conducted (should you want it). You can also have a one-time workout to determine your potential fitness goals.
From there, if you want, you can sign up for additional personal training services, although this comes at an additional fee. You will have access to a “Pro Results” application in order to track results if you want (which may be easier than walking around with a notepad and writing out your reps and sets.
So would we recommend LA Fitness?
Honestly, for a large chain, there is much to enjoy. It may not have some of the unique workout features that you might want from a one-off gym (like tires and ropes), in which case you’re going to need to seek out the specialty destinations, but most of what you’ll want is covered.
Probably most importantly it has the cardio equipment you’ll want and free weights, which surprisingly a large number of national chains do not have. The free weights alone is a major plus.
On top of this, if you intend on staying with the gym, the price isn’t terrible. Yes, it is a bit convoluted and doesn’t give you an upfront cost of what you need to pay when signing up. This is a part that bothers us as it does seem like the gym is attempting to at least deceive some people who don’t read the fine print.
After the setup fee, you’ll pay, on average, around $33 a month (not included additional taxes or other costs based on your state). But for this kind of access and the large amenities like basketball courts and pools, there is much to like. So keep in mind if you want (or will use) those kinds of added features. If you will use the pools and such, then, by all means, check out LA Fitness and at least give the five day trial period a whirl. You may just discover it’s the perfect gym for your needs.