There Are 6 Different Gym Types: Learn Which is Right for You
It’s finally happening. You’re ready to join a gym. Awesome! But, before making any decisions, you should think about what your fitness goals are and what matters most to you in a gym, because you have more options than you probably realize.
Some gyms specialize in specific workout types, while others cater to specific demographics. Some focus on 1:1 training while others favor group classes and a community dynamic. For a bit more money, some offer state-of-the-art equipment and luxurious amenities.
Don’t worry—we’ll help you make the right choice and ensure that the membership card hanging off your keychain becomes more than just an accessory in a few months.
Without further ado, here are the 6 different kinds of gyms.
I. The Big Box Gym
Corporate gym chains, or big box gyms, are the most common of the entries on this list. In fact, they are probably what most people think of when they think of gyms.
Big box gyms are good options for people because they are spacious and offer a bit of everything. You’ll find a wide selection of free weights, an area devoted entirely to cardio and machines, an array of group fitness classes, and, usually, personal training services. Secondary amenities like saunas, tanning beds, hydromassage beds and swimming pools are also common depending on which gym chain you choose.
Big box gyms typically fall into three broad categories based on price, size, and amenities:
- Low Cost: These are for the budget-conscious gym goer. Low-cost gym memberships cost anywhere from $10–$30 per month and cover the basics like weights and machines. There likely won’t be space for fitness classes or swimming pools, but hydromassage stations, tanning beds and similar services are common. There are many locations, so these are good options for people who may travel a lot.
- Middle Cost: Memberships in this tier can run between $40–$80 per month. These offer a bigger selection of free weights and machines, as well as racquetball, tennis and basketball courts. You’ll also have a dedicated space for group classes, including HIIT (more on that below), bootcamp, spin, cardio boxing and kickboxing. Personal training is usually offered, depending on your membership tier.
- High Cost: While memberships in this category run as high as $250 per month, these are truly fitness sanctuaries. Sanctuary-level means tons of state-of-the-art equipment, top-notch personal training, fitness classes galore, and spa-level massage & sauna facilities. Oh, and snack, juice & smoothie bars (yes, smoothie bars).
Check out RunRepeat’s breakdown of gym membership prices.
II. The HIIT Gym
HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training, an approach to fitness that combines short bursts of intense exercise with periods of rest or lower-intensity exercise. HIIT workouts are famous for burning fat and calories in a short amount of time. The “afterburn” effect, or, increased resting energy expenditure, is also common.
HIIT gyms vary in size and feature a range of equipment from stationary bikes, treadmills & rowing machines to dumbbells, kettlebells, TRX ropes, power bags, power loop bands and training ropes.
HIIT classes are run by certified instructors and typically last anywhere from 30–60 minutes. Classes may target specific muscle groups or your whole body, with some focused entirely on bodyweight exercises, and will cost you between $10–$35 on average (more for non-member drop-ins).
If an efficient, preplanned workout that improves cardio, burns fat and tones your body sounds good, then a membership at a HIIT gym is a worthwhile investment.
III. The CrossFit Gym
Also called “boxes,” CrossFit gyms have the look of a hangar or industrial warehouse. CrossFit is a form of HIIT that focuses on functional movements—squatting, pulling, pushing—performed at a high intensity. It incorporates equipment and movements from a variety of disciplines, including weightlifting, gymnastics, calisthenics, plyometrics and running.
CrossFit classes are run by credentialed coaches, typically last an hour and favor constant variation. In fact, there is always a different “workout of the day” (WOD) that all members complete. These can be found on the CrossFit website.
WOD. That’s a funny-sounding word, isn’t it? CrossFit has a whole lexicon of unique terms, including:
- EMOM: Every Minute on the Minute
- AMRAP: As Many Reps as Possible
- METCON: Metabolic Conditioning
- Ladder: Exercise series where the number of reps is increased by 1 each time they are performed
- Zone Diet: Diet based on macronutrients. Endorsed by CrossFit.
- Hero WOD: Difficult workouts named after first responders who have died in the line of duty.
With its own vocabulary and diet, CrossFit is considered a lifestyle by those who practice it, and the community is close. Maybe that’s what you’re looking for. Maybe you’d like to make your future CrossFit fam proud at an official competition one day. If you don’t mind paying a bit more ($125+/month on average), you can make it happen at a CrossFit gym near you.
IV. The Power Lifting Gym
Perfectly calibrated, iron plates. A thin layer of chalk dust in the air. A sea of determined men & women, clad in weight belts and hand wraps, powering through clean-and-jerks, snatches, deadlifts and squats. This is where serious weightlifters go for their strength training.
Many patrons train for bodybuilding or powerlifting competitions, while others simply go in pursuit of their next personal record (PR). If that sounds somewhat intimidating, don’t worry—the vibe in these gyms is generally one of camaraderie and support. People genuinely want to see each other succeed and are usually always willing to lend a spot or offer a piece of weightlifting advice.
More good news is that with the ample equipment available, you won’t find yourself skulking around an overcrowded gym waiting for a barbell rack or bench-press station. Doesn’t that, alone, make the higher price point ($100+/month) worthwhile?
V. The Boutique Gym
Sometimes referred to as fitness studios, boutique gyms have the same type of equipment as their big-box counterparts but are smaller. They typically offer personal training, as well as small group yoga, Pilates, spin/cycling, dance, HIIT, or bootcamp-style classes. Added services sometimes include nutrition consultation, massage, and other wellness offerings.
The common thread running through all boutique gyms is the tight community you’ll find. While they’re pricier than their big-box counterparts, the tradeoff comes with individualized attention and a supportive environment. Women-Only Gyms, for example, provide a fitness environment for women who aren’t comfortable with going to a traditional gym.
If you like smaller classes, individual attention, can’t wait to see your workout buddies and are willing to pay a bit more for all of it then the boutique gym is worth a look.
VI. The Personal Trainer Gym
There are many benefits to working out with personal trainers. These treasure troves of knowledge teach immaculate exercise form and healthy lifestyle habits. They hold you accountable when you need it and provide your loudest cheering section on those really tough days.
A personal training gym is essentially a studio where you sign up to work with one of these great folks. Sometimes they own it; sometimes they rent it. In any case, you’ll find pretty much everything you need, including free weights, machines, cardio equipment and specialty training gear—and your trainer will teach you how to use all of it.
According to UpJourney, quality personal trainers can cost $70–$100 per hour depending on where you live. If you’re serious about getting fit and making a major lifestyle change but just don’t know how to get started, then a good personal trainer is worth every penny.
There you have it. If you know what you’re doing and want a bit of everything at a reasonable price, a big box gym may tick your biggest boxes. HIIT and CrossFit gyms cater to those specific (highly effective) exercise modalities. Power lifting gyms are for those with powerful aspirations. Boutique gyms offer small class sizes and a close community. Personal trainers are the knowledgeable Sherpa guides for your fitness journey.
Now that you know what you want, you’re sure to find it in your area on the Vagaro Marketplace. So, fill your water bottle, charge those headphones, make sure the lighting is right for that day-one gym selfie…
and good luck!