1. Fitness Formula Clubs
LOCATIONS: Boystown, East Lake View, Gold Coast, Lincoln Park, Oak Park, Old Town, South Loop, Union Station, West Loop
COST: $65 to $80 a month; $99 to $260 initiation fee
BEST FOR: Someone who wants the features of a luxury gym without a full range of nonfitness
AMENITIES: Café, childcare, free parking, wi-fi
This Chicago-only chain opened its first gym in 1984 and now has nine locations. Beyond the expected features—weight rooms, cardio machines of every ilk, and a packed group fitness calendar—there are many amenities, including indoor lap pools, rock-climbing walls, free parking, onsite baby care, full-service spas, and cafés. Fitness Formula Clubs could compete handily with the upscale gyms in the city, and the lower monthly fee—six of the nine gyms, including the ones in Lincoln Park and the West Loop, charge just $65 a month—vaults this chain to the top of Chicago’s budget gyms list.
2. Xsport Fitness
LOCATIONS: Avondale, Belmont Central, Lake View, Logan Square, Mayfair, Old Town, Portage Park, South Loop, and 16 other locations
COST: $49 a month; $35 initiation fee
BEST FOR: Nose-to-the-grindstone exercisers and people who want personal training
AMENITIES: Café, childcare, free parking, wifi
Started here 15 years ago, XSport Fitness now has 24 locations in and around Chicago, including many in the suburbs and three smaller Express sites (just $9.95 a month). The focus? Personal training. The Lake View location alone has 34 trainers on staff; others have about 15 to 20. And these aren’t your fresh-out-of-school trainers. You’ll be getting tips from ex–NFL players and Big Ten conditioning coaches. The larger gyms—in Belmont Central, Logan Square, the Loop, and Old Town—have loads of cardio equipment, full-size basketball courts, steam rooms, and pools.
3. Cheetah Gyms
LOCATIONS: Andersonville, Bucktown, Edgewater
COST: $59 a month; $49 initiation fee
BEST FOR: Machine workout lovers
AMENITIES: Free parking
The cardio equipment at this Chicago minichain—a big percentage of which was replaced last year—is from top-of-the-line brands such as Precor, Nordic Track, Arc Trainers, and LifeFitness. Every treadmill, elliptical machine, and bike has its own flat-screen TV. There’s also a studio for spin classes and room after room of strength-training machines, including a boxing apparatus you can spar with. Cheetah distinguishes itself with some thoughtful touches, such as free coffee in the morning and coin-operated washers and dryers. Attention, Logan Square residents: Cheetah plans to open in your neck of the woods later this year.
LOCATION: 2727 N. Lincoln Ave.
COST: $65 a month; $149 initiation fee
BEST FOR: CrossFit dabblers and people who want a variety of group classes
AMENTITIES: Childcare, free parking, wifi
Opened in Lincoln Park in 2009, this gym’s claim to fame is its creative group fitness options. Alongside the usual kettlebell and body-sculpting classes, you’ll find Fly Yoga (you hang from special hammocks and perform poses in the air), the Caveman Workout (you swing a sledgehammer and pull heavy ropes), and parkour (you leap, climb, and vault off things). The gym also offers CrossFit classes, the hardcore boot camp workout, for a higher membership fee (starting at $125 a month). Socializing while working out is even an option: At Friday night’s Vinyasa and Vino, unwind with
an hour of yoga and then continue to relax at a nearby wine store with a tasting just for your class.
5. Edgewater Athletic Club
LOCATION: 1040 W. Granville Ave.
COST: $59 a month; no initiation fee with annual contract
BEST FOR: Far North Siders who appreciate friendly service
AMENTITIES: Free parking
Ten years ago, the Edgewater Athletic Club opened in the historic Sovereign Hotel, aiming to turn an underused space into a neighborhood gym. In 2005, the EAC transformed the building’s striking domed ballroom into its weight room and, three years later, renovated the entire property and expanded to its current 15,000-square-foot layout. Definitely not a megaclub, this gym offers some nice features for the price, such as a 20-yard indoor pool, a steam room, and newish cardio equipment. The locker room showers could use another round of fixes, but the rest of the space is spiffy and never too crowded. You’ll like its proximity to Metropolis Coffee, just one block away.
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Photography: (FFC) Jorge Gera; (I.D. Gym) Katie Basil; (Edgewater athletic cluub) Jeremy Bolen; (All Others) Courtesy of gym