The Case for Splurging on a Fancy Gym

splurging for a fancy gym
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Gym memberships are a luxury. Let's get that out of the way.

I'm not saying every gym feels like a smoothie-fueled paradise of sexy, glistening people who smile relentlessly through step aerobics. Gyms can be dirty, smelly, crowded, and gross. But they are a luxury all the same, something you invest in for your health and to fulfill the desire to have abs you can rock-climb on. Sadly, that's an investment not everyone can afford.

I've had memberships to two gyms at once and periods of no membership at all. I've taught fitness classes in gyms and gone weeks without exercising. But I've never paid more than a reasonable monthly membership to average spots with showers I refused to step in. Several months ago, though, when I could no longer stand the results of a desk job and an affinity for takeout, I bit the bullet and joined an absurdly expensive, fancy gym. And you know what? It was worth every damn penny. Here's why:

You learn a lot about your body

Upon enrollment, I was given a complimentary fitness consultation. I expected a half-assed tour of the weight room and an unnecessary treadmill tutorial, but this meeting turned out to be far more legitimate. At the consultation, I stepped on this contraption that, in seconds, profiled my entire body composition in a neat little printout. I learned that I had a higher-than-average percentage of muscle (amaaazing) but also that my body-fat mass was a bit larger than it needed to be (dammit). The trainer told me I had precisely 8lbs to drop. Conveniently enough, I had just joined a gym! Funny how that works out.

He then put me through a series of physical tests to determine my strengths and weaknesses. The salesmanship was astounding, and I actually considered paying for a personal trainer for four seconds. I've belonged to gyms where employees couldn't even tell me what a machine did, much less what was going on with my body.

A higher price means higher motivation

If you know you've invested a significant sum of money in something, aren't you more inclined to take advantage of it? This theory is currently driving the boutique fitness movement. When I did the math, I knew I had to go at least five times a week to get the per-visit cost low enough to be even remotely justifiable. Did I go five times every single week? No, I'm a normal human with normal responsibilities. But I came pretty close! I wanted a return on my investment, so getting my butt in there wasn't entirely reliant on the desire to spend an hour covered in sweat. Sometimes the more reasons you have for doing something, the more likely you are to do it.

"Don't tell me there's no difference between your average gym stationary bike and one that simulates a ride through the rolling hills of New Zealand."

They're high-tech as hell

Sure, you can get a good workout with nothing but your bodyweight, but state-of-the-art fitness equipment doesn't hurt either. I used machines with technology I hadn't even known existed, let alone seen at other workout facilities, and don't tell me there's no difference between your average gym stationary bike and one that simulates a ride through the rolling hills of New Zealand. A lot of fancier gyms also have apps that track your check-ins, allow you to reserve class spaces, and even monitor your progress. And share your progress! Because all your Facebook friends love getting status updates on your sore glutes.

They're like a hotel

I've never seen a locker room so well equipped. Gone were the days of shlepping a towel, toiletries, and hair products in a heavy bag along with my six outfit choices every morning. I could now bring eight choices! This locker room had expensive, high-quality products in every shower, hair dryers, Q-tips, more towels than Bed Bath & Beyond… the list goes on. I was almost surprised they didn't shave my legs for me, too.

There was always a staff member on hand to bring you anything extra you might've needed (like, one time, Band-Aids, since I apparently do need someone to shave my legs for me). The space was so spotless I didn't even feel the need for shower flip-flops.

"I was almost surprised they didn't shave my legs for me"

The classes are better than boutique fitness

I'm a class fanatic. I love the energy and motivation that group fitness provides and, while they're not everyone's style, a quality class gives you an incredible workout. Unlimited access to classes at fancy gyms actually ends up being economical when you think about the average cost per class. I could spend the same amount of money on five SoulCycle classes as a month's worth of as many barre, boot camp, spin, and dance classes as I can sweat through. Additionally, the instructors at fancy gyms are highly trained and experienced. My favorite class (and the most bile-swallowingly brutal) was actually taught by the creator of the trademarked workout.

Comparison can become a good thing

Look, I'm all for loving your body and holding yourself to your own standard, but let's face it: we all compare ourselves to other people to at least some degree. While it would be easy to imagine luxury gyms as temples dedicated to ritual body-shaming, something a bit more unexpected happened. This particular gym attracted a lot of model types, many of whom fluttered around in barely there shorts and sports bras, causing me to constantly confront the fact that my short, athletic build was physically incapable of growing long, lean legs or dainty, elegant arms. But I'd stand next to these girls while doing bicep curls with 20lb weights versus the 3lb versions they'd halfheartedly lift. I'd hold planks for two minutes when they'd surrender 15 seconds in. I can't grow taller, but I'm a badass. And being at a gym that confronted me with endless examples of the "ideal" body made me realize that I prefer mine for what it can do.

"Sometimes, when you make the right investments in yourself, they pay off."

After four months, despite my love for fluffy towels and finance gods carved from sheet rock, I canceled my membership. Realistically, I couldn't afford it forever, and the experience gave me the drive to continue crushing it on my own. Incredibly fancy gyms cater to a certain socioeconomic class that most people just don't fall in, but when you have a membership, you can conduct stealth reconnaissance on that rarefied strata of society that likely has no idea they're indulging in luxuries most people can't even imagine.

Oh, and those 8lbs? They're gone. Sometimes, when you make the right investments in yourself, they pay off.

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Sarah Anderson is the senior production assistant at Thrillist and she’s probably at the gym right now. Check out her form on Instagram @smileforsarah and Twitter @sarah_jfa.