If you’re looking into joining a gym, chances are you’ve heard of the YMCA. While its main focus is on developing community outreach programs, many YMCA locations have gyms or fitness centers that are available to the public.
Another gym you may have come across is Life Time Fitness. Life Time Fitness is an athletic resort where you could spend hours without getting bored. It’s vastly different from the YMCA in more ways than one.
So, is Life Time Fitness or the YMCA a better gym? For most people, Life Time Fitness is the better choice. It has a ton of high-quality equipment, excellent group classes, and top-notch amenities. However, it’s one of the most expensive gyms around. If you’re trying to save money and you also want to support your local community, I recommend the YMCA instead.
There are many factors to consider when trying to determine which gym to join. Cost and location are some of the most obvious ones, but it’s also important to think about things like contract length and gym rules. You don’t want to be stuck with a contract you can’t get out of because the gym won’t allow you to train the way you want.
After reading this article, you’ll have a better understanding of what you can find at Life Time Fitness and the YMCA, and you’ll be able to decide which gym is right for you.
Life Time Fitness Overview
Life Time Fitness is more than just a gym — it’s a huge resort-style facility where both adults and kids can have fun. Many Life Time Fitness locations are over 100,000 square feet and have spas, cafes, indoor and outdoor pools, and a vast array of amenities.
Life Time Fitness isn’t cheap, but if you can afford it, the cost is worth it. It’s especially a good option for families with young children. Life Time Fitness has childcare services, summer camps, and kid-friendly studio classes.
Life Time Fitness can feel like more of a country club than a gym, but the people that go there tend to be serious about their workouts. Whether you enjoy lifting weights, cardio workouts, or group classes, you can always find something to do at this gym.
- Large selection of group classes including Life Time’s signature Alpha classes
- Lots of amenities, including pools, saunas, basketball courts, racquetball courts, rock climbing walls, and childcare
- Discounted memberships available for young professionals
- Students have the option to purchase memberships that are only available during the summer and school breaks
- Luxury toiletries in the showers and locker rooms
- Memberships are expensive
- Chalk is not allowed
- Employees can be rude at some locations
The YMCA is a Christian organization that dates back to the 1800s, but it’s since grown into an organization that supports people from all walks of life. In addition to its focus on social responsibility, the YMCA also has gym facilities, but the size, quality of equipment, and clientele are different at each location.
The YMCA is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Its programs teach people how to become more confident in themselves and empower them to make an impact in their communities.
The YMCA also hosts many social events and fundraisers throughout the year. It’s a great place to go if you want to connect with other people in your neighborhood.
- Reasonable prices with scholarships and financial aid opportunities for people who can’t afford a membership
- Can save money by joining with your spouse and/or children
- Staff members are usually pleasant, polite, and helpful
- Plenty of opportunities to volunteer and meet new people
- Decent selection of amenities
- Time limits on cardio machines at certain locations
- Equipment repairs are done slowly at some locations
- Not a lot of high-end equipment
Life Time Fitness vs YMCA: 10 Differences
Life Time Fitness and the YMCA are two very different gyms and cater to different audiences.
You’ll also find that Life Time Fitness’s amenities and equipment tend to be more similar across all locations, while there’s more of a disparity between different locations at the YMCA.
Let’s take a closer look at each to help you decide which one is best for you.
One of the first things to consider when deciding between two gyms is cost. Not only do you have to make sure you can afford the monthly fee but you’ll also have to account for enrollment fees and annual fees.
Life Time Fitness
Life Time Fitness is a luxury gym. As such, its memberships are costly.
Life Time Fitness clubs that are located in areas with high costs of living start at $169/month and can go up to $249/month. How much you have to pay depends on whether or not you want access to other clubs, unlimited group classes, and early reservation privileges for childcare services.
The joining fees can be as high as $170, but if you join during a special promotion, you may not have to pay them at all.
If you’re a student or young professional, you can save some money with a membership plan that suits those with smaller budgets. You can also get a discounted membership if you purchase a family plan, are on Medicare, or if your employer participates in Life Time’s corporate wellness program.
Life Time Fitness also offers a digital-only membership for about $15/month. You can get access to virtual classes, exclusive recipes and healthy living tips, and discounts at certain retail brands.
You can get a one-day trial pass on the Life Time website to try it out before you purchase a membership.
The YMCA has several different membership options based on your age and whether you’re signing up as an individual or with a family member. Costs will also be different in different areas of the US.
An adult between the ages of 27 and 64 can expect to pay around $59/month. Anyone younger than 27 can expect to pay between $26 and $36 per month while senior citizens will have to pay around $47/month.
If you and your partner or spouse purchase a couples’ membership, you’ll have to pay around $85/month. A membership for a couple and dependents under 27 costs around $99/month.
Joining fees at the YMCA cost anywhere from $25 to $50, but you can get them for as little as $1 if you join during a promotion.
The YMCA offers free trials, but the length of the trial period varies by location.
With plans that cost less than $60/month and plenty of options for you to save money, the YMCA is the better gym for individuals who don’t want to pay in the triple digits for a gym membership.
2. Contract Length
It’s important to understand what kind of commitment you’ll be asked to make when you join a gym. Many gyms offer both month-to-month and annual memberships, but some only offer one or the other.
Life Time Fitness
Life Time Fitness memberships are month-to-month, so there’s no long-term commitment.
Most YMCA memberships are also month-to-month, but at some locations, you have the option to pay for a year in full. It may not be worth it to do that though because you won’t save any money.
Since both gyms have month-to-month contracts, you can’t go wrong with either one if you’re not interested in being tied to a long-term contract.
Before you join a gym, you should check out what kind of equipment it is. You don’t necessarily have to look for high-end brand names, but the equipment should be functional, well-maintained, and able to suit whatever kind of workout you prefer.
Life Time Fitness
The cardio and resistance machines at Life Time are from well-known brands like Precor, Hammer Strength, Octane Fitness, and TechnoGym.
Life Time has rows and rows of treadmills, stationary bikes, ellipticals, and step machines. It also has some Woodway treadmills, which don’t operate with a motor but are instead controlled manually by how fast or slow you run.
In the weight room, Life Time has flat and incline benches, dumbbells, EZ curl bars, and preset straight bars. It also has bumper plates that range from 10lbs to 45lbs. You’ll also find matadors and landmine attachments for the squat racks. Most locations have at least five or six squat racks and deadlift platforms.
At the YMCA, you’ll find cardio machines from some of the most common fitness equipment suppliers like Precor and Life Fitness. There’s not an endless supply of machines, but there is a variety of treadmills, stationary bikes, and ellipticals.
Depending on which location you go to, you should be able to find dumbbells that go up to 125lbs. The weight room will also have flat and incline benches, rubber-coated plates, squat racks, EZ curl bars, preset straight bars, and kettlebells. Not all clubs have bumper plates, but they all have rubber-coated grip or hex plates. Some clubs also have trap bars.
Even though the equipment will be sufficient enough for most workouts, it won’t always be brand new or well-kept. For instance, at the YMCA I visited recently, the barbells were old and a bit rusty. The YMCA prioritizes its community outreach programs, so the gym equipment sometimes doesn’t get replaced or repaired quickly.
Life Time Fitness wins in the equipment category. It not only has a better quality of equipment but it’s also maintained better and there’s a lot more of it.
The gym you join should motivate you to work out and instill confidence in what you’re doing. The staff, trainers, and other members are all catalysts for creating a positive environment in the gym.
Before you purchase a membership, it’s worthwhile to evaluate what kind of people attend the gym and how they interact with each other to determine whether or not you’ll feel comfortable there.
You should also check to see if there are other individuals doing the same kind of workouts as you. You’ll feel left out if you join a gym where the majority of members only take group classes when you’re more interested in lifting weights.
Life Time Fitness
Life Time Fitness tends to attract people who are more serious about their fitness. That’s not to say that you can’t go there if you’re a more casual gym-goer. But considering how expensive it is, if you decide to join Life Time, you’ll want to get the most of your membership and train with a purpose every time you go to the gym.
Because of its high costs and the fact that it’s a family-oriented place, you’ll find a lot of middle-aged adults with young children at Life Time. Children aren’t allowed on the gym floor though, so you won’t have to worry about them getting in your way.
The YMCA has even more of a family-friendly atmosphere than Life Time due to all of the after-school programs and children’s activities it offers. If you go to the Y in the late afternoon or early evening, you’ll likely see a lot of families and young children running around the facilities.
Each location will have a different vibe inside the gym, but in my experience, the people who tend to go to the Y are middle-aged adults and seniors with a few young adults in the mix. You probably won’t find hardcore bodybuilders or powerlifters there, so you shouldn’t feel intimidated if you’re new to the gym.
It’s a tie because the decision between Life Time and the YMCA depends on how serious you are about training.
The YMCA will be more suitable if you’re just trying to stay healthy and want a supportive environment where you also have opportunities to connect with people outside of the gym.
Life Time Fitness will be better for you if you’re a little more serious about your training and want to be surrounded by like-minded individuals.
5. Gym Policies
Each gym’s policies will be outlined in the membership agreement, and most gyms will have signs on the walls that state their rules as well.
Before you sign a contract, review the rules and get a good understanding of the gym’s policies regarding dress codes, cancellations, guest privileges, and use of the equipment.
Life Time Fitness
One of the nice things about Life Time is that there are no cancellation fees. You can cancel at any time as long as you give 30 days’ notice and submit a written letter in person or via certified mail. You can also temporarily freeze your membership for a small fee of $10/month.
With most memberships, you get two guest passes per month. Guests can use the gym equipment but are not allowed in the outdoor pools, sports courts, or group classes.
Memberships can’t be transferred to another person, but you can change the location of your home club by speaking to a staff member. In most cases, you can use your membership at other local clubs, but you can’t use it to visit just any club throughout the country.
Chalk is not allowed at Life Time Fitness, but you can drop weights. In terms of the dress code, men have to wear shirts at all times unless they’re in the saunas or pools, but women can wear sports bras and crop tops. Lifting barefoot is allowed as long as you keep your socks on.
If you want to cancel your YMCA membership, you only have to provide 14 days’ notice at some locations. Like Life Time, you have to submit a written letter in person or via certified mail.
Guests are allowed, but you may be limited to bringing just three guests per year for free. After that, you’ll have to pay a guest fee of about $20.
YMCA memberships can’t be transferred to another individual, but if you wish to switch locations, you should be able to change your primary club by speaking to a staff member.
At the YMCA, men have to wear shirts unless they’re swimming or in the sauna. Women can wear sports bras and crop tops. It is a family organization, though, so you should still make sure you’re covered up enough.
The use of chalk and dropping weights are not allowed at most locations. Lifting barefoot is also not allowed.
Life Time Fitness is the better choice if you want a gym with more flexible rules. You can drop weights, lift barefoot, and bring more guests with you per month.
6. Group Classes
If group classes are your thing, be sure to review the schedules and class offerings at the gym you’re considering. Almost all gyms offer group classes, but they don’t all have the same kind of classes and the class times are different at each gym.
Life Time Fitness
Life Time Fitness has a huge selection of group classes including barre, kettlebell, yoga, cycling, and strength-based classes. Many of the classes have different levels for beginners and advanced exercisers.
Life Time also has signature group training classes. Some of the most popular ones are the Alpha classes, which are similar to CrossFit. They focus on metabolic conditioning and feature movements like the Olympic lifts, kettlebell swings, and sled pushes.
The YMCA offers classes like Zumba, Pilates, spinning, HIIT, and yoga. It also has aquatics classes and special classes for seniors. Classes are available all day long, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding something that fits your schedule.
Life Time Fitness beats out the YMCA ever so slightly because of its signature group training classes, which may be of interest to people who enjoy CrossFit or other high-intensity workouts.
However, the YMCA is still a good choice if you’re looking for more traditional classes like Zumba or Pilates.
If amenities are important to you, you should make sure the gym you choose has everything you’re interested in. You should also understand which amenities are included with your membership and which ones you’ll have to pay extra for.
Life Time Fitness
If there’s an amenity you’re looking for at the gym, Life Time Fitness probably has it. You can find saunas, steam rooms, whirlpools, swimming pools, sports courts, childcare services, smoothie bars or cafes, and yoga studios at almost every location. Whether or not you have to pay extra for certain amenities depends on what kind of membership you have.
Life Time Fitness doesn’t have things like massage chairs and red light therapy booths, but you can get spa treatments done at the onsite MediSpa. However, you’ll have to pay extra for those services.
The lockers and showers are made from high-quality wood, marble, and tile. Life Time Fitness provides toiletries and free towels as well as extra supplies like deodorant, hairdryers, and hairspray. If you need to shower at the gym, you probably won’t have to bring anything with you other than a change of clothes.
The YMCA has swimming pools, basketball courts, and childcare. Some locations also have massage chairs and saunas, and you can usually find a smoothie bar or cafe on the premises. The YMCA also has locker rooms and showers, but you should bring your own toiletries and towel.
Some amenities are included with your membership, but you’ll have to pay extra for others.
As you can probably tell, it’s hard to compete with Life Time Fitness when it comes to amenities. Even though the YMCA offers a lot of amenities as well, the ones at Life Time Fitness are of higher quality.
8. Personal Training
Most chain gyms have personal trainers, but the quality can vary significantly. Some gyms require their trainers to have prior experience while others require nothing more than a certification.
If you’re deciding between two gyms based on the quality of their trainers, you should evaluate how much experience and how many credentials each gym requires of their training staff.
Since you’ll have to pay extra for personal training sessions at most gyms, it’s also important to make sure you can fit them into your budget.
Life Time Fitness
At Life Time Fitness, the personal trainers are required to have certifications from an accredited institution such as NASM or ACE. It’s preferred that they have degrees in exercise science or kinesiology, but it’s not necessary.
Personal training sessions start around $55/hour and go up to $110/hour. When you first sign up, you have the option to sign up for a $99 personal training experience. This includes a one-hour consultation and two private one-hour sessions.
YMCA’s personal trainers don’t necessarily have more education or experience than the ones at Life Time Fitness. But they tend to enjoy their jobs and they don’t have sales quotas to meet, so they’re less likely to aggressively push expensive training packages on you.
And the personal training packages at the YMCA are expensive. The YMCA has to keep its costs high to subsidize the money it puts towards scholarships and financial aid for people who can’t afford a membership.
Personal training packages at the YMCA can be as low as $86 or as high as $720, depending on how many sessions you buy and whether you want 30- or 60-minute sessions. At some locations, when you first join, you have the option to sign up for four one-hour sessions at a discounted price of around $260.
Personal trainers at the YMCA must have certifications from an accredited institution. College degrees are preferred, but they don’t have to be in kinesiology or exercise science.
Personal training sessions at the YMCA are more costly, but I’d still recommend its trainers over the ones at Life Time.
The YMCA trainers aren’t pressured to meet quotas each month, so they’re less likely to hit you with pushy sales tactics. You’ll likely also find that they’re more willing to help you in the gym even if you’re not a client.
Having a gym just a few miles away from you is nice, but that’s not always feasible.
Still, the gym you choose should be within a reasonable distance from where you live or work. The more convenient it is for you to get there, the more likely you are to go on a consistent basis.
It’s also good to know whether or not you can use your membership at other clubs when you travel. Some gyms limit access to just a few participating locations.
Life Time Fitness
There are about 150 Life Time Fitness locations in the US and Canada, but members aren’t able to use their memberships at all of them.
You may be able to visit other clubs within a certain mile radius of your home club. However, some clubs like the ones in New York City are more exclusive and don’t allow members from other locations.
The YMCA has locations in 120 countries with 2,500 affiliates in the US alone. Most clubs accept members from other locations, but some do not.
With some membership plans, you can also get a certain number of travel passes per year so you can visit another club within a specific geographic region.
Even though both gyms have some restrictions on your ability to visit clubs other than your home club, the YMCA is the better gym for people who are looking for one that has a widespread presence.
10. Hours of Operation
The gym you choose should be open during the time that you’re most likely to go. Whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, you’ll want to make sure you can work out a time that’s most convenient for you.
Life Time Fitness
Most Life Time Fitness locations are open from 4 AM to midnight. A small number of locations are open 24 hours a day.
At some YMCA’s, you can access the gym 24 hours a day even though its other services aren’t available 24/7. Even if your local YMCA isn’t open 24 hours, the gym will usually be open from 5 AM until 9 or 10 PM.
Some YMCA locations close in the middle of the afternoon for an hour or two, which makes it difficult to squeeze in an afternoon workout if you like to go to the gym on your lunch break.
Life Time Fitness is the better gym if you’re looking for more flexible hours. Some clubs are open 24 hours, but the ones that aren’t are always open early in the morning and late at night.
Who Is Life Time Fitness For?
Life Time Fitness is the better gym for:
- Anyone who has a large budget
- People transitioning from CrossFit to a more traditional gym
- People who are interested in amenities such as steam rooms and whirlpools
- People who like to take a variety of group classes
- Powerlifters (if you can get away with not using chalk)
Who Is The YMCA For?
The YMCA is a good gym for:
- Families with young children
- Senior citizens
- People who are interested in one-on-one personal training
- People who need financial assistance to pay for a gym membership
- People who are looking for a community-oriented gym
Other Gym Comparisons With Life Time Fitness and the YMCA
- Gold’s Gym vs YMCA
- Life Time Fitness vs Planet Fitness
- LA Fitness vs YMCA
- YMCA vs Planet Fitness
- YMCA vs Anytime Fitness
- Life Time Fitness vs 24 Hour Fitness
- Life Time Fitness vs Equinox
- Gold’s Gym vs Life Time Fitness
- LA Fitness vs Life Time Fitness
About The Author
Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.