The YMCA is a better gym than Planet Fitness. It has a greater selection of equipment, more group classes, better personal trainers, and flexible membership plans. The only drawbacks of the YMCA when compared to Planet Fitness are that it’s not open 24/7, and you may not be able to use your membership at all locations.
Since canceling a gym membership can be inconvenient and expensive, choosing the right gym from the start is important. This means considering more than just cost and also evaluating things like the group class schedule, the quality of the amenities, and what kind of equipment it has.
In this article, I went to the YMCA and Planet Fitness near my home in Wayne, New Jersey, so you can see how they stack up against each other. By the end, you’ll understand which one will be a better fit for you.
- YMCA: Overview
- Planet Fitness: Overview
- Contract Length
- Gym Policies
- Group Classes
- Personal Training
- Hours of Operation
Table of Contents
YMCA vs Planet Fitness Comparison Chart
|Barbells & Plates
|Women's only area
|Best for beginners
|More than 2300 gyms in the US
|Best for beginners & general gym goers
|More than 2700 locations in the USA
The YMCA was founded in the 1800s as a 501(c)(3) organization whose original mission was to provide men with a safe space to participate in healthy activities. It also had roots in promoting Christianity, but it has since grown into an organization that supports people from all walks of life.
In addition to its community-building programs, the YMCA also has robust workout facilities, group fitness programs, and sports programs for people of all ages. The quality of the fitness centers can vary widely, but most YMCA locations are good places to work out and have a decent selection of equipment.
One of the best things about the YMCA is that it offers scholarships and financial aid for people who can’t afford a membership. Because it subsidizes its programs, membership costs can be more expensive than those of other gyms, but it’s worth it if you want to give back to your local community.
- Scholarships and financial aid available for people with low incomes
- Couple, family, and senior citizen memberships available for discounted prices
- Amenities such as pools and basketball courts are free for members
- Free childcare and other activities for children
- Friendly staff members
- Some locations have time limits on cardio machines
- Broken equipment can take a while to be repaired or replaced
- Quality of amenities isn’t always the best
Who Is the YMCA For?
The YMCA is an ideal gym for:
- Couples and families
- Senior citizens
- Anyone who needs financial assistance in order to afford a gym membership
- Anyone who wants to hire a personal trainer
- Anyone who wants to take group classes, play basketball, or swim
Planet Fitness Overview
Planet Fitness is easily recognizable thanks to its bright purple and yellow brand colors and quirky marketing campaigns. It was founded by former owners of a Gold’s Gym franchise who believed there was a need for gyms that catered to the everyday gym-goer.
But despite wanting to build an inclusive, judgment-free gym, the founders of Planet Fitness have instead succeeded in building a gimmicky, hypercritical chain that doesn’t accept powerlifters, bodybuilders, or anyone who cares about actually making progress. And if the staff thinks you’re purposefully trying to intimidate other members, they’ll ring the lunk alarm.
Somehow, Planet Fitness is still one of the fastest-growing chain gyms in the US. It’s not the worst option if you can’t afford a more expensive gym membership or if you’re just trying to lead a healthier lifestyle. But unless you only need access to a treadmill or lightweight dumbbells, you’re better off looking elsewhere.
- Low-cost memberships
- Black Card members can visit any location in the world
- Black Card members get discounts at Reebok.com
- Free Wi-Fi for all members
- No barbells or heavy dumbbells
- Staff may scold you for lifting too heavy
- Not a lot of amenities
Who Is Planet Fitness For?
Planet Fitness is an ideal gym for:
- Anyone who prefers cardio or light strength training workouts
- Anyone who wants access to tanning and massage chairs
- Anyone who is trying to save money on a gym membership
- Anyone who wants 24/7 access to the gym
YMCA vs Planet Fitness: 10 Differences
One of the first things you’ll likely look at when joining a gym is price. You’ll need to know the monthly cost so you can factor it into your monthly budget. But you’ll also have to think about initiation fees, annual fees, and taxes, which can add up.
The YMCA has several different membership plans whose prices vary based on your age, your location, and whether you’re joining by yourself or with a family member.
Adults between the ages of 27 and 64 can expect to pay around $59/month for a solo membership. Adults under the age of 26 will pay $26-$36/month, while senior citizens will pay around $47/month.
If you join with a spouse, you can expect to pay around $85/month. Parents who join with their children can expect to pay around $99/month.
Joining fees start at $25, but they are often discounted. Furthermore, scholarships and financial aid are available for anyone who can prove that they can’t afford a membership.
Planet Fitness has Classic and Black Card memberships. The Classic membership costs $10/month plus taxes while the Black Card membership costs $22.99/month plus taxes.
Initiation fees are only required with the Classic plan, but they are often only $1. Both plans require annual fees of $39.
You can’t beat Planet Fitness’s prices, but the YMCA may be a better option if you’re joining as a family. You’ll still wind up paying more, but the price is reasonable for a larger group of people.
2. Contract Length
Knowing what kind of contract a gym offers can be helpful before you drop in for a visit. It can prevent you from giving in to pressure to sign up without fully understanding what kind of commitment you’re making.
The YMCA has month-to-month contracts. At some locations, you can pay for 12 months in full, but you don’t save any money.
The Classic membership is month-to-month while the Black Card membership is annual.
It’s a tie since both gyms have month-to-month contracts. And even though the YMCA doesn’t have annual contracts, you do have the option to pay for a year in full.
What kind of equipment is available, how much there is, and how well-maintained it is are important things to consider when you’re searching for a gym.
Having to wait around for machines to become available or not being able to use certain pieces of equipment because they’re constantly under maintenance can add extra time to your workout, cause you to have to alter your routine, and leave you frustrated.
At the YMCA, you’ll find treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes, strength machines, and free weights. It has dumbbells that go up to 125lbs, round and hex plates, barbells, kettlebells, prefixed barbells, and EZ curl bars. Most locations have squat racks, but not all of them have deadlift platforms.
However, you should be aware that the gym equipment isn’t well-maintained at all locations, as many clubs put most of their funds towards their community outreach programs. Repairing or replacing broken equipment isn’t always the top priority.
Planet Fitness has dozens of cardio machines, including treadmills, ellipticals, step climbers, and stationary bikes. While it has resistance machines and some free weights, it doesn’t have barbells, plates, or dumbbells that go higher than 60lbs.
You also won’t find any squat racks or deadlift platforms at Planet Fitness.
The YMCA wins because it has more strength training equipment that allows for a wider variety of workouts. But just remember that you may have to use worn-down equipment, and broken machines may take a while to fix.
A gym’s staff should make you feel welcome, and when you’re working out, you shouldn’t feel like the other members are judging you. A gym that promotes a toxic culture isn’t a fun place to work out.
You likely also won’t have a good experience at the gym if the majority of the members are significantly older or younger than you or enjoy different kinds of workouts than you do. As such, you’ll need to pay attention to the gym’s culture to make sure you fit in with the other members.
As a whole, the YMCA is a family-friendly place thanks to all of the children’s activities it offers. The fitness centers tend to attract casual gym-goers and senior citizens, which gives it a laid-back atmosphere. It doesn’t have a huge bodybuilding or powerlifting community, but if that’s your preferred style of training, you won’t be shunned.
At the YMCA, the personal trainers walk around the gym floor frequently and are usually happy to provide assistance with the equipment if you need it. This makes it a good option if you’re a beginner who’s still learning how to use all the machines.
Planet Fitness also has a laidback environment that’s good for beginners, older individuals, and casual gym-goers. However, unlike the YMCA — where bodybuilders and powerlifters are welcome even if they’re not the primary audience — anyone who looks too in-shape may be asked to leave.
You also have to worry about the lunk alarm, which the staff can ring if they catch you doing anything that they deem intimidating for other members. Wondering if you’re doing something wrong that can lead to you being humiliated in the gym can be nerve-wracking and make it a less than enjoyable place to work out.
If you’re looking for a truly accepting environment at the gym, go with the YMCA. It’s more welcoming of people who prefer all kinds of workouts.
5. Gym Policies
Getting an understanding of your preferred gym’s rules and policies before you join is important. You don’t want to find out too late that you can’t wear your favorite gym outfit or drop your weights after heavy sets of deadlifts, which can cause conflicts with the staff and other gym members.
Most YMCA locations have rules against using chalk and dropping weights. Grunting isn’t forbidden per se, but it’s still recommended to be considerate of the people working out around you. The dress code is also pretty lenient and any kind of workout-appropriate clothing is allowed.
The guest policy at each YMCA club is different, but most locations only allow three guests per year free of charge. Any additional guest you want to bring beyond that will incur a guest fee of about $20.
If you want to cancel your membership, you have to send a letter via certified mail or hand it in to the staff in person. There are no cancellation fees, but you do have to provide at least 14 days’ notice.
Planet Fitness has a strict dress code policy and doesn’t allow short shorts, crop tops, or any other clothing that shows too much skin. It also has strict rules against using chalk, dropping weights, and grunting, all of which can entice the staff to ring the lunk alarm.
One of the good things about Planet Fitness is that it has a good guest policy. If you have a Black Card membership, you can bring an unlimited number of guests with you per month.
If you want to cancel your membership, you have to fill out a cancellation request form at the front desk. Members with month-to-month plans can cancel at any time, but Black Card members have to pay a $58 cancellation fee.
Some rules such as no chalk and no dropping weights exist at both the YMCA and Planet Fitness. But the YMCA wins because it has a more lenient dress code and no cancellation fees.
6. Group Classes
Group classes can be a fun way to work out and socialize at the same time, but not all gyms offer them. Whether you know you’ll take group classes regularly or you think it’ll just be something you do on occasion, you should make sure your preferred gym offers a variety of unique classes that work with your schedule.
The YMCA offers group fitness classes all day long. You can choose from Zumba, Pilates, yoga, spin, or aquatics classes. There are also age-appropriate classes for seniors.
Planet Fitness doesn’t have classes, but it has small group training sessions called PE@PF. You can choose from three different types of PE@PF sessions: a beginner’s class, a 30-minute express circuit class, or classes that focus on strengthening specific body parts.
If you want to take a traditional fitness class rather than work out with a small group of people, go with the YMCA.
A gym’s amenities can make or break your experience. Because they’re designed to make working out more convenient for you, a gym that doesn’t offer the services that are most helpful to you may not be worth joining.
The YMCA has pools, basketball courts, saunas, and massage chairs, but some locations will charge you extra if you want to use them.
Most locations offer free childcare for up to two hours. Smoothie bars and cafes are also on-site, and locker rooms and showers are available for all members to use.
Amenities at Planet Fitness include tanning booths, smoothie bars, massage chairs, red light therapy, and showers and locker rooms. However, except for the locker rooms and showers, which are available for all members, most amenities are only available for Black Card members.
Planet Fitness doesn’t have any saunas, pools, or basketball courts. It also doesn’t offer childcare.
The YMCA is a better gym if you’re looking for a place where you can swim, sit in the sauna, play basketball, or if you need childcare.
8. Personal Training
Hiring a personal trainer can be an excellent decision if you need someone to hold you accountable for your workouts, teach you how to do new exercises, or help you feel more comfortable in the gym.
But personal training packages are expensive, and not all personal trainers are worth spending the money on. If you’re interested in working with a personal trainer, you’ll need to evaluate the qualifications of the trainers at your preferred gym to ensure they can help you reach your goals.
Personal trainers at the YMCA have nationally recognized certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), the American Council on Exercise (ACE), or other similar certifying bodies.
Personal training packages cost anywhere from $86 to $720. Prices vary based on your location, how many sessions you get in your package, and how long each session lasts. For new members, discounted packages of up to four 60-minute sessions are available.
The personal trainers at Planet Fitness are also certified through NASM, ACE, or other similar places, but they pretty much just walk around the gym for anyone who needs assistance with a machine and run the PE@PF classes.
They’re also available for free consultations, but they won’t be by your side to walk you through your workouts.
If you want more one-on-one attention from your personal trainer, go with the YMCA.
Joining a gym that’s in close proximity to where you live or work is important, but it’s also nice to know whether you can use your gym membership at other locations. Reciprocity can come in handy when you’re traveling or if you just want to go to a different club to take different classes or use equipment that your primary location may not have.
Most of the YMCA’s 2,500 affiliates are located in the US, but it also has clubs in 120 other countries.
The YMCA doesn’t have a universal reciprocity policy, but you can ask for a travel pass if you want to work out at another club. However, not all locations will accept them.
Planet Fitness has over 2,000 locations in the US, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, and Puerto Rico.
Members with Black Card memberships can visit any club worldwide.
Planet Fitness is the better choice if you’re looking for a gym with lots of locations that you can visit at any time.
10. Hours of Operation
Most large chain gyms are open early in the morning until late at night, but that’s not always the case. Although it’s not as common, some gyms also close in the middle of the day, which is inconvenient if you want to work out during your lunch break.
Choosing a gym that has convenient hours will be important so you can work out at times that work best with your schedule.
A few YMCA gyms provide 24/7 access, but most are open from 5 AM until 9 or 10 PM. You may also come across some clubs that are closed for an hour or two in the afternoon.
Some Planet Fitness locations are only open from 5 AM until 11 PM, but the majority of them are open 24/7.
Planet Fitness has more convenient hours, making it a better option for you if you have an erratic schedule and can only work out at odd hours.
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About The Author
Amanda is a writer and editor in the fitness and nutrition industries. Growing up in a family that loved sports, she learned the importance of staying active from a young age. She started CrossFit in 2015, which led to her interest in powerlifting and weightlifting. She's passionate about helping women overcome their fear of lifting weights and teaching them how to fuel their bodies properly. When she's not training in her garage gym or working, you can find her drinking coffee, walking her dog, or indulging in one too many pieces of chocolate.