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The Best Upscale Gyms In Chicago

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 26, 2016 5:04PM

via Brooklyn Boulders. No, we don't quite know what's happening in this photo, either.

Does spending more money on a swank gym membership translate to more calories burned? We're not convinced that fitness needs to cost more than the price of a decent pair of athletic shoes and the time it takes to do pushups and burpies until we puke.

But sometimes we want the extra motivation and the perks that come with belonging to a spa-like health club—think fancy bath products, complimentary wifi, eucalyptus-soaked towels and a sinewy trainer named Anthony fist-bumping you while you sprint. That's where these gyms come in. If you're looking for a bare-bones (but still totally worth it) workout, look elsewhere; but if you're looking for a little more pampering with your muscle burn, here are seven of the Chicagoist staff's favorite boutique, upscale gyms.

Rooftop view. Via Lakeshore Fitness

Lakeshore Sport & Fitness

Lakeshore Sport & Fitness feels like a summer camp in the best way possible: indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a ten-story rock climbing wall (located at the Illinois Center gym downtown), a gorgeous rooftop deck (at the Lincoln Park location), and more sports courts than you can shake a tennis racket at. The Lincoln Park location, for example, features 8 indoor tennis courts, 3 rooftop tennis courts, 2 outdoor paddle courts, 2 squash courts and one racquetball court.

The four-story Lincoln Park campus stretches over 3.5 acres just off Fullerton Avenue, where guests can get a workout in, bring their families along for some kid-friendly fun and order food at a posh rooftop restaurant. The rooftop pool and lounge area is mega relaxing and great for events; our editor attended a college alumni mixer up there and came away convinced she needed to start a trial membership. Lakeshore's gyms have a lot to offer in the winter, too, thanks to indoor pools, the aforementioned rock climbing wall, and running tracks.

The family-friendly gym has special membership prices for families, couples, single parents and young adults. Also of note: Everything in the gym is orange, and we're told this is because the owner is a Princeton alum.

Lakeshore Sport and Fitness is located in Lincoln Park at 1320 W. Fullerton Ave. and the Loop at 211 N. Stetson Ave.

via Equinox


No, working out for a day at Equinox did not make us want to go swimming in our underwear, eat paper money off our chiseled abs, join a cult, forget to put on a shirt before leaving the house or steal a cherub-like garden statue. We did not see anyone at Equinox's Lincoln Park gym using the stair-climber in heels or pumping iron in lingerie. We did, however, get an excellent workout in an immaculate facility.

Equinox is engineered to feel luxurious and sexy, from its racy ad campaigns to its almost-creepy personal training marketing-copy, which asks readers to "donate your body to science." Equinox has four Chicago-area locations, and as far as high-end gyms go, Equinox is a gold-standard. The gyms offer multiple group fitness rooms, full-service spas, fancy shampoos and an array of cardio and weight training equipment. The Lincoln Park location has a private boxing room that adorably allows users the option to mute the music that is pumped in to every other room; The Gold Coast location features a junior Olympic-sized swimming pool. During our visit, we took a treadmill running class with Anthony Fleming III that is so popular, reservations usually book up within minutes. He cheered and high-fived us on for 45 minutes of intense sprints that flew by in no time.

Equinox has four Chicago area locations: The Gold Coast Equinox is at 900 N. Michigan Ave.; the Lincoln Park Equinox is at 1750 N. Clark St.; the Loop Equinox is at 200 W. Monroe St.; the Highland Park Equinox is at 799 Central Ave., Highland Park.

via FFC

Fitness Formula Clubs

The FFCs have the right vibe for the right price. Each location has pristine fitness equipment, lockers and pools, an unending supply of fresh towels and very helpful staff. Membership prices vary, and (full disclosure) our editor is a member at this gym, paying under $70 a month for access to all of the club's city locations.

The FFCs feel like the perfect marriage between a health club—with wifi, lounge areas, a sauna and, in many cases, a juice bar or a fast-casual restaurant like Protein Bar attached—and a place where people are actually going to workout. In terms of fitness equipment, the FFCs offer a good variety of cardio machines, an array of weight machines, several squat racks, kettlebells, and items like the TRX and ab roller to assist your bodyweight exercises. Whether your workout of choice is the stairmaster or the Smith machine, they've got you covered.

Several locations also have pools; the West Loop in particular features a gorgeous rooftop pool and an indoor hot tub, and the Old Town location has a small but ever-changing rock climbing wall with a very helpful staff. But our favorite location is probably the Lincoln Park gym, which has floor-to-ceiling windows with stunning views of the city and a deck. One main drawback: With the exception of the Union Station gym there are no FFCs off the Blue Line. (Editor's note: Shoutout to personal trainer Caroline Juster, who has me deadlifting 225 lbs less than a year after I joined the gym).

FFC has locations in East Lakeview at 3657 N. Pine Grove; in the Gold Coast at 1030 N. Clark St. Suite 600; in Boystown at 3228 N. Halsted St.; in Lincoln Park at 939 W. North Ave., in Old Town at 1235 N. LaSalle St.; in the South Loop at 1151 S. State St.; at Union Station at 444 W. Jackson Blvd.; in the West Loop at 10 S. Clinton St.; and in Oak Park at 1114 Lake St., Oak Park.

via WPAC

Chicago Athletic Clubs

Chicago Athletic Clubs (CAC) is a chain of eight Chicago gyms, with amenities from climbing walls to swimming pools to Pilates reformers. A CAC rep told Chicagoist that memberships cost between $49 to $89 a month, and are available on an annual basis or month-to-month.

Of the CAC locations, Wicker Park Athletic Club and Bucktown Athletic Club (BAC) stand out as some of the only general-purpose gyms near Blue Line stops. WPAC, my gym of choice, is a block from the Division station, and it's where I first, tentatively started working out despite my high school PE-related hangups. The inclusive culture has kept me loyal for four years running (though BAC has a Pilates studio with reformers coming soon, and I'll definitely try that out when it opens). Most fitness classes at WPAC, especially in the yoga and Pilates family, are beginner-friendly; instructors offer modifications for newbies, plus cuing so detailed it's basically a college course in human anatomy. Though it's a co-ed gym, I've never noticed any ogling; I've also never received any side-eye, even when I, a person with no muscle mass and pink gym shorts, explored the testosterone-soaked weightlifting area. It's just a really solid, accepting place to work out, and pro tip: There are more treadmills in the back of the gym, near the free weights. —Mae Rice

The Webster Place Athletic Club is located at 1455 Webster Place; the Bucktown Athletic Club is located at 2040 W. North Ave.; the West Loop Athletic Club is located at 1380 W. Randolph St.; The Evanston Athletic Club is located at 1723 Benson Ave., Evanston; the Lakeview Athletic Club is located at 3212 N. Broadway; the Lincoln Square Athletic Club is located at 4662 N. Lincoln Ave.; the Lincoln Park Athletic Club is located at 1019 W. Diversey Parkway; WPAC is located at 1635 W. Division St. See WPAC's schedule of group classes here.

via Brooklyn Boulders

Brooklyn Boulders

Brooklyn Boulders might be an odd choice to have on a list of mostly all-purpose gyms. But if you can make do with the sparse cardio machines and bare-bones weight room in favor of a communal atmosphere centered around indoor rock climbing, Brooklyn Boulders is a winner. The first Chicago location of this NYC chain opened in Greektown last year, offering 25,000 square feet of rock climbing adventures, including a multitude of bouldering problems and several opportunities for auto-belaying, rappelling, top-roping, and lead climbing. If you already know what all of that means, then you'll fit right in. If you don't, the gym offers a variety of classes and several class and visit packages for those who aren't quite ready to commit to the $109-a-month membership.

In addition to the soaring rock climbing walls and party atmosphere (the gym is thumping with music and crowded with climbers and people just hanging out whenever we visit), Brooklyn Boulders offers personal training, yoga classes and enough free weights for serious lifters to get their fix. We recommend befriending a member and then checking out the gym as a guest, or during one of its monthly open houses, when guests of members climb for free.

Brooklyn Boulders is located at 100 S. Morgan St.

via Cheetah Gym

Cheetah Gym Bucktown

Cheetah Gym has seen its fair share of behind-the-scenes financial drama since Jim joined in 2003, but you would have never known it since the staff and service have always both been stellar. Housed in the Chicago Real World House (or, the coffee shop Urbus Orbis if you’re a neighborhood OG), the gym spans four floors, so even during high traffic hours the space doesn’t seem crowded and there’s always weights or a machine open to continue your workout.

The general vibe is mostly mellow—there’s not a whole bunch of plate slamming or grunting going on here, unless you count the Crossfit training on the ground floor (but luckily their obnoxiousness is largely contained). They’ve always had hefty group class offerings, too. Michelle is partial to the yoga classes, but the schedule is full of different options like spin, cardio dance, bootcamp and more.

The Bucktown gym was recently bought by Lakeshore Sport & Fitness. With the change in ownership, some of the club’s amenities are being modified—not all for the better, in particular a recent rearrangement of cardio and weight machines—so our endorsement comes with that caveat. However, it appears as if they’re trying to maintain the spirit, and keep the staff, that made Cheetah our gym of choice for so many years. —Michelle Kopeny and Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

Cheetah Gym Bucktown is located at 1934 W. North Ave. Cheetah Gym's now-unaffiliated Andersonville location is at 5248 N. Clark St.

Via East Bank Club

East Bank Club

The East Bank Club is the kind of gym you could spend the whole day at if you're not careful, thanks to its flat screen TVs, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, golf course, many, many racketsports courts, full-service salon, restaurant, dry cleaners... and of course, scores of exercise machines and weightlifting stations. Fitness has never felt more like belonging to an exclusive club than at the East Bank Club—which is almost literally what it is, thanks to the pricey membership and enrollment fees.

The club has been a Chicago institution since opening in 1980, and the 450,000 square-foot River North gym strives to make members' time there worthwhile. In addition to rows of workout equipment that seem to stretch on forever, the club offers personal training, nutrition consultations and group classes scheduled throughout the day. Plus, visitors say that summertime at one of the club's outdoor pools feels like an all-day singles-mixer—we'll let you decide whether that's a pro or con.

East Bank Club is located at 500 N. Kingsbury St.