Updated on December 1, 2016 By Eron Cohen.
This is my two part review of Lifetime Fitness/Lifetime Athletics (click here to view part 2). Although this is a review of Lifetime Fitness (recently renamed to Lifetime Athletics) in Columbia Maryland, much of it applies to most of the Lifetime Athletics/Life Time Fitness Clubs in the USA and Canada.
I will try to give you my best assessment in a fair, honest way. I also mention some alternatives to Lifetime Fitness in the Columbia area at the end of this review.
tl;dr: If you don’t have time to read the entirety of this review, I have bolded the good things about the gym and some of the other reasons you may want to avoid it below along with this executive summary:
Lifetime Fitness Review Executive Summary:
- High quality fitness equipment.
- Wide variety of group classes including kickboxing, yoga, hip-hop, weight training, and tabata. Great instructors.
- Pools, climbing wall, racquetball courts.
- Nice locker rooms.
- Towels, shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash, shaving supplies, and soap supplied.
Upscale environment (this is somewhat dependent on club level-when you sign up for a membership, you’re also signing up for a membership level that admits you into clubs that are of that level or below–more on this later! The important thing to note is that some clubs are more luxurious than others. Two of their facilities even have doctors and physical therapists to coordinate with the personal trainers.)
- Sometimes high-pressure sales tactics used on new members and guests of current members.
- Dues are frequently increased (I have seen them raised more than once per year). Specific prices listed below.
- No outside food or drinks allowed in the gym or at the pool, aside from water.
- Monthly dues are very high compared to other clubs.
- The gym gets crowded on weekday evenings–you may have to wait in line to use equipment. This is especially so just after new years.
- Occasional long/slow lines to get into the gym and more frequently to drop kids off in the child center. I have spent as long as five minutes waiting in line to get into the gym and/or drop my kids off.
- Class formats may change or can be randomly canceled and classes often fill to capacity week after week.
- The climbing wall is not open at slower times of the day.
- Unreliable notifications about pool closures or canceled classes.
- You must pay extra for some group classes
Lifetime Fitness Club Overview
Lifetime Fitness provides an adequate experience for families with children as well as all of their members Although it is pricey (about $84/month for one single membership, about $180/month (as of 11/9/2015) for a couples membership plus two kids–each child is about $10/month extra-there are also student rates available for college students), if it is in reach for you then you might consider joining–but please read below for more information about the club.
There is a 14 day trial membership period, so you can try it out for a couple of weeks before you join–and they seem more than willing to let you come in as a guest for a day without much in the way of formal paperwork. There are definitely some good things and some bad things about this gym.
[See my list of great educational gift ideas for the kids in your life]
If you decide to join, tell them I referred you (Eron Cohen), even if you’re not joining in Maryland . By the way, they regularly have new membership promotions, for instance they often give the people who are signing up for a new membership AND the person who referred the new member some extras–so it is often better to be referred by someone than not to be — see below.
First a bit about Lifetime Fitness:
- Lifetime Fitness (NYSE: LTM) is a chain of over 100 gyms across the USA and Canada.
- They are based in Minnesota and were founded in 1992.
- They have locations in from Phoenix to Dallas to Kansas City to Boca Raton. This map details all of their current destinations.
- The experience from place to place seems to be generally consistent judging by the reviews left about other locations and the amenities available, but note that not all locations have all the same features (ie- some locations do not have a pool or a climbing wall).
My Review of Lifetime Fitness
As a four year member of Lifetime Fitness, my observations and comments are relatively informed. I have a family membership that allows me, my wife, and two young children (age 8 and 10) to use the gym as often as we like.
Being at Lifetime Fitness can be a nice experience–especially in the summer when the outdoor pool is open. A few thoughts:
- The place is vibrant, fairly clean and makes you want to get in shape.
- The facilities are modern and they are kept up with frequent refurbishments and remodeling–most recently there was a major renovation in September 2013.
- Clean towels are provided for the pool and showers.
- There are plenty of lockers available.
- The staff that I have gotten to know are generally friendly and helpful.
- The gym is open 24/7
- There is plenty of parking on site (although many times the place is so crowded that you may have to park pretty far from the door, especially during the summer months–I consider this part of the exercise though.)
I have read other reviews that have said things to the effect that the place has “gone downhill”. I would say that either it started out better than it is now, or that they have since solved some of the problems that caused those complaints. Don’t get me wrong, this gym isn’t perfect, but it is better than that:
- Complaints about Lifetime Fitness seem to mostly center around advertising and membership policy issues.
- The Better Business Bureau handled over 200 complaints in the last 12 months about Lifetime Fitness.
- You definitely should consider other reviews, such as the ones found on Yelp–and I always find it VERY telling to read what the employees (especially the unhappy ones) had to say about this company and their high pressure sales tactics on glassdoor.com.
- You may also want to glance over what’s being said recently on Ripoff Report.
Price of Lifetime Fitness and Joining the Gym in Columbia, MD
We are members of an Onyx level club (second best) and we pay about $161/month for the family membership (dues are raised frequently)–this price is no longer available since they’ve raised dues for new members–couples who join now would pay at least $180, plus junior memberships. I was told back on 6/19/2014 that single memberships are $110/month. There is a “start-up fee” which ranges for $20-200 depending on what kind of special offers or promotions you might be able to garner (again, if you come in as a referral they may reduce this fee–so tell them I referred you). Personal training at this gym costs about $70/hour as of 9/1/2016.
A Note About Lifetime Fitness Membership Levels/Club Levels
The levels of Lifetime Fitness clubs indicate the types of amenities you can expect. In order of best to worst, the club levels are:
- Onyx (the one in Columbia, Maryland)
More on Lifetime Fitness Membership Costs
If you happen to be in a market that has a diamond level club, expect to pay more…quite a bit more. I am told (thanks cGott42 who commented below) that you will pay $160 for a diamond level monthly membership and $340/month for a family of 4. Note that you will only be able to use your membership in a club that is at your membership level or below. I believe diamond clubs are only available in New York, California and Las Vegas.
Whichever club you join, you will have a month-to-month contract that you can cancel at any time, but when you cancel you have to pay for the next month–in other words, you have to give them a month’s notice and pay for an additional month from there. Some important things to know about this are:
- This applies to any paid kid’s classes or swim lessons you sign up for. So if you’re kids are taking karate class there, and you cancel, you’re going to pay for the following month of classes. If you decide to start taking the classes again, your price is going to jump to the current monthly fee.
- You also have the option of “pausing” your membership for a small monthly fee–I believe it is $19/month–the caveat, I am told, is that if you DO pause a membership, when you unpause it, you will resume your membership at current rates for membership & classes. So if you were getting your membership or classes at a lower, grandfathered rate, they will shoot to their current levels when you unpause–and given the frequent increases, this could be a big difference.
- In the first year that were members dues were raised three times(!). The first time was for the primary couples membership which we didn’t have to pay because they told us our dues were frozen until 2014 when we signed up as a referral. But the second increase we DID have the pay–they raised the cost of junior memberships. I complained and they said that junior dues are separate and were not frozen. This was sneaky of them and definitely an indication of below board policies on their part–it definitely did not reflect what their salesman told me when I signed up for membership.
They also have this promotional gimmick called “lifetime bucks”. When you join you’ll be granted some number of lifetime bucks which you can spend on all sorts of gear, yoga workshops, personal training or even classes like swimming or karate (sorry, you can’t use them toward your membership dues). If you refer people who join Lifetime you’ll be given additional bucks. And BTW it seems that the people who are referred are also given additional perks–so if you do decide to join and don’t know any other members, tell them I sent you. In our case, since we were referred, we got additional lifetime bucks and our “dues are frozen” (see above for why this was a misleading promotion) for 2 years. I’ve been using my lifetime bucks to pay for swimming lessons for my kids. So if you do get a promotional rate or use a referral, be sure to get the offer in writing and carefully monitor your bill to be sure you get what you’ve been promised.
When I signed up, they made the process easy with not much pressure (the pressure comes later-see below). This was welcomed because I have had experiences in the past where you feel like you’re working with a used car salesman when you just want to sign up for a gym. The salesmen I worked with did contact me a few times while I was thinking of joining, but otherwise, I didn’t feel he was being pushy.
Having said that, when you join they will probably ask to set you up to speak with a personal trainer about the various upgrade offerings of Lifetime Fitness. They do this under the guise that they want to get your baseline measurements and weight, etc. But, basically it’s their chance to sell you some (overpriced) add-ons which you may or may not want (personal training, vitamins, protein supplements, heart monitors, etc). If you are interested in personal training, I’d definitely say take them up on that meeting, but otherwise, don’t bother — they use high-pressure sales tactics for these sessions and you’ll be able to get what you need when you decide you need it. If you read the employee reviews of what it is like to work at Lifetime Fitness – a few of the cite pressure and sales tactics as a reason they do NOT like working there. At this meeting, I definitely DID feel like I was with a used car salesman – and again, plenty of other reviews mention high pressure at the initial meeting with the Lifetime Athletics salesperson.
One thing I can say about paying for a pricey gym membership is that it gives me one more reason to keep using it. If it was alot cheaper it would be easier to let it go. Having said that be sure and consider the Columbia Association if you live in the Columbia, MD area (see below). If you’ve read my review and still want to join, even the sales pressure won’t matter much because you probably already decided to join anyway.
Want to know more about Lifetime Athletics’ offerings? Be sure and read part two of my review!