Advice on joining the YMCA for excercise?

If this more properly belongs in IMHO, please, oh mod’o’mine, feel free to move it.

So, I need exercise. A lot. But, I also need some sort of structure and a guide to help me not hurt myself, since I’ve, uh, never exercised. I’ve been looking into gyms and they’re all way too expensive for me. The YMCAs here in Chicago seem to have what I need, especially, it would seem, this program called “Commit To Be Fit” which, according to their web site, is a “12-week customized training program…which is FREE to all members.” It sounds right up my alley, unless I get a trainer who wants to put me on a 900 calorie a day diet. I don’t need a diet. I’m on a very good diet that’s working very well for me. I just need some sort of beginning exercise regimen that isn’t going to crack my ankles or bust my heart open. I also do NOT want to build up my muscles any more than strictly necessary for strength. I have no need for athletic training.

Here’s what I like about what I see on their web site:

  1. the Commit To Be Fit program, which sounds good on “paper” (the web)
  2. lots of cool machines, looks much more fun than walking around the block a few times
  3. some Y’s have a pool, even though I haven’t gone swimming for 30 years.
  4. lots of different free classes, though most are way out of my league at the moment
  5. a sauna!
  6. a steamroom!
  7. much cheaper than other gyms
  8. when I visited one, there were real people with real bodies wearing real clothes
  9. if I join one, supposedly I can go to any in the city, and some have things that others don’t
  10. this being Chicago, there are plenty of YMCAs to go to.
  11. handball and racquetball courts (at the one I visited)
  12. I like the idea that Y’s exist, even though I’m a fat, middle-aged atheist.


  1. the cost, but it’s not near as much as a gym, and a lot of gyms don’t have pools
  2. the one I visited charged for lockers, though I forgot to ask how much.
  3. I don’t even own a pair of sneakers or a swimming suit, yet, but at least I’m sure I’ll be ok wearing shorts and a t-shirt for the machines and classes, and won’t have to drop bucks on an outfit that makes me look like I’m wearing a colorful diaper
  4. I can’t actually swim, but I still like the idea of exercising in a pool, especially in summer
  5. I’ve never played handball or racquetball in my life, and wouldn’t have anyone to play it with anyway, but damn it looks like fun
  6. I don’t know enough to think of anything else

Besides visiting one for a tour (Irving Park) and staying at a Y a few times while in New York, I am totally clueless about the Y experience. I’ll have no idea what to do after I get there and swipe my card to get in. If I don’t have the money for a locker, can I carry my stuff around in a backpack? I know to take a water bottle with me

Any experiences, tips, advice, warnings, raves, anything at all would be appreciated.

We’re members of the Y here. I wish we had that Commit to be Fit program.

One other plus about joining, is that there WILL be adult learn-to-swim programs. And, that the Y is for everyone, really. You don’t need to worry about looking silly or wearing matching spandex shorts and headband because nobody cares. I go in old t-shirts and shorts. There are others who wear the rattiest old things they can find. Let’s face it, you’re going to exercise, not to a beauty pageant.

Good luck!

A Y membership is probably the best value you can find. As an added bonus I’ve found that the people who work there are really nice and seem to want what’s best for you.

I don’t know if you travel much but your membership is good at most Ys around the country. What a deal!

It’s not worth it at all if your not going to go. That’s what you need to ask yourself.

Cardiwen brings up a good point. It’s only worth it if you actually go. That is part of why I ended up joining the Y. When I was first looking to join a gym I checked out both the YMCA and Ballys. Over time Ballys would have been more economical, think years, but they required a contract for a two or three year membership. I knew I wanted to start getting in better shape or at least stop getting in worse shape. I just wasn’t completely sure about my ability to actually stick to it. The Y allowed me to sign up with a month to month membership. If I found myself not going I could cancel the membership and not still be paying a couple years down the road for somthing I wasn’t using. I also found the Y to not be a high pressure sale like Ballys was. The person giving me the tour was very nice and answered all of my questions and didn’t try pressuring me into signing up RIGHT NOW.

The Commit to be Fit program was also a big selling point for me. As someone who had never really exercised other than playing sports I had no idea where to start. The program here runs 12 weeks and it goes like this.

  1. You are assigned personal fitness trainer.
  2. At your first appointment the trainer goes over your personal fitness goals and explains the program. They then show you the various cardio machines and set you up with certain goals mine were 20-30 minutes of cario 3 times/wk. Then you set up the next appointment do that for 4 weeks.
  3. At the second appointment you talk about how things are going and any problems you might be having. Then the trainer shows you several weight machines and sets you up to use them and sets your new goals. Mine were 30 minutes of cardio 3 times/wk and the following machines Leg Press, Ab Crunch, Back Extension, Lat Pull-down and Chest Press (Im think I’m forgetting one) 2 sets of 8-12 reps 3 times/wk. Then you set up the next appointment do that for 4 weeks.
  4. At the third appointment you talk about how things are going and any problems you might be having. Then the trainer shows you the rest of the basic weight machines and sets you up to use them and sets your new goals. Mine were all of the previous machines plus Leg Curl, Leg Extension, Arm Curl, Tricep Extension and Fly 2 sets of 8-12 reps 3 times/wk. Then you set up the next appointment do that for 4 weeks.
  5. The last appointment is like the others where you talk about how everything else is going and then the trainer “graduates you” and takes you out to the main exercise area to set you upo on the machines out there. Oh, did I forget to mention that for the first 12 weeks they have a seperate set of machines for the people in the Get Fit program? It was nice when I was struggling to get to where I could actually do 30 minutes on the treadmill at an OK pace that I didn’t get freaked out by the person next to me running 4 minute miles.

During this whole time you also have someone you have met and at least know a little that you can turn to for questions and help. I had a place I could put questions for my trainer or if I saw him I felt comfortable asking for help.

I have times where I go more regularly than others but three years later I am still going. I don’t know if it is for everyone but I certainly recommend it for someone who is just trying to get into exercising.

I don’t know if you travel, but beware of the Y in at least this regard: your local membership may not get you in to another Y, or may not entitle you to full privelages. I encountered this problem in Colorado Springs while on business in '99.

Other than that, learning to swim would be a great first step, as I advocate swimming as a good, low-impact excercise. It’s easier on your body initially, works your joints relatively easy for range-of-motion, and you can ramp up intensity and duration for a good cardio workout later on.

With all the different strokes available, if you do have joint problems, you can try alternate strokes to take the strain off of a trouble area.

My family belongs to the YMCA, and I think it’s a very good value. Of course for me, their excellent child care was a factor, but even without that, it’s a great gym.

As you say, the variety of activities you can do is wonderful, especially when there’s a pool. We have lane swimming and water aerobics classes, both deep and shallow end. There’s also regular aerobics classes, spinning and the equivalent for the treadmill, every cardio and weight machine known to man, sports courts, two big gyms, sauna, steam room, and whirlpool. The variety has allowed me to stay marginally in the game, despite having a broken foot and a messed-up trapezius/neck thing.

As an atheist, I find it a little odd to see the banners saying stuff like, “I pray before God to do my best, be a good sportsman, yada, yada,” but I’ve never seen any member or staff person act like a zealot or say anything intolerant. Mostly they are just incredibly supportive of individuals and families leading healthy, happy, socially-acceptable lives, and I’m right there with them.

I also agree that the Y is a great place for us doughy people. There are some fabulously fit people there, but mostly there are average people, and a few really big folk. Unlike some gyms, there’s not a speck of meat-market about it. People go to work out and maybe socialize with friends, not pick up hotties.

I recommend trying it. Put your workout on your calendar, preferably at the start of the day, and in a few weeks you will just have it as part of life.

Thank you GingerOfTheNorth, Terrorcotta, Caridwen, justrob, ExTank and Unauthorized Cinnamon! I appreciate your taking the time to respond, and it was all helpful. I apologise for not getting back here earlier to thank you.

Where are you? I’m surprised it’s not a nationwide program.

I like to hear that!


Agreed about the nice people. When I toured the facility they were very friendly. I don’t travel all that much anymore, but my husband does, so I’m getting a family membership so he can use it too.

That’s an excellent point, and I have asked myself and the answer is yeah, I think so. The piper has come for a lifetime of eating junk, and medical issues upon medical issues have started piling up. I’ve turned around a couple of them so far with a new diet, so I’m motivated to keep on with that. In February my doctor gave me two immediate directives: get my blood glucose numbers down, and lose weight. My blood glucose numbers are stable and back to fairly normal levels now, and he took me off the blood pressure medicine I’ve been taking for years. I’ll find out in a couple of weeks how my Cholesterol and Triglyceride numbers are doing (I’m sure they’ll be better), so now I have to work on the weight loss directive. I’ve lost 18 pounds since March, but I have SOOO far to go, exercise has to help me there. I’m going to go at least 3 times a week, if not more.

That’s one of the main things I liked about my tour. No pressure at all! Thank you very much for your point by point experience on the Commit To Be Fit program!

Wow,fascinating, but that seems a bit…much, for what I need. “Cardio”? “Ab Crunch”? “Lat Pull-down”? You’re scaring me. :smiley: Besides sounding painful (I am not a believer in “No pain, no gain” for myself), that sounds like serious muscle build-up which I don’t need or want, but I’m sure it’ll be fine and I’m looking forward to the appointments. I realize everyone’s goals are different and I’m sure I’ll be up for more strenuous exercise as I lose more weight and get fitter.

I wonder if all the Y’s with a CTBF program are like that. Sounds great!

I like the sound of “low-impact exercise” and I just love being in the water. A shame that it’s been so long since I’ve been. My eyes lit up when I saw their aquatic fitness programs. Even though I can’t swim, I can float and tread (or at least, I used to be able to) and I’m not afraid of water, so if I just start out with those I’ll be fine. It’ll all be in the shallow end anyway. Somewhere down the line I will probably spring for swimming lessons since they cost extra. Now I just have to buy a bathing suit, something I haven’t done since I was 20.

Even though I hate to exercise on my own, most of that actually sounds like fun. I still don’t know about “cardio”* or weight machines, but the beauty is, I can try whatever I want, away from the eyes of the real world. For instance, I wouldn’t be caught dead on a bicycle out in the real world, but I’ve always wanted to try spinning. It sounds intense and kinda fun.

Sounds good to me!

That was my observation on one visit, but it’s nice to hear confirmed by a regular.

I can’t join until Friday, but I’m getting more excited about it now. Thanks again everyone!
*One of the exercise programs is called “Cardio Burn” which scares the hell out of me. I do not want to burn anything, least of all my heart. Needless to say, I won’t be in that class.

Let me add to the chorus of praise for the Y. I started going to mine four or five years ago after my doctor suggested that actually doing exercise might give me more positive results than just thinking about doing it. I started out slowly, meeting with a trainer to work out an exercise program, and worked my way up to more strenuous exercise. Over the course of a year, I lost almost 65 pounds and became more fit than I’d ever been in my life.

Nowadays, I teach fitness classes at the same Y four days a week. I do an osteoporosis prevention class called “Strong Women”, a fitball class, and a step aerobics class. The people who come range in age from 15 to 82, and I’ve never seen anyone in color-coordinated workout clothes. The atmosphere is very supportive and not at all competitive or judgmental, and everyone has a pretty good time (well, considering that we are exercising).

One little bit of advice I’d like to give you: don’t be afraid of the weights! Weights are your friend, especially if you’re out of shape. A woman doesn’t get “serious muscle build-up” without a lot of exertion and perhaps some steroids. What you will get if you include a moderate program of weights is some nice, unobtrusive, feminine muscle mass that will help boost your metabolism, keep your joints aligned, and make your bones nice and dense so you won’t break a hip when you get old.

By the way, the “Cardio Burn” is designed to burn calories. But you’re wise to stick to low-intensity exercise to start out. There’ll be plenty of time for the heavier-duty stuff later, after you’ve gotten into the exercise habit and your endurance is better.

Actually, muscles are your friend. Seems they use up calories for you so if you add some to your body, they will help you lose weight. Besides, it’s good to keep them strong and supple - the older you get, the more you need them in good shape.

What you will eventually notice is that you will enjoy the feel of using your muscles. You will enjoy feeling stronger and more fit. And when that happens, that becomes the payoff for exercising - you won’t feel obliged to exercise anymore, you’ll want to do it because it feels good :slight_smile:

Cardio just means “any exercise that gets your heart pumping” and includes the treadmill, bycicle, stairs machine…

You’re supposed to do it at a rate high enough to actually notice where your heart is located, but not so hard that you get dizzy, out of breath or have palpitations.

The “muscle machines” aren’t necessarily for building muscle; depending on the strength and reps you can use the same exact exercise to “pump up” or just to remind some unused muscles what is it they’re for. Most of those machines come in pairs and it’s important to use both so you’re working both muscles in a set (for example in the upper arms the bulge at the front, going to the inner part of the elbow, is the biceps; the part that produces batwing if it’s too loose is the triceps - one pushes, one pulls). Working your back muscles will give you better posture and improve things like shoulder and neck aches; it’s unlikely to give you that illness Schwarzenegger The Impronunceable has :wink:

Thanks for your experience InternetLegend. Your docter is a fun guy. I love how you started going there to work out then end up teaching fitness classes.

Ah, that’s good to know.

That’s good to know too. My mom was diagnosed with Osteoporosis but died (in a motorcycle accident) before it got too bad. It scared her and it scares me too.

One thought beyond the immediate medical problems that made me stop and think: you see lots and lots of thin, little old ladies around. You rarely if ever see lots of really fat, little old ladies around. I never realized that because my grandmother was big all her life and lived to be 98, but in the last several years of her life she too had become a thin, little old lady. I never thought I’d live to be a little old lady of any size, but now that I’m 50, I realize that I a) kinda want to be a little old lady (crone or hag, either one is fine by me) and b) don’t want to be a little old lady with multiple fractures, blind, and in a wheelchair because my feet were amputated due to diabetes.

You throw your health away because you don’t look to the future, then when you figure out, oh shit, you might actually HAVE more of a future than you counted on, you have to start trying to correct the damage you caused. I call it the “Nico Syndrome.” Nico did all these drugs and lived a wild, wild life, but in her 50’s she got her act together and tried to live a very healthy life. Wouldn’t you know, at age 54 she has a heart attack while riding a bicycle for exercise (and died, RIP Nico). Luckily, I didn’t do the drugs or have the wild life she did. I just ate all the wrong things for too many years. I don’t want to be like Nico and die just when I’m starting to get my act together.

That too, is good to know. They should call it Calorie Burn then, because that name is downright terrifying. Burning calories is good. Exercising so hard that flames start shooting from my chest cavity (the silly mental image I get) is bad.

Thanks Nava and Quiddity Glomfuster for the extra thoughts about weight training. I’m not weirded out by the thought of it anymore and I’ll be interested to see if I’m put on any weight training to begin with.

Oh man, you are gonna love water aerobics! Ease your older, over stressed bones into something close enough to be weightlessness and watch yourself progress radidly and enjoy it! The one thing I would add is to relax some after class in the water because climbing out into gravity again is really hard.

One of my favorite things about the Y is that when I signed up I could get a personal trainer to get with me for $35 for an hour to lay out a fitness program that I could then do on my own. It really helps for people like me that don’t know what machine to go to first, or how many reps I am supposed to do of something. And the people were so nice. My son is in afterschool care there and I was surprised at how quickly even they noticed that I was a regular during the day when my son was still at school.
I was nervous about the religious part but other than things like what Unauthorized Cinnamon said, I never feel preached to. It’s just some banners or T-shrits that I can ignore if I want. I say go for it. I especially liked the no-contract deal.

Oh, and you don’t have to be able to swim to do water aerobics. It’s just aerobic exercise done in the water. You won’t be in any water that’s more than shoulder-height. It’s great for people who need or want something low-impact. It’s also good if your balance is not so good (much harder to fall, and you probably won’t do nearly as much damage as you could falling on land), and if you’re not so good at being able to do exactly what everyone else in the class is doing (it’s harder for anyone to see you screwing up when your legs are under water). You don’t notice the sweat as much, either, since it gets washed off in the pool, so it’s nice for people who don’t like to feel sweaty.

The water aerobics classes I’ve been in consisted mostly of older people, and were almost all women. The few men in the class didn’t try to pick me up- I was young enough to be their daughter or granddaughter. That was a huge relief for me- I hate meat-market environments.

The religious aspect varies from place to place, and probably from Y to Y. I never noticed any overtly religious stuff in the exercise classes at the Ys I belonged to in Silicon Valley and in the East Bay. If you’re in a liberal area, you probably won’t see much of that.

Concur with the best value comments. It was not only cheaper, but also better equipped and cleaner than any other gym I’ve seen. The additional programs are also discounted, and they’ve really got a very nice system going.

Do not fear the weights. A woman will not bulk up without taking steroids or basically making weight lifting their full-time job (and even then, steroids are usually needed to get the real bulk and definition).

Everyone needs muscle, and the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. :slight_smile:

Apparently, you can get yourself clean, you can have a good meal,
You can do whatever you feel.

Ditto everything everybody else has said. I’d also suggest touring every Y facility in reasonable driving distance to see which one you like best–YMCA’s are odd creatures and vary widely from one to the other.

Other than that, they pretty much are the best bang for the buck, at least in my area. Sure, I can find places with the types of weights that I use, probably even with better equipment and somewhat less crowded, but not with a pool and a huge array of classes that I can take if I get bored or want to try something else out.

Just thought I’d chime in here since I’m not among the YMCA enthusiasts.

You’ve mentioned that in your area it’s less expensive than other gyms. Not the case here where I am. The local Lifestyle Family Fitness Center is/was IIRC $15/month less expensive.

The YMCA here had restrictions on how long you could use the cardio machines…20 minutes at a time…you had to put your name on a list and if you went to the Y during their peak times you may have to wait quite a while to actually get on a cardiio machine.

The weight machines…forget about it…that room was always packed…I never got near those things.

After being a YMCA member for a while and not really liking the expense or the experience I joined Lifestyle Family Fitness which had 3 times as many cardio machines, no time limits and no sign up sheet. A TV at every machine (YMCA didn’t have that) and enough weight machines that even at peak times I didn’t have to wait to get on the machine of my choice.

The other thing I didn’t like about the YMCA was the kids…too many kids…heck, too many people in general. That place was always packed.

All of those things may have been specific to the area where I am (Central Florida) so YMMV but it turned out to be not the best choice for me. Just thought I’d share my expenience.

Good luck working out, the Commit To Be Fit program sounds great ( I don’t remember that they had that when I was a YMCA member)