Is the YMCA for me?
January 24, 2008 11:02 AM   Subscribe

Please help me determine if the YMCA is the right fit for me.

I am heavier, more out of shape, and less social than I'd like to be. The local branch seems to be in good condition and the website seems to show some attractive programs (getting fit through playing videogames seems too silly to be real, but hey), and the lack of a contract is a plus ("gym culture" is not something I want to be a part of, either). But as a 36-yr old single guy I am not sure at all if this is the right fit for me. I am curious as to others' experiences with the Y in terms of getting/staying fit and meeting new people with the same goals. Can I expect to get what I want out of the monthly membership/joining fee, or am I going to end up needing to spend hundreds of dollars on additional programs?

Also, I am an atheist. Not so militant as to avoid joining an organization with "Christian" in the name, but pretty sure of my belief. The literature I picked up doesn't overflow with religiosity, but does prominently include a section on "Christian Emphasis." I am wary of putting myself in the position of being preached at, or have people point at my tattoos and scream "unclean, unclean" at me in the shower. Thoughts on this aspect would be appreciated as well.
posted by waraw to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am a 44 year old atheist and a member of the Y down here in the bible belt. They have nice clean facilities, fit in well with my hours, aren't too crowded, and don't beat me over the head with religion, other than a few posters on the walls. There are some classes that seem to have more of a religious bent, but I just go work out in the gym for an hour at a time and don't take any classes. They also have child care at many times which is a plus for me. Their hours are curtailed on Sunday as well.
posted by TedW at 11:10 AM on January 24, 2008

You shouldn't worry about the "Christian" part. I've been to YMCAs a few times in my life (just re-joined, actually, since my doc ordered me to stop running for a month), and really all you do is sign in, work out, shower, go home. It's not some fundy organization UNCLEAN UNCLEAN thing. And I live in a very conservative Christian state, so I know whereof I speak.

Their facilities usually aren't quite as good as a nice fancy health club (mine currently has a sign up apologizing for the temporary lack of heat in the locker rooms), but yeah, no contracts. Double-plus-good.

As to "culture," I can't really speak to that. I show up, work out, keep to myself mostly, and go home. I'm not terribly gregarious when I work out, because it's unclenching and decompressing time for me. I need to be in my head. Likely the culture of the Y is going to vary greatly based on size and location.
posted by middleclasstool at 11:13 AM on January 24, 2008

I've been the member of a couple of YMCAs, and no one has ever preached at me.

What I like is that most of the programs are covered by your monthly fee, so there is no harm in trying stuff (karate, basketball, yoga, spin class, whatever) because if you don't like it you can just stop and not worry about wasting money. At my current Y, very few of the classes require a (small) extra fee, but you should be able to check your program list and see what the deal is at your Y.

Does it have a pool? I find it's nice to have access to a pool, especially during the winter.

I've met some good folks at the Y and even though I do most of my working out on my bike these days I am still a member.
posted by mikepop at 11:15 AM on January 24, 2008

I am an agnostic Jew and I belong to the local Y. I have never seen anything with the least bit of Christian overtone there. In fact, until recently they had a little exhibit set up about Hanukah. But I suppose this may differ from Y to Y.

I just go work out in the gym for an hour at a time and don't take any classes.

Me too.
posted by amro at 11:16 AM on January 24, 2008

At least with my local YMCA, "Christian" is just a historical holdover and as evolved into just a community center. I think the people who go are a broad cross-section of society, so you'd be just as likely to be yelled at in the shower as you would be in the grocery store.

As to whether or not you'd have to spend more money, it's been my experience that most of the classes I'd want to attend are free for members, and my local Y has a lot of different offerings. The only thing members pay for are sort of "extra" things, like child care, or special evening events, personal training, etc. Really, though, you'll have to check your own Y's programs to see if the same applies to you.

(oh, and I see the video game exercise you were referring to. I'd give it a try myself!)
posted by artifarce at 11:23 AM on January 24, 2008

I have been a member of the 3 different Ys and there are no Christian overtones. It's just a place to work out.

Most of the classes are covered by your monthly fee. They keep their facilities really clean, and the equipment is in good condition. My latest Y has a dietician on staff who will help you develop menus to go with your exercise program. You can sign up for personal training sessions as well.

The only drawback that I can think of is that during the summer the Y will run a lot of summer camps for kids, and the environment can be kind of noisy and chaotic if you go during the middle of the day.

No one will give your tattoos a second glance. Tattoos are very, very common these days.

The last 2 Ys I went to had more of a community feel, while the one I presently attend is much larger and has less of that - so the aspect of meeting people or becoming part of a community depends on your particular Y.

Cancelling a membership is very easy if you don't like it. They do not make you sign up for year-long contracts or anything like that.
posted by Ostara at 11:26 AM on January 24, 2008

The closest thing I've seen to Christian overtones in my Y, in a decade, would be some holiday decorations. Never an iota of preaching, and lots of tattoos to be seen. (Then again, this is Berkeley.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:26 AM on January 24, 2008

Atheist here; went to the Y in a small Southern California town for several years and loved it, as far as gyms go. It was devoid of anything overtly Christian, as well as the icky gym culture so typical of other gyms.

The only reason I am no longer a member is that their hours were terrible: closed at 8pm weeknights, only open 9-5 Saturday, and only open 1-4 Sunday. When I was in grad school and could go off-hours, it was perfect - now that I'm a nine-to-fiver, not so much.
posted by chez shoes at 11:26 AM on January 24, 2008

I am a atheist too. During a two-year period attending the local Y, nobody, but nobody bugged me about religion.

I mean, no one. There was nothing overtly Christian at all about the place, except for a ban on swearing which I could certainly live with, even with my potty mouth.
posted by jason's_planet at 11:39 AM on January 24, 2008

In my midwestern city, the Y is affiliated with the local Jewish community center (which, I believe, also has a gym), and membership at one is valid at the other. My experience: very, very light to no proselytizing. Also, almost everyone had a tattoo or two.
posted by pullayup at 11:54 AM on January 24, 2008

Oh, right! I'm an atheist, too.
posted by pullayup at 11:55 AM on January 24, 2008

I belong to the Y in my town. Other than a Good Friday breakfast, I've never seen, heard, or experienced anything overtly Christian.

I pay $35 a month dues. They have a nice fitness center with ellipticals, treadmills, and stationary bikes, and at least 12 weight machines. They just started offering a Zumba class, twice a week, and offer yoga, step aerobics, karate, and a few others, as well as lap swimming. Locker rooms are decent. Everyone is friendly, and there to exercise, not hit on you.

Yes, there are kiddies running around sometimes, but I would rather give my money to an organization that helps the community, than one of the big gyms.

Give it a try.
posted by socrateaser at 12:05 PM on January 24, 2008

Go. It's the best choice. The Y here is secular (I think they all are by mission statement). Unlike the big club chains, the Y has a wide cross section of the population. At my Y, we have kids, teenagers, moms, dads, fat people, thin people, gym rats... everyone. We have several senior citizens. One wears a button shirt and polyester pants for his treadmill workout. There is also a one-armed women I see occasionally. So yeah, you have nothing to worry about.

I didn't meet anyone though. It might be different if I took more classes but they all have bad scheduling.
posted by chairface at 12:09 PM on January 24, 2008

Just scrub harder if anyone yells UNCLEAN at you in the shower.

Another agnostic former Y member here, up in DC-proximate Virginia. The only think that distinguished the Y from any other gym I have ever belonged to was:

a) No contracts and
b) Every other month or so I'd get a mail solicitation to donate to a community-benefiting charity event/project

I wear tank-tops when I work out and nobody ever blinked at my tattoos. I don't think you'll find it any different than any other gym experience except possibly to be free of high-pressure sales and less meat-market in the gym itself.
posted by phearlez at 12:09 PM on January 24, 2008

Yeah. The "Christian" part is more-or-less a relic. Although my local Y management definitely has a very conservative bent. Fox News playing all day on one of the monitors in the exercise area and National Review in the magazine rack.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:44 PM on January 24, 2008

I'm a freethinker and belong to my local Y; though we have lots of other gyms to choose from, it's my gym of choice. It does not proselytize in any noticeable way, though it does have posters around celebrating the values of "respect, responsibility, honesty, caring" -- none of which pose a problem for me.

Things I like about the Y:
- an excellent range of equipment - cardio machines, but also free weights and nautilus machines, mats, exercise balls, pulleys, squat cages, etc.
-a pool, which I need
-very very affordable
-good range of classes which are frequent, inexpensive, and frequently changing
-good hours
-lack of 'gym culture' - it's a humble place, utilitarian. People are there to get some exercise and sometimes be social. There is little grunting, body-flashing, or checking other people out
-no-frills, laid-back, good community center sort of place
-diversity. There are a lot of different age groups, ethnic groups, interest groups, and socioeconomic classes mixing around in there. It's very accepting.

So I think you should check out your Y. Because they are locally run, though, they do vary somewhat in size, atmosphere, number of programs. I've always belonged to the Y, and the one I belong to now is much better than any others I'd been to. So they're not all the same.

Just to be sure, why not go down there and sign in as a guest. I think most Ys let you do this while you decide on a membership, or if not, you might be able to pay a daily 'guest fee' of a few dollars just to be able to check it out, do a workout, go swimming, observe a class, etc. And certainly they will be able to give you a tour before you sign up for membership, if you ask.
posted by Miko at 12:55 PM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Their webpage addresses this:
"America’s 2,663 YMCAs serve more than 20.2 million people each year, uniting men, women and children of all ages, races, faiths, backgrounds, abilities and income levels. At the heart of community life across America, mission-driven YMCAs are a place to belong and to live the values that guide and unite our members: caring, honesty, respect and responsibility."

As a sidenote, the M stands for "men's", and that's not applicable anymore either :)
posted by unknowncommand at 12:56 PM on January 24, 2008

Oh, I almost forgot - my Y, at least, has a stated policy of never turning down anyone for membership because of inability to pay. I think that's awesome. I don't know what actually happens if you show up at the desk wanting to join and are unable to pay, but it seems like they make the effort to be available to people of all incomes, which I really respect.
posted by Miko at 12:58 PM on January 24, 2008

The Y sounds perfect for you, actually
posted by nameless.k at 1:00 PM on January 24, 2008

I don't know how much of a difference there is between the Y in the US and in Canada, but my experience at my local (Canadian) YMCA has been excellent. It is clean, well-staffed, well-equipped, and friendly, and I have never seen anything of a religious nature in the facility except for holiday decorations that you'd see in many public institutions. I started going there because I am not really that sporty or athletic and just wanted to get healthy through exercise. I see people of all ages, races, genders, and levels of fitness. I feel very comfortable there, and thus have been encouraged to try all kinds of classes (yoga, Pilates, aerobics, cardiobox) that I would not have tried otherwise.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:06 PM on January 24, 2008

Miko wrote: Oh, I almost forgot - my Y, at least, has a stated policy of never turning down anyone for membership because of inability to pay. I think that's awesome. I don't know what actually happens if you show up at the desk wanting to join and are unable to pay, but it seems like they make the effort to be available to people of all incomes, which I really respect.

I forgot to mention this, too--it is another reason why I like the Y. At my Y, they have a sliding scale fee and also a programme that people can sign up for if they are on income assistance where the fees are waived completely. I think they have a partnership with the government ministry that administers welfare/unemployment/disability benefits, but I'm not sure.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:09 PM on January 24, 2008

Hm. I'm 29 and an atheist, and when I lived in DC I went to a supremely expensive gym on the Hill. I was *very* overweight for my frame (5' 9", 325lbs~), and shy about being in a gym, worried about screwing things up and being a laughing stock. I must say that aside from the price, things went well there, and I started to rapidly lose weight and feel lots better.
When my (now) wife and I moved to a very small town in North Carolina, we were looking for a gym and only found the Y. After looking around we found it to be clean, very friendly, flexible in terms of hours and in many ways better equipped than the gym we paid much more to attend in DC. Thanks to the Y I'm down to a much more manageable 210lbs~, and I've never been harassed once about my religion or lack thereof.
One of the neatest things about the Y, as others have pointed out, is seeing all kinds of people there--young and old and from many ethnic backgrounds, even in our tiny 18k person town. I highly recommend it. YMMV.
posted by littlerobothead at 1:35 PM on January 24, 2008

Interesting question, and agreeing with all above, the C in YMCA is kind of a relic. I site-googled the Y's national web site and found the word "Christ" only 6 times, all in benign contexts, no preachin'. As a kid in the 60s I spent a lot of time at the Y without ever hearing a word of religious instruction.
posted by beagle at 2:28 PM on January 24, 2008

I used to go to the Y near here, and I'd guess well over half the people who came to my aquafit class were Jewish. If I didn't know about the C in the name, nothing about going there would have made me guess it was not a totally non-religious institution.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:49 PM on January 24, 2008

What everyone else said: I love the fact that a lot of different folks (age, income, race, body type, fitness level, ability) are all there to get a little exercise. No gym culture, no sashay-ing across the floor, no gross guys picking me up on the treadmill, no annoying loud techno.

Sure, they have a few posters around, but you know what? Every place has its own values that it assumes and preaches. Some gyms have pictures of 'before and after' and preach the value of protein shakes and "slim down for summer." That's their value system and it's on the wall for you to see. My YMCA has posters about respecting your body, being part of your community, setting goals for yourself and trying something new. Those are their values, and it's on the wall for me to see. I'd rather have the latter, even though I'm a pretty queer leftie.
posted by barometer at 3:21 PM on January 24, 2008

Atheist here, and I volunteer at the Y. At no point in the process of signing up (fingerprinting, background check, lots of forms) was my religious inclination asked.

They do have lots of kids programs, especially in the summer, so if teenagers hanging out in the gym/weight room bother you, then you might want to try to go when they're not there (depends on the school calendar).

Of course, membership is monthly, so you can join & drop at your leisure.

Overall it's a great place. My location has been upgrading their facility the last 2 years with great progress and communication, all while keeping all services going. I really enjoy my time there.
posted by Four Flavors at 3:55 PM on January 24, 2008

Yet another non-theist here. About ten years ago I worked at a YMCA in Seattle. It was far from being a Christian-dominionist kind of organization; in fact, every so often (as I understand it) the idea was floated to try to get the the "C" changed to "community". Your particular YMCA may vary, but I'd be surprised if anyone pointed and shrieked.

Our YMCA was a friendly place with an interesting mix of good people. If you like the programs, the facilities, the lack of a long contract, and the general atmosphere, I think you'd be a pretty good match for the place. If your branch is like ours, you wouldn't have to spend another red cent on extra programs. If you do join, though, I'd advise you to look into the 12-week challenge pretty seriously; there's a lot to be said for it.
posted by sculpin at 5:57 PM on January 24, 2008

Wow, I'm 41 years old - played and coached baseball and softball for the YMCA for many years and honestly never knew Christian was part of the name until now, all I knew was it was fun.

I don't know (or really even care) what the YM&A stand for.
posted by smoothhickory at 6:49 PM on January 24, 2008

I'm an agnostic, female former bible-belt Y member. That's the only gym membership that I didn't regret.
posted by desuetude at 6:56 PM on January 24, 2008

I am a Jew whose family belonged to a nearby YMCA when I was growing up--and I volunteered one summer as a file clerk when I was in college. I never heard any proselytizing. Also, the nearby public high school used its pool for their swim team.
posted by brujita at 9:47 PM on January 24, 2008

Thanks everyone for the responses. Every answer here is a best answer.
posted by waraw at 6:48 AM on January 25, 2008

For anyone still following, I joined today.
posted by waraw at 11:18 AM on January 31, 2008

Just saw your follow-up, waraw--hope you enjoy your time at the Y and good luck in your fitness goals!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:00 PM on February 14, 2008

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