Smart Traveler: The City-Hopper's Workout Guide

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, March 1995

Smart Traveler: The City-Hopper's Workout Guide

Where to sweat in Chicago, New York, Washington, and Los Angeles
By Dana Sullivan

Unless you routinely pack fitness equipment that will keep you busy inside a hotel room, your on-the-road workouts are at the mercy of the weather. And if your hotel's supposedly well-equipped fitness center turns out to have little more than a clunker stationary bike and a yoga mat, you'll probably find yourself doing isometric exercises using the doorjamb of your bathroom. Unless you know where to go.

While the best health clubs in large cities don't hand out day passes to just anyone, they often have special arrangements with city hotels, some of which even pick up the guest fee. Many private clubs are members of the International Health and Racquet Sports Association (IHRSA) -- if your hometown club is too, you can work out in these clubs even if you're not staying at an affiliated hotel. Most YMCAs also have reciprocity, so if you belong to one, you can use any other at a reduced rate.

Herewith, the lay of the barbells in four major cities.

New York
The latest buzz at Crunch Fitness (54 E. 13th St.; 212-475-2018) is about its new "Spinning" class. On stationary bikes specially designed with weighted flywheels -- and with a little help from an instructor/guru -- spinners try to simulate outdoor rides. It's a mind-body thing -- and it's so popular that you have to reserve a spot at least three days in advance. What earned Crunch its reputation are ever-popular classes like "Heart Attack" (an interval-training workout that includes rope-climbing and tossing a medicine ball) and "Brand New Butt." There are also kick-boxing and boxing workouts, aerobics classes with live rappers, and a full complement of cardiovascular machines, free weights, and weight machines. A one-day pass is $15.

At the Upper West Side's Equinox (344 Amsterdam Ave.; 212-721-4200), the emphasis is on color-coordinated spandex and a good range of equipment, including treadmills, bikes, stair-steppers, Cybex machines, and free weights, plus boxing, meditation, and yoga classes. Members of IHRSA clubs pay $15; everyone else pays $25.

The big news is the brand-new Reebok Sports Club/NY (160 Columbus Ave.; 212-362-6800), a luxurious, $55 million complex set to open this month. The bonus is its Sports Simulation Training Center, where you can windsurf, ski, or use the wide-screen golf simulator to play on some of the world's best courses. There's also an Outward Bound - type aerial ropes course and a 45-foot climbing wall, as well as an indoor 25-yard swimming pool, a one-sixth-mile rooftop track for running or in-line skating, a 5,000-square-foot cardiovascular equipment area, and 13,000 square feet of weight-training gyms. Call for information about affiliated hotels.

A 50-meter swimming pool is the centerpiece of the year-and-a-half-old Asphalt Green AquaCenter (1750 York Ave.; 212-369-8890), a nonprofit recreation and arts facility on the site of a former asphalt plant. The center also houses state-of-the-art cardiovascular equipment and weight machines, full-size indoor and outdoor basketball courts, indoor and outdoor tracks, and a regulation-size Astroturf soccer field. A one-day pool or fitness pass costs $14; $25 gives you access to both areas.

If you can only squeeze in a workout after hours, head for World Gym (1926 Broadway; 212-874-0942), across from Lincoln Center, open 24 hours every day. It's your basic gym, with cardiovascular equipment, Cybex and Lifecircuit machines, and free weights. A daily pass is $17; present any New York City hotel key and the fee drops to $12.

Washington, D.C.
Washington is a city of exclusivity, and it's difficult to find a decent gym that will let the riffraff in for just a day. Even the National Capitol YMCA (1711 Rhode Island Ave.; 202-862-9622), where the likes of Ted Koppel exercise, only admits members of other Ys or guests at one of the city's big hotels. Once in, though, you'll find a huge selection of cardiovascular equipment; Cybex, Lifecircuit, Nautilus, and Icarian machines; free weights; racquetball and squash courts; two half-size basketball courts; a 25-meter pool; and a wide-screen golf simulator. A pass is free for guests at many downtown hotels.

At Tenley Sport and Health (4000 Wisconsin Ave. N.W.; 202-362-8000) you'll also find media stars, plus assorted ambassadors and congressmen. There's a 25-yard indoor pool, a one-eighth-mile track, racquetball and squash courts, Lifecircuit and Nautilus weight machines, free weights, and classes ranging from step, funk, and slide aerobics to yoga. Members of IHRSA clubs can use the facility for $10.

If you're staying at the Georgetown University Conference Center (a Marriott hotel) you can use the students' gym, Yates Fieldhouse (37th and O Streets; 202-687-2400), with its 25-yard pool; tennis, racquetball, and squash courts; cardio and weight areas; and a one-sixth-mile indoor track. The fee is $5 during offpeak hours.

A 35-minute drive north on Wisconsin is Sportrock (14708 Southlawn Lane; 301-762-5111), in Rockville, Maryland, the D.C. area's only major indoor rock-climbing facility. With well over 100 different climbs and a separate bouldering area, you should be able to get your fill here if the weather is keeping you off the real thing at the Potomac Gorge, about 40 minutes up the George Washington Parkway. A $12 day pass includes ropes; safety gear is available for rent.

When the wind is whipping along the shore of Lake Michigan and you're climbing the walls in your hotel room, head to the Athletic Club Illinois Center (211 N. Stetson Ave.; 312-616-1087), where you can practice some real moves on a 100-foot climbing wall, the world's tallest. The club also has a 25-yard indoor pool, squash and racquetball courts, an indoor track that's a shade under a tenth of a mile, weight machines and free weights, treadmills, and a variety of stationary bicycles and stair-stepping machines. Guests of the Fairmont or Hyatt Hotels pay an $8 - $12 fee; if you're staying at the Hilton, Nikko, Intercontinental, or one of many other hotels, you'll pay $18. There's an extra $25 orientation fee for the climbing wall.

Farther north and west, the East Bank Club (500 N. Kingsbury St.; 312-527-5800) is Chicago's most well appointed facility and, at 450,000 square feet, the largest health club in the country. You can run around one of its two indoor tracks (one-sixth or a quarter of a mile) or swim in one of two indoor pools (20 and 25 yards long), or play tennis, platform tennis, racquetball, or squash. You can also shoot hoops, dig a volleyball, hit golf balls, and lift, step, bike, and row your way to exhaustion. Members of IHRSA clubs pay $15; guests of the Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, Hyatt, and Drake Hotels pay $25 during nonpeak hours.

Only in a basketball-crazy town like Chicago would you leave your car with a valet on your way to play a pickup game. But that's how it is at Hoops the Gym (1001 W. Washington Blvd.; 312-850-4667), about four blocks west of the Loop. Guests of the Four Seasons, Hilton, and Intercontinental pay $15 to play on its brand-new indoor court during "Lunch Club" (11 - 2, Monday and Wednesday). Anyone can rent the court at other times ($80 - $90 per hour).

If all you want to do is swim a few laps, check out the pool at the Hotel Intercontinental (505 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-944-4100). It's 25 yards long, built in a gorgeous Venetian-style room, and anyone who pays the $10 guest fee can swim in it.

Los Angeles
In Los Angeles, the world's hub for fit and beautiful people, the best clubs require that you work out with a personal trainer. Happily, there are a few exceptions. World Gym in Venice (812 Main St.; 310-399-9888) was once the bodybuilder's gym in L.A. (Mr. Schwarzenegger used to be a regular) but has evolved into a general fitness club. In addition to literally tons of free weights, there are Cybex and Bodymaster machines, as well as the standard array of treadmills, bikes, and stair-steppers. A day pass costs $10.

Part self-defense, part fitness, classes at Bodies in Motion (10542 W. Pico Blvd.; 310-836-8000) have you sparring one-on-one with professional boxers in addition to doing a boxer's standard workout of sit-ups, push-ups, and jumping rope. There's also a weight room with free weights and Cybex equipment, and a cardiovascular room with bikes, treadmills, and stair-steppers. A one-day pass costs $10; a weeklong pass is $50.

The 1993 earthquake did a bit of damage to The Sports Club/LA (1835 Sepulveda Blvd.; 310-473-1447), but it just reopened and is even better equipped than it was before. A 25-yard pool complements indoor basketball, volleyball, squash, and racquetball courts; outdoor paddle tennis courts; a cardiovascular area with a standard-size rock-climbing "treadwall"; and a 10,000-square-foot weight room. Guests of the Peninsula, Four Seasons, Regent Beverly Wilshire, Beverly Hills Hotel, Beverly Hilton, Hotel Bel Air, and JW Marriott can use the club for $30.

In the heart of the city, your best bet is the Ketchum-Downtown YMCA (401 S. Hope St.; 213-624-2348), where the hundred or so cardiovascular machines face floor-to-ceiling windows for great people-watching. There are also Cybex, Icarian, and Lifecircuit weight machines; free weights; basketball, tennis, racquetball, and squash courts; and a 25-yard indoor pool. Guest passes are $10; $15 during prime time (4:30 - 7:30 P.M.).

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