As of September 2nd, gyms have finally reopened in New York City. Despite most of the North Eastern region reopening gyms weeks before, it took New York State being sued by a collection of gym owners for the Governors office to provide any sort of guidance for when they could reopen.
Understandably, there are still many restrictions in place. Equinox, a company that made the news in April for being one of the major companies refusing to pay rent due to the closure, announced via an email on August 27th they will be charging their members again starting on September 9th. As a patron, I want to look at what Equinox usually offers versus what they are offering now, and ask the question if it’s still worth paying a premium over other gyms that offer memberships at less than half the price.
Unlimited Access… with some restrictions
When the original reopening plans were sent out by Equinox via email in June, they indicated that you’d be allowed to sign up for 3 slots a week and could sign up for further slots “a maximum of 48 hours in advance”. Since then, they’ve updated their policy to allow for unlimited slots per week, up to once per day. A booking lasts for 90 minutes but there doesn’t seem to be any sort of enforcement in place.
Booking is available up to 7 days in advance and requires you to open the “Book a Solo Workout” option in the app. At the time of writing this on Wednesday September 2nd, I’m still able to book a time for tomorrow at the Greenwich Street location for tomorrow at any time except for before 9am. Two days out, on Friday, there are still a lot of pre-workday slots available. It will be interesting to see how competitive this becomes going forward as more people become comfortable with going to the gym.
Curiously, some gyms appear to be reducing hours. The Wall Street location which already only had 9am – 5pm hours on the weekends now appears to be totally shut on the weekend. When I first signed up with Equinox, I was on the Single Club $200/month membership option at the Wall Street location, and already found it pretty annoying that I had to plan my weekend workouts around the club hours, and I see no indication on their website that there is any discount for those members now only getting access 5 out of 7 days a week.
My workout slot was at 7am, and the gym opens at 6am. Seeing as the slots are 90 minutes each, I was theoretically there at the first point of the day where the 33% capacity limit could have been reached. Judging by the Equinox app, each time slot allows for 30 bookings and all the 6am – 7am slots were booked today. That said, I don’t believe there is any penalty for not showing up for your slot so it’s possible that a few people who slept in after six months of not seeing to wake up early didn’t make it.
The club was about as busy as a pre-COVID weekend. I was able to get a bench press with no problem, weights were generally free and people were doing a good job of keeping their distance. Every other piece of cardio equipment is blocked off. Staff were good about wiping things down and patrons were generally doing the same, though the wipes they provided left a pretty thick residue that was compounded by the fact that there were no towels available outside of the single hand towel I was provided with by the front desk.
So, what has been lost?
A few things are immediately obvious. Having to book ahead means there is a loss of flexibility, and for some people the 90 minute time limit might make it difficult to fit their workout in on top of locker room time. Towels are now heavily restricted – the famous Equinox Eucalyptus towels are currently unavailable, and other than the towel you’re handed at the door there are none available throughout the club. Arguably, all these restrictions are reasonable and similar to what you would experience at other gyms in the city.
What I struggle to justify is the severe reduction in addition benefits that come with an Equinox membership. They justify the price by creating a “club” experience, as opposed to being just a place to lift weights. Let’s take a look at what we no longer have access to and try to quantify the reduction.
Yoga, Pilates, Cycling and Group Fitness – $100 Value Loss
Classes are the easiest thing to point too. Equinox prides itself in providing high quality group fitness classes run by top of their game fitness instructors, and for many people this is the biggest draw to the clubs. The Mayor’s guidance on gym reopening states that indoor group fitness classes are not allowed, so there is nothing Equinox could do here. In New York City, a one off fitness class can easily cost anywhere from $15 – $25 for an hour, so those that were going to group fitness classes multiple times a week were getting a large chunk of their membership worth back. Personally, I’m going to value this at about $100 a month, considering two or three classes a week.
Locker Room Amenities – $50 Value Loss
When I first moved to my own place in New York, one of the justifications I gave myself for joining the SoHo Equinox was that the shower stalls there were about the same size as the entire washroom in my studio apartment. Having a place to clean up after a work out and before the office was a big plus for me, and compared to some of the other gyms I’ve been to in the city Equinox’s locker rooms were a step above.
While the showers are still open, there again is minimal towel availability. With the health concerns, I’ll be opting to shower at home. Based on the entire locker room being empty when I was in there, it seems like others were opting for the same. In terms of the personal grooming supplies, they no longer provide the razors, moisturizers, mouthwash and cotton swabs that were a staple. Perhaps most disappointing of all is that the steam rooms and saunas will likely still be shuttered for months.
Co-working Spaces, Food and Miscellaneous – $50 Value Loss
One thing I really enjoyed about Equinox was going there to bang out an email or five after my workout, or sit there in comfy chairs reading a book when I wasn’t quite ready to start my workout. This is currently unavailable. Small things that I forgot about until they were gone like Coat Check are closed. Overall it feels like a very stripped down version of what the old experience was.
What is still great?
The main reason I go to the gym is to workout – no surprise there. As someone who has mainly stuck to the three big lifts and solo workout for years, I was ecstatic just to be back laying on a bench press again, and am very excited for squats tomorrow despite the Friday DOMS I’m expecting. In this vein, the experience is still excellent. Equipment is well spaced out and it appears that Equinox is taking a serious stance on cleanliness. I did not see a single patron not wearing a mask and people have always been generally respectful of each other while working out. For what it’s worth, I think Equinox has done a great job of providing what they can with what restrictions are in place.
Personal Training is Still Happening
I have never used a personal trainer at Equinox, but I know for many people it’s a fantastic motivator and learning opportunity. I saw at least one personal training session going on while I was at the gym and I’m sure the trainers are eager to get back to a normal work routine themselves. As this is an extra cost and not something that I use, it doesn’t really affect me.
Verdict: Is it Still worth it?
If you add up the losses in value I’ve personally assigned above, you come in at about a $200 losses. Based on that, I feel I’ll still be able to get about $100 worth of my money out of going to the gym. When you compare this to the prices of some of the ‘just a place to lift’ gyms in Manhattan, I don’t actually think $100 would be a bad price for what I’m still getting.
Of course, I will still be forced to pay the full amount. Equinox has offered to allow people to continue their membership freeze for free, but only up to three months. In addition, they’ve explicitly said that their contracts will not consider the time during shut down as being within your first year – If you had six months left on your contract in March, according to them you’re still locked in for another six months. I fall under that situation, and although I’m not 100% on the enforceability on their stance, I also know that dealing with getting out of gym contracts is a massive headache.
Overall, I’m happy to be back. I will likely be checking out the other gyms around me to see how their response to COVID is playing out, and once my contract is up considering switching to a more bare bones chain if restrictions stay in place. Leave me a comment and let me know how your experience going back to the gym has gone or subscribe to my posts to receive notifications of further updates.