If you've ever wondered whether you can only find gyms and fitness centers in cities, I have news for you: They're everywhere. Just for fun, I Googled how many gyms are within a 10-mile radius of my house in a small town 60-miles northeast of Philadelphia. The answer: 39! That seems like a lot for our neck of the woods.

Berks County, Pennsylvania, is no hotbed of fitness, either. People here love their potato chips, pretzels, and of course, beer. Health, fitness, and nutrition don't seem to be things people here spend a lot of time or money gaining access to. But somebody must be going to these gyms that charge anywhere from $10-50 per month—and sometimes much more.

We have a mix of gyms in our little corner of the world. We've got the chains, including Planet Fitness, Anytime Fitness, LA Fitness, Retro Fitness, Gold's Gym, and the YMCA. We also have smaller independent gyms with a fraction of the square footage, equipment, and amenities the chains offer. They exist to serve people looking for a more intimate, authentic atmosphere.

Generally, these smaller independent gyms must charge more than the chains, which can be one of the factors that push budget-wise people to choose the more affordable over the more authentic—and can push less market-savvy gyms out of business.

Champagne Toasts For New PRs?

By "high-end gyms," I'm referring to places like Equinox, where you can easily pay well over $100 per month for a gym membership. Every amenity under the sun is at your disposal—as long as you're willing to pay top dollar for them. The very latest, top-of-the-line equipment? Check. Large flat-screen televisions throughout the facility? Naturally. Steam rooms and saunas? You got it. Eucalyptus-scented towelettes handed to you as you enter the locker room? But of course!

High End VS Old School Gyms

Some of these gyms also provide manicures, pedicures, and haircuts so patrons can emerge from their workouts cleaned, coiffed, and ready for the corner office. Many upscale gyms also feature the newest and most advanced technology, including retina scanners that allow only the select few to enter.

These establishments have everything you need to improve your health and fitness. There are still some essentials only you can provide, though, like dedication and hard work. No matter how highfalutin or humble the gym, these ingredients are strictly BYO.

Dark, Smelly, Run-Down Beauty

Many "old school" gyms still operate across the country and, in fact, are experiencing something of a rebirth, offering "authenticity" the way many fancy places offer cryotherapy. These places tend to fall more often into the no-judgment zones where you are welcomed no matter how much you lift or where you got your workout gear.

Some of these places are old, with lots of character and history behind them. Step into one and you may see old photos of long-gone bodybuilding stars, cracked upholstery, and broken, dusty, has-been machines slumped in dark corners. Some people consider these places "dumps," but others prefer to think of them as "well loved" and "broken in."

High End VS Old School Gyms

There's chalk dusk on the bars, on the floors, on the hands—everywhere. Stacks of 45-pound weight plates and dumbbells in excess of 150 pounds let you know you're where the beasts dwell. You are in the home of the hardcore, the dungeon of the dedicated. Metroflex in Long Beach, California, is one prime example, but there are countless others scattered across the land.

To Each Their Own

No matter where you hang your dip belt, the weights still weigh the same and you still need to exert the same effort to get them up in the air. Spending $50 per month on a gym membership doesn't make the iron any lighter or make fat melt away quicker. Ten miles on the treadmill at $100 a month is the same distance at $10 a month.

I get it. Some people are under a lot of stress. To them, going to the gym might be shorthand for going someplace where they can feel pampered, wind down, and maybe get in a little cardio. I consider myself to be among the brotherhood of the iron and seek out that dank, dingy basement where I can slam around some iron, grunt, and curse.

No matter where you live these days, you're bound to find both spa-like gyms and old-school iron pits—and everything else in between. Find a gym that works for you, that has your kind of people in it, and offers the services you're interested in—whether that's hour-long massages or squat lessons. Make your choice, get yourself in there at least three times a week, and your body and mind will thank you.

About the Author

Matt Weik, CSCS

Matt Weik, CSCS

Matt graduated from Penn State with a degree in Kinesiology. He is a fitness expert, strength and conditioning specialist, and sports nutritionist.

View all articles by this author