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Best mid-range gyms in Chicago

Cheetah Gym—Bucktown There’s one defining quality that catapults this Cheetah location above its Edgewater and Andersonville counterparts...

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Model: Angie Zent/Team Inc.; Makeup: Adel for Spoil me Hair Salon, Assistant: Dan Moore; stylist: Isaac King/Ford
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Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki
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Photograph: Jeremy Bolen

Cheetah Gym—Bucktown
There’s one defining quality that catapults this Cheetah location above its Edgewater and Andersonville counterparts (though we’re floored by Edgewater’s unheard-of free Pilates reformer classes): the sheer number and range of morning, midafternoon and lunchtime classes. Housed in the former Real World loft space from the 2002 show, the gym is starting to look a bit dated (the real grass in planters and running fountains adorning exposed brick walls in the stairwell conjure an early-2000s interior-design aesthetic), but the two washer and dryer machines, not to mention the omnipresent hanging fans, pretty much make up for it. Biggest complaint? Despite three floors of equipment and plenty of windows, the ratio of members to machines still makes the place feel fairly cramped. —Jessica Herman

FITNESS REPORT CARD
ClassesA The wide variety ranges from Zumba, boxing and Brazilian jujitsu to various types of yoga and recess (a class incorporating playground exercises such as jump rope and hopscotch).
Locker roomB- Always tidy, with small sauna and steam rooms to boot. Major drawback: The space should be at least two or three times its size so members aren’t elbowing each other while changing.
Cardio machinesA Tons of machines, but at peak hours, you still might have to wait for crowd favorites such as treadmills or ellipticals.
WeightsA Solid machine selection and free weights.
Workout accessoriesB+ All the accessories are there, but there’s not a ton of space to stretch out. Thankfully, the basement stretching area is expanding soon.
Customer serviceA Extremely friendly. Random perk: Because owner Reza Toulabi also owns the Mediterranean restaurant Reza’s, members can flash their cards for a 15 percent discount at the restaurant’s three locations.


West Loop Athletic Club
Pull into this gym’s free parking lot, nestled at the west end of Randolph Street’s tony restaurant row, and you’ve already got a taste of what lies ahead: efficiency, convenience and amenities that stretch well beyond most midrange gyms. Inside, the lower level of the high-ceilinged, lofted space houses a junior-Olympic-size pool complete with adjacent hot tub; a regulation-size basketball court; and impeccably clean locker rooms outfitted with a sauna and newly renovated steam room. Meanwhile, the second level houses rows of cardio machines—about a third of them were added just last week. An expanded stretching area is in the works, too. Other gym perks include a kids’ area, kids’ classes, a pay-by-the-minute onsite massage service, nutritional consultation and personal training. —Martina Sheehan

FITNESS REPORT CARD
ClassesA Half-dozen different types of yoga, from ashtanga to vinyasa, plus Spinning, Pilates, water workouts, pre- and postnatal fitness—you name it.
Locker roomA Clean, not cramped, and equipped with both a sauna and steam room.
Cardio machinesA Dozens of new machines with personal, cable-equipped TVs—better than home.
WeightsA- Good variety of machines, though the layout might be confusing for the uninitiated.
Workout accessoriesA The designated stretching area comes stocked with accessories like BOSU balls, jump ropes and foam rollers.
Customer serviceA- The front desk can be hit or miss, but trainers and other staff members give you their undivided attention.


Fitness Formula Clubs—South Loop
It would be easy to join purely for convenience—this club sits atop a Red Line stop, is a few blocks from the Roosevelt Metra station and has a covered, free parking garage—but there’s more to the story. The huge gym boasts two beautiful studios, a Spinning room and a private Pilates studio. The weight-lifting equipment, cardio machines and locker room are all squeaky clean. (I forgot my flip-flops and didn’t even blink at going barefoot in the shower.) And while banking a solid sweat session is enough to boost my endorphins, the airy space, lofty ceilings and rows of empty cardio machines just waiting for me to jump on all gave me an unexpected and much-appreciated sense of calm at the end of a long work day. FFC South Loop, you had me at convenience, but you won me over with what’s inside. —Liz Plosser

FITNESS REPORT CARD
ClassesA Bonus points for the huge array of classes, including group Pilates.
Locker roomA- No need to BYO lock.
Cardio machinesA Dozens of sparkling machines, all with personal TVs. Swoon.
WeightsB+ Tiny downside: The cardio machines directly face the main lifting area—leaving strength trainers feeling on display.
Workout accessoriesA Two stretching areas with clean mats and all of the necessary accoutrements (fitness balls, balance boards, etc.).
Customer serviceA Not chatty, but smiley—just how I like it.


Galter LifeCenter
A feeling of contentedness washes over you the moment you push open the doors of this Northwest Side gym, affiliated with (and attached to) Swedish Covenant Hospital. Cheerful Swedish flag–emblazoned signs on the doors congratulate you on going to the gym, and the effusively friendly front-desk workers are so happy to be at work they break into song. It seems everyone is thrilled to be at Galter, from the clusters of older Asian ladies chatting amiably in the enormous locker room to members joking with instructors during one of the classes offered at nearly all hours of the day. Even the people working out on the state-of-the-art cardio equipment are yukking it up with each other. (It’s so easy to hear what everyone’s saying because, except for the studios, there isn’t a note of the oomp-oomp bass-thumping music typical at most gyms, sound-absorbing carpet covers the floors, and cell phones are banned just about everywhere.) Why are people at Galter so damn happy? It could be the two pools, the free parking or the in-house spa, but we think it’s the satisfaction that comes from knowing you belong to the best gym nobody knows about. —Laura Baginski

FITNESS REPORT CARD
ClassesA As many as 18 classes per day in the four exercise studios and pools, catering to the younger set (Pilates, kickboxing) to the older (big-band aerobics).
Locker roomA- Keyless lockers are a plus, the steam room is immaculate, and the high-quality lotion, shampoo and conditioner smell like lemons, but the showers have an industrial feel.
Cardio machinesA- About half the ellipticals and treadmills allow you to watch TV or hook up your iPod.
WeightsA Every kind of free weight and machine you could want, all extremely well-maintained.
Workout accessoriesA Several stretching areas and plenty of stability balls, foam rollers and mats.
Customer serviceA Chatty, happy and overjoyed to be helping you.


LA Fitness East Randolph Signature Club—Loop
Open since October, this monster is never packed—yet. Measuring 48,000 square feet and almost all on one floor (only the modest pool and both locker rooms are underground), it’s a “Signature Club,” meaning membership here gets you in the door at any LAF nationwide. Nearly every brand of cardio and resistance equipment is represented—if you’ve found your favorite pec deck, LAF probably has two—and a marathon runner we walked by gave an unsolicited, gasping endorsement of the low-impact Woodway treadmill. The stretching and mat-work space sees a lot of foot traffic during peak hours; a full basketball court and aerobics studio are open for use, though, when classes aren’t in session. Dumbbell enthusiasts are treated to an endless rack and plenty of benches, and before-work bikers may have found their paradise: A glass-walled room of gleaming Keiser cycles faces northeast and floods with sunlight during 5:45am and 7am classes. —Zachary Whittenburg

FITNESS REPORT CARD
ClassesB There’s a good range of types and skill levels, but none from 12:30–5:30pm.
Locker roomA Keyless lockers, private showers and grooming products galore.
Cardio machinesA Tune in to your own screen, iPod connectivity and mini USB jack.
WeightsA Three massive rooms have everything you need.
Workout accessoriesB There aren’t a lot lying around, but there are staff members everywhere who can produce a foam roller out of thin air.
Customer serviceB Strangers get a chilly shoulder, but members are treated like royalty.


Quads Gym
Because it’s pretty much all bodybuilding all the time here, this Lakeview gym might seem intimidating at first (the buff men and women grunting while they lift can be a bit much). But guess what? Everyone here is so serious about fitness they pretty much keep to themselves, so you can just blend in with the crowd and focus on your routine. Most of the action occurs on the first floor, which looks like a tricked-out high-school weight room. In addition to free weights, you’ll find a bevy of cardio equipment, including hard-to-find climbing machines such as Jacobs Ladder and the Treadwall. Master those bad boys, and you could be the intimidating one. —Kevin Aeh

FITNESS REPORT CARD
ClassesN/A Because the focus is on weights and machines, you won’t find any group fitness classes.
Locker roomB It’s clean, but don’t expect many perks. It costs $1 to rent a towel.
Cardio machinesA+ In addition to the already-huge selection of equipment, the gym just added six new machines (including the latest from Precor) in November.
WeightsA+ Both levels of this gym offer a ton of lifting opportunities, from machines to dumbbells and free weights.
Workout accessoriesA You’ll find foam rollers, jump ropes and any other accessories you’ll need to complement your workout.
Customer serviceB+ Quads offers day passes ($11), which means the staff is patient enough to deal with newbies every day.


Fitness Formula Clubs—Gold Coast
The formula at FFC Gold Coast is simple: Add posh, spalike digs to all the trappings of a serious gym—then subtract all the meathead attitude of a serious gym. Surrounded by lovely Gold Coast views, the thoughtfully designed sixth-floor club eschews typical-gym claustrophobia: Glass walls separate the workout area from the pristine basketball court and the immaculate four-lane lap pool. In such swank environs—there’s a spa, rooftop deck and café with free Internet access—I almost forget I’m working so hard. For that, FFC Gold Coast boasts top-grade workout equipment and a cornucopia of cardio machines, circled by a running track. And it attracts a clientele whose personality matches that of the club itself: devoted to fitness without being obnoxious about it. —Novid Parsi

FITNESS REPORT CARD
ClassesA Round-the-clock classes fill the—count them—five group-fitness rooms (one just for Spinning and two just for Pilates).
Locker roomA- It presents an almost-flawless face: luxe lockers, sauna, steam room, whirlpool. The one blemish? Just a handful of toilets and urinals.
Cardio machinesA The meat: a wide variety of machines and lots of them. The gravy: Each one has its own TV (with a channel for spying on your kids in the day-care room).
WeightsA- The weights look and feel as if they just came from the factory. But the waits (albeit, short ones) can be a slight nuisance at peak hours.
Workout accessoriesA- Fitness balls, mats, bands, etc.—and a stretching area to use them. (So why are there never enough barbell clamps?)
Customer serviceA A well-functioning car engine: so reliable, I don’t think about it.

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