The hardest part about going to the gym is getting your foot out the front door, so it helps if you know where you’re going before you leave the house. Fitness centers offer all kinds of experiences, but what’s the best gym for you? Do you prefer the bustling big corporate gym with its constant cling-clang of weights? A quieter, more neighborly place to shape up? Or maybe a single-focused gym that caters to your particular fitness interest?
Sarasota and Manatee counties have as many places to get your endorphin rush as there are muscles in the body (640, so maybe an exaggeration, but you get my point). I asked some svelte, sexy and supple locals, who span the gym spectrum, which gyms they think are best. Here are 10 to try.
The Muscle Gym
In Norse mythology, Asgard is the center of the universe and home of the gods. But in Bradenton, Asgard Training Center is a gym for serious lifters looking for serious gains. Dead giveaway? The walls are covered with flags from Norway, Scotland and Iceland—the places where all the strongman competitors thrive. The gym, in a warehouse off State Road 64, is old school, filled with equipment and machines designed for maximum muscle development.
“If you’re going in there, you are going in there to work,” says Raymond “Big Ray” Sanford, a local barber and plant-based athlete who’s been lifting weights since he was 15. “No one is in there to take selfies. There’s not a bunch of mirrors everywhere.”
But don’t be intimidated. Big Ray says you can go there at any level of fitness, and the owner, Bryce Christopher Johnston, who looks like he just hopped off a Viking longship, is ever-present. “If you’re out on the floor, Bryce will spot you through your set,” says Big Ray. 22207 27th Ave. E., Bradenton, (941) 962-9609, facebook.com/thorsrageATC
What to Know
Asgard is an open-air gym, meaning each building is open to outside air, so none of that fake cold or heat messes with your immune system.
Membership cost: Day pass is $10, monthly membership is $75 (no contract or annual fees). You can also purchase a five-, 10- or 20-visit pass that doesn’t expire. Each pass is discounted accordingly. Open Monday-Friday
The 24-Hour Gym
If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t live a 9-5, a gym that’s available whenever is a must. For that, Anytime Fitness, with its six area locations, will meet your unorthodox schedule.
For Nicole Sarver, an emergency veterinarian who works the late shift, convenience is key. “It’s got everything I want, plus it’s never busy,” says Sarver. “It’s only ever me and one other person—sometimes nobody at all.” Everyone else seems to be there for the same pragmatic reasons, so there’s not a lot of chitchat.
As for equipment, it’s your standard gym affair: one room for resistance machines, another room for free weights, a small place to do yoga and cardio. At the Broadway Promenade location, just north of downtown Sarasota, the cardio machines look out a window facing the Publix parking lot. You can reward yourself with a foot-long Pub Sub after an agonizing StairMaster session—if you’re working out when Publix is open, that is. Broadway Promenade’s Anytime Fitness is located at 1058 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 227-3481; find all Anytime locations at anytimefitness.com
What to Know
Since the gym is located on the ground floor, underneath condos, the residents don’t like when you drop weights or scream.
Membership cost: $10-$15 per week. Open 24/7
The Social Club
We almost lost Sarasota’s most popular, long-running fitness centers. I’m talking about the Sarasota YMCA Berlin Branch and Potter Palmer Branch centers, which came close to shutting down due to financial hardship. But after three years, lots of reorganization and two name changes, these gyms are now CORE SRQ, and you can find fitness activities to please everyone from little kids all the way up to members in their 90s. They have weight rooms, swimming pools, basketball gyms, pickleball games and group classes from dance to high-intensity workouts to Parkinson’s Cycle.
But CORE SRQ’s superpower comes from a welcoming, clubby vibe that you won’t find at other gyms. People hang out, drink coffee and learn about one another’s lives. “It’s a family gym,” says personal trainer Won Huh, who has been working with members since the 1980s. “Everybody here knows each other, is connected to each other. You don’t just go in, work out and then go home right away.” Sarasota Branch, 1075 S. Euclid Ave., (941) 955-8194; Palmer Ranch Branch, 8301 Potter Park Drive, (941) 922-9622; coresrq.org
What to Know
CORE SRQ gives you another reason to feel good in body and soul. It’s a nonprofit, so your membership fees go right back into community programs.
Membership cost: One-time enrollment fee is $39.99. Young Individual membership: $24.99 monthly, $270 annually. Adult (age 30 and over) membership: $43.99 monthly, $475 annually. Open daily
The HIIT Gym
If intensity is your cup of tea, CrossFit Lena, located in a warehouse in Lakewood Ranch, is your gym. CrossFit is an exercise philosophy and competitive sport that combines multiple forms of weightlifting and cardio with high-intensity interval training, commonly called HIIT.
Nathan Smith, a full-time dad and fitness fanatic, likes CrossFit Lena for all his high-energy workout needs. “The most important thing is great instructors,” says Smith, “and CrossFit Lena has the best I’ve had in town.”
Don’t be intimidated by CrossFit’s culture of ardor. “People see CrossFit on TV, and everyone seems like they’re built by a Greek god,” says Smith. But that’s not the reality of this gym; it caters to everyone. “Classes are a mixed demographic—all ages, shapes and sizes,” he says. 5261 Paylor Lane, Sarasota, (941) 961-3402, crossfitlena.com
What to Know
The gym has classes for kids, too.
Membership cost: There are numerous packages, but the basic starts at $160 unlimited or $140 for three times a week. Open Monday-Saturday.
The Free Gym
There’s something about exercising indoors that’s a little odd, especially when you’re on a cardio machine that shows videos of you racing down a mountainous road or some other scenic vista. Why not just work out outside in the first place? If you’ve got the desire to be outdoors, then Arlington Park & Aquatic Complex is just what you need.
A city park with pools, walking trails, basketball court and dog park, this complex also includes a free and impressive outdoor gym facility to anyone over 15 years old. Think playground from your elementary school days, but for adults.
Jake Klasinski, a trails specialist for Sarasota County parks, burns most of his calories here when he’s not hiking through Sarasota County’s marshes. “I love that it’s near downtown, but it’s among all this greenery,” says Klasinski. “Working out in a park makes it so much more pleasant.”
Klasinski says there are endless things to do if you can get creative. You can bring your own equipment—ropes, resistance bands, free weights—to compound your workout. It’s never crowded, and there’s a basketball court, tennis court and track next door. The only negative, Klasinski says, is that even though the signs just outside the facility say it’s for ages 15 and over, some parents let their kids wander over from the nearby jungle gym.
2650 Waldemere St., Sarasota, (941) 263-6732, letsplaysarasota.com
What to Know
Remember to wear sunscreen because there isn’t much respite from the afternoon sun.
Membership cost: Free! Open daily, from dawn to dusk
The Boutique Gym
If you live in Venice, B Fitness and Smoothies, which started out as a barre studio seven years ago, has raised the bar. In addition to ballet-inspired fitness classes, husband-and-wife owners and trainers David and Kim Hackett offer total body conditioning that includes TRX, kettlebells, yoga, Butti yoga and Pilates, as well as personal training. With 10 instructors, including the Hacketts, you can find the trainer that suits your style.
This is the only gym on the list where women dominate. Nicole Habermann, a medical aesthetician, likes the workouts and “boutique feel.”
“They offer amazing retail attire, delicious smoothies, personal training, nutritional advice and the unbelievable classes,” she says. 1691 U.S. 41 Bypass S., Venice, (941) 786-5955, bodybybarre.me
What to Know
Like the business name says, there’s a health smoothie bar (Haberman says to try the pumpkin Paleo) at the front of the studio, along with a small clothing boutique.
Membership cost: Costs vary. Choose from multi-class packs or the monthly $149 for unlimited classes. Open daily
The Laid-Back Gym
Gym culture can be overwhelming. Too much testosterone mixed with a dollop of vanity can be enough of an excuse to avoid the gym altogether. But some gyms are uncrowded and laid-back and the price is right.
The fitness center at Robert L. Taylor Community Center in north Sarasota fits that description. “It’s calm,” says Manny Rangel, a Sarasota artist and contractor. “There’s not a bunch of meatheads in there hogging the machines.”
A tiny, regular crowd of mostly seniors comes in the early morning hours. Pickleball players meander in a little later and head to the indoor basketball court. But throughout the day, you might be only one of a few people working out. Members are neighborly and approachable. “Not a lot of people go, but the ones who do are local regulars who are there every day,” says Rangel. “It’s not like LA Fitness where everybody is a stranger.”
The Robert Taylor gym doesn’t offer the variety and number of weight and cardio machines like the big franchises, although the free weight room is sufficiently stocked with benches and hand weights. But the space is large (and feels even bigger since it’s often uncrowded), and you can get a good workout on well-maintained equipment. The center is also immaculate.
Does the gym ever fill up? Yes. When school lets out in the afternoon, you can sometimes get caught in a swarm of teens, mostly boys, in the free weight room. They do like the mirrors. But, hey, this place is a bargain: only $10 a month or $9 if you’re a senior. 1845 34th St., Sarasota, (941) 263-6562, rltaylor.com
What to Know
The basketball court is usually busy, and the games are skilled, so you could play if you’ve got the chops, or just watch hoopers go at it.
Membership cost: Adult monthly $10, annual $120; seniors 55-plus monthly $9, annual $108. A two-person household is $16 a month, annual $192. A day pass is $5 plus tax. Open Monday-Friday
The Boxing Club
If you want a unique, demanding and authentic gym experience, try the Sarasota Boxing Club. For more than 36 years, Coach Harold Wilen, an indestructible and diminutive boxing nut from The Bronx, has run the club and trained some of the best fighters to come out of the area.
The space is austere and bona fide. It’s got all the boxing fixings: heavy speedbags, specialty bags, jump ropes, a ring and weightlifting equipment. Outside are tires of all sizes you can flip to your heart’s content. If you can find a sparring partner, you’ll get the best workout of your life.
Bertalan Bacso, executive director of BD & Sales at Ozone Partner Group, sends both his sons to the Sarasota Boxing Club. “It’s an old school boxing club teaching nothing but the sweet science,” says Basco. “People of all levels train here. The best boxers are just as, if not more, humble than beginners.”
Coach Harold will give you lessons for $50 an hour. All ages work out with him, and he will ask of you as much as you can give. 2030 Harvard St., Unit E, (941) 539-6836, facebook.com/SarasotaBoxingClub
What to Know
If you train with Coach, he’ll make you flip giant tires until you feel like you’re going to puke (that’s a good thing).
Membership cost: $50 month adults, $30 month under 18. Personal, one-hour lessons $50. Open daily, with limited hours
As malls throughout America lose their retail outlets, the business that seems to be filling them fastest is the franchise gym. Esporta Fitness, formerly LA Fitness, has several locations in the area, but the one off U.S. 41 and Bee Ridge Road, where the old South Gate Mall (now called Crossings at Siesta Key) used to thrive, has everything you could possibly need, no matter what kind of exercise you’re looking for.
This gym gets busy, but there are so many benches, free weights and cardio machines that you’d have to be annoyingly rigid in your habits not to find a way to get a good workout. And despite the crowd, the workout etiquette is good. “Everybody is respectful. I’ve never had to wait for long,” says fitness buff and man about town Dan Starostecki. “And the staff is very helpful—always there to put away stray weights.” 3501 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 960-8730, esportafitness.com
What to Know
The one downside is that the guys in the front office pushing memberships will hound you if you’re considering signing up. “They’re relentless,” says Starostecki. “They’ll call you for weeks and weeks.”
Membership cost: $99 initiation fee and $9.99 a month for the use of one club, or no initiation fee for a multi-club membership at $24.99 per month. Open daily
The Cult Gym
Working out doesn’t have to be a solitary endeavor. For those who need the motivation of their peers, Orange Theory offers a cult-like dedication to staying fit.
Francesca Scarpino, a home health care administrator, has been an “Orange Theorist” for more than seven years at the downtown Sarasota location. “I’m not the type of person who can go to the gym by myself,” she says. “I get distracted, start people watching and I won’t push myself.” But at Orange Theory, your fellow gymgoers and coaches will call you out if you’re not pushing yourself.
You’ll also be looked after in case you push yourself too hard. Everyone wears a heart rate monitor that shows up on a screen in the gym. This is a way for you to keep track of how many calories you’ve burned, measure yourself against previous workouts and prevent yourself from drifting into the “red zone” and overdoing it.
Why do people call it a cult? “When you first start going, you become obsessed with it,” says Francesca. And like any good cult, you start to evangelize. “They incentivize you to refer other people with prizes like a Lululemon gift card,” she says. Orange Theory’s downtown Sarasota gym is located at 1605 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 444-2440; for all locations, go to orangetheory.com
What to Know
You have to reserve a spot if you want a space in the gym. If you don’t show up, you pay $12. Now that’s an incentive to work out.
Membership cost: Basic (four classes for $59/month) to Elite (eight classes for $99/month) to Premier (unlimited classes for $159/month). Open daily