While $10-a-month big box gyms may seem to be taking over the fitness landscape, that's not entirely true. Sure, there are far more fitness chains than there were a decade ago. But there are also plenty of diverse and innovative body shops across the country that are working to create a different and effective experience for their patrons. (Where should you work out? Here's how to find a gym where you'll feel at home.)
Here are the top 5 most forward-thinking gyms in the nation.
America's Most Innovative Gyms
Fitwall: La Jolla, California
Instead of weight racks and cardio machines, Fitwall uses 7-foot-tall towers for intense 40-minute workouts. As you grunt and sweat, your heart rate, training load, and recovery rate are displayed on a monitor to help you dial in your intensity, fine-tune your rest, and optimize your gains.
Fitwall, TRAINING TIP
"Doing complex exercises when you're tired can lead to injury. Fill particularly intense circuits with simple moves you can't do wrong, like skater hops and pushups."
-- Cliff Harski, director of programming
The Green Microgym: Portland, Oregon
The cardio machines at this eco-friendly facility transform your effort into electricity, pumping out enough juice to not only help power the gym but also occasionally feed the local grid. As a result, this place's carbon footprint is a mere one-tenth that of most other fitness centers.
The Green Microgym, TRAINING TIP
"You should leave a workout feeling energized, not fatigued. If using a treadmill, find a speed that's tough yet sustainable. Own it for a workout or two, and then go just 5 percent harder."
-- Adam Boesel, founder
At Exos, weekend warriors brush biceps with pro athletes. Its state-of-the-art locations have everything from football fields to three-lane tracks, drawing sportsmen (and sportswomen) from all over the world, including NFL guys and members of Germany's 2014 World Cup team.
Exos, TRAINING TIP
"Concentrate on key parts of an exercise to see better results. During a biceps curl, for example, pull the bar up quickly and lower it slowly, fighting the pull of gravity."
-- Nick Winkelman, director of movement
Chelsea Piers: Stamford, Connecticut
Even at half the size of its Manhattan flagship -- which comprises 28 acres of gym space -- this megacenter has it all: a 65,000-square-foot gym, an Olympic-size pool, basketball and volleyball courts, seven tennis courts, 11 squash courts, two rinks, and a 24-foot climbing wall.
Chelsea Piers, TRAINING TIP
"The deeper you squat, the more effective it is. Place a medicine ball behind your heels and touch it with your butt to make sure you're going low enough."
-- Suzanne Vita Palazzo, training program director
Men's Health Thrive: Woburn, Massachusetts
Created by Mike Boyle, who trained the 2013 World Series champs (Go BoSox!), the Thrive program is available in 40 U.S. locations, including gyms like this one. You start with a functional-movement screening, which trainers then use to tailor a program to your specific needs. To find a Thrive location near you, check out the Thrive Gym Finder.
Men's Health Thrive, TRAINING TIP
"Always start with foam-rolling, focusing on your upper back, calves, hips, and glutes. Untying knots in these often-overworked areas leads to better workouts and better joint health."
-- Mike Boyle, co-founder