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Parks and Recs: Why it’s time to reconsider the city’s best gym deal

This spectacular pool in Queens was built as part of the city's 2012 Olympic bid.

This aquatic center in Queens was built as part of the city's 2012 Olympic bid. Now it's yours for $75 a year.

What if we told you that for $75—that’s the price of six Mint Sundaes at Pure Food and Wine—you can buy a yearlong gym membership with access to 31 gyms around the city? This particular “chain” doesn’t offer the cleanliness of Equinox, the cache of the Reebok Sport Club, or the strip-tastic fitness classes at Crunch. But it does offer the city’s best bargain—as well as four new-ish facilities, and improved fitness instruction with top teachers. We’re talking, of course, about the gyms run by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. (Not Amy Poehler.)

The gyms scattered around all five boroughs offer everything your NY Sports Club does: aerobics, aqua exercise, basketball, body toning, karate, kickboxing, tai chi, yoga, and dancing. Plus a whole lot it doesn’t: badminton, computers, volleyball, bingo, ceramics.

The weight deck at the Chelsea Recreation Center.

The weight deck at the Chelsea Recreation Center looks an awful lot like the ones at NY Sports

But guess what? Interest is up. “We’re receiving many more inquiries than usual about our low cost memberships,” says Nancy Barthold, Assistant Commissioner of the Parks and Recreation Department. “But it’s hard to know if it’s the economy or because of our two new facilities in Flushing Meadow.” Of the city’s 152,000 Parks & Rec gym members, a third claim one of the new Queens facilities as their home gym. (With 50K members, we hope the Queens contingent isn’t too serious about their New Year’s resolutions, so we can get a treadmill.)

Although the city has been in the gym business for decades, and many of the facilities are converted bathhouses from the 1930s, the facilities opened in the last ten years—Greenbelt, Chelsea, Al Oerter, and the Flushing Meadow Corona Park—give the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers a run for its money, and square footage. On the other hand, some centers, like poor Clarkson Street’s, resemble graveyards where Cardio equipment goes to die. So you have suss them out.

The Greenbelt Rec Center has personal trainers

Fortunately, January 11-17, is Open House week, and one showcase facility per borough is hosting complimentary workouts. Go for a swim, run on the treadmill, or try a yoga class. Can you expect Jivamukti level instructors? Well, maybe. “We don’t require the same level of certification from our instructors as, say, Equinox,” says Barthold. “But more and more great instructors are working with us thanks to the Mayor’s ‘Call to Service.’” (Power Pilates instructors are already teaching at various gyms.) So if the yoga teacher at the St. John’s Recreation Center in Brooklyn looks like Sadie Nardini, maybe it is.


The Parks and Recreation gyms’ stat file:

  • 5 in the Bronx
  • 7 in Brooklyn
  • 12 in Manhattan
  • 5 in Queens
  • 2 in Staten Island
  • 12 of them have indoor pools


Are you a Parks and Recs member? Tell us about your gym, here!