5 Unusual Specialty Gyms You Should Visit This Year

Trade the Big Box Gym for a Specialty Gym

The world of fitness can feel overwhelming—there are big box gyms, boutique fitness studios, small gyms, specialty gyms, outdoor boot camps, personal training studios, and the list goes on. How's a person supposed to find the right workout if they don't even know what type of facility they want to join?

One of the biggest points of confusion is the difference between a specialty gym and a boutique fitness studio—they sound like the same thing, right? They're actually fairly different, and the point of separation comes down to one thing: Facility availability.

Typically, specialty gyms offer "open access" periods of time when the general public and facility members can help themselves to the facility's amenities and equipment without the direct leadership of a trainer or instructor. For instance, some CrossFit gyms offer this type of open access apart from their standard classes.

Boutique fitness studios, on the other hand, are only available to interested parties during scheduled classes led by a studio instructor. Take, for instance, yoga, cycling, or barre studios—members are only invited to use the space during structured class settings.

While it's possible for specialty gyms to offer boutique-style, instructor-led fitness classes (CrossFit is a good example), true boutique studios don't provide open access. That's why, generally speaking, specialty gyms can be a good buy—you have the option to exercise alone or as part of a class, while still having access to amenities that often aren't available at traditional gyms. If you're in the market for a gym membership, but you don't want to sign up for the standard weights-and-cardio version, check out some of the unusual specialty gyms popping up in cities around the country.

Trampoline Gyms

A trampoline gym. Vasiliki Varvaki/Getty Images/E+ Collection

Trampoline gyms are popping up all over the country, and while they're often marketed as a great place for kids' birthday parties, they're also a good place for adults to exercise.

Most trampoline gyms consist of giant rooms of trampolines laid out side-by-side. Most offer day passes, punch cards, and memberships, and many also offer trampoline workout classes. Just be forewarned—if you haven't jumped on a trampoline in a while, your legs are going to burn. This full-body cardio and strength-building workout is a tough one, and if you sign up for a membership, you'll have access to workouts and self-led sessions during open hours. 

Obstacle Course Gyms

As the obstacle course race (OCR) industry explodes, it's no surprise that gyms are popping up designed specifically to help people train for rope climbing, wall scaling, and crawling through mud. Some such gyms are geared toward parkour, while others offer an American Ninja Warriors-meets-Spartan Race vibe. Either way, you can expect lots of weird-looking metal frames and cargo nets in place of traditional gym equipment. Sign up for a series of classes, or enjoy a free day at the facility—most offer open gym hours where you can play around with the equipment if you purchase a day pass.

Boxing Gyms

Title Boxing Club
Title Boxing Club

Some boxing gyms are specialty gyms, while others fall into the boutique fitness studio realm, so it's important to know what you're getting before you sign up.

Typical boxing gyms have a boxing ring, some strength training equipment and a whole slew of boxing bags lined up for a killer workout. At specialty gyms, you can exercise on your own, work with a trainer, or join a class. Sometimes these facilities are intimidating to newbies because it's not unusual for clientele to be actively training for boxing matches.

Boutique boxing gyms, on the other hand, typically only offer boxing and kickboxing classes, so there are no options to workout on your own.

There are two boxing gym franchises that actually walk a fine line between boutique studio and specialty gym, and both offer a welcoming environment that's easy for newbies to join. Title Boxing Club primarily offers classes, but many facilities also have some equipment that members can access on their own. 9Round, on the other hand, has a set workout that all members do, but members aren't restricted by time—they can start their workout whenever they want, and still get feedback from the trainer on-site.

Outdoor Gyms

Outdoor gyms come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the famous Muscle Beach Gym in Venice, California, to your local neighborhood Fit Trail. Some outdoor gyms are free, while others require the purchase of a day pass or membership fee.

Just don't assume outdoor gyms lack the organization of a more traditional specialty gym—many municipal parks and recreation departments install such gyms as a free resource to the community, then add specialty programming, such as boot camps and circuit training classes, as a paid addition to the outdoor facilities.

Even if you don't have access to a manmade outdoor gym, you can always create your own outdoor workout by using natural elements in place of traditional workout equipment. All it takes is a little creativity, but once you get started, Mother Nature can deliver one of the best workouts you've ever tried...plus, it's free!

Rock Climbing Gyms

Oli Scarff / Getty Images News

Rock climbing gyms are true specialty gyms because what they offer is rarely found outside of their specialty setting (with the exception of some big box gyms and recreation centers that provide rock climbing walls). As such, rock climbing passes and memberships typically cost more than traditional gyms, but are about on-par with boutique studios—you can expect to pay upwards of $20 for a day pass.

Many experienced climbers choose to climb on their own or with friends during open gym hours, but beginners may want to attend a class or pay for the assistance of a certified belayer. You may also have to pay to rent shoes and a harness if you don't own your own. It's not unusual for rock climbing facilities to offer some complementary classes as well, including yoga and slacklining