When I moved to Ann Arbor, I set out to find the perfect gym. Since most gyms, recreation buildings, fitness studios, and athletic centers offer a free trial period to anyone willing to take a tour with a sales representative, I was able to canvass thirteen of them. They’re presented alphabetically below, with snapshot evaluations. In the accompanying chart, they’re graded in ten categories and the grades are averaged to produce the overall mark.

Because I graded only the services offered, a gym with so-so child care loses points in the overall rankings, while a gym with no child care does not. Since everyone has their own definition of a perfect gym, check out the particulars that are most important to you before investing your money or time.

Bally Total Fitness: C+.

615 Briarwood Circle, 769-6600. www.ballyfitness.com. Free pass: one week.

Bally’s would drive a claustrophobe mad. The lifting area features top-of-the-line equipment, but the floor space is so limited there’s barely room to use it. Similarly, the cardio area has spectacular equipment wall to wall–but is so confined that just two or three people exercising thickens the air. Walls surround the track on the second floor, heightening the confinement. A four-lane pool is a plus. The free week comes with frequent high-pressure sales pitches.

Fusion: B+.

2723 Oak Valley Dr., 214-6426. www.fusionhealthclubs.com/annarbor. Free pass: three visits over five days.

Fusion is the filet mignon of meat-and-potatoes gyms. The perfect lifting atmosphere is complemented by loud, upbeat music. All free weights and lifting machines (a mixture of plate-loaded and cables) are brand new. The cardio machines are also the latest and greatest, with built-in individual TV screens. Fusion offers basic fitness classes and child care (basically a carpeted closet with toys), but its main draw is the top-notch strength and conditioning equipment. On the downside, the locker rooms are small and dank.

The Health & Fitness Center at Washtenaw Community College: A.

4833 E. Huron River Dr., 975-9950. www.wccfitness.org. Free pass: two visits.

WCC’s fitness center is the cream of the crop for the typical gym consumer. Windows covering the walls and ceilings help keep the 76,000-square-foot facility naturally lit with minimal help from fluorescent bulbs. The gym features state-of-the-art weight and cardio equipment, lap and therapy saltwater pools, four fitness studios, a 200-meter track, and a basketball court. The locker rooms are the best in town, complete with hot tubs, steam rooms, saunas, and a lounge area with couches and flat-screen TVs. Membership fees are reasonable for the general public, a steal for students.

Hyperfit USA: A+ (but only for super-serious fitness buffs).

70 Airport Blvd., Suite 3, 827-0001. info@hyperfitusa.com, www.hyperfitusa.com. Free pass: one “tryout.”

Hyperfit USA offers training for power/Olympic-style lifters with serious fitness goals. The gym is not for the faint of heart, as evidenced by the “tryout to join” policy. The tryout includes owner Doug Chapman putting you through a sample class to see if you can survive the intense, push-yourself-to-the-limit training. There’s no better place for reaching strength and cardiovascular goals, but it comes at a price, in more ways than one.

Liberty Athletic Club: A-.

2975 W. Liberty, 665-3738. www.libertyathletic.net. Free pass: three days.

Liberty is more country club than gym. The lifting and cardio equipment are state of the art, but the luxuries set it apart. Inside the 110,000-square-foot facility are six tennis courts, a water park, a rock-climbing wall, and a luxury spa. Memberships are expensive, and it’s more of a family atmosphere than hard-core haven.

MFit Fitness Center at the Ice Cube: C+.

2121 Oak Valley Dr., 213-1600. www.a2ice3.com/mfit. Free pass: none (drop-in $9).

This gym grants access to some of the top exercise professionals in the area–but not the best equipment or facilities. It’s a great place for rehabilitation, and a membership is a smart buy for parents with children enrolled in hockey or figure skating at the Cube.

One-on-One Athletic: A-.

2875 Boardwalk, 761-7646, www.1on1club.com. Free pass: Seven days for $7.

Inside One-on-One’s 100,000-square-foot facility are racquetball, squash, and basketball courts; a rehabilitation clinic; spacious lifting and cardio areas; and excellent locker rooms, complete with steam rooms and saunas. An added bonus is that the gym is open 24 hours weekdays. The gym would benefit tremendously from better upkeep and from refurbishing or replacing old equipment.

Snap Fitness: C.

4567 Washtenaw, 973-6900. www.snapfitness.com/annarbormi, Free pass: one week.

Everything Snap Fitness offers is quality, yet limited. The weight and cardio equipment are top-notch, but some very basic equipment is absent. The most glaring example: lack of a free-weight bench press. Memberships are pricey, especially considering its shortfalls. The gym is small but open 24 hours daily, and a membership grants access to fifty-nine locations across Michigan and hundreds across the country.

U-M Centers: A-.

Central Campus Recreation Building (CCRB), 401 Washtenaw, 763-3084; Intramural Sports Building (IMSB), 606 E. Hoover, 763-3562; North Campus Recreation Building (NCRB), 2375 Hubbard, 763-4560. www.recsports.umich.edu. Free pass: one visit at each building.

By far the most comprehensive membership offered in the city grants access to three gyms across U-M’s campus. CCRB has the most stuff, but the facility is often very crowded and the equipment is old. NCRB is the best facility of the three, featuring almost everything the CCRB does with smaller crowds, but the lifting and cardio areas are small. IMSB is spacious, has the best and most equipment of the three gyms, and also has a multitude of sports options–but a confusing floor plan. Individuals affiliated with U-M are eligible for memberships (free for students and reasonably priced for others). Anyone else needs a member sponsor to join.

Vie: Fitness & Spa: A.

209 S. Ashley, 665-2156. www.viefit.com. Free pass: one class

Vie is a sleek downtown studio offering personal training, spa treatment, nutrition counseling, and an ever-changing assortment of fitness classes, many of which were created by owner Heather Dupuis and are unique to Vie. It has no members; you pay as you go. Very personable, upbeat, and modern atmosphere, geared toward upscale female clientele.


400 W. Washington, 996-9622. www.annarborymca.org. Free pass: none.

The Y offers practically everything imaginable and is very well run. It’s massive, with areas dedicated to weights, cardio, basketball, gymnastics, swimming, boxing, and fitness classes. It’s the best option for families with children. On top of day care service, there are a multitude of sports classes, leagues, and camps offered. The one knock on the Y is that, despite its size, it gets very crowded during rush hours.