If you believe in the power of positive thinking, or you're one of those lucky few who can diet their way to the hardbody's dream state, then you should have no problem leaving behind those extra few kilos of goulash, turkey and other winter good cheer. But for the rest of us, a good workout may be the best alternative.
Whether it's aerobics, weight lifting, a motivated babe on the next machine, or endless misery, everybody has their own idea of what is meant by a trip to the gym. But what exactly is it that makes a gym a good choice for you and where can it be found?
Location, location, location
Located on Wenceslas Square, World Class Fitness Center is probably the most fashionable health club in Prague. It's probably the most central as well, so I started my search here. First impressions are important and World Class made a good one, as the enormous, multi-level 1,800 m2 health club was filled with everything from aerobic and spinning rooms (spinning is a type of organized aerobic workout on special cycles) to weights and saunas. In addition to this standard health club gear, you'll find tanning beds and a masseur as well as kick boxing and Tae-bo classes. If you like cardio workouts, then you won't be disappointed. No less than 41 stations of cross-trainers, steppers, treadmills, rowing machines and bicycles are waiting for you.
The majority of local gyms show a strong preference for machines and World Class has an arsenal of the finest. But more traditional weight lifters have not been forgotten as plenty of free weights can be found here too. I doubt you'd ever have to wait your turn for one of the bench presses. In fact, I doubt you'd ever have to wait for anything here.
Which brings us to an important point. This gym is very large, so if you visit in the middle of the day it seems noticeably empty. In the early evening however the facilities are well attended and a comfortable crowd is generally on hand. So if you want to avoid having that feeling of being a lonely lost soul working out at the end of the world while the rest of humanity plays, try to avoid going mid-day!
At 300 CZK/day, 2,000 CZK/month and 15,000 CZK/year, World Class Fitness prices are at the upper end of the scale. Not surprisingly, many of the clients are relatively well-to-do professional types ranging in age from mid 20s to middle-aged. Otherwise, the clientele seems to be almost evenly mixed between Czech locals and English-speaking foreigners.
My next stop was Hit Fitness, conveniently located one block away from the Flora metro station. Right from the start I could tell that this would be a different experience. As I descended the stairway, the sound of clanging metal plates resonated up the stairway and even before I opened the door, I knew this would be a great gym to work out in.
I was right. Upon entering, I discovered a room filled with equal numbers of men and women shining in the endorphined glow of a serious workout. Plenty of equipment was available to choose from and treadmills, steppers and rowing machines beckoned from nearby. On the negative side, the weight lifting area is not so big, but a wide assortment of free weights and machines are available. The spinning room is also rather small, with only 15 bikes, but 16 standard cycles are available in the main room.
During mid-afternoon hours the gym was only about 25% full and quite comfortable, but at peak after-work hours, a large number of people are in attendance and sharing equipment will be necessary. Although I was probably the only native English speaker in the place, I really felt at home here.
One thing that sets Hit Fitness apart from many fitness centers is the three very well lit squash courts. Squash gear can be rented or purchased on site and reservations are recommended, but in the early afternoon it doesn't seem too hard to find an open court or a willing partner.
Overall, this gym is great if you're looking for a good combination of serious workout partners and an atmosphere with enough energy to burn off a few calories on contact. If you want to make some local acquaintances or brush up on your Czech, you've found yet another reason to come to Hit Fitness. A wide range of price plans are available for the gym, ranging from 80 CZK/visit to 9,000 CZK/year. Aerobics, spinning and squash are charged separately, but similar pricing plans are offered. Discounted rates are available for students and regular visitors.
Hit Fitness also operates the FANatic aerobic studio located at Námestí Míru 9 in Prague 2. FANatic is for women only and features aerobics classes and a spinning room.
Cardiofitness at Lázne Axa, located just
off Námestí Republiky, was the final stop on my tour. It's
tucked away on the second floor and attached to the Hotel Axa. My tour
didn't take long, for this my readers, is not a fitness center, but a
good old-fashioned weight room. An equal mix of free weights, machines
and cardio equipment stands ready for your attention. An array of benches
and stands are available to get all those hard to reach angles and muscle
regions and I saw at least two of everything you would need for a complete
free weight workout in an airy sunlit room. Sure they have a masseuse,
and the machines are there too, but at the end of the day, there's no
mistaking the beautiful simplicity of a well-equipped weight room.
The indoor pool at Lázne Axa is what sets
it apart from most fitness clubs. At 25 meters long, it is clean and open
to the public. The bazén also has wet and dry saunas, along with
a masseuse and solariums. The price is 1 CZK per minute for the pool,
or 100 CZK for an hour with saunas included. The solariums range from
4-6 CZK per minute. Though managed by a different company, the pool shares
an entranceway with Axa.
A Word to the Wise
Get used to kilograms. For you experienced gym goers and fitness fanatics who are used to English units and can guess the exact weight of every plate and dumbbell at a glance, the kilos are definitely disorienting.
All three clubs have a snack bar stocked with juices and health foods. World Class Fitness and Hit Fitness even had convenient sporting goods stores nearby to cure those forgetful occasions when you leave your tennies at home. These clubs also have locks and towels available for rent in case you happen to forget them. But buy a bottle of water before you lock your wallet away. None of the gyms mentioned in this article had a drinking fountain. I didn't notice it at first but once I realized the standard issue fountains were missing, I couldn't stop thinking about how thirsty I was getting.
When considering these three locations, I can't
emphasize enough that convenience is one of the keys to a successful fitness
regimen. It's very easy to come up with an excuse to skip a workout and
that can easily turn into two, three or more. So generally, when choosing
a club, pick one that is in close proximity to either your workplace or
home. Also, choose a gym with an atmosphere the feels comfortable to you.
The personality of a gym allows for comfort, and helps you find others
with similar goals who will motivate you. And finally, make sure that
the gym you choose has the right equipment for the kind of workout that
you enjoy most.
Hit Fitness Flora