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Gyms That Don't Sweat Your Wallet

Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page M03

For years you've said you'd love to join a gym -- if only it weren't for the costly $75-and-up monthly membership fees. Well, don't settle back into your sofa just yet. By sacrificing a few amenities -- say, juice bars, free towels or swimming pools that most members rarely use -- you can find a health club that'll offer you all the basics you need, like locker room facilities, classes and ample cardio and weight-training machines. To get you started, here are a few local chains where your monthly membership fee can weigh in at $35 or less.

Fitness First (www.fitnessfirst.cc)

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14 locations in Maryland, Virginia and D.C.

How much? There's a $99 sign-up fee (gymgoers who want to access only one club pay $50), and it's about $33 per month for access to all locations.

Workout Rundown: Fitness First is a well-run, calorie-burning bargain. There's plenty of cardio equipment, weights and numerous complimentary classes, including spinning, yoga, Pilates and aerobics.

Frills You Do Get: Up to four free personal-training sessions in first month (plus monthly updates), free childcare and saunas. The D.C. and Tysons branches also offer towel service.

Lady of America and Ladies Workout Express (www.ladyofamerica.com)

17 locations in Maryland and Virginia

How much? Most memberships require a $99 sign-up -- if you join with friends, your group can split up the one-time charge -- and a $30-a-month fee, though rates differ by location. A three-day-a-week-or-less membership is $24 a month.

Workout Rundown: These are female-only facilities. The Workout Express locations -- open to anyone with membership in Lady of America (the chain's full-service gyms) -- offer interval circuit training, a combination of cardio and weight training that can be completed in 30 minutes.

Frills You Do Get: Free monthly one-on-one personal training, free babysitting, infrared-light therapy saunas in some locker rooms and access to the hundreds of U.S. locations. But no men.

Olympus Gyms

14 locations in Maryland and Northern Virginia

How much? There is no sign-up fee and rates vary. For example, the Falls Church location is about $40 per month, but $30 monthly memberships are available to seniors, full-time students and those willing to sign two- or three-year contracts. The Silver Spring location offers $30 monthly memberships -- no contract required.

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