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What's the best YMCA in Toronto?

Posted by Natalia Manzocco / February 23, 2014

YMCA TorontoThe Toronto YMCA has come a long way since dropping the Young Men's Christian Association tags. The two Toronto downtown YMCAs - the Central YMCA at Yonge and Grosvenor, and the West End YMCA at College and Dovercourt - are inexpensive, unfussy fitness destinations, but lest you think that lack of gym-rat atmosphere means a lacklustre workout experience, both offer a gamut of workout options, from classes to rooms full of equipment.

Both downtown YMCA gyms have more than a few things in common. There are about 11,000 members at each, many of them kids, with child care amenities available. Both facilities are incredibly clean and well-maintained, and there's a strong community feeling in both locations. Like most gyms, they tend to get a little busier in the after-work hours, and the West End YMCA sees another rush of traffic in the workout rooms around 9 or 10am; even so, folks are pretty neighbourly about letting you in on the machines. (This is a community centre, after all).

YMCA TorontoWhile it's definitely not a hard-and-fast rule, anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that the West End tends to host more families with kids, while the Central location gets a large influx of folks from the Village or downtown office workers. If that demographic breakdown (or simple geographic proximity) hasn't made a decision for you, here's a rundown on how the two locations stack up.

ARCHITECTURE

The West End YMCA has the historical advantage here: the location was built over 100 years ago, with its last renovation taking place in 2007. A few nifty historical details remain, including some stained-glass windows from the '40s. The Grosvenor location (the largest YMCA in Canada) is newer, but the peaked glass ceiling in the huge central staircase that spans the centre's four floors of facilities is striking (its 100 steps feature prominently in some workout classes), and the high ceilings in some of the yoga and barre studios add an element of peacefulness.

Advantage: The spacious feel of the Central location.

YMCA TorontoRATES

The general fee at each location is $58 per month, plus a $85 joining fee. (The signup cost includes the mY fitness program, which many might find bogus but nevertheless includes an introductory tour/meeting with a trainer to help you learn fitness options the gym offers and help you figure out how to reach your goals, with a follow-up visit in a few weeks.) The Central location also offers a plus membership tier at $99 a month, with a $120 joining rate, that allows you to access premium locker rooms.

Advantage: It's all about what you can afford. There's plenty of financial assistance available if you need the leg up.

OPENING HOURS

The West End YMCA is open from 5:30am until midnight during the week; weekends are open from 7am until 8pm The Central location, meanwhile, is open from 5am to midnight on weekdays, and 7am until midnight on weekends.

Advantage: Central (if only for the extra weekend hours).

YMCA TorontoFITNESS CLASSES

Both locations boast a massive class schedule; West End location staff estimate more than 160 classes per week are held there, while Central's schedule hovers around 150. For adults, the class schedules includes (but isn't limited to) multiple types of yoga (hatha, kundalini, vinyasa, ashtanga), Arriba (a Zumba-style dance-based fitness class), spinning, barre, Pilates, kettlebell, TRX, and CrossFit-style training. Exclusive to the West End is gravity and capoeira. Exclusive to Central are Boot camp classes.

Advantage: They're pretty evenly matched.

YMCA TorontoWORKOUT ROOMS

There's a solid variety of fitness machines spread out across a handful of different rooms at both locations, including cardio machines, free weights, and stations for interval training. (Both locations boast numerous treadmills and ellipticals with built-in cable TVs, for the easily bored.) For those who prefer a little space, the lower workout room at the West End location does feel a little more crowded at peak hours (though that may be due to all the pleasant sunshine streaming in). Both locations also have plenty of studio space, including squash courts available for member use.

Advantage: Both are solid.

YMCA TorontoWALKING TRACK

If you're just looking to go for a leisurely jog or stroll, both locations have an indoor track. The West End YMCA's course wraps around the workout facilities on the upper level - some members say it's awkward, but there's a lovely view of the southern tip of the city (including the CN Tower) from a few windows. Over on Grosvenor there's an awesome track suspended high above the gym, though it gets crowded during peak times.

Advantage: It's a toss-up.

LOCKER ROOMS

There are separate locker rooms for adults and families at each location. The West End location's locker room facilities contain a whirlpool, steam room, and dry sauna, as well as small overnight lockers for ongoing rental, and pay-as-you-go towel rental ($2, or $20 a month for towel service). Things are a bit different at Central, which includes family locker areas (basic locker rooms available for everyone's use) and a members' only plus facility that features all of the above plus a private workout room with a few machines, a stretching area, and a lounge.

Advantage: The Central locker facilities are pretty swanky, but I like the fact that all of the West End members can access extra amenities.

YMCA TorontoGYMNASIUM SPACE

Both locations offer recreational and pick-up sports like basketball, volleyball and soccer for adults. The standout here is the Central Y's massive gym, which can be subdivided into four large sections (each one about the size of the West End gym) for different games and classes.

Advantage: Central.

PERSONAL TRAINING

Personal training is available at both locations for an extra (but quite competitive) fee, and one-on-one and group training opportunities are available. The Central location also offers CardioCoach VO2 testing, body composition analysis, and other fitness assessments.

Advantage: Both are solid, unless you really want those extra metrics.

PARKING

There's a lot and a Green P close by the Central location. As the Dovercourt YMCA caters mostly to folks who live within a 10-minute trip, they don't offer parking. What they do have is tons and tons of space for bikes: seven large racks, to be exact.

Advantage: All depends on how you get there.

YMCA TorontoPOOL FACILITIES

West-end staff admit their pool is relatively small (18.5 metres), but they make the most of it with a packed schedule split between rec/lane swimming, AquaFit classes, and swimming lessons. Over on Grosvenor, meanwhile, there's a training pool with a hydraulic floor that can go from 18 inches deep (for kids) to six feet, plus a large main pool; fitness classes (up to nine a day) are held in the training pool while the main one is open to lane swimming for most of the day.

Advantage: Central.

YMCA TorontoTHE VERDICT

For sheer space and amenities, the Central location edges out the West End YMCA. But both locations are quite well-kept and well-stocked, with a packed schedule of activities, so they're evenly matched in most major respects. Depending on your interests and location within Toronto, the decision on which location to check out is a personal one. Either way, it's fun to sweat at the YMCA. (You didn't think you were getting out of here without one of those, did you?)

Photos by Jesse Milns

Discussion

25 Comments

rob / February 23, 2014 at 06:51 am
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Yes there are three, next year there will be four. The North York Y is by far not the best.
loodle / February 23, 2014 at 09:10 am
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Actually there's 4 YMCAs with fitness centres in Toronto (Scarborough, North York, Central Toronto and West End). Hey Natalia...did you even do ANY research before you wrote this article? At least go to the YMCA GTA site for information - go to "Find my YMCA" and choose the region of Toronto and select "Health and Fitness" programs. Here, let me link you! http://www.ymcagta.org (Seriously Blog TO, who do you hire to write your articles? You used to have quality work, now crap is posted with very minimal research done)
Natalia replying to a comment from loodle / February 23, 2014 at 11:32 am
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The point of the story was to compare and contrast the two downtown YMCA locations. I and the rest of the blogTO team are completely aware that there are more than two YMCAs in Toronto.
Kate replying to a comment from Natalia / February 23, 2014 at 12:49 pm
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the title should be changed to reflect the article. I was expecting a list.
rob replying to a comment from loodle / February 23, 2014 at 01:01 pm
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when you search 'YMCA Toronto' you get three YMCA's, west end, central, and north york You need to go to 'YMCA GTA' to find Scarborough.
Hmmm, interesting, the chatter I hear from Scarborough and in particular the past three years, they are not nor want to be part of Toronto. They also like to tell us there is nothing in Scarborough it all goes to the city proper. So easily overlooked and better to just say the Scarborough Y is in the GTA not Toronto. :)
linden / February 23, 2014 at 01:19 pm
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YMCA at Grosvenor offers very limited programs for children, compare to the other in GTA. Unfortunately this goes for other community centers downtown; it is a very frustrating experience for parents trying to find programs close to home.
Steamroom savant / February 23, 2014 at 02:20 pm
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you forgot to rate base on best jewish workout provided. that is best soak-shvitz-shower combo. central is tepid and disappointing. big ups to the west and my base gym for offering these necessities in the general membership. but north york membership plus wins in a landslide. it's worth the drive up to bayview and 401 for one of the best steams in the city..
godge / February 23, 2014 at 02:24 pm
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Who cares? really. what a pointless article- please give me back those two minutes of my life BlogTO.
Randy Weinstein / February 23, 2014 at 03:02 pm
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Central is obviously the better location, but since the other location is West of Spadina, BlogTO has to rave about it.
CG / February 23, 2014 at 03:40 pm
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Dumb-ass topic. Starved for content?
Rob / February 23, 2014 at 04:48 pm
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Where's the best convenience store in Toronto?
J.L. / February 23, 2014 at 05:39 pm
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I like 'em both! I've always liked the Central Y as it's the first place I worked out since I've been downtown. I checked out the West End and I really liked that one as well, but this Central Y is only a few blocks away. The only thing I don't like about the Central Y is (locker rooms on main floor, cardio/weight machines on floor 2, free weights/benches/leg presses/squat rack on floor 3, track on floor 4) ONE washroom and it's in the locker rooms. It would have been nice, when they planned the Central Y, to include a washroom on each level (aside from that I have no complaints).
The hours aren't an issue for me but I don't care much for crowds and busy times. Which is why, over the holidays, I joined that new Anytime Fitness just north of Yonge & Eglington. No crowds, no having to deal with front desk or membership or personal trainers, etc...
MC / February 23, 2014 at 05:53 pm
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The weight room at the West End Y should be enough to disqualify it from any sentence including the word "best". It is so massively cramped that if you try to do a lat pull down you'll block the walkway. There's far too many machines and benches for far too little space. And the locker entrance for the Men is cramped.
loodle replying to a comment from Natalia / February 23, 2014 at 07:23 pm
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If the point of the article is to compare the two downtown YMCAs, then please change the title to reflect this. I was expecting to see a review of each YMCAs and was greatly disappointed when it wasn't (I'd wanted to see how things compared with the inner burbs)
Ron / February 23, 2014 at 07:37 pm
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Look out tomorrow morning for the best intersection in Toronto. Yonge and Bloor or Bloor and Yonge. Choices choices...

I'm with everyone else, either learn to write a proper title for an article, or don't waste our time.
loodle replying to a comment from rob / February 23, 2014 at 07:39 pm
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I have no idea how you're searching for the YMCA locations. The website for Toronto YMCAs is YMCA GTA and you choose Toronto and it shows 4 YMCAs plus a Downsview location.

I'm also sick and tired of people giving Scarborough flack. I'm from Scarborough, but consider myself Torontonian. The chatter you hear about "us" not wanting to be a part of Toronto is because we ARE overlooked and oft forgotten. As well, we get painted over as some crime and gang infested place. And you wonder why idiots like Rob Ford get elected into office? It's because the inner burbs want to be relevant and will vote for somebody who's from the inner burbs. We didn't choose amalgamation and we need to live with it now but everybody's got this exclusive attitude. I'm terribly sorry about this rant, but this kind of topic really gets my goat.
about the Fitness Classes here... / February 23, 2014 at 09:08 pm
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Hi Natalia. I think you should correct the statement about the Y offering "CrossFit-style" training. This is inaccurate. CrossFit is licensed name and MUST be an affiliate to even include the word in any aspect of their business. The Y doesn't even have any of the equipment or certified coaching staff to even program a CrossFit-style class.

The classes here are best described as bootcamp training.
d.a.r.y.l. / February 23, 2014 at 09:25 pm
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i find the experience depends on the clientele. the west end y has issues with people doing their laundry in the showers (bad enough that they needed to post signs advising not to do so). i've regularly noticed people doing disgusting things like shaving their scrotums at the sink, clipping toe nails on to the floor, horking/snot rockets in the shower, i've even heard cell phone cameras clicking one aisle over. the list goes on. another annoying thing about the facilities is that the squash courts have a pen and paper sign up. i've repeatedly had my name scratched off and replaced by someone else, or if there is maintenance required they don't let you know that your time has been cancelled. there's also the kids that run free during the day unsupervised. i get it's a community joint but if you're paying 65$ a month, you'd think they'd have some kind of authority supervising the place. i guess the bang is there for the buck if you take the classes but not just as a place to go work out.
MC replying to a comment from Goodlife / February 24, 2014 at 08:14 am
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I've found that both Y's have VERY pervy men who'll spend all their time staring at women (especially when they're working out, bending over, etc.).
Editor / February 24, 2014 at 09:06 am
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Misleading headline to be sure, as the article is NOT about determining which is the best YMCA in Toronto, but simply about comparing two locations. And what a weird choice. Wouldn't something like 'battle of the downtown Toronto YMCAs' made for better clickbait anyway?
Bobby / February 24, 2014 at 01:08 pm
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I used to live almost across the street from the West End Y, I loved that gym, does get pretty jammed at peak hours but you can always find space to do different workouts. Now I go to the Wallace-Emmerson community centre, It's really minimal and kind of sad but does the trick.
Linds / February 28, 2014 at 12:08 am
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I agree the title is misleading. I was fully expecting all the YMCAs in Toronto to be reviewed, including the North York location where I am a memeber. I will likely be moving closer to downtown this year and was hoping I would see how my current Y stacks up against the ones DT, but was disppointed to not find it here. For the record, I really like my Y and as someone who's been a member, employee or visitor of several YMCAs across the country, I have to say it's one of the best I've been to. North York Y offers a ton of programs, several workout areas (some in the Plus locker rooms), a 25m 6 lane pool as well as a training pool, and is open 24hrs. As I've never visited the DT Ys, I can't comment on them.
Karin replying to a comment from Natalia / March 3, 2014 at 04:26 pm
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I agree with Kate. The heading should be changed from
What's the best YMCA in Toronto?
Which is the better of the two.......Ys. of Toronto.
However leave it, my reply is only confusing the confused who originally wrote it.
Rosanne / June 22, 2014 at 08:01 am
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Man, your readership is hard to satisfy. It was easy for me to understand at the get go that it was about the downtown locations and I thought the comparison was very helpful. I think sometimes people just like to complain.

R
anonymous / August 22, 2014 at 01:26 pm
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Theres no transparancy within departments and its employees. Front level employees might be genuine but the head office employees specially senior management are all two-faced, back stabbers, hypocrites, smiles at you but conspire against you. They dont prefer people who works hard, meet their goals on time, they prefer it to be the "YMCA time" which is dreadfully slow and barely delivers. They get threaten that if you do well, you'll outshine them and make them look bad so they'll conspire to dispose you in a heart beat. The association try its best to be known as a charity but until now people only know them as a fitness centre because somehow their true colors comes out and society dont accept them as a charity organization . They are not, non profit only get their title because a very small portion of their revenue get donated to the community (maybe 10% or less). It makes me laugh that senior mangement statement that they are "driven by the cause" if thats true then why not work for free. They dont like to be classified as profit or even compared to a profit organization but they are a joke. Their main goal every fiscal year is to double up their revenu, like for this year to 320+ million but yet they claim they're not all about money like a profit organization while their main goal is identical. There's no solid team in this organization, employees conspire against each other just to move up or avoid anyone from taking their spotlight. Also the President himself, his words are just empty promises. I am ashamed to admit I fell for his speech and felt inspired only for me to find out that the circle his talking about, and having a voice is just a simple illusion. Politics in this organization is deeply rooted so beware and do not trust anyone, dont think anyone is your friend, everyone here have hidden agendas. The perfect quote for YMCA of GTA is "FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT" which is the only way to survive in the polluted stagnant water that flows within this organization.

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