Lifetime Fitness Review Part 2

Lifetime Fitness Onyx Club Columbia Md

This is part 2 of my review of Lifetime Fitness. If you’ve arrived to this page from a search engine, please be sure and see part 1 of my Lifetime Fitness review for more details!

Guest Passes At Lifetime Fitness

Membership also includes 6 “free” guest passes per year.  After that, you can buy additional passes,  for about $20-$30/each.  Each pass will admit an entire family (which is considered to be people who live at the same address).  If you bring in a guest, expect them to be “questioned” by a manager as to whether or not they’re interested in becoming members. It can be kind of uncomfortable for your friends, but it is the policy of Lifetime Fitness to do things this way.  The way this is done has resulted in a bad experience for my guests on two out of four occasions.

A new summer rule has recently been implemented that states you cannot bring in guests during the day on Saturday and Sunday–you can only bring them in after 5pm.  This is an effort to keep the outdoor pool from becoming overcrowded.  The rule is a little bit over the top though, especially for Sunday considering family swim is over at 6pm–are you going to bring a guest to the pool for an hour?

These guest policies are very unfortunate because I believe it winds up turning potential new members off and it makes the club less enjoyable for people want to bring in guests. Here are some highlights:

  • There is a policy that the same guest cannot be brought in more than once in 60 days on the free included passes.  You can pay separately for a pass for these guests (see below for pricing).  Although I can understand why they don’t want an open guest policy, but it seems they aren’t very interested in people bringing guests into the club at all.  This is in stark contrast to clubs such as Gold’s Gym that often make it extremely easy to bring in guests.
  • Guests who come in also need to fill out a waiver form–to me this is the only part of the process that makes sense.
  • If you’re bringing in someone who’s a minor without their parents, you may need to get the form filled out by their parents ahead of time.

Lifetime Guest Pricing as of 5/15/2014:

Guest With MemberGuest Without Member
Age 12+Under Age 12Age 12+Under Age 12
Bronze/Gold Club$20$10$40$10
Platinum Club$25$20$50$20
Athletic Club$30$30$60$30

[Looking for birthday gift ideas? See my list of presents for the smart kids in your life.]

The Front Desk

I’ve had a variety of good and bad experiences at the front desk.  Most of the front desk staff are friendly and competent.   You have to hand a front desk worker your membership card to get into the club.  Most of the time this is done efficiently.  Occasionally there are issues.   For instance yesterday the line to get into the club was about 10 people deep because the only person on duty at the desk was busy trying to get a manager to come and help someone who wanted to bring a guest into the club.  I stood in line for no less than 4 minutes during this folly (sounds like a short time, but it is annoying when you only have a set amount of time to workout). I was unhappy, but people behind me were kind of angry and made it seem like it was a frequent nuisance   I only had this happen one other time though.  A second incident involved the fact that the person the front desk was on the phone and she couldn’t be bothered to simultaneously take people’s cards and let them into the gym.


Generally speaking, Lifetime Athletics has plenty of parking–in fact the parking lot is huge.  Having said that, I know that many people mention the parking situation in their reviews.  This is because in the evenings and on some weekends, the lot can get full…really full.  (Think the mall during Christmas).  There have only been a few occasions when I have had to park around the back of the gym or on the street.  I don’t think this is that big of a deal, in general–after all, you can just consider the walk part of your workout if you don’t get a good space.  Having said that, this once again points to the fact that the gym can get really crowded.
There is a lifetime fitness internet portal for members to use to track their visits, check class schedules and more.  It is a very good resource and they’ve done a pretty good job making it easy to use.  There is also an Android and iOS app available.  The app is an easy way to quickly access group class schedules and other important information about your club.

The Lifetime Fitness Cafe

No Outside Food Or Drink Sign

There is a cafe inside of lifetime fitness that offers relatively wholesome foods and beverages. The LifeCafe has pledged not to serve foods with bleached flour, preservatives, artificial coloring, sweeteners or flavors. Prices are very reasonable and my experience with the food and staff has been better than expected.  They are happy to make special changes for you and never give me any problems about splitting smoothies into two cups (one for each of my kids).
They have plenty of vegetarian options on the menu and even stock Kombucha. During the summer there is an outdoor extension of the cafe by the pool.  Very convenient but limited offerings.  You can view the Columbia Lifetime Fitness Cafe’s menu here.  Note that if you want to eat or drink anything at LifeTime Fitness aside from water,  you must purchase it from the LifeTime Fitness Cafe. Food or drink from outside are NOT allowed.

There is also an outdoor Lifetime Cafe that operates during the summer months. They serve a variety of items, but the menu is definitely smaller than the one at the indoor cafe. In 2017 they began offering online ordering through their app, which is a great way to skip the line–they just page you when your order is ready. My kids mainly order icc pops there, and they love to walk up and order it themselves.  They also offer a bottomless iced tea plastic cup for $15, I believe it will last you the entire season-definitely a worthwhile deal. BTW, if you are wondering, you can pay cash, credit, or put the order on your club tab.

The Lifetime Fitness Spa

The LifeSpa offers haircuts, massages, facials and pedicures.  Although only my wife has used it, it seems to be a convenient and competitively priced outlet for spa services.  Men’s haircuts are about $25.

The Pools
Some Lifetime Fitness gyms have leisure pools and others do not.  They really went all out for the pools in Columbia, MD.  The indoor and outdoor pools are beautiful and there is a separate indoor lap pool.  The pool manager does a very good job of keeping things running smooth and is very professional.

Lifetime Athletic Indoor Swimming Pool

Indoor Pool – The heated indoor pools are good.  They provide some swim lanes, water slides and a shallow area with fountains for kids to play in.  Recently they’ve been keeping the indoor leisure pool at about 88 degrees (they have a board that gives the temperatures of the pools and hot tubs)   Family swim hours vary in the fall, winter and spring because of swimming lessons that go on–especially on Monday, Wednesdays and Saturday mornings.  Hours are clearly posted at the pool and on the member website.  I think the only improvement I would make to the indoor pools would be additional poolside seating.  I know it can’t be like the outdoor pool, but sometimes poolside seats are in high demand.  Having said that, I don’t think they have very many places to put them.  In the winter time, if a child has an accident in the pool, they will close the pool for two hours and you’re out of luck. In the summer, there are two pools (indoor and outdoor) so you can at least use the indoor pool if they have to close the outdoor one. The only good news is that you can get an email from them when this happens–but they don’t always send it promptly.  I guess it is great that they send them at all, just too bad that they have the need to send them.

5 lane lap pool at Lifetime Fitness

As mentioned before there is a separate indoor lap pool that has 5 lanes and they have 5 more lanes in the outdoor pool.  The indoor lap pool is typically kept a few degrees cooler than the leisure pool but most of the the time you can opt to swim laps in the leisure pools if you prefer warmer temperatures.  Some people will find it a plus that children under the age of 12 aren’t allowed in the lap lanes–although I see their point, this rule isn’t that great if you have a young, serious swimmer who would like to swim laps–even if they’re on the Life Time Fitness year-round swim team..

During the winter, swimming hours for children have some limits.  This is mainly because on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturday mornings there are swimming lessons taking place in the pool, so it is closed to general swimming.  (see sample pool hours below) During the summer the indoor and outdoor pool are open, so lessons don’t affect availability because you can swim outside.  Adults who just want to swim laps aren’t affected as much because they can swim in the separate lap pool (which is open 24 hours/day).  Another thing to note is that the water slides aren’t open the entire time family swims take place.  Typically the slides are open about half the time.  For safety reasons they are staffed with a lifeguard at the top of the slide and one at the bottom.

To give you the idea of what family swim hours are at Lifetime Fitness during the cold months, here are the current hours (obviously this is going to vary from club to club and is subject to changes, so if you are a current member, don’t rely on this information):

Example family pool hours at Lifetime Athletic
Sample family swim and water slide hours at Lifetime Fitness Columbia
(for illustration purposes only, please don’t rely on this information)
lifetime fitness outdoor swimming pool
Lifetime Fitness Pool in Columbia MD on a
weekday afternoon

Outdoor Pool – The outdoor pool is great.  The deck is kept clean and nice and like the indoor pool, it has a water mushroom and some fountains for the kids. It has swim lanes, an area for children to play in the water and two water slides of medium size.  The pool is kept at 82 degrees which isn’t exactly freezing, but I do wish it was warmer because my kids were getting kind of cold some days.  They play music and fun is definitely in the air.  There have only been a couple of very busy days (ie- Memorial Day) when there weren’t enough lounge chairs, but this is to be expected as there is only so much room for chairs–and this problem is definitely an exception to the rule.  Again this pool is well run.  I haven’t really got any complaints about the pool itself or the way it is managed (aside from the guest policies and the fact that there is a shortage of family locker rooms — read about that elsewhere in this review).

Hot Tubs – There are hot tubs near the indoor and outdoor pools.  They seem to be well kept and have plenty of jets and each one has a “water fall” that can add a little bit extra massage to the experience.  The indoor hot tubs are kept at around 101 degrees.

Additional Amenities

  • Steam Rooms – Located inside the men’s and women’s locker rooms.  Eucalyptus flavored steam seems to be the norm.
  • Sauna – There is a sauna inside near the indoor pools.  I haven’t tried it yet, but it does look hot in there.  I think it was a clever idea to put the sauna near the indoor pool because it provides some extra warmth.  The room above the sauna is used for hot yoga.  Good thinking Lifetime!
  • Machines – There is a wide array of treadmills, cross-trainers, stair steppers and exercise bikes available.  TVs are strategically mounted and played out to FM radio frequencies/have subtitles turned on.  In May 2013 state of the art replacements for most of their bicycles, treadmills, stair steppers and cross trainers were installed.  Very cool machines–many of which have built-in personal televisions.
  • Free weights and weight machines-There is a very large selection of free weights and weight lifting machines. They seem to be well maintained.
  • Yoga – Yoga classes are offered daily…they even have yoga classes for kids.  The teachers are very good and several different types of yoga are taught.  They have a special room for the “hot” yoga classes, and it definitely does get hot.  Only downside is that the classes fill up and especially on weekends, you need to be there 1/2 an hour early to reserve a spot.  Hopefully they’ll take the hint and try to add some additional classes.  I should mention that they also occasionally offer special “theme” yoga events that cost extra money.  For instance, they once had a belly dancing yoga class for 20 or 30 dollars extra.
  • Group Fitness Classes – There are great. One of the main things that has kept us coming to lifetime–as mentioned, most classes are included with your membership:
    • So far I have tried Zumba, Kick Boxing/Strike!, Yoga, Aqua, Circuit and Cardio Resistance Training.  They have several other group classes that I haven’t tried yet–bar bell training, cycling and Pilates classes to name a few.
    • The teachers have been very good overall.  And although I can’t keep up with them, they definitely know what they’re doing and they do a good job of keeping it fun and interesting.
    • The classes are held in several rooms at the gym and often overlap time-wise.  I believe they start at around 5:30am with classes taking place at different times of the day up until 8pm.  The schedules vary on the weekends, but there are a variety of classes every day.
    • The  classes fill up and it is not uncommon for members who don’t arrive early to be turned away.
lifetime fitness climbing wall
Part of the climbing wall at Lifetime Fitness
  • Climbing Wall – There is an extensive climbing wall.
    •  Adults and kids can climb the wall during “open climbs” when staff is on duty there.  That’s a sticking point because most of the time the climbing wall is closed.   The open hours are generally on evenings and weekends. Because of the limited hours the wall can get busy enough that you can’t get a belay.  If climbing at other times is a priority you may need to consider another gym instead (Earth Treks is nearby and is a mainstay for hardcore indoor climbers).
    • They have 5 auto-belays, which are really great fun.  They automatically let you down easy when you’re through climbing–so you don’t need a second person to belay you–its probably safer than having an actual person do it too. (Again, unfortunately you may find yourself waiting for an autobelay because there are only five and the wall isn’t open all the time.)
    • My kids really love  the climbing wall.  Most of the time, there is plenty of room to climb and its usually not very crowded.  As mentioned above, sometimes all 5 auto-belays are taken, but you can still practice on the lower wall while you wait for something to open.
    • They provide harasses, shoes, chalk and ropes.
    • Note that you must be at least 5 years old to climb and children younger than 5 aren’t permitted in the climbing wall area at all.  The staff has been very helpful in giving pointers and making sure everyone is safe while climbing.
  • Basketball Courts- There are two full-sized basketball courts and they frequently have pickup games going on in the evenings.
  • Racquetball / Squash Courts – Several good quality, glass enclosed courts are available.  You can check out rackets and balls at the activity desk for free.  There are also private and semiprivate racquetball  lessons available from professionals.  Court reservations for racquetball and squash can be made through the website.
  • Weight Loss Program – I am not sure if this fits in as amenity, but they have lots of special programs going at Lifetime Fitness and a weight loss program is one of them.  You can learn more about it here.
  • Other programs- There are many other  programs and events that take place at Lifetime (usually there is an extra fee associated with them).  I have many examples including indoor triathlon training, a father-daughter dance, Ultimate Hoops basketball league, summer Luau, outdoor runs, “try it Tuesdays”, parents night outs (drop your kids off and go out for a few hours on Saturday nights for $20-30) and even summer camps (see a list of my favorite Maryland Summer Camp Offerings) and other school’s out day camps during the school year.
  • Locker Rooms and Bathrooms – The men’s and women’s locker rooms are generally very nice and constantly maintained.  I would give them a B+ for cleanliness– In all public areas the lockers are very nice and the floors are generally shiny.
Shampoo body wash and conditioner amenity
Shampoo, Conditioner & Body Wash are
free in the locker rooms

There is free shampoo, conditioner and body wash by J.R. Watkins in the showers.  They also offer Barbasol shaving cream, cheap plastic razors, mouth wash and spray deodorant in the men’s and women’s locker rooms.  In the women’s locker room there are a few”private changing rooms in the locker area. These are not available in the men’s locker room.  They also provide automatic bathing suit drying machines (centrifuges) and free plastic bags to take home wet clothes and toys.

Family Amenities
Separate Changing Rooms: There is a special locker room area for parents with kids.  There are eight rooms with benches and showers.  They even provide hair dryers and bathing suit drying machines.  Unfortunately these get taken up pretty quickly after swimming lessons or busy pool hours.  At least if you have children of the same sex with you, you can choose to use the Men’s or Women’s locker rooms instead.  If you have a child of the opposite sex, you’re out of luck.  You will frequently see parents changing their children out in the open in the family locker common area.  I don’t really blame them as you can easily wait five minutes or more for a free room since many families take advantage of the showers–and then there is the “confusion” as to which family has been waiting the longest for a changing room.  This can be very frustrating and time consuming.

The family changing rooms  tend to be a little less clean…in fact sometimes they’re just plain dirty. While it isn’t the gym’s fault that families seem to want to leave various messes behind in the bathrooms and showers, they could definitely do more to keep them clean. One major issue in the family changing room at our gym in Columbia is that they showers don’t drain fast enough.  The result is that water and bilge backup into the area that you would want to be dry…you can’t keep your shoes, etc. on the floor because they’re bound to get wet while you’re taking a shower.   Honestly, this is kind of a big flaw and they’d do well to fix it.  The other issue that I’ve seen alot of in the family locker rooms is the shower heads being in disrepair.

Babysitting: Babysitting is available for 2 hours per day per parent.  The child care center is relatively nice.  There is a computer area, a climbing gym, fenced in outdoor playground and a basketball court (which is usually not open for play).  In all of my experience so far, dropping of and picking up kids on busier days is kind of a drag–I have stood in line for as long as 5 minutes to pick up or drop off my kids.  This is a rather frequent problem at the Columbia MD gym.  You hope to be able to quickly drop off your kids and get to your workout or a class, but instead you stand there while parents check their children in or out or do paperwork to sign kids up for activities.

The employees do what they can, but things seem to get pretty hectic for them.  Having said that, at slower times, its usually a breeze to get in and out.   BTW, if the staff needs you for something (like to change a diaper or because of a problem with your child) they will page you to come back. They seem to do a nice job of keeping toys cleaned and washed for the younger kids who may put them in their mouths, etc… You’ll notice that they have a.m. and p.m. bins of toys. The toys that aren’t in use theoretically get cleaned.  One unfortunate thing is that it is the policy of Lifetime Fitness to make the older kids clean up after the younger kids (this occurs frequently throughout the day in so-called “safety checks”)–if your child is older than 5 they will be asked to put toys used by the toddlers away in their bins. I disagree with this because I pay for my kids to be there to have fun, not clean the gym–plus it is a good way to spread germs.

I would add that the child care center can be kind of a boring place for kids older than 5.  The climbing gym area gets to be boring and the main alternative is going to be pre-selected computer games.  So if your child doesn’t play video games (or has played them all to the point of boredom) they aren’t going to have a good time in there.

If your child is signed up for a class at lifetime, you can leave them in the child care center and they will be transferred to their class when the time comes.  When you drop your son or daughter off, you can ask them to take the child for you to the class.  When the class is over, they will be brought back to the child center.  I have used this on a few occasions and it has been convenient.  Unfortunately, this offer does not apply to swimming lessons.

Lifetime Member Advantage Program and Advertising in the Club
This program provides coupons to various popular stores. I have never used it and frankly could do without it altogether. It must be a good money maker for the gym though as I am sure advertisers would love to hit the demographic of people who are members. I frequently get emails from Lifetime including new special offers for gym members.  The discounts include anything from Avis cars to Orkin pest control.

While I am on the topic I will also mention that there is some advertising at the gym.  Their most recent advertiser has me a bit annoyed–they are advertising Chocolate Milk all over the place like it is the healthiest thing ever–they even renamed some of their spinning classes with Chocolate Milk in the title.  First of all it chocolate milk isn’t that healthy, this has been disproven, but the dairy companies don’t want the myth to die. And second of all it shows that Life Time Fitness is willing to put profit above their healthy living mission statement.

Advertising screen at Lifetime Athletics

At any rate, this kind of advertising definitely detracts from the upscale atmosphere of the club is the aforementioned advertising and other marketing efforts.  You will find banners advertising various things from car brands and mechanics to chocolate milk and eggs at various places throughout the gym.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is intrusive, but it is a bit tacky-especially the posters that have coupons you can take.  Also, there tends to be an employee outside the Lifetime Fitness cafe giving away samples of the house brand of whey protein.  This is obviously another big money maker for the company but I think they should leave this sort of thing to Costco.
Paid Group Lessons
In addition to offering a few free classes for kids (such as kids yoga and zumba-beware, these classes can be canceled temporarily or discontinued without any notice) There are many classes available as paid add-ons: Ballet, Karate,  Racquetball and more.  Class quality varies.  Some of the teachers don’t really seem to have their heart in it.

Here is a recent list of lesson dates and times.  You can see it’s pretty good.   Sorry about the markings on it. The prices have gone up since this was published last year-At this writing, the swimming lessons are about $50 per month.  Ballet is $40/month.  I am not sure about the others, prices tend to go up relatively frequently, so you’ll want to check for actual costs.  One of the great things is that you can work out while they’re taking lessons.  I’ve never tried this, but apparently, you can even drop your kids off in baby-sitting and they will deliver your child to the class for you–so you can have even more time to work out.

Kids classes at lifetime fitness in Columbia Maryland

Birthday Parties

Lifetime Fitness does a great job of making birthday parties fun for kids.  For about $275 you get a great party–they offer several different kinds-pool parties, rock climbing and other sports.  Definitely worth knowing about.  Read my list of ideas about where to have childrens‘ birthday parties for more about Lifetime Athletics parties and for some other ideas for parties for your kids.

Experience L!fe Magazine

As a new Lifetime Fitness member, you’ll be entitled to a whopping 3 free paper issues of this magazine–after that they will automatically bill your membership for the privilege of receiving the magazine.  Can you tell I am a little annoyed by this?  Well, I just think it is kind of sneaky because so many people forget to cancel and that artificially jacks up their subscriber rate and makes people pay for something they don’t necessarily want or realize that they are paying for.

The actual magazine isn’t bad. It isn’t the first thing I’d think of when I want to purchase a health and fitness magazine though.  BTW, I believe you can get the digital edition of the magazine for free.  Find a link for that here.

Other Locations

As mentioned before, Lifetime Athletics has clubs all over the USA and Canada. The services/facilities vary from club to club. For instance in Maryland there are two clubs. The one described above, and another one in the Rockville, MD area.  The one in Rockville doesn’t have a pool or climbing wall, which I think would be huge detractors for some people, especially at the above-mentioned dues rates.  As mentioned above you have to be a member of a club that is the same level or below to gain free access to another Lifetime Fitness club.

Alternatives to Lifetime Fitness in Maryland

As far as being a “one stop shop”, there really aren’t any gyms around that come close to the offerings at Lifetime Fitness.  Having said that, the obvious choice in Columbia is the Columbia Association.

In my opinion with the Columbia Association, you actually get more for your money, but you have to go to different places to get everything you want.  They have  weight rooms, indoor pools, outdoor pools, horseback riding, running tracks, roller skating, ice skating and fitness classes. If you are a Columbia resident, you pay as little as $54/month for a family membership–less than half the cost of Lifetime Fitness.  You can also join if at reduced prices if you work in certain places in Columbia.  Otherwise, you have to pay the non-resident price–but the point is that anyone who wants to can join. There are several levels of membership, so a family of four would pay the resident rate of $121/month for one of the highest membership levels (without golf), and a non-resident would pay $164.

I recently called to check prices for non-residents. When I called, they had a special: A family can join on a 3-year contract for $126/month. The one-year contract price was $151. This price gives you access to all of the gyms, skating rinks, pools and classes the Columbia Association offers. You may be able to get lower pricing if you pay for access to just one of the 3 main gyms.

Here is a link to their membership page.

If you’re mainly into climbing, Earth Treks is a very good choice.  There is an EarthTreks location in the same part of Columbia as Life Time Fitness.

Lifetime Fitness Located at 7220 Lee Deforest Drive, Columbia, MD . Reviewed by Eron Cohen. Rated: 3.5/ 5 (Good)
Executive Summary: Lifetime Fitness in Columbia Maryland is a nice place, that is fairly well maintained and has extensive facilities.  The membership fees are costly, but the environment is good overall.  The management would do well to relax some of the pressure tactics they use and to examine their guest policies.  They could also do better with regards to activities and treatment of children.