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Are hotel gyms a waste of space?

by Andrea on February 2, 2011

The Langham near Oxford Street has one of the swankiest fitness centres in London - but do most of us really take advantage of hotel gyms?

I’m a runner.  I like nothing better than hitting Hyde Park for a quick 5k (well – let me admit, a fairly sedate 5k to be honest!).  But on a miserable day when it’s pelting with rain – or at night – that’s not really an option.  Which leaves the hotel gym.

For me, that’s all a gym is – a replacement for running.  So I like to find a good exercise bike or treadmill, and particularly a treadmill with a gradient that I can adjust to make things that little bit more challenging.  Free weights are good – I like to do a few reps to tone up – but I’m just not interested in the more complex machines.   If I have to read the manual for 45 minutes to do a 15 minute workout, it’s a bit of a waste of time.

I seem to be in the majority.  ‘The healthy road warrior‘ blog ran a poll to see what three things guests most valued in hotel gyms.  No surprise that cardio equipment topped the list.  Free weights came second.  Weight machines such as Nautilus came way down the polls – below natural lighting, cleanliness and size of gym and only just above saunas.

And of course that’s a blog read by people who work out so you’d expect them to care about weight machines more than the average.

Even when it comes to pools, the more athletically-minded want a lap pool where you can do a proper length… or a few hundred… while some people just want to laze in something about twice the size of their hotel bath.

If you book your London hotel with LondonTown.com it doesn't matter if your hotel has its own gym as you get a free 3 day gym pass at any Fitness First gym in the capital

But do people actually use the gym in London hotels?  Travelodge says no, they don’t – and that’s £29m a year that travellers are paying for gym and swimming pool access they won’t benefit from.  68 percent of travellers don’t use the gym and 78 percent don’t use the pool apparently.

Yet the same research showed that three quarters of travellers use the fact that a hotel has a gym when they’re making their choice – a similar situation to the number of friends I have who pay for a gym membership but haven’t used it since their New Year’s resolutions went cold!

The quality of hotel gyms varies a lot too.  Some have two or three rather boring machines – two bikes and a rowing machine doesn’t give you much variety in a workout.  Others have a couple of treadmills, a couple of bikes, rowing machines and weights, plus a stepper or two – which certainly gives you more flexibility in planning an interesting half hour or so.

It’s also a lot more stimulating if the machines offer different programs (increasing intensity, interval training, targets) or have TV screens fitted or music to work out to.  The basic kind of gym you sometimes find with just a couple of domestic standard exercise bikes is no fun to be in at all – which may be why hotel guests give them a wide berth.

The Arch in central London has a small but very effective gym

Check the best rate for The Arch Hotel from 30+ hotel booking sites

Keeping up with trends is important too.  The Arch off Oxford Street has a decent small gym but I noted it also has Pilates equipment – which a lot of my friends are into.  You’ll deserve to eat at The Arch’s great restaurant afterwards.  Some hotels are offering yoga mats and even yoga trainers.

And despite Travelodge’s bold claim that we’re paying for things we don’t use, a gym is really vital to many travellers.  Put the Travelodge figures the other way around and you’ll see nearly a third of travellers *do* use the gym – for some of us it’s not just the only exercise we get to do all day, but also the only time we get to ourselves while travelling on business!

But which hotel gyms in London are the real “stars”?

The So FIT Gym at Sofitel St James is full of state of the art equipment

The So FIT gym at Sofitel St James has some of the most advanced equipment you'll find in a fitness facility in London

Check the best rate for the Sofitel St James from 30+ hotel booking sites

One of the best is the SoFIT gym at Sofitel St James – complete with its amazing “Sha Chair” that supposedly cures jet lag!

There’s another great gym at the Langham London featuring a lovely 16 metre swimming pool and a fully-equipped fitness studio and sauna.  And for night-time fitness freaks it’s actually open 24 hours a day!

The indoor swimming pool at the Langham Hotel is one of London's best

Check the best rate for the Langham Hotel from 30+ hotel booking sites

And if you partake of the extraordinary afternoon tea at the Langham then you’ll probably welcome the opportunity to burn off the extra calories!

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Photo credits: Langham London, Sofitel St James, The Arch.

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