There are many good things about the downtown Y and just a few drawbacks. (I've been a member of this Y since it opened after a major remodel 6-7 years ago).
(1) There is a wide array of classes, best of which, in my opinion, are the yoga classes, mostly clustered around the noon hour. The instructors are uniformly enthusiastic and rigorous and have a willingness to help "their students, no matter what their level. They begin at the introductory level and continue to the intermediate. Most people go to the 11:30 or 12:30 a.m. classes.
The yoga classes also add a "spiritual" dimension --not too heavy)--rather ironic when just outside the door guys are playing basketball. You don't have to go to a separate ashram or a yoga studio for this--it's included in your gym membership! I understand they also have t'ai-chi classes as well as pilates, general conditioning, etc.
Too bad that most of the evening classes of yoga had to be cut back because of a lack of interest, I am assuming, so one could go right there after work.
Classes are held in different-sized "multi-purpose" rooms on the 6th floor. They all have floor-to-ceiling windows, which brings a lot of light into the rooms and avoids "cabin fever," i.e., the feeling of being enclosed in an airless concrete box with artificial lighting.
(2) As of October 2007 the downtown YMCA has added complementary visiting privileges to other Y's in the Seattle area.
There are four levels of exercise: stair-masters replete with televisions in a U-shape, on the top (7th) level, a basketball court and "multipurpose" (group) rooms on the 6th floor, and Nautilus/Life Fitness machines and weight-lifting on the 5th. Rows of windows flank two of the sides on that floor.
There are monthly schedules for both the pool and for the group exercise classes.
The three-lane swimming pool is in the basement, and access is via a very slow "express" elevator.
Dressing rooms, sauna, jacuzzi, steam room, and showers are on the 4th floor. Sauna, steam room, and jacuzzi are single-sex.
The hours of lap swimming are generous: the entire time the building is open (one-half hour, though before closing).
But there are hours devoted to master swimming (early morning), group water exercise (in the broad, shallow area off to the side of the three lap lanes, during the noon hour), and individual swimming classes, which preempt one or more of the lap lanes, without notice, unfortunately usually during the busy 5:00-7:00 p.m. period.
The lanes are narrow, and not everyone has the common sense, upon entering, to notice what the other swimmer(s) are doing, i.e., splitting the lane or swimming counter-clockwise, and swim accordingly or to let those already in the lane that s/he will be joining the lane.
For about five weeks, there were recurrent problems with the pH, temperature levels, etc. in the swimming pool, which have not been resolved. and caused the pool to be closed intermittently. In fact, by the last week of March, the water was VERY cold, with one of the pumps ostensibly broken. For the fourth time in nine days when I came to swim, the pool was either closed or I was asked to get out of the pool in the middle of my lap swim. (Note: this went on for a total of 5-6 weeks).
All in all, the maintenance of the swimming pool has been VERY problematic. The pool is closed for about 9 days the latter part of August, so it is NOT as if that department has not had time once a year to do a complete inspection and replace "suspect" or old/badly functioning parts.
I should add that I am have been unhappy with maintenance for another reason: the shower-heads leak (hot water) and even though I have mentioned this to staff at least five times, the problem was not resolved for close to three months.
Does it take half a year (semi-annual inspection time) for the maintenance people to put new washers on the shower-heads? Would anyone in his home NOT fix a shower-head leak within a timely fashion, i.e., not wait two months?
And I note that recently a water-fountain has been, if not exactly gushing, is broken, with water continuously flowing out of it. It was partially fixed in about 12 days. But it must be admitted that a lot of the water fixtures LEAK, even if one doesn't always notice it...
The Y teaches mutual respect, cooperation, etc. and yet it seemed that the leaking shower-head took forever to fix.
Also, for some reason or another, some members have difficulty turning off the showers--which also results in a lot of wasted water. Luckily we're not in a drought this year.
Also, I have another gripe that about maintenance: the Nautilus and Life Fitness machines do not undergo regular inspection, so many relatively minor problems do not get fixed in a timely fashion, i.e., squeaking machines, the short steel rods that add half-weights, etc.). Are we as members supposed to have to write comment cards EVERY TIME something needs to be fixed?
On October 22, 2007, at least three machines were missing the half-weight (5#) mechanisms--the "clips" were lying on the floor! One machine, in the new Life Fitness line that was purchased about 8-10 months ago, was totally unusable--no weights at all could be added. Another leg machine was making horrendous noises when I used it. This has been going on for around least two months--and it IS frustrating, much more than having the cushions slightly torn.
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(3) As a member of the downtown Y, one is entitled to one-on-one sessions with one of the personal trainers, who will set up a fitness program, explain the use of the machines, etc.. I availed myself of this option once; it is especially useful, I suppose, for those who have just gotten back into physical exercise.
It's nice that the treadmills on the 7th are arranged on all four sides of a rectangle (with the basketball court in the center well, extending all the way up through the 7th floor), instead of in rows and columns, like a military phalanx, as would be found at 24-Hour Fitness, etc. This arrangement also makes it easier to do a in-sequence circuit, although many people simply check-off their routine on a supplied form.
Compared to the other gyms, including the branch YMCA's I have been to (West Seattle, U. District, Central Area), this makes for a pretty "spacious" experience. The other Y's (I haven't been to the Eastside Y) have less space, equipment, etc. A special type of membership allows one the use of Y's either all over King Country or even across the whole country.
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(4) The building itself is pretty classy (the exterior is early 20th c. neo-Gothic mortar-and-brick, with a scheme of arched tripartite casement windows with colonnettes above single rectangular windows) and there is comfortable leather/oak furniture in the lounge areas, as well as Persian carpets, old-fashioned ceiling lamps, and painted ceiling beams in the main lobby.
Because of their histories, the Y's have an unrivaled architectural/historical pedigree unlikely to be challenged by the trendy steel-and-glass health fitness clubs of the 90s and beyond, which are now, pretty passe (think of the World/Gold's Gym near the Convention Center).
Within very close distance, architecturally and geographically, are the neo-Georgian structures of the downtown YWCA (on 6th & Seneca) and the Women's University Club.
There is even an art gallery/eating area (unfortunately, they don't allow members to use the microwave) on the other side of the building which houses programs for disadvantaged youth.
No obvious religious affiliation (other than in the name), but there is even an un-ostentatious meditation chapel (without crucifix) at the other end of the building
There is a wide range of ages and levels of fitness, including seniors, members of both sexes, all races and ethnic groups, as well as younger "hardcore" gym-rats.
Lots of gay men it seems.
A number of persons appear to be on financial aid, which may account for the "inner city" behavior of some members (gum on the bottoms of the stools in locker room, yelling, foul language), for example). Recently, too, I noticed some young African-American men using the swimsuit spinners for at least five minutes straight--something which overheats the machines and causes them to break. I had a burn on my hand from using it right after them. If this sort of thing bothers you...in any case, if the downtown Y's membership rates are not exactly on the cheap side, and this kind of thing may go some ways in explaining why.
There seem to be some VERY LOUD people that "hang out" the jacuzzi but that is probably related to their cultural baggage. I wouldn't expect to be able to "relax" in the whirlpool or sauna, as you would hear them [bellowing] no matter where you are. The men's shower/whirlpool/shower area is on the small side. Certain guys seem to like to hang out there a pretty long time there, so I usually just go in and out unless my muscles are really sore.
The problem of break-ins (to members' lockers) seems infrequent...
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The air conditioning tends to be at a low level in the summer, so it tends to be suffocating (and warm inside) then, but in the winter, spring, and fall, it's fine.
And the fans have decreased in number and don't push enough air around.
It is a relief that the downtown Y does not have "piped-in," thumping, pounding pop music (like hip-hop). If you like to listen (to your own music), please use your own MP-3 player, thanks.
The men's sauna, whirlpool, and steam room tend towards the tepid, at least for someone like myself. (I have in mind 24-Hour-Fitness near I-5, where you need to sit only five minutes to really raise the body temperature). Shower-heads tend to leak (a lot), which I haven't been able to get anyone to do anything about. Maybe a sign asking members to make sure they turn them off...
Terry bath-towels are provided; occasionally they may be "in short supply," in which you have to "hang out" in the shower area for a short while.
(5) Most of all, the atmosphere here is different from that of many health clubs: more civic, in line with its being a non-profit organization with social AND recreational aims, and much less "just a business" with attention first and foremost to "the bottom line."
The staff in general is, overall, much more friendly than their counterparts at other fitness centers I've been to, more nice human beings rather than just employees. And even when its gets pretty busy, as around the noon hour, they manage to be polite, patient, and clear.
The members themselves seem to be, more or less, in their own self-chosen groups of friends.
I have been "put-off" by both the sheer commercialism and trendiness of the recent tidal wave of health fitness clubs (24-Hour Fitness. Gold's, etc.), matched by the attitude of their staffs who obviously are treated as "only" employees by the management. You're welcome at these places first and foremost and only because you're paying; and they're a business, make no doubt about it.
The YMCA certainly belongs in the time-honored Seattle tradition of civic spirit exemplified by Dorothy Bullitt and others (even if NOT all the Y's in the Seattle area conform exactly to this "model").
"Comment cards" are available on the main level and fourth floors for suggestions on improvements from members. Not sure how seriously they are taken, though. But the times and types of classes. in any case, take into account members' available times and interests.
Hours are more limited on weekends, till 6:30; on weekends, the downtown Y is open until 9:00 pm. It would be nice if the Y were open until 9 on weekends as well. Monthly membership is about $55.
Closed for nine days in the summer for maintenance, but you can go to the Central Area, West Seattle, or U. District branches during that time.
Obviously, a good place to go if you live or work downtown...and appreciate old-fashioned comfort, eschew the obviously trendy.
This Y's going to be around another generation, two, three...when most other health clubs will have long since bitten the dust.
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