For most people, finding a gym and working out in Paris rank pretty far down on their list of priorities, right below urinating in public (maybe?). Since you’re reading this blog though, I can safely assume you care about your state of swole and getting access to a gym that at least has dumbbells and a squat rack. Well, I have braved the swole frontiers and come bearing some good news:
You can strength train or get into a variety of fitness activities in Paris. Here’s what I learned from my one-month stay in this cigarette smoke-filled city.
Fitness in Paris
Foofoo health and fitness are relatively new concepts in Paris, based on the smattering of vegan restaurants and gluten-free or generally quasi-healthier options. I heard from friends that this health movement only cropped up in the last couple of years, so fitness is still in its nascent stages.
I had packed my own suspension trainers in my go bag just in case and jokingly asked in a Tweet, “Do Parisians even lift?” Not surprisingly, I got crickets.
But the truth is, they do…sometimes a little bit, but it’s very evidently a luxury. Take, for instance, the famous Ken Club near the Eiffel Tower. For 290 euro a day, you can have access to what is basically a ritzy spa with gym equipment. And if you like it enough, you’ll need to cough up 3,000 euro with a 1,000 euro sign-up fee for the year. That’s on one extreme end; on the other, you can find outdoor fitness parks that are free for you to use (more on that below). Then there are gym chains and little boutique gyms in-between.
Gyms in Paris
If you’re a no-frills kind of gym-goer, you wouldn’t care for Ken Club or Club Med Gyms. Larger gym chains, such as CMG Sports Club, Fitness Park, and Les Cercles de la Forme will be okay and have more than a dozen locations sprinkled all around Paris. The good news is, they have weightlifting equipment. The bad news is–okay, let’s just have these numbers speak for themselves:
- Daily pass: 30 euro
- One-week pass: 65 euro
- Two-week pass: 95 euro
- One-month pass: 105 euro (20 + 85 euro sign-up fee)
These are the prices I got when I visited Les Cercles de la Forme. The daily rate was the same at CMG. If you’re ready to pony up this kind of cash, there’s a bit of a quandary: Most seem to require you to have a French bank account to register and pay for your membership. As a visiting foreigner, that means we would be limited to the daily, one-, or two-week pass.
As chance would have it, though, Les Cercles let me sign up without a French bank account. I explained to the only English-speaking person there that I only wanted to use the weight room and would come in during daytime hours. Apparently, like Japan, they have separate price points depending on criteria like what time you’ll use the gym and whether you will use the group classes. Pro-tip: Daytime memberships are cheaper.
In any case, this was the deal they cut me: Monthly membership for daytime use (between the hours of 7a.m. to 11a.m. and 2p.m. to 5p.m.) and access to the weight room cost about 20 euro. It’s a sweet-ass deal, but the catch was that I had to pay a sign-up fee of 85 euro, bringing my one-month total to 105 euro. If I had stayed longer than a month, this would’ve been a reasonable deal.
Unlike in the United States, where you can negotiate your rates or at least kick down the initiation/sign-up fee, my attempts at negotiation were very quickly shot down. I assumed with the language barrier and difference in culture that it was pretty garish and ballsy of me to even try. I think it’s still worth asking to see if they can knock down the initiation fee, especially if you can get someone else to sign up with you.
So, what are other options here?
If you’re a CrossFitter or are desperate for Olympic lifting, there’s Reebok CrossFit Louvre by—you guessed it—the Louvre. They’re one of the few CrossFit boxes around town. I never went, but I was told you can try out classes. You can find more information here.
- Cost: You have to reserve a spot and the exact costs aren’t revealed until then.
- Location: Near the Louvre
- What you get: WODs, typical CrossFit Box equipment, camaraderie
This place offers CrossFit, obstacle race-type training (a.k.a. OCR), running, and yoga. The space itself is a typical CrossFit box but with obstacle courses for the OCR classes. They seem to offer a free trial period, too.
- Cost: Through Gympass.com, you can get a day pass for 17 euro, a 10-day pass that’s 15 euro per visit, or a month for 150 euro.
- Location: In the 11th arrondisement
- What you get: WODs, typical CrossFit Box equipment, camaraderie
Gym Etiquette in Paris
The Les Cercles branch I’d regularly visited was particularly cramped and dimly lit, but the facilities were clean, the equipment worked well enough, and my fellow lifters were all older dudes who avoided the squat rack–a huge perk for me! From what I gathered though, there were a few things to note:
- If you need to lock up your belongings in the lockers, bring your own lock. A simple one is all you need.
- Bring your own bathroom towel for personal use in the locker room, but also to use as a shield for the equipment from your gross, sweaty body. For example, if you’re going to use the bench, you’d better have lain down a towel first. The French are very particular about that.
- Put everything back as you found it. Otherwise, some dude named Michele will interrupt you in the middle of your set to tell you to put away the barbell. (This seriously happened, except his name might not have been Michele.)
Gym etiquette varies slightly from gym to gym, country to country, but the universal rules of being courteous, wiping down your equipment, and using deodorant all still apply here.
Free or Cheap Fitness in Paris
If you can’t justify paying that much for a gym, I don’t blame you. There are certainly cheaper or free alternatives.
In my time here, I came across two outdoor fitness “zones,” as I’ll call them. They’re actually really neat. One is located here by the mini Statue of Liberty replica. You have to head down the stairs to the area under the bridge, where you can find a bunch of rock climbing walls and outdoor fitness equipment, including pull-up bars and a nice set of monkey bars.
The other fitness zone is along one side of river Seine.
There are nine stations, each designed to make you do specific exercises and is separated by a hundred of meters or so. If you actually took the time to run through each station, you could definitely get a great circuit training-type workout. If you have suspension trainers with you, this is the perfect place to set up.
As a workout idea, start at the first station, follow the station’s fitness directions (which includes pull-ups and things like that), and sprint to the next, giving yourself as little rest as possible. Repeat for a few rounds.
Also, bring a water bottle. You’ll find water stations located throughout if you need.
Obviously, you can just run, which I highly recommend doing in Paris to appreciate the sights if nothing else. Running along the river Seine in the evening is one of the most awe-inspiring experiences of my life, ruined only by the need to sidestep dog shit on the sidewalk every couple of steps. If you’re keen on running with headphones, be extra mindful about crossing the street, as many drivers make it seem like a red light is actually French for “screw this pedestrian.”
I also happened to be in Paris when the Nike We Run 10k race took place one weekend. I tried to sign up for it at the very last minute, but no luck. It was followed by the 20K Paris marathon the following weekend, which was also sold out.
If want to run a race in or around Paris, there are always races going on. Just note that you will need to have a doctor’s note proving that you are healthy enough to participate. If you don’t already have a doctor back home who can hook you up, it likely isn’t worth the hassle to find a doctor here who will take your insurance and tack on medical fees to your race registration. Just something to keep in mind.
Public Tennis Courts and Swimming Pools
Myriad public tennis courts are available only through a prior reservation, up to a week in advance. You have to pay to use the court, the price of which varies depending on if it’s an indoor or outdoor court and how long you plan to play.
For the swimming pools, you can check out how and where to access them here. One interesting to note is that the swimming pools require you to wear a swimming cap and Speedos (for the dudes). If you don’t have them, you can buy them there from vending machines.
You don’t have to be a Paris resident to use these amenities. You just need the cash money.
Cover photo by Karen Hong Photography.
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