Brad Borland is a strength & conditioning specialist, cancer survivor and the founder of WorkoutLab.
Does this describe you in some way? You enter your local gym on a weekday evening to find it crowded as usual. It’s 5:30 or so and all of the after-work wannabe bodybuilders and wide-eyed weight training enthusiasts are swarming your favorite pieces of equipment. Not only are they monopolizing stations, they are loitering on their smart phones and taking long breaks between sets to catch Sports Center on the TV mounted above their heads.
All the while you’ve just arrived with a new program memorized in your head, enthusiasm abound and ready to tackle new gains. Disheartened, you relegate to your usual routine of scavenging for available stations and machines while everyone else has staked their claim for an unforeseen amount of time.
Sure, you’re a nice, considerate person that doesn’t stoop down to a douchebag level, threatening people to vacate where you want to be, but this is getting old, fast! What good is a gym membership if you aren’t able to benefit from all it has to offer?
A sticky situation, indeed.
The logical mode of thinking dictates you have three options. You can either find a new time of day to train during less crowded times, work with what you have and slightly modify your training to facilitate your goals and what you want to accomplish or join a Zumba class.
For most of us the answer is clear. We don’t have the luxury of hand-picking our training times. With solid obligations toward work, family and other things life has for us most of us only have that precious and narrow sliver of time between after work and home life - when gyms are packed to the rim with veterans, confused newbies and people like us who just want to get in a decent workout and get out.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can follow a few simple tips to improve your chances of wading through the sea of gym zombies and finding a good balance of working with what is available and a potentially great workout.
Below are nine tips and tricks to help you toward that goal. Try a few or all of these on for size and reduce your level of frustration over the guy checking Facebook while leaning against the squat rack where he will eventually do curls.
How to beat the crowded gym blues
Tip #1 - Find a workout partner
Ideally, this is the quintessential situation. Finding someone with the same goals and schedule as you will go a long way regarding the flow of your training. Not only will they provide motivation and support but you both can act as guards when it comes to keeping your stations/equipment in the gym. If you were supersetting or alternating other moves in your workout it’s easier to occupy each station as you alternate through each exercise.
Tip #2 - Stay local
If you are supersetting try to find equipment that will complement each other. For example: If you are supersetting your chest and back, commandeer an adjustable bench and a pair of dumbbells. Pair up such moves as incline dumbbell press and two-arm dumbbell row with the same dumbbells. Or you can perform bench presses on a flat bench and superset them with barbell rows with the same bar. This is also easily accomplished when training arms as well.
Tip #3 - Bring your bottle
The dreaded “I just went to go get a drink of water and now my bench has been taken” syndrome affects all of us at some point. The simplest solution is to bring a water bottle with you. No more long walks to the fountain abandoning your station risking the predators stealing it when you aren’t looking. Remember curl-in-the-squat-rack guy? Yeah, he’s eyeing you.
Tip #4 - Stagger abs
Much like point number two above, staggering in your ab work during rest periods during weight training can become a huge advantage not only for extra midsection work but also time efficiency. And the great thing is you can perform many ab exercises with little to no equipment.
Tip #5 - Go with your body
Not only popular but effective, bodyweight training is a great way to skirt crowded gym stress by getting in some good ole fashioned push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, dips and bodyweight lunges and squats. Especially working well as finishers, these moves can provide a little variation and fun into your program. Perform them anywhere - no special equipment needed.
Tip # 6 - Schedule in reverse
Is everyone doing chest on Monday? Are you? Then stop, do legs instead. Normally on any given day of the week most gym-goers are performing roughly the same workout. Observe the trends and do the opposite. Usually the leg equipment collects dust on a Monday so there is your obvious answer - unless biceps boy took it!
Tip #7 - Rest less
Another instant fix is simply resting less between sets. If you do happen to acquire a piece of needed equipment and the vultures are circling, perform your sets, keep rest to a minimum and move on to another available station. The longer you rest the more chances other equipment will be snatched up.
Tip #8 - Circuit
Similar to supersetting and staggered sets, creating a circuit with just a pair of dumbbells can be a challenging way of efficiently and effectively training. For example: take a pair of moderate weight dumbbells and perform a total shoulder-thrashing circuit. Without rest perform three circuits of bent-over laterals, standing side laterals, front raises and overhead presses for 10 to 15 reps each. Afterwards, call it done!
Tip #9 - Have some patience
When all else fails and all hope is lost, have patience. It is early in the year and the once enthusiastic crowd full of resolution, vim and vigor will soon exit the gym only to return the following January. Things will settle and you will once again have your pick of what you want when you want it. Until then stay positive, creative and train because you love it! And for your own sake, ask the kid curling in the squat rack if he wants to squat with you – he may learn a thing or two.