Health / Expert Advice

How to Deal With a Crowded Gym and Still Get a Great Workout

The crowds are coming.

The gym floor can be a complex and intimidating place, even when the gym is empty and you have full access to its entire repertoire. But it can get especially challenging around and after the holiday season. A hectic gym is definitely cause for frustration. So, we talked to some experts about how to get the most effective workout in even the most crowded gym.

Be flexible.

We love a plan. In fact, we recommend showing up to the gym with one. Sometimes, however, a crowded gym floor foils our well-crafted strategy. It may feel annoying, but look at it as an opportunity to challenge your body in new ways. “Forget the plan you had coming in. You can always rely on your body weight to get great work done,” says Queens-based personal trainer Eddie Vernovsky, FRCms. “There’s always a wall and the floor to create tension and allow you to move through space in challenging ways.”

For example, on an upper body strength day, instead of hopping from one apparatus to another, carve out a small five-foot by five-foot space for yourself and use body weight exercises to get your workout in. Replace the bench press with push up variations. Replace standard shoulder and back exercises with handstands or a plank series. “The key to significant change in the body is to challenge your nervous system more than what it’s used to being challenged,” explains Vernovsky. “If you’re accustomed to using weights to challenge yourself, then just slow down the pace of your body weight repetitions to create more resistance. Remember, your form is far more important than how much weight you can lift. Slow down, focus on form, and I guarantee you will feel great at the end of your session.”

If weights are a must for you, ask to work into someone’s set. You can also grab a set of dumbbells and work those into your body weight exercises for an added challenge.

Get creative with exercises.

It’s easy to fall in love with certain machines or equipment, and it’s usually because you’re either seeing the results you want or you’re comfortable with the motion. If you had planned to utilize certain equipment that’s unavailable, don’t worry. You can actually do most movements on several different pieces of equipment. “Most exercises done with external resistance, such as barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells can be applied to each other”, says Brett Knopf, personal trainer at Equinox. “If you planned to use barbells and they aren’t available, perform the same movement with kettlebells.”

Creativity is key in a crowded gym. “As long as you know what kind of results you want, go after them in any possible way you can. The fact is all equipment is simply external resistance. If you can imagine doing a bench press with one piece of equipment, you should be able to mimic that with another piece of equipment.”

Proceed with caution, of course, when trying out exercises with new equipment or when using a new machine. Always ask a trainer for help, if necessary.

Recruit a friend.

A fitness buddy certainly isn’t necessary, but another person may be key to getting an even better workout. “If you’re not someone who works with a personal trainer or a friend at the gym, you may be missing out camaraderie or a spotter to help you through tougher exercises”, says personal trainer Annie Tran. Grab a friend or look around the gym and find someone who’s doing a similar workout to yours. “You’d be surprised at how many people will welcome the opportunity to workout alongside someone like-minded and motivated,” says Knopf.

Even if it’s just for a few exercise sets, joining forces in the gym is always better than skipping workouts or standing around too long. “You sacrifice valuable time waiting for equipment to become free,” says Tran. “Just say hello and ask to work into a set.”

Change your workout time.

Given that most of us are creatures of habit, we understand if you’re not super privy to switching up your schedule. “The busiest times at most gyms fall before and after work, between 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.,” says Knopf. However, some overcrowding around the holiday season is temporary. According to Knopf, “most holiday-driven gym traffic is heaviest around Thanksgiving and lasts through New Year’s day.” He notes, though, that much of that traffic declines midway through February.

If you want to avoid a crowded gym at all costs, it may be worth it to fit in workouts at another time. It may seem annoying at the time, but so will a packed gym with no available machines or space.

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