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The Crowded-Gym Survival Guide

Navigate around the crowds, newbies, and wannabes—and still build muscle.

Whether it’s the first month of the year or the dog days of summer, there are always some people at the gym that are determined to meet their newly set goals even if it means sidetracking you from yours.

Not only are they a distraction—working out in polo shirts and doing curls in the squat rack—they're an outright danger, sneaking in and taking the equipment you need and blocking your path. Imagine holding 70-pound dumbbells and hurrying back to your bench, only to find some dude stretching on it—not fun.

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Of course, after a while, most of them will be gone and the gym will once again be the dungeon of sweat and solitude you know and love, and you can resume your routine without further interruption. But you shouldn't have to wait for that. That's why we designed the ultimate plan for avoiding gym crowds while still getting in the workouts you need to add slabs of muscle.

Here are our best tips for navigating a crowded gym:

Stake Your Claim

When you see the piece of equipment you want open—go for it and just grab it. Toss your towel over it and you’re golden for the duration of your workout. For example, the first workout is called Squat Rack Day because everything you'll do will revolve around that apparatus. Some exercises will involve the rack specifically—such as the squat and inverted row—while others, such as the pushup and single-leg squat, can simply be done in the same space. (Note: The last exercise on that day is a hanging leg raise, so look for a squat rack that has a chinning bar built into it-otherwise, you may have to wait for one to open up elsewhere.) Aside from changing weights, you barely have to move your feet the whole routine.

The second workout is Bench Day. Find an adjustable bench and set up camp. (Again, you'll have to go to the dumbbell rack and back a few times to change weights, so make sure your gym towel holds your spot.)

The third workout is the simplest of all: floor Day-just find a spot on the floor. Aside from changing dumbbells again, there's no equipment needed.

An Alternate Route

Not having to run around the gym is a great time-saver, which we've improved upon by organizing the exercises as alternating sets. Probably the single best method of speeding up a workout while working the most muscles, alternating sets send you back and forth between sets of two exercises. For instance, if the pair is stepups and bench presses, you'll do the stepups and rest, then hit the bench presses and rest again. Notice that the exercises work unrelated muscle groups (in this case, legs and chest). That means each muscle group will have ample time to recover before it's worked again, allowing you to lift heavier weights and ultimately stimulate more muscle on your next set.

Weight for Anyone

You'll notice that the rep range for most of the exercises is broad (six to 10, 10 to 20, etc.), which allows you to determine how intensely you train from set to set. For example, if you're feeling tired or sluggish one day, you may opt to go lighter and aim for 10-rep sets (a good number for pure size gains). On the other hand, if the gym is particularly crowded, but you're feeling strong and focused, you might decide to let 'er rip and go heavy for six reps (a better strength workout). The more reps you perform, the longer the set will last. (Note: You can choose how heavy you want to lift from one exercise to the next, one set after another-you don't have to commit beforehand to low reps or high reps for every exercise.)

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