Whether it’s the first month of the year or the dog days of summer, there are always some people at the gym who 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-lb dumbbells and hurrying back to your bench, only to find some dude stretching on it (one of many mistakes you shouldn't make if it's your first day in the gym).
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, so 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:
1. 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. Usually we deem certain exercises illegal at the squat rack, but in this case you'll want your workout to revolve around that apparatus. Perform squats and inverted rows on the rack, then do pushups and single-leg squats in the same space. If there's a pullup bar up top, you can also add hanging legs raises. Aside from changing weights, you barely have to move your feet the whole routine.
Another alternative is finding an adjustable bench and setting up camp. Go to the dumbbell rack and grab the weights you'll need for your dumbbell-only workout.
2. Pick an alternate route
Not having to run around the gym is a great time-saver. To be even more efficient, organize exercises as alternating sets (go back and forth between sets of two exercises). It's one of the single best ways to speed up a workout while hitting the most muscles.
For instance, if the pair is stepups and bench press, you'll do the stepups and rest, then hit the bench press 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.
3. Be strategic with weight
You'll notice the rep range for most 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.)
Grab two to three sets of dumbbells and bring them over to your workspace. This way you won't have to go back and forth to the weights, or run the risk of all the weights being used except the 15-pounders.