How to navigate a busy gym

How to navigate a busy gym
March 10, 2016

Finding your way around a busy gym can be both challenging and annoying. It’s easy to get discouraged when you are sharing a space and a limited number of machines with dozens of other people. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned that help me deal with crowded gyms and make the most of my training time. I am totally in favor of group classes and having a personal trainer (<–obviously!). However, for those who do their own thing some or all of the time, these tips may be helpful to you.

1. Avoid the busy times

If you have a flexible training schedule, you should try to avoid the busier times. You may need to experiment with this a bit as traffic peaks can vary from place to place, but typically the busier times include the lunch hour and right after work. If possible, I will go to the gym at 11:30 am or 1 pm. It makes a difference at my gym.

2. Use free weights vs. machines

Since there are typically more free weights than machines, you shouldn’t have too much of an issue finding a set of dumbbells or weight plates to use. Personally, I prefer using free weights rather than stationary machines. Free weights force you to recruit more muscle fibers and stimulate a greater amount of metabolic responses. In other words, more bang for your buck.

3. Incorporate super sets

Super sets are a great way to maximize your training time. A super set means you are performing two exercises back-to-back with minimal to no rest in between the exercises. You typically repeat these two exercises (or sets) several times before moving on to the next group of exercises (another super set). Structuring your workout this way allows you to be more strategic with your movements and the equipment you are using.

Performing the exercises back to back will force your muscles to work harder and will boost your metabolism. You’ll also spend less time at the gym since you aren’t resting. There are lots of ways to structure super sets: using opposing muscle groups (triceps and biceps) or isolating muscles completely. You can even incorporate super sets with cardio intervals. I will share an example of one I recently did below.

3. On the spot training

“On the spot training” means performing all or most of your exercises in the same general area. This may solve the problem of traveling back and forth between stations or machines. This method also works for people who want to exercise at home or in their hotel room where there is likely limited space. So, for example, maybe your workout would only include a bench and a pair of dumbbells. Or, a chin up bar and some bands. You’d stay in the same general vicinity and alternate between exercises until complete.

4. Jump in on a set

I think a lot of people are afraid to ask if they can jump in on a set. Maybe because it feels a tad rude. That being said, I have asked to do it to others and others have asked me. No problem. What does this means? If someone is using a station or a piece of equipment that you need to use, you ask to alternate turns during each others’ rest period. Keep it short and be respectful about it.

Example of a super set (upper body):

Equipment needed: flat bench and dumbbells

4 rounds:

  • one-arm bent over row: 8-10 reps
  • flat dumbbell press: 8-10 reps

4 rounds:

  • seated dumbbell curl: 8-10 reps
  • seated DB shoulder press: 8-10 reps


work out at lunch

Do you have anything to add to this list?

Happy Thursday!

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