The Crowded Gym Survival Guide

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One of the few downsides of any gym workout is the wait for machines and equipment, and depending upon how crowded your gym may be, the mere three-by-three-foot space to call your own. This holding pattern is more than enough to drive you a little nuts when you’re trying to squeeze in a workout.

So what do you do when you’ve mustered up the determination to get dressed, tie your sneakers tightly, and then drive all the way to the gym only to find that you won’t be able to get on a single piece of equipment for at least half an hour? Do you reverse slap the air as you let out an audible forget about it? Do you hop back in your car and drive home? Or do you wait out the half an hour, passing the time reading eight-month-old gym copies of National Geographic? Between the three, the third option is probably the best. At least you do eventually get your workout done (and maybe even learn a thing or two about the aboriginal people of Papua New Guinea). But who has that kind of time? Most people don’t, which is why your cardio and/or resistance training workout needs to get done in the time that’s been allotted. Here’s just a few workout alternatives that may help you do just that:

All the treadmills are taken?
Look for a reasonable alternative: the elliptical machine, the stair stepper, the recumbent bike, the rowing machine, etc. The important thing is to make sure that you will at least burn the same amount of calories that you would during your time on the treadmill. You’d be surprised at the variance that exists with regard to calorie burning from one machine to the next. A quick way to find out how many calories you will burn in, say, half an hour on a particular machine is to pay close attention to the calories-per-hour readout. Since we are trying to figure out how many calories will be used in half an hour, simply divide the number by two. Is it more or less than the number of calories you typically burn while on the treadmill? If it is more, then you are fine. If it is exactly the same, that’s also cool. But if it’s less, you may want to continue for as long as you need to on that machine to at least match the amount of calories you would normally burn while on the treadmill.

Every single cardio machine is being used?
If a gym is very crowded, this could very easily end up being the case. Don’t sit around and wait for someone to finish. Instead, grab a very light set of dumbbells and begin doing some basic resistance exercises. Follow this with some running in place. You could also pick up a jump rope and bang out a couple of two-minute sets, or just as easily perform some of those wacky “mountain climber” exercises that gym teachers used to claim were the best exercise known to man. (They’re not, by the way. But they are a pretty good exercise to get the blood flowing and the lungs working.)


All of the flat benches are occupied?
It must be Monday, since this day of the week appears to be National Chest Day for every weightlifter on the planet. But this is also why you should tailor your workout so that you are not working chest exercises until Tuesday or even Wednesday. This way, while everyone else is vying for one of the four flat benches, you can make your way through a shoulder or back workout without waiting for a thing. But, what if you hadn’t thought ahead with this one, and you’re already there to do chest exercises? No worries. Try doing some slow, perfectly executed push-ups. If you find your own body weight doesn’t create enough resistance, you can always lay a weight plate on your back before you begin (just be extra careful with your form, as you do not want the weight to slip off of your back and land onto your hands). You can also try using the incline or decline benches, hitting the upper or lower portion of your chest as you wait for the line to clear for the flat bench. If it never does, however, a couple good sets of dips or cable flyes will also work quite well.

The pool is full of screaming kids?
Well, assuming that you even have a pool at your health club, the presence of a bunch of kids may get in the way of your daily laps. The obvious solution would be to ask them (or have a gym staff member ask them) if they wouldn’t mind staying out of your lanes. Once that doesn’t work, which it won’t, you may want to consider drying off, changing out of your swimsuit and into some gym clothes—because you may be spending the day on dry land. Find yourself some light weights or the appropriate Nautilus machines that target your major swimming muscles: shoulders, back, and legs. Perform several sets consisting of at least ten repetitions for each body part, allowing yourself about one minute of break time in between sets. You may actually find this resistance training to be a refreshing departure from your normal swimming regimen, especially since it will improve your performance once you are finally able to get back into the pool.

Originally published on I Look Life Fit

Updated September 23, 2010


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