How to Survive a Full Gym (especially in January)

A crowded gym can set you back if you don't know how to adapt.
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©Eugenio Marongiu

Very good. Ok. It’s early January and you’ve decided to join a gym. Or you’re back from vacation. Or you’ve never stopped working out. The fact is that the year has just started and here you are, at the gym’s entrance. With your shorts and sneakers on, your bag ready and all the motivation in the world to get stronger than Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 18. But hang on a second! Don’t go too fast, because the gyms in January are packed, absolutely packed. These spaces are so crowded that they work as a very particular ecosystem, where all kinds of elements coexist. From the inexperienced newbies stepping into a gym for the first time, to the noisy powerlifters, to the Zumba class, and of course not forgetting the intense CrossFitters taking up half the gym with their tires and other gadgets. Everybody’s here! Plus you. So if you want to survive and complete your training routine successfully, you’re going to need to keep a few things in mind.

Survival instinct

The key to surviving in this jungle of medicine balls, discs, dumbbells and energy drinks, is to always carry a hand towel with you. Yes, something as simple as a towel will make your life in a crowded gym much easier. First, for your own personal hygiene, as you’ll be able to wipe off sweat and place it on surfaces to keep them clean. A towel can also be used to protect your property. Well, not protect property exactly, but it does help you to use the machines without being disturbed. How? Very simple. Put your towel over the machine or in the space you’re going to use and you’ll stop someone else from taking your place. If someone sees your towel on a machine, they’ll quickly move on to something else, or politely ask if you can take turns. In this case, no problem. Behave yourself and give then the opportunity to alternate sets with you.

And in the reverse scenario, the same is true. Unless you see more than two people already taking turns using a certain piece of equipment, you can always approach them and politely ask if they can take turns with you. You’ll get a much smoother workout than if you had to wait your turn and, who knows, you might even make a new friend.

Another way you can find your space is by taking some dumbbells to a less busy area and doing your exercises there (here’s the perfect routine). It all depends on how crowded the gym is, but you may find a quiet corner waiting for you. You may not be as lucky in the cardio area. It’s January and people are desperate to sweat out the excesses of Christmas. So you’ll have to be flexible and adapt. If you’re one of those who does cardio before weight training, you may have to change the order, and vice versa.


What not to do in a crowded gym

Supersets: If the gym’s full and you wanted to do your superset routine, you might want to change your plans. Because chances are, if you try it, by the time you’re done with an exercise and you run to another machine, someone else will already be using it. And rightfully so. It wasn’t in your plans, it’s true, but it’s better to know how to adapt than to end up frustrated and unable to do a proper training session. If you know that January’s a tricky month and there are lots more people than usual, plan your training differently: isolation exercises, fewer weight variations, exercises with the same bar and the same discs?

A strict program: Be prepared to see a lot of busy machines, so it’s time to try new exercises and use more dumbbells. And, above all, as with supersets, be flexible and know how to adapt to the situation. You may go to the gym thinking about training your chest and biceps and have to do your back. Maybe it’s a good time to start using those kettlebells collecting dust in the corner. Either way, be strong and hang in there. The situation won’t last forever. In fact, 22% of people who join a gym for the first time have dropped out after 6 months, as reported by the Global Health Fitness Association, in a survey.

A few quick tips: 

– Offer to bring a coffee for the person at the front desk the next time you go to the gym. When you bring them it, casually ask them what time it’s less crowded.

– If you go to the pool, go 20 minutes ahead of time. People usually go to the pool at the exact time and, if you do it right, you won’t have to wait to get a spot.

– If weights are in short supply, get creative. Many dumbbell movements can be done with weight discs.

– Look for variations with the available equipment. Try using a bar, place one end in a corner and support it with a couple of sandbags or weights. Add weights to the other end and start lifting. Perfect for arms and back

– It’s okay to give up. We know, crazy advice, right? But if you really can’t move and are getting frustrated, opt to go for a run or bike ride, do a bodyweight workout (we have a great one here) and live to fight another day.

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