3 Strategies for Training in a Crowded Gym After New Year’s

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Brace yourself! New Year’s is coming. It’s time for crowded gyms.

If you’ve been dedicated all year to making it to the gym and have been able to settle into a steady training routine during the course of the year that is about to get turned upside down. A wave of New Year’s resolution people will break down the doors to your gym with hope that this will be the year to lose those 50 pounds that have grown since the end of high school.

Your once peaceful gym where you were able find a bench or grab a set of dumbbells will be a ruckus of confused people looking at the diagrams on the sides of machines trying to figure out which one will be the ticket to six pack abs and a chest like Arnold. During the months of January, February, and maybe March, you’re going to have three options when it comes to dealing with a crowded gym. Learn to improvise your set workout during your normal time, change your daily routine to allow for you to train during non-peak hours, or skip the busy gym all together and take your training elsewhere.

Related: Muscle and Strength, the Ultimate Workout for Both

So, let’s go through the best strategies to keep or even make gains during this time of year without having to change your schedule around or take your training elsewhere. You must improvise and adapt in a busy gym full of newbies, you can do this by compressing your workout into short 30-45 min sessions, picking exercises that newbies avoid like the plague, and being more flexible with your exercise choices.

Barbell Complex

How to Train in a Crowded Gym

Strategy #1 – Compress Your Workout

The best way to compress your workout is to limit the pieces of equipment that you need and either perform a circuit or even better perform a complex. Complexes are groups of exercises that use one piece of equipment and one weight and are strung together one after another.

You can use a barbell, dumbbell(s), kettlebell, or anything heavy really. The key is pick the weight up one time and not put it down until you have completed all the reps of each exercise. It is also beneficial for the order of exercises to follow a logical sequence.

Here is an example of my favorite complex and the best part is that it can be done with whatever implement you choose.

  • Deadlift – 5-10 reps
  • Bent-over Row – 5-10 reps
  • Front Squat – 5-10 reps
  • Military Press – 5-10 reps

Perform all reps of each exercise one after the other before putting the bar down. Repeat 3-5 times after 2-3 minutes of rest or a trip to the drinking fountain.

Total time necessary to perform five complexes would land you around 15 minutes not including a couple of minutes warming up. Not too bad.

Another option that will allow for you to utilize more than one piece of equipment while keeping your sessions short is circuit training. A word of caution about circuit training is that your equipment will have tendency to wander off if you fail to keep a watchful eye on it. I would suggest no more than a pair of dumbbells and a barbell for the necessary equipment in your circuit.

Strategy #2 – Use Newbie Kryptonite Exercises

Take advantage of the time that you have spent getting strong and learning more advanced exercises during the rest of the year. During this time of year gym machines get more usage and become increasingly difficult to get your hands on because they require very little skill to use and they are less intimidating than free weights.

The best exercises to put into your workout during this time of year are pull-ups/chins, dips, squats, and deadlifts. Newbies will avoid these exercises like the plague because they are not strong enough to perform them or they don’t possess the technique necessary to perform them.

DipsPull-ups – Even seasoned gym goers tend to avoid pull-ups in favor of lat-pulldowns or cable rows. That pull-up bar gets lonely so show it some love. I would bet a steak dinner that you will wait less time on a pull-up bar than a lat-pulldown….unless you work out in a CrossFit gym.

Dips – Dips are an amazing chest builder that you can swap with the bench press which is going to be getting constant stream of new members wanting to see where they measure up compared to back in the days of the high school weight room. Take some time away from the bench and put some work in on the dip bar. If you are strong enough strap some plates to your waist and watch all of the newbies hate on you for being stronger.

Squats and Deadlifts – These two exercises will separate the wolves from the sheep. That power rack or squat rack will be a home away from home if you have been using leg presses and hack squats primarily in your workouts. Take some time to build up your squat and deadlifts while all the machines are being used.

Strategy #3 – Adopt a More Flexible Workout Routine

Having a plan of attack is important when it comes to making gains in the gym. I cannot say this enough. While it is possible for someone who has just gone from doing nothing to working out to make gains no matter what, that will come to an end and you will need an intelligent plan of attack to make progress.

Now, with that said, a rigid plan of attack during the busiest time of the year for gyms is not going to end well. You must have a flexible plan that is based off of movements and not specific exercises. Planning your workouts this way will allow for you to make adjustments to your plan on the fly during the post New Year’s gym chaos.

Make your program more flexible by breaking your split in to movement focused training sessions with these categories of movements.

  • Horizontal Pushing – Barbell and Dumbbell Bench all angles, Push-ups, Weighted dips
    Vertical Pushing – Standing or seated military press barbell or dumbbell, Arnold Press, Cuban Press, Landmine Press, Handstand Push-ups
  • Horizontal Pulling – Bent over rows with a barbell or dumbbell one arm or two, cable rows,
    machine rows, chest supported dumbbell rows, face pulls
  • Vertical Pulling – Lat-pulldowns, chins, pull-ups
  • Squatting or what’s known as knee dominant – Lunges, Squat(back/front/goblet), Bulgarian Split Squats, Leg Press, pistols, Step ups
  • Hip Hinging – Deadlift, trap-bar deadlift, Single leg deadlift, kettlebell swing, Double and single Hip bridges, Barbell Hip thrust, Glute-Ham Raises
  • Assessory – Arms, Abs, calves, forearms, Shoulder raises, Pullovers, and whatever else you
    can’t live without.

So, a sample split that you could constantly work through would look something like this and you would just plug in exercises available in the gym.

Push Day

  • Horizontal Push – 4×8-10
  • Vertical Push – 4 x 8-10
  • Accessory – 3 x 10-15
  • Accessory – 3 x 10-15
  • Accessory – 3 x 10-15

Leg Day

  • Squat/knee dominant – 4×8-10
  • Hip Hinge – 4 x 8-10
  • Squat/knee dominant – 3 x 10-15
  • Hip Hinge – 3 x 10-15
  • Accessory – 3 x 10-15
  • Accessory – 3 x 10-15

Pull Day

  • Horizontal Pull – 4×8-10
  • Vertical Pull – 4 x 8-10
  • Accessory – 3 x 10-15
  • Accessory – 3 x 10-15
  • Accessory – 3 x 10-15

Before You Go

Don’t let a crowded gym keep you from making progress towards your goals. Keep your workouts brief (but intense), flexible and choose exercises that will work the muscles you want without having to wait for an eternity on a piece of equipment.

New Year’s is coming so brace yourself but, remember everyone has to start somewhere, usually the machines, and instead of getting annoyed or frustrated with the new comers help one out. You never know how a little kindness can help someone on their journey to be the best version of themselves.

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Name: Luke Atchley

Bio: I have made it my life’s mission to get strong and to make others around me stronger. There are no secrets to strength, no pills, no short cuts, no easy way out. The path to strength is simple, not complicated as others out there would have you believe.I am here to make the path known, to make you strong, but just because the path is simple does not mean that it will be easy. The truly strong are strong of mind, body, character, and spirit. I call these the Virtues of Strength.