Fitness Articles

Beat the Crowds at the Gym

9 Ways to Wait Less and Work Out More

23SHARES
If you have a gym membership, you know how frustrating it can be when the gym is too crowded for comfort. Isn't it tough enough to muster the motivation to head out the door to exercise? Then you arrive, dressed and ready for a workout, only to find a fitness center so crowded that the waiting time for an elliptical is longer than the line for a morning latte. When you join a fitness club, you quickly learn that timing is everything.

Like many businesses, gym traffic ebbs and flows with the seasons. Certain times of the year—like first 4-8 weeks of every year—are busier than others are. The slower times of the year always seem to be the warmer months, because folks spend more time exercising outdoors.

After 20 years of working for the YMCA and other fitness facilities, I learned that gym usage follows a predictable daily pattern. The busiest times of the day, and therefore the worst times to hit the gym, are mid-mornings (between 8 and 11 a.m.) and early evenings (4 to 7 p.m.). Almost any time of day is less busy than these prime times.

If you get there to work out before 8 a.m., some morning people will be there, but you should be able to use the equipment of your choice. While lunchtime seems like it would be a busy time, most working professionals don't leave the office to work out during the day. Therefore, if you can get away from a midday workout, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. is a great time to do so. Prefer an afternoon workout? At many fitness centers, you can see tumbleweeds roll past the treadmills between 1 and 3 p.m. And while evenings are busy, the gym quiets down considerably after 7 p.m.

The real question is how can you make sure that you spend your time at the gym efficiently—by working out instead of waiting in line? Here are 9 tips that will help you beat the crowds and maximize your gym time.

Be flexible with your routine. It's easy to get upset when something interferes with your routine. Let's say that you like to use the elliptical trainer for 30 minutes and then strength train. If you arrive to find all the ellipticals in use, don’t just stand around with your arms crossed and wait. Perform your strength exercises first and come back to the elliptical.

Mix up your strength exercises. One common misconception about strength training could cause you to spend more time waiting than exercising: the belief that machine weights are for beginners and free weights are for the "serious" exercisers. While most experts do recommend that beginners use machines, there's no rule that beginners have to use them instead of free weights. To make the most of your gym time, learn some different exercises that don't involve machines. For example, if you are used to using the chest press machine, learn how to do a chest press with dumbbells or a barbell. If you are used to using a bicep curl machine learn how to perform dumbbell curls. (See detailed demos of these exercises and more.) When you arm yourself with these different options, you'll have plenty of alternatives when “your machine” is not available.

“Work in” between sets. If every gym member practiced this exercise etiquette tip, we would all save time and frustration! If you are performing two or three sets on a machine, you need to rest 30-60 seconds in between sets. If someone is waiting on you, offer to let them "work in" with you, which means they exercise while you rest and vice versa. Sometimes people will just sit on the machine while they rest, not getting up or offering to let someone else work in. If that's the case, simply ask, "Can I work in with you?" Usually, he or she will say yes.

Go for the unconventional. The most popular pieces of cardio equipment are treadmills and elliptical trainers. If those are occupied, get on the stationary bike, stair climber, or—my personal favorite—the rowing machine. Many gyms have large, open areas with aerobics steps, jump ropes and other small pieces of equipment that you can use. Don't be afraid to try something new or ask for help using a piece of equipment that might be new to you.

Use the group fitness room. If your gym has a group fitness room that isn't in use, find out if you can use it yourself. Many fitness centers will leave these rooms unlocked, often with access to small weights, resistance bands, jump ropes, and even Spinning bikes. If it's open and there's no class going on, take advantage of this room when the gym is crowded. If your fitness center locks the group fitness room when it's not in use, talk to the staff to work out an alternative.

Take it outside. Treadmills full? Take a walk or run outside. Consider hitting the open sidewalks, city streets, and roads instead of waiting on the treadmill. Warm up on the gym stairs or by taking a few laps around the building instead of waiting on a bike, for example. What parts of your workout can you complete at home or outside before heading to the fitness area? It beats waiting around!

Consider a 24-hour option. Even though I can't imagine working out at 1:00 a.m., some gyms are open 24 hours. For someone who works nights or another non-traditional schedule, that may be the best time to work out. Longer hours allow people to exercise whenever they want. If your gym doesn't open early enough or stay open late enough, talk to the manager. If enough members make the same request, it just might happen!

Avoid prime time. Stay away during the late morning and early evening hours if possible. Obviously, this is the most convenient workout time for most people. Take a closer look at your schedule and see if you can find a better time. Could you take a longer or even a later lunch and use it as your workout time? Can you go to work later to work out beforehand? Can you come in to work earlier so you can leave early to hit the gym? Even though it might not be as convenient as some of the prime times, it might be more realistic way to work out in the end.

Talk to the staff. Too many times, I've encountered people who had cancelled their memberships because they could not make it to their favorite class or find an open treadmill. Instead of giving up, let the staff know of your problem. Fitness centers want to keep your business—and that means keeping you happy! Let’s say you love the 6 p.m. Spinning class, but it's always full by the time you get there. Talk to the staff about the problem you are having. Could they offer another class in a separate area at the same time? Could they add more bikes or additional classes on the schedule? Work together to find a solution so you can take advantage of the classes and services you're paying for each month.

The bottom line is that you pay a monthly premium for a gym membership, so it's important that you get the most for your money. If you aren't able to use equipment and classes the way you had hoped, talk to the staff to find solutions. Every new year brings dozens of new members to a fitness center. You can use the tips above as much as possible to make your workout experience better, but gyms usually stay crowded for several weeks. Be patient--it will pass!

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Member Comments

  • My fitness center is at work and most people work out at lunch time. It is really crowded then compared to other times.
  • Great article. Thanks
  • I don't agree with the times. for us the morning 5am - 6:30am are the busy and then 5pm - 7pm are the busy time.
  • NATEANGLIN
    The easiest way to avoid the franchise gym rush is to just not go to the gym at all. This is exactly what I do. But I make sure I workout with intensity at home. Forget the stress of the gym, your garage can be your best kept secret. I recently wrote an article on this topic.

    http://www.nate
    anglin.com/wa
    rning-cancel-
    your-gym-membership/
  • Oh and the worst time to go to my gym is lunch hour pretty much any day of the week. I did that exactly once. Yuck!
  • When I joined my gym, I was given a piece of paper that estimates how many people on average are at the gym each hour they are opened. While I have never seen my gym entirely full, I am very much aware of the peak times and try to avoid them best I can. Tuesdays are the worst nights ever for the gym! My fav gym day is Sunday, which is remarkable bc I normally hate going anywhere on Sundays! :D
  • NJ_HOU
    Great Advice. I agree with your times pretty much although for my gym 5:30 - 7 is really very busy. And I know I would have cancelled my membership last December if I had not known that the a 'remote' Univ swimmers group was not going to be there every morning for the next month. Their 'coach' was rude and told me they had the lanes I like reserved for the month but after speaking with the staff I found it was only for the remainder of the next week in January and they had no right to ask me to move for my last 15 minutes at 7:45am since their 'time' started at 8am..... The staff people are a GREAT resource.
    so i just got there a bit earlier and 'shared' a lane for a little while and was out before 8.
  • I go to the gym at 9 pm when I want free reign - it's amazing! Usually there's only 2 -3 people in each area (free weights, cardio, circuits, machines, abs) so you rarely have to work around anything. I like going right after work at 5 and getting it over with, but it's so busy I usually have to modify my routine.

    However, this article and the comments just gave me the idea of doing cardio for 10 minutes at a time. I HATE cardio, I get so bored, even intervals don't do it for me. So if I did abs, 10 minutes on the elliptical, shoulders, 10 minutes on the stairs, and then legs, 10 minutes on the treadmill, I bet I wouldn't be as annoyed!
  • Ah, if your gym is on a military installation, these times do not apply! The "quiet" time is 8 am - 11 am, BUSY from 11:30 - 1 am, the quiet again until 3:45. PACKED until around 6 pm. Weekends the best time is 10 AM.
  • I used to get to my gym by 6 a.m. in the morning. I get my choice of machines, locker, and shower. By the time I leave - close to 8 - a lot of people would start coming in.
  • So glad to have new articles to read. Thanks.
  • I've found (granted i've only belonged for the past 3 weeks, guess I'm a January gym goer until I make it to Feb huh) that the only busy time that I've been to my local Y was on Sunday. Funny I had been told by a coworker that they love going at that time because NO ONE is there. I usually go around 2 or 3 in the afternoon (late lunch) a couple of days a week and then on Friday evenings so the kids can have fun with family fun night, wasn't crowded AT ALL last Friday...I was shocked! I've also gone on a Saturday afternoon around 1pm and it's been pretty bare. I guess I've gotten lucky, I figured the 11 to 1 timeframe during the day would be packed as well as 5 to 7pm in the evenings.
  • DSTOPGAL
    I am guilty of not being flexible with my routine. I used this excuse to quit my gym membership because I was frustrated at gym policies changing to accomodate peak times of business (i.e. I was up to 45 minutes on the elliptical, but limited to 10 minutes during those busy hours). Looking back, I should've done what the article says and mixed up my exercises. So I could've used the machine in 10 minute increments and then worked on other exercises in-between. Although, sometimes I felt like groups of us were racing to get to the machine that opened up--and some weren't so nice about it!
  • TREAT76
    Interesting that you've found 8-11 am to be a busy time. I've worked out at many gyms and at many different times, and I've found 6:30-8:30 am to be the busy time in the morning - I used to regularly workout at 10 because of an odd work schedule, and it was always dead. In the evening, the busy period at gyms I've worked out at extends to about 8:30. The gyms I've worked out at are primarily white collar workers, so I would wager that accounts for a good bit of the difference.
  • good advice but the reason it's so busy during those times is that they are the best to work out. If I don't go on the way home from work - I wont go so I have to go then. If I don't go first thing in the morning, I wont go. I dont know anyone who can go home from work and then go to the gym 3 hours later in the snow.

    January gym goers are so frustrating for those of us who do it all year round. All of a sudden our workout routines are messed up, you can't find parking, all the classes are full and by mid february all of these people are gone and it's back to normal.

About The Author

Jason Anderson Jason Anderson
Jason loves to see people realize the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle. He is a certified personal trainer and enjoys running races--from 5Ks to 50K ultramarathons. See all of Jason's articles.