Fitness Articles

Beat the Crowds at the Gym

9 Ways to Wait Less and Work Out More

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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.
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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.

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. - 12/16/2013 11:19:16 AM
  • Great article. Thanks - 9/13/2013 9:13:59 PM
  • 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. - 5/7/2013 9:37:05 PM
    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.

    your-gym-membership/ - 12/8/2012 8:36:21 PM
  • 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! - 11/1/2012 11:50:03 AM
  • 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 - 11/1/2012 11:48:09 AM
  • 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. - 4/24/2010 11:28:01 AM
  • 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! - 3/12/2009 11:02:43 AM
  • 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. - 2/21/2009 11:05:36 PM
  • 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. - 2/21/2009 9:20:45 PM
  • So glad to have new articles to read. Thanks. - 1/30/2009 3:15:14 AM
  • 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. - 1/20/2009 3:55:57 PM
    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! - 1/20/2009 3:21:29 PM
  • 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. - 1/20/2009 12:31:31 PM
  • 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. - 1/20/2009 10:01:53 AM

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