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
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.
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? These nine tips 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
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
"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
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 smaller 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
Consider a 24-hour option. Even though I can't imagine working out at 1 a.m., some gyms are open 24 hours. For someone who works nights or any other 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
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
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!