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The Best Workouts for a Crowded Gym

For those who already love fitness, January's a nightmare: The New Year's resolution crowd overruns your gym, tying up equipment and making 30-minute workout routines stretch long beyond an hour. They'll be gone by February… if you can just hang on.

One solution: Try a free session with a trainer. "They're going to be able to navigate through a crowd better than you could by yourself… and it opens up new areas of the gym to you," says Jared Meachem, Fitness Services Director at Sky Fitness & Wellbeing gyms. You may also get a chance to try some new exercises, or have a new program developed for you in just a few sessions. "You can direct the trainer to develop you a program that isn't equipment-sensitive, so you can get it done at any time of day without waiting in line."

If your gym doesn't offer free sessions—or you'd just rather go it alone—try these strategies to create a January workout routine that avoids the lines to get you fit, fast… and without frustration.

Do Cardio Without a Machine
Lines for treadmills, ellipticals, and stationary bikes are the worst of all—and they can take 30 minutes or more to clear. Make a resolution to go machine-free and get a more effective cardio workout without a shred of equipment.

"The easiest thing is to create a circuit of two to four exercises," says Mike Wunsch, performance director at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, CA. Wunsch puts his clients through high-intensity finishers all year for cardio and conditioning. He recommends performing an exercise for 20 seconds, aiming for 1 rep per second. Rest for 20 seconds, and then move to the next exercise.

"Try squats, jumping jacks, pushups, and squat thrusts," he says. (Complete instructions for all exercises in this article are listed on the last page.) Start with three or four rounds of all the exercises, working your way up to five to 10 total rounds.

Have a Backup Plan
If you're dead-set on weights or have a strength training plan you've been following, bring a backup plan—or two—for each exercise in your workout to avoid getting slowed down by a line, says Craig Ballantyne, C.S.C.S., owner of TurbulenceTraining.com.

"If your goal is to gain muscle and lose fat, then you really don't have to worry about the exact exercise," just the movement pattern, he says. If you planned to do a bench press, be ready to swap in dumbbell presses. No spare Swiss balls for hip extensions? Try the exercise with a single leg on a bench.

There's a bonus, Ballantyne says: "Flipping your workout with new exercises can lead to new changes in your body."

Adjust Your Reps to Use Only One Weight
The best way to avoid gym lines is not to move around: Instead of fighting for different dumbbells, design a workout where you use the same weight for all the moves, says Nick Tumminello, a strength and conditioning coach in Florida and the author of DVDs including Strength Training for Fat Loss & Conditioning.

"Put together a complex. It allows you to build an entire workout circuit based on one piece of equipment," he says. "Narrow your body down into a pushing movement, a pulling movement, a lower-body exercise, and a core move. Pick an exercise that hits each with one pair of dumbbells."

For example, Tumminello suggests shoulder presses (pushing), bent-over dumbbell rows (pulling), squats (legs), and dumbbell chops (core). Choose one weight for all four moves.

"If you have a pair of 25-lb dumbbells, squats will be easier than shoulder presses—do higher reps on your stronger moves, like squats, and fewer on weaker moves," he says. For every exercise, do no fewer than six to eight reps per set, and no more than 20 to 25.

"Don't break between exercises," he says. Instead, finish all four moves, then rest 90 seconds to 3 minutes. Repeat the entire sequence as many times as possible for 12 minutes, or perform 4 or 5 rounds.

When designing a circuit for yourself, choose complex exercises that use multiple muscle groups with each rep, says Jeremy Frisch, owner and director of Achieve Performance Training in Clinton, Mass. Perform a step up with a shoulder press at the top, or add a press or curl to a dumbbell lunge, for example. Frisch's favorite complex: Ten reps each of dumbbell squats, dumbbell push presses, bent-over rows, dumbbell lunges, and pushups or elevated pushups.

Grab a Kettlebell
Here's where a free training session can come in handy: Have a coach teach you a few kettlebell basics, and you can train strength and cardio together with a single, ball-shaped weight. If you're already familiar with and confident with your kettlebell form, Wunsch says you can perform intervals of kettlebell swings as a complete workout.

"If you do 30 seconds of swings, then 30 seconds of rest, and repeat for 10 minutes, that'd be an awesome finisher," he says.

If you're interested in building a full workout to go with it, he suggests this handful: kettlebell swings, goblet squats, overhead press, and the squat thrust.

Pick 2 Moves and Get Moving
If space and equipment are limited, don't be afraid to keep it simple, Ballantyne says. You can get a great workout by doing more sets of a few basic exercises instead of doing lots of different moves.

"I'd have no problem going back and forth between dumbbell chest presses and dumbbell rows for 6 sets each, then finishing with some pushups and chinups before calling it a day," he says.

Switch between two opposing exercises and do lots of sets for a quick, efficient workout. Other pairs that can make a complete workout: Dumbbell squats with shoulder presses, dumbbell rows with pushups, dumbbell lunges with chest presses.

Exercise Instructions Part 1
Pushup: Assume the classic pushup position: legs straight, hands beneath your shoulders. Keeping your body rigid, lower yourself until your chest touches the floor. Push back up until your arms are extended. If this is too hard, try an elevated pushup, with your hands elevated on a step or bench. Click here to watch a how-to video.

Squat Thrust: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides. Push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body as deep as you can into a squat. Now kick your legs backward so that you're in a pushup position, then quickly bring your legs back to a squat. Stand up quickly and repeat the entire move. Click here to watch a how-to video.

Chair Dip: Place your hands behind you on the edge of a bench or chair and your feet on the floor a few feet in front of you. Lower your body until your upper arms are nearly parallel to the floor. Pause, then press back to the starting position. Click here to watch a how-to video.

Single-Leg Hip Extension: Lie on your back with your left heel on a bench and your right leg straight up in the air. Raise your hips off the floor by pressing your left heel into the bench; your body should form a straight line from shoulders to knees. Lower your body, and repeat. Click here to see a how-to video.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press: Hold a pair of dumbbells just outside your shoulders, with your arms bent and palms facing each other. Set your feet shoulder-width apart, and slightly bend your knees. Press the weights upward until your arms are completely straight. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position. Click here to see a how-to video.

Dumbbell Bent-Over Row: Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees, pushing your hips back until your back is parallel to the floor, arms hanging in line with your shoulders, palms in. Bend your elbows, pulling the dumbbells up to the sides of your torso. Return your arms to hanging, and repeat. Click here to see a how-to video.

Dumbbell Squat: Hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides, palms in. Push your hips back and lower your body by bending your knees. Push back to the starting position. Click here to see a how-to video.

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Exercise Instructions Part 2
Dumbbell Chop: Hold a weighted ball or dumbbell with both hands in front of your chest, arms extended, and stand with your feet wide. Bend both knees and pivot your feet to the left, lowering the ball (or dumbbell) toward your left shin. Immediately straighten your legs, raise the weight overhead, and pivot to the right. Repeat for all reps, then switch sides (rotate in opposite direction).

Kettlebell Swing: Stand with your feet more than shoulder-width apart. Hold a singel kettlebell both hands, your arms hanging down in front of you. Push your hips back and lower the weight between your legs until it's under your butt. Drive back up to a standing position and swing the weight up to chest height, keeping your arms straight. Go right into your next rep and continue at a swift pace. Click here to see a how-to video.

Kettlebell Goblet Squat: Cup a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your chest, with your elbows close together. Push your hips back and bend your knees to squat, keeping the weight of your body on your heels. Press back through your heels to the starting position, and repeat.

Kettlebell Overhead Press: Hold a kettlebell just outside your shoulder, your arm bent, palm facing in. Set your feet at shoulder width and bend your knees slightly. Press the kettlebell up  until your arm is straight.

Stepup with Press: Stand facing a step or bench, holding dumbbells at your shoulders. Place one foot on the step and push down through your heel to lift your other leg up to the step. At the top of the move, press the dumbbells straight overhead. Return your arms to your shoulders and step down to the starting position. Finish the reps with one leg before switching legs and repeating the exercise.

Lunge with Press: Holding dumbbells at your shoulders in a standing position, take a large step forward with one leg. When your front thigh is parallel to the floor and your back knee is off the floor, press the weights overhead. Return the weights to your shoulders and step back to the start position. Repeat with your other leg.

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