Top trainers and gym managers share the best ways to navigate a crowded gym and still get a great workout.

By By K. Aleisha Fetters for Fitness Magazine
December 31, 2017
Photo: Giphy

Come January, the gym is the place to be. But you don't need to throw elbows (and say sayonara to your sanity) to get a great workout. Top trainers and gym managers share the insider tips to turn your jam-packed gym into no big sweat.

Have a Workout Plan-and a Backup

Before you even head to the gym, decide what the goals of your workout will be and what exercises you'll use to reach them. That way, you won't have to wander around the gym trying to figure out what to do next, says Xio Colon, fitness manager at Crunch in New York. Then, work on your plan B, just in case you can't get in your plan A workout, she says. After all, once you get to the gym, you might realize that it'll be easier to work on your cardio, or maybe even swim laps in the pool, than try to fit in a strength workout. With a plan A and a plan B in mind, you'll be prepared for whatever you find when you walk in the gym doors.

Snag a Spot Near the Front of the Locker Room

"People often like the back of the locker room where they can have more privacy, but if you are trying to quickly get in and out, grab a locker near the entrance," says Life Time trainer Reed Mosimann, CPT. "Take advantage of the private space by laying your items out on the bench and changing quickly without worrying about keeping your towel wrapped tight."

Claim Your Corner of the World

If you're performing bodyweight, kettlebell, or dumbbell strength-training moves, stake out a small spot in the gym and do as much of your workout there as possible, Colon recommends. That way, you'll limit how much you have to work around others. Just remember not to hog multiple weights at once or set up shop in front of in-demand equipment, she says.

Cardio Hour? Think Beyond the Treadmill

When the gym is busy, the treadmills are the first machines to fill up. Meanwhile, cardio bunnies often overlook rowers and stair climbers. Take advantage of them, Colon says. You might be surprised how well they can burn calories while sculpting a strong back and killer legs.


"High-intensity interval training always works when machines and equipment are busy," Colon says. Besides requiring minimal equipment (you really just need one machine, one set of weights, or just your body to get your HIIT on), they burn the most calories in the least amount of time. If you want to get in and out of the craziness of the gym as quickly as possible, that's key.

Take a Workout Class

If you really don't want to deal with the crowds on the gym floor, sign up for that group-cycling class you've been wanting to try, recommends Julie Valenti, director of regional group fitness at Equinox. Classes cap at the same number of students no matter the season, and they come ready with all the equipment you'll need. Bonus: If you sign up ahead of time, you'll have something keeping you accountable to your workout.

Don't Be Afraid to Try New Equipment

Remember, if the squat rack is swamped, it doesn't necessarily mean you can't still get your squat on. Consider dumbbell goblet squats, single-leg bodyweight squats, or dumbbell sumo squats, Valenti says. If the dumbbells are picked over, try performing rows with the TRX straps. The options are endless.

Watch the Clock

While peak hours vary a bit depending on gym location, many are busy right before and after work hours, as well as around noon, Colon says. So, during the workweek, try taking an early or a late lunch break. From 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. are generally slower, she says. And according to recently released ClassPass data, most gym-class-goers like to hit the fitness studio at 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and at 10 a.m. on weekends.

Go Ahead, Hire a Trainer

If you've been thinking about hiring a trainer, now is the time to do it. Even if things are seriously crowded, a trainer is going to be able to make sure you get the best workout with whatever equipment is available, Colon says. Even if that means you can't perform the same exact workouts every week, each session will work with the last one to build a cohesive and effective routine. Plus, in January, a lot of gyms offer personal training sessions at a discount, making it a perfect time of year to hire a trainer, she says.

Ask to Work In

No, it's not rude or pushy to ask a fellow gym-goer if you can use his or her weights between sets, Colon says. If your gym-mates are nice enough to say yes (they probably will be), be sure to wipe off any equipment and reset pins/weight plates after you finish every set.