How To Slice Through Gym Traffic


Let me set the scene. You leave the office after another stressful day, endure the congested commute, and stride into the gym only to fight another traffic backup. Only this time, it’s a gym packed with people eagerly monopolizing equipment, talking and texting and staring at the numerous TV screens strewn around.



The gym at 5 o’clock is a sight to behold; sea of treadmills, ellipticals, and stationary bikes running at full throttle, crowds rushing in and out of group training classes, and the army of meatheads claiming every free weight and machine in sight. It’s enough to make even the most stoic gym-goer lose their mind.


You walk in with the simple notion that you just want to get in a quick workout. You want the next hour or so to be a time when you can unwind, let off some steam, and maybe progress a little toward your physique goals. But now you’re faced with a mob of people who are all trying to do the same thing, interspersed with a few who want to just hang out, or hit on girls, or even post selfies to let the world know that they are actually at the gym.


So you scan the floor for a place to train; maybe a machine here and a pair of dumbbells there, but nothing like you had planned. You throw your program away in your head, and try to salvage something resembling a workout.


If this sounds like your average evening, do not fret. There are plenty of ways to circumvent this problem and still leave the gym knowing you got in a good workout without resorting to a Zumba class. Below are a few suggestions when traffic is at an all-time high and your options are limited.


Be Patient

First and foremost, you must practice patience. Your first impression when walking into a crowded gym shouldn’t be one of anger and disgust. Also, don’t blame the newbies; they are paying their dues just like you. Stop for a moment, survey the land, and then make an educated decision on where to go.


Be flexible, as well. Another trap you can easily fall into is the belief that you need a specific piece of equipment or you won’t have a good workout. Learn to adapt to new circumstances and find ways to train around challenges.


Go Against the Grain

Let’s say it’s a Monday, and you stroll in with plans to hit the bench press. But that’s a no-go—there’s a Disneyland-sized line formed around every bench. Or it’s a Tuesday or Wednesday and everyone’s occupied every dumbbell for arm day. It can be frustrating to train on these “designated” days of the week.


Don’t be a buffalo and follow the herd. Why not hit legs on Monday, or do a series of bodyweight-only exercises in a circuit fashion? Do anything that everyone else isn’t. Most of the time, the leg equipment and stations are empty on a Monday, so go for those. Plus, you’ll get legs out of the way earlier in the week.


Chop Your Breaks

Are you the type who performs a set, rests, then performs another set? How long do you rest, the recommended minute or two? That’s a lot of wasted time sitting around, especially if the gym is packed with hungry wolves circling your station.


You’re already in a compromised situation with limited resources. At this point, you’ll have to reevaluate your goals. If you’re vying to be a powerlifter or bodybuilder, you may have to reconsider your workout time of day. On the other hand, if you’re in it to get in shape and improve your fitness, then working faster would be a no-brainer. Take shorter rests between sets. Cut them in half if you have to—just stop wasting precious time. There’s a good chance you’ll get plenty of breaks looking for your next open station anyway.


Buddy Up

Supersetting in a crowded gym is almost an impossible task. You perform a set of bench presses and then move to the pull up rack, and then turn around and someone is changing the plates on your bench. You can’t be at two places at once, so you think you’re stuck going with straight sets.


This is where a training partner can be invaluable. It’s also a simple way to superset an entire workout without the risk of losing equipment every time you turn your back. Simply have your training partner at another station while you perform your sets at the first station, then switch. Keep going back and forth between exercises.


Superset Where You Are

Supersetting doesn’t have to require two separate pieces of equipment. There’s no rule dictating that you must pair bench presses with pull ups or machine rows. There are many ways to pair exercises without monopolizing too much in a crowded gym.


Try dumbbell presses paired with dumbbell rows, bent-over dumbbell lateral raises combined with dumbbell side lateral raises and dumbbell presses, or reverse dumbbell lunges paired with leg curls. There are many other combinations, but the trick is to get creative and try new things.


You can also throw in a set of ab work with just about anything. It’s common practice for many lifters to treat ab as an afterthought, doing a little work near the end of a session. By performing a set of ab work while you’re resting between workout sets, you’ll sneak in a good number of sets without extending your workout time. Just make sure you can come up with a few key ab moves close to your training area such as floor crunches, lying leg lifts, bicycle crunches, and planks.


Bring Your Stuff With You

It’s a pain in the butt when you go to the fountain or your gym bag for a brief minute and then return to a stolen station. No one’s fault, really. How is anyone to know your intentions? The gym at rush hour feels like a free-for-all at times, and it’s every man for himself.


Keep any personal items close by. Whether it’s a water bottle, earbuds, or a weight belt, just have it close by so you’ll have easy and ready access to it.


Don’t Let a Crowd Derail Your Progress

Whatever your challenge, there are always ways to get around them with a little know-how and creativity. At the end of the day, if you are passionate enough about getting after your goals, you’ll find a way to make your workouts work. You may not be in an optimal atmosphere all the time, but at least you’ll know how to better navigate through the traffic.