Imagine the scene: you’re all pumped for your new workout routine, and you’ve got it all figured out. You’re going to wake up early, pop into the gym before work, kill your workout, take a nice leisurely shower, and head to the office feeling accomplished and productive for the day ahead.
Now imagine how it really works: your alarm goes off at an unthinkable hour, you rouse yourself after a few snoozes with just enough time to squeeze in maybe a half hour workout, you speed to the gym in record time…and immediately realize that everyone else has the same idea you do.
When you arrive at the gym, it’s so crowded you can’t get on a single machine, all the treadmills have a waiting list, and the shower room is so packed you’d be waiting until next Tuesday to try and sneak in even a quick one. You shrug your shoulders and think, hell, I tried.
So many of my clients are too quick to admit defeat when it comes to facing a rush-hour status gym, but friends: there IS a solution. The strategy is to carve yourself out a small corner of space, dominate a couple pairs of dumbbells, and focus on using the equipment in the gym that is chronically underutilized but effective.
First off, forget the ellipticals even exist (I wrote a full post on this and other “gym sins” a while back) and get yourself onto a machine that matters for your warmup. If you have access to a rowing machine, fantastic – it’s a quick, effective full body burn that will help you break a sweat within the first five minutes (click here for a sample rowing warmup). Nearly as good is the stepmill (NOT the stairmaster, guys – the one that actually looks like a set of stairs), and if all else fails, pop on an empty treadmill and kick that mother up to a 10% incline (try walking at least a 3.5mph/6.0kph pace).
No machines? No problem. One of the best warmups (and HIIT-style cardio intervals) you can do is jump rope, and there are so many different ways to do it you’ll never get bored.
Now that you’re nice and warm, grab two sets of dumbbells (one heavy for rows, one lighter for curls and presses) from a nearby rack – or in lieu of DBs, get a kettlebell (more on this below). With only these pieces of equipment you have nearly limitless combinations of exercises you can perform, and without the “crutch” of a weight machine or rack you can work balance, stability, and core engagement in addition to the basic muscular development work. Five key compound movements I recommend in every full-body dumbbell workout (start with three sets of 10 reps each) include:
Don’t worry, kettlebell users – I have a circuit for you, too. Consider alternating the following five exercises for time (I usually start clients at 30 seconds per movement), making sure to work with a weight that is challenging but allows you to maintain form:
Now let’s imagine the worst-case scenario – your gym is SO crowded you can’t get anything but a space on the mat. No worries – your body is the best piece of equipment that money can’t buy, and it’s available to you 24 hours a day, anywhere in the world. The key to using body weight for exercise is to make your movements powerful, explosive, and intense – and complete a full range of motion with each one. Some ideas for the best time-saving body weight exercises are:
- burpees (don’t hate me, but I’m talking about the REAL version with push-ups, not just the weak little thing where you jump up and down from the floor)
- plank knees-to-elbows
- jumping lunges
- V-ups (and twisting V-ups)
Finally, remember that a crowded gym is not the only place you can get a good workout – consider buying a bit of your own equipment and taking your workout to a nearby park, joining an outdoor bootcamp or working with a personal trainer outside, or even building a decent home gym.
Options for fitness are limitless – you just have to find what works for you (and sorry – I still haven’t figured out a reasonable trainer tip for battling those locker room showers…).
Where do you work out – and what types of moves are in your go-to routine?