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Gym crowded with New Year newbies vowing to get fit? Stay calm and focused with our 9 tried-and-tested ways to make a busy gym work for you.

Always Have a Plan B

It’s good to have a training plan, but make sure it’s flexible enough to cope with busy periods (like January!) If you’re headed for the weight room and want to squat, have replacement exercises in case the squat rack is taken. If you want to do cardio but your favourite machine is occupied, what is your plan B? Some form of workout is better than nothing. So decide on your goal for the session (strength, cardio fitness, stretching) and achieve it even if your preferred bit of kit is unavailable.

Hire a Locker

Does your gym let members hire a locker? This is a great way to ensure you’ll always have a spot in the changing room. And it’ll save you a lot of time before and after classes, swims or gym sessions. Ask reception staff about hiring a locker (and see if you’re allowed to keep handy items in it overnight, like shower gel and moisturiser).

Get Organised in the Weight Room

When the weight room is busy with regulars and newbies, help yourself by getting organised. Rather than wandering back and forth between machines on opposite sides of the gym, or taking up different bits of floor space with your bars and dumbbells, arrange your workout. Move from machine-to-machine, or superset machines that are near each other. Set up an area of floor space for your dumbbell work. Claim your slice of space and get focused.

Up the Intensity

If the gym is so busy that you can’t get your usual long training session in, slash your workout time by increasing the intensity. HIIT (high intensity interval training), sprints or intervals are a great way to reduce the amount of time you need to spend on cardio machines. The bonus is that you’ll burn just as many calories, you’ll kick-start EPOC (the afterburn effect) and you’ll get just as fit as through longer, slower cardio. In the weight room, try techniques like supersets or drop sets to add intensity and cut your total workout time.

Book Classes Early

Love workout classes? Make sure you get a spot in your favourite class by booking on early. Consider booking on as you leave the previous week’s class. Or use your gym’s online system.

Think Outside the Box

Don’t be so stuck to your routine that you miss the opportunity to get a good workout in. If you usually go on the treadmill or elliptical, take a look around the cardio area. There’s probably a rowing machine or stair climber free. Do what other people aren’t doing (even if it’s the hardest choices) and get your workout in.

Try a New Time of Day

If your daily schedule allows you a bit of flexibility, use it. It’s obvious that the 5-8pm slot will be extra busy in the gym after New Year. So go at lunchtime, or try becoming one of the early morning crowd. If you work shifts, you’re self-employed, or work from home, go at quiet times like 11am or 3pm.

Add A New Twist

In the weight room, you’ll have access to barbells and plates, dumbbells, kettlebells, machines and maybe a rig or suspension training kit. If you can’t get to your preferred bit of kit, think of a variation which hits the same body part. If the deadlift area is full, do dumbbell sumo squats or SLDL, rope pull-throughs, hip thrusts or machine hamstring curls.

The Lost Art of “Working In”

Experienced gym goers know that it’s totally acceptable to “work in” with someone else. The trick is knowing how to do it. Master the art of working in as part of your gym etiquette. Identify someone who is on the same machine, or doing the same movement with a barbell, that you want to do. Wait until they are between sets. Politely ask if you can work in between their sets, and ask how many sets they have left. Offer to spot them if necessary. Voila: two people can do the same workout, using each other’s rest periods!

We haven’t included this as one of our tips, but it’s a sure-fire way to help you cope when your gym is suddenly busy – at any time of year. Switch up your mind-set. Remember your own goals, and don’t get distracted by what others are doing. Be grateful that you can get to the gym at all, and look for the sense of happiness and achievement you get form every workout. And remember that you were new to fitness once, too. Be kind to newbies, focus on your own goals, and treat each gym visit as part of the bigger picture: your health and fitness lifestyle.

At the time of publishing, entering the code PTB49 at checkout will reduce the price of our
Personal Fitness Trainer Course to £49.

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