Navigating a Crowded Gym

As a precursor, this is not a way of me chastising anyone that may fit any of the criteria below. This is the easiest way for me to articulate strategies that could be used to improve the training experience for everyone. The last few weeks there has been quite a bit of traffic at the gym in the afternoons. While I program for every athlete and make it a very specialized service, the gym is not exclusively for you. I spend hours every day trying to put together programs that would account for the traffic and scheduling athletes and classes accordingly, certain days are busier than others. I understand that it can be perceived as an inconvenience.

I appreciate every athlete that trains here as their membership allows me to run the business and aspire to grow into a larger space. There are quieter periods during the year and down times during the day when I’m glad that I haven’t taken on the expenses of a facility two or three times as big (rent is correlated with square footage). While I would love to have 10,000 square feet for you, the gym will cease to exist without the correct business decisions. There is a reason why I drive a dented Civic and have never gone on a vacation. But I am confident that I’m at the stage of growth where the business could sustain the cost of a larger facility if the correct opportunity presented itself.

In the meantime, equipment-wise I’ve assembled what I think is the best use of the space that I have. Enough open floor space to accommodate 30+ athletes and enough equipment that we should be able to make it work. The following are a few ideas and approaches to having a successful workout when the gym is crowded.

1.) Be acutely aware of your surroundings

Observe what other members are doing and whether there is room for you to perform the exercise that you need to. If someone is Back Squatting, instead of using their barbell to play limbo, wait an extra 15 seconds to allow them to finish their set.

2.) Be helpful and welcoming to other athletes

While we have a lot of members who are friendly with one another; I also want to be a space where someone who doesn’t play a sport or who hasn’t worked out before can come to learn how to train safely and effectively. Recognize whether your behavior and body language is going to deter someone from coming to the gym or encourage them to do so. The benefits of exercise are substantial; I would hate to be responsible for someone having a bad experience and deciding that lifting weights wasn’t for them because of this. Please help me create an environment where that won’t be the case.

3.) Focus on executing your exercises with intent

This may mean that you have to rest slightly longer to allow for adequate room for you to perform your movement. A sled push needs to be moved fast and in a straight line. If you are swerving around people to check it off your to-do list, you are not reaping the full benefits of the movement.

4.) Instead of using your phone in between sets, observe whether someone could work in with you or share equipment

If you were to look around it would be pretty clear to see whether someone is looking for an available piece of equipment. If they are, they are also likely afraid to ask you whether you’re almost done with the squat rack. It is likely that with a little effort you would be able to share a bench; if your performance levels are vastly different you can at least communicate with the other person that you have two more sets and allow them to plan accordingly. This circles back to #2. The simple act of asking someone whether they need help is going to give them more confidence to navigate the gym and communicate with other members.

5.) Slightly modify the content or order of your workout if necessary

The structure of the workout tends to follow a similar pattern:

1.) Warm-up and Movement Prep

2.) Speed and Power

3.) Primary Strength

4.) Secondary Strength (optional)

5.) Accessories

6.) Conditioning or Volume work

If your workout calls for Bench Press as the primary strength movement but the racks aren’t open; look to your accessory blocks. If you train 3 or fewer times a week, your workouts are typical total body sessions and some of your accessories will likely not conflict with the performance of your primary strength movement. If there isn’t space for you to Bench Press and you have Goblet Squats and Glute Bridges in the accessory portion, you can switch the order and come back to Bench Press when a rack becomes available. If this isn’t an option, there are some exercises that could be slightly changed to account for equipment limitations. Some common exercise substitutions could be:

Banded Tricep Extension instead of Split Rope Tricep Extension (if cable machine is being used)

Dumbbell Floor Press instead of Dumbbell Chest Press (if all of the benches are taken)

Double KB/Goblet Squat instead of Barbell Front Squat (if all of the racks are taken)

If you take away one thing from this post I hope it is this:

I am thankful for my relationship with every one of my members; it is by far the best part of my job. I opened the gym to train for sports performance and to encourage inclusion. Inclusion isn’t just about disabilities. It’s about the football captain training alongside an 8th grader and instead of making that younger kid feel like he’s in the way of the almighty varsity athlete; encourage him to work hard and grow his confidence. He may even look up to you. I don’t just want to make better athletes; I want to make better people.

Brendan Aylward