There’s nothing worse than arriving at the gym, detailed workout plan in hand, only to find the equipment you need already occupied.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of waiting a few minutes for your turn. Or asking the woman resting between sets of lat pulldowns if you can ‘work in’.
Other days, you can just tell that the guy in the squat rack plans on doing his entire workout there.
And those times when the gym is so crowded there’s no space left to claim? Super frustrating.
For many of us, just getting to the gym is a big deal (feeling a bit of ‘gymtimidation’? Here are some tips for increasing your confidence in the weight room). Having to then figure out what to do in place of the program we’d planned on is enough to discourage us from getting off the elliptical or even starting our workout in the first place.
The best solution to all of the above challenges? Creating a flexible fitness plan.
In this case, ‘flexible’ doesn’t refer to how ‘bendy’ you are (although stretching does need to be a regular part of your exercise routine). Instead, it means being creative and knowledgable enough to modify your program on the fly.
Let me explain.
Olympic bar back squats are the first exercise on your program. But ‘squat rack guy’ is doing five hundred sets of dead lifts there (and then plans of staying put for a biceps workout…). Today, you might substitute another squat for your back squat, looking around to see what other equipment is available to get the job done. Sure, your dumbbell squats might not be as heavy as you’d like, but you can always perform some extra reps or slow the tempo down to achieve the same result. (Need some alternate squat suggestions? Here are a few of my favourite squat variations).
Next you’re headed to the lat pulldown machine. But your gym only has one and it seems like there’s always somebody sitting on it. You can perform the same exercise on a cable and pulley machine or by wrapping a band around the chin-up bar and banging out a few assisted pull-ups. (Here’s a short video demo of band-assisted pull-ups).
The key is to know which muscle group(s) a particular exercise is working and being armed with a few alternatives before you get to the gym.
Not sure what to substitute? If you’re working with a trainer, ask her for exercise alternatives (I give my 40+ Online Fitness clients a choice of three moves per exercise; moves that often include different equipment, as well as different levels of intensity). If not, find an online resource (I like Bodybuilding.com) or a book (Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises illustrates dozens of variations of the ‘big’ lifts) and do a little research.
Other suggestions for creating a flexible fitness plan?
- alter the order of your exercises; just because back squat is the first exercise in your program doesn’t mean that you always need to start with it.
While your trainer (or program writer) had a good reason for placing it there, switching up the order of exercises from time to time won’t hinder your progress. Better to do those squats later on in the program (even if it means your legs have been pre-fatigued by another exercise and you don’t add as many plates to the bar) than to skip them entirely.
You may notice that certain exercises become more (or less) challenging when you vary their order in your workout. Personally, I enjoy it when I feel an exercise a little bit more than usual 🙂
- switch up cardio and strength workouts; if you perform cardio and strength workouts on separate days, substitute one for the other on a day when either the cardio machines are full or there’s no room on the weight room floor.
If you perform them both within the same workout, switch the order to maximize your access to the equipment. Although there are circumstances in which the order you perform these components of your workout makes a difference, if your options are ‘reverse the order’ and ‘skip weights (or cardio) entirely’, worry less about the effects of order and more about getting the whole workout done.
- take it to the halls (or track or out-of-doors); many gyms and rec centres have alternate places you can perform your workout. If space is limited in the gym, grab a few pieces of equipment (again, you’ll need to know which exercises to substitute for the exercises in your program that require barbells, cable and pulley machines and the squat rack) and head out into the hall or up to the walking track.
Some facilities will even let you take equipment outside (walking lunges in the parking lot or TRX training at the soccer field, perhaps). Check with the weight room attendant before you make off with equipment though; we want to ensure that your membership doesn’t get revoked…).
- jump into a group fitness class instead; most gyms offer group fitness and spinning classes in addition to cardio machines and a weight room. Typically, these will be happening at the same times the gym is busy (mornings and evenings are the most popular times for exercise and facilities managers schedule their classes accordingly). If you’re new to strength training, group fitness classes are a great place to start.
Given the popularity of resistance training, it’s a good bet that many of the classes your facility offers will include (or consist entirely of) a strength training component. Turn the frustration of a busy gym into an opportunity to learn some new moves and get instruction on proper form.
While it’s always a good idea to have a written workout plan before you hit the gym, there are days when you’ll need to be flexible to get it done. A flexible fitness plan, as it were!
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