So you’ve found a new gym and it’s, dare I say, beautiful. There’s new equipment, spotless locker rooms, and actual space to sprawl out without bumping into the lifter beside you. But of course, there’s always a catch.
Despite all of these incentives to sign up, there’s one thing no gym membership salesperson will ever admit to: The gym in question is a practical mosh pit most hours of the day. Instead of breezing from one squat rack to a bench, you’ll silently line up behind each piece of equipment and jump on it before others can claim their stake. This is the state of many chain gyms; if you’re lucky, your gym might be the exception, but if your options are limited, you might be forced to endure the crowds. Below, our advice on avoiding people at the gym because you deserve some alone time.
Go during off-peak hours
If you want to avoid crowds as best as possible, you should avoid the hours before and after normal 9-5 working hours. Generally, people just want to get their workouts over with, meaning they’ll hit the gym directly coming to or from the office. Obviously, this also means you’ll have to commit to a relatively early or late workout regime. (I’ve done both—for two years, I was at the gym as early as 6am. Now, I start my workouts at around 8pm, which, yes, is late, but I can actually work out quicker when I’m not waiting on a squat rack.) If you’re unsure what might be the quietest time at your gym, generally, the hours just as it opens and before closing are good markers, assuming you don’t belong to a 24-hour gym.
As for weekends, again, it will depend. From experience, each of the four gyms I’ve belonged to over the years was busiest between 10am and 1pm. After that, the crowds tended to filter out. If ever you’re in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to call up your gym and ask about the crowds before coming in. You might find that if you do an online search for your gym using Google, it might predict “popular times” at your gym so you can plan your visit around the crowds.
Sign up for a class
If you want to guarantee you’ll get a workout in, and are willing to endure a little group socialisation, just sign up for a group class. They may block off an entire room, set of cardio machines or other equipment just for your class. Again, this is essentially opting to be in a group of people, so if small talk isn’t your thing, you might resent this option. Otherwise, a class is an excellent way to ensure you won’t be held up by a row of fully occupied ellipticals.
Go during your lunch hour
You may or may not usually spend your lunch hour at your desk, perusing Reddit between bites of leftovers. If you’re willing to give up at least part of that hour, you might use this time to fit in a quick workout instead. The same rule above applies here; you might find your gym empties during actual work hours, meaning lunchtime might prove a good hour for empty squat racks. (In fact, from experience, the only people at the gym during this hour tend to be a few gym-goers with their trainers.)
Of course, there are several things to consider. Given that you may only have an hour, it might involve condensing your routine, mapping out the distance from your office to the gym, and any time spent showering (assuming you do and you absolutely should). If you can fit an adequate workout in during your lunch, then by all means.
Go on rainy days
Here’s the one upside of winter if you live in a place where lots of rain happens: You might find your gym at its emptiest when the weather is crappy. No one wants to venture out into the cold when the path there involves shielding themselves from heavy rain. If you see bad weather on the horizon, consider it your personal time to work out without fear of that one guy who takes up the squat rack for an hour to curl.
Don’t go at the start of the hour
My gym, like many gyms, is filled with trainers and their clients at all hours of the day. A few months ago, a pretty obvious pattern appeared; most of the trainers would train for hours a day and begin each session on or close to the top of the hour (or in increments of 15 minutes). In other words, instead of coming to the gym at 12pm on a Saturday, I’d head over at 11:45am or 12:15pm, knowing I’d either just beaten a trainer to a squat rack or just as they finished with one. Use this tiny hack to your advantage. Again, this will depend on your gym and the clientele, but it has worked wonders for me in the past.
Before you sign up
Before a gym tempts you to sign up with its promotional offers, always check any reviews of that gym on places like Yelp. Look out for any mention of crowds and users complaining of having to share equipment (Sharing equipment happens! But it becomes a problem when several users mention long waits.)
When you visit the gym for a tour, make sure to visit during peak hours, so you can get a better sense of its crowds. And, as I’ve learned, always try to avoid gyms which hold constant promotions to entice new members; typically, this means they’ll offer guests entry throughout the year, so your gym won’t ever really empty out when there’s an influx of new people every day.