man doing push ups as gym alternative

Gym Alternatives: What to Do When the Gym is Crowded

There’s one constant you can count on at this time of year: The gym will be crowded with people putting their New Year’s resolutions into action. Unfortunately for you, all that enthusiasm can make it hard to get your reps in. You can still get in a good workout, even in a crowd. Here are a few gym alternatives to consider when you can’t get to your favorite machines or workout stations.

Concentrate on body-weight training

This type of exercise can pump up your metabolism, fitness, and endurance, “challenges several muscle groups at once and offers more variety than a solitary exercise machine can,” said the Mayo Clinic. Can’t get on the tri-cep dip or chest press? Do pushups instead. “A pushup works all areas of your arms, as well as your chest, core, and back.” Planking is another good bodyweight exercise that works for multiple muscle groups. Alternate the types of planks you perform during your workout as well as the duration of each exercise.  


Head for the dumbbells or free weights

Frustrated by waiting for the leg press on leg day? Try a barbell squat. This exercise can get you through leg day with the added bonus of working your back and abs. You can also do single-leg squats with or without dumbbells. This “improves your balance and core stability and may help to correct imbalances between your right and left legs,” said the Mayo Clinic. Or, try a goblet squat—a squat done while holding dumbbells in line with your chest, feet turned out slightly, and elbows held at a 45-degree angle. Another great swap for a seated chest press is the dumbbell bench press. “The seated chest press is probably the easiest machine to learn, which probably explains its popularity with new trainees,” said Future Fit Training. You can avoid the newbie crush with a dumbbell bench press to work “the pectoral (chest) muscles, as well as the triceps (back of your arms), and deltoids (shoulders).”

If the pec deck is in heavy rotation, well, that might actually be a good thing. Men’s Journal warns of the potential damage from this machine. “Here’s the main problem with the pec deck: guys don’t need another exercise to pull their shoulders forward and twist their arms inward—we already spend too much time at our computers and target our chests often enough in the gym,” they said. “Over time, this pulls our shoulders out of alignment and creates impingements in the joints. The pec deck yanks your arms backward as you approach the end of the range of motion, and when you relax at the end of the set, which can harm your shoulder joints. Rather than use a machine, stick to free-weight exercises that move in a safe range of motion.” Instead, try a Dumbbell Fly to get those chest gains. “The true benefit and magic of the dumbbell fly happen not when your arms are at their widest, but when you bring your arms together,” said Men’s Health. “It's here that you get the chance to squeeze your pectoral fibers and really promote chest growth. Focus on this squeeze, thinking of lingering at the top for a good one second to get the most out of the fly.”

Or, do dumbbell reverse flyes. “When performed correctly, this exercise is a great back and rear delt builder that is an effective alternative to the row,” said GQ. “It also doesn't require heavyweight to achieve great results. Sit on the edge of a bench and lean as far forward as you can while maintaining a flat back. Pick up the dumbbells from behind the heels and underneath the legs. With the elbows slightly​ bent, swing the dumbbells up while squeezing the shoulder blades together.”  


Wait it out

Despite these gym alternatives, you may still be missing your machines or workout stations. The good news for you is that the gym might not be overcrowded for long. There is plenty of research to suggest that fitness-related to New Year’s resolutions wean after a brief period of effort. You may be dedicated to your health year-round, but those folks crowding the gym may not be. Any changes you make to your workouts now to accommodate the crowd may not have to be permanent. You might even try scheduling your workout earlier or later to avoid the crowds.

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