If you're an avid gym-goer, you already know the January influx of resolution-ers can put a major cramp in your exercise schedule. Overcrowding, long waits for equipment, and poor gym etiquette from other visitors can make even the most driven fitness fan want to skip a workout.
Luckily, there's a way to dodge new member rush hour and rediscover your gym zen. We reached out to personal trainers and fitness center staffers to find out the best time to go to the gym, plus their other tips for keeping your exercise game strong despite the crowds.
Get an early start
It's painful to hear, but hitting the gym in the early morning is the most foolproof way to miss hoards of new members. "As much as folks want to start the New Year off right and work out early, most people still come after work and hit the snooze button," says Marc Santa Maria, national group fitness director at Crunch.
So tuck yourself into bed early the night before and be one of the few who actually gets in that morning workout. If you have no choice but to work out at night, Santa Maria suggests going on Thursdays and Fridays, which are generally lower volume days for gyms.
Consider weekends or lunchtime
If you can't swing mornings, try fitting in your workouts on weekends or during a weekday lunch hour when your local gym is less crowded. Even if you can only sacrifice 20 minutes mid-afternoon, you'll get a sweat in and see results, says Ben Lauder-Dykes, a Barry's Bootcamp instructor and personal trainer. "It’s not how much time you spend in the gym, it's how you spend your time," he says. A 20-minute circuit workout, he says, "could be all you need to meet your goals."
Try a new location
"Gym traffic varies from club to club within one gym chain–so talk to general managers of each club to get a sense of the heavy foot traffic," suggests Santa Maria. Hit up a branch that's not in a central location; you might bypass commuters making a stop at the gym on their way home from work.
Conquer unknown territory
If you're stuck at the gym during peak hours, explore the location's nooks and crannies. "There are often lesser-used areas–like a stretch area or a functional training area that folks don’t know they can use," says Santa Maria. You may find a low- to no-traffic spot where you can set up your private workout session away from the crowd.
Give group fitness a chance
Working out in a group can be intimidating, but fitness classes are your friend when the gym gets busy. Instructors set a maximum capacity for each class, so it's not a free-for-all like it might be by the free weights or machines. You should be able to find a wide variety of classes available no matter your experience. "Instructors are trained to cater workouts for all fitness levels, so this is a great way to hold yourself accountable and get out what you put in to your workout," says Rhys Athayde, a trainer at the Dogpound.
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Hire a personal trainer
If your budget allows, enlisting a personal trainer can insure you show up for those early morning workouts and provide more access when the gym is packed. "Since trainers and their clients take priority in any fitness studio," says Athayde, "you will have access to any equipment and space you need without the wait and crowd."