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Surviving the January Gym Crush

Jump on your bike instead of a car to get to the gym.
Jump on your bike instead
of a car to get to the gym.

Are you one of the millions who resolved to be more fit this year? If you are, going to the gym in January may turn out to be an unpleasant experience. Packed parking lots, a shortage of lockers and lines for the equipment. January can see gym traffic grow by as much as 25% above normal. Don't worry, there are a few things you can do to make it more manageable.

Start by changing how you get to the gym. If you live close by, why not ride a bike, jog or walk there? Then you don't have to deal with parking, you're warmed up once you go through the doors and you don't have to wait for cardio equipment. Put any special clothes or equipment in a small backpack so you have everything you need when you get there.

If your gym is always running out of lockers, see if they offer monthly rentals of private lockers. Get it on a month-to-month contract and when traffic drops back down go back to using the free ones again. Most gyms go back to normal traffic flow by March so you'll only need it for two months.

When it's time for cardio, try something different. Instead of waiting for a treadmill, try an Elliptical, rowing machine or recumbent bike. All three machines work both your upper and lower body while helping you break a sweat quicker. Give yourself a challenge to use each new piece of equipment for at least a week. To save even more time, try doing heart rate-based intervals instead of traditional cardio. Three 20 minute sessions a week are as effective as 6 hours of traditional cardio.

Think about when you workout. The most convenient time is typically before or after work, and that may be true for you too. That means from 7-9 in the morning and 5-7 at night the gym is often packed. Check your schedule. Can you get away for an hour at lunch? Are you able to start work a little later, or go in earlier so you get out before the rush? The slowest times for most gyms are between one and four in the afternoon.

Treat Monday and Tuesday like the weekend. Those are the busiest days of the week for gyms because everyone wants to make up for a weekend of eating junk. Put together a schedule for Wed/Fri/Sun or Thur/Sat if you workout two days a week.

Walk in with a plan. Have a sheet that lists what you're going to do, in what order, with your weights, reps and sets. Write down the numbers after each set to chart your progress. With a workout routine in hand, you won't waste time looking around and deciding what you want to do. If someone is using a machine you need, politely ask, "may I work in?" If they say no, ask how many more sets they have so you can come back when they're finished.

Learn how to use dumbbells and kettlebells. You can do a wide range of exercises that work every body part as intensely as you want. They're not as simple as a machine, but if you use them properly you'll get a more intense workout than with traditional exercise equipment. Plus, in a crowded gym, they're often the least used equipment so you won't have to deal with the lines.

Sign up for a class. They usually limit how many people can attend so you won't have to deal with crowds.

Hire a personal trainer. They're trained to navigate the equipment and can help you get an effective workout completed in less time.

While you're there, you'll probably notice the newbies. They're looking around and trying to figure out where things are and how things work. Don't get frustrated when they're in your way. Remember you were a newbie once too. If they ask questions, point out where the sanitizing wipes are, the water fountain or specific equipment. Remember that people often learn by example, so be vigilant and wipe down machines, let people work in with you and don't hog the space in stretching areas.

Don't give exercise advice to anyone unless you want to be responsible. Point them to the gym staff who can help.

For those times you just don't want to deal with crowds, head outdoors. The sun will boost your mood and in 15 minutes give you your daily dose of vitamin D. Try building a snowman, sledding or cross country skiing if you're in a cold climate. If you're in the tropics, a vigorous swim, in-line skating or just going out to fly a kite can all burn calories.

Remember the changes you make don't have to be permanent. Figure that you'll only need to adjust for 30 to 45 days until the new year's crush dies down.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.