I was going to write this week about New Year resolutions and how to make real, lasting change.
But yesterday I went to a local gym and was reminded there is a much more urgent topic at hand.
If you recently joined a gym – or decided as part of your New Year resolutions to return to the gym you’ve been paying all year – beware!
This is the worst time of year to be a health club member, as every gym in America swells with new enrollees full of great intentions. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go, just that you’ll need some navigation skills.
And mostly you need to remember this will end, sooner than you think. It’s a sad but well-known fact that most people don’t stick with their New Year resolutions beyond 6 months. In fact, my experience hanging around gyms my whole adult life has been that the crowd starts thinning around mid-late February, so that’s more like 6 weeks.
To prevent you from joining the exodus, here are some tips to help you survive the January Gym Circus.
Best/worst times to go
In almost every gym in the country, certain times of the day are consistently busier than others. The most crowded is the evening, from about 5:00p to 7:30p. Here in the D.C. metro area, the after-work rush can start as early as 4p, owing to the early work shifts of so many government and contractors.
The other similarly crowded time is Saturday morning from about 8am to noon, in part because that’s when classes are held for the day, and in part because people want to get their workout done early. Unless you’re headed to a Saturday morning class, you would do better to wait until the mid-afternoon, when you will practically have the place to yourself – at least after February. But even during the busy weeks of January, Saturday and Sunday afternoons after 1pm are best for using equipment and stretching space, as most people have moved on to the rest of their day.
While it’s true every gym has a group of early morning regulars, this is a much smaller – and quieter! – population than the night crowd. So morning is a good choice if you are someone who can rise before 6am and not be homicidal for the rest of the day. If you have the luxury of using a gym between 1p and 4pm on weekdays, do that!
Navigating the crowded facility
If night time is your only option, there are some ways to simplify the experience.
First, have some idea beforehand of what you’ll do when you get there, but also be prepared to flex. For example, plan to walk straight over to the elliptical machines, but if they’re all taken, use something else for a while rather than giving up and going home. That way you have a destination and are less likely to get overwhelmed by multiple choices and distracting side shows.
Check out the group exercise options. If a class appeals to you, it will be easy to know where to go and what to do. Popular classes that fill up or cost extra might require you to sign up in advance, so check that out.
Almost every gym has a circuit of strength machines that are designed to work several body parts and are arranged for you to use in succession. If you don’t have a program of your own and aren’t sure what to do, ask a staff person to point you to this circuit and show you how to use it. If there isn’t one (either a circuit or a staff person), contact me and I’ll design one for you.
I’m about to tell you the most important things you will ever hear/read about your gym experience, so pay attention.
1. DO NOT learn from watching other people in the gym.
2. DO NOT assume other people know what they’re doing.
In fact, you should assume most of the time other people do not know what they’re doing, regardless of their bulging biceps or their cool workout gear. I have seen what people do in the gym, and it’s painful to watch.
If you don’t know what you’re doing either, enlist professional help. If you’re a new member, most gyms offer you a free session with a trainer. Use that time to ask how to use the machines, and consider engaging a trainer for at least a few sessions, to teach you some exercises you can do on your own. There are also a some decent books you can get. If you think you’ll be getting into this gym thing, you might like something in the New Rules of Lifting collection.
Use your elbows
In the locker room, I mean. There will always be people with bags spilling over with toiletries, old workout clothes, towels, shoes, yesterday’s lunch, pets. I have no good advice for this part, except recalling the main idea: they’ll be gone in a few weeks, so hang in there.