How to Beat January Crowds at the Gym
The crushing wave of resolution-making January gym-goers is coming – to form lines near your favorite rowing machine, to mill about on the bench you need for 25 minutes, and to do curls in the squat rack. They're coming to wreck your workout, throw off your schedule, and make you miserable until February.
Don't let them win. Dodge the crowds without sacrificing your fitness with the following crowd-proof workouts. Each is designed to be done in a small space, with just a little bit of equipment. All you need are a couple of pairs of dumbbells and a stability ball, and you will be on your way to a workout that saves time, steers you clear of the mobs, and keeps you on-course to build the body they've all made their resolutions to get.
Ditch Cardio Machines for Farmer's Walk Complexes
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If you're itching for cardio but the treadmill sign-up sheet is booked until St. Paddy’s Day, try this farmer's walk complex from Nick Tumminello, a strength and conditioning coach based in Florida and creator of several fitness DVDs, including "Strength Training for Fat Loss & Conditioning."
"The Farmer’s Walk is a nice replacement for cardio,” Tumminello says. “It's very intense because you're carrying heavy weight. You're working close to your max capacity and you're carrying it for 30 to 45 seconds. When you combine high intensity with repetitive effort, you get a great metabolic benefit."
To do it, you'll need two pairs of dumbbells – a heavy set (Tumminello suggests 75-pounders for a fit male) and a pair that's 30 to 40 pounds lighter than your heavy weights. You'll also need a length of the gym about 20 yards long, with a small bit of space at one end to do a few exercises.
The walk itself is simple but challenging: You hold heavy dumbbells at your sides and walk with them. In this case, you'll walk 20 yards out and 20 yards back.
The plan involves alternating these walks – holding the heavy dumbbells – with in-place exercises using the lighter weights. You'll perform eight to 12 reps of each lightweight exercise, do a farmer's walk with the heavies and then do eight to 12 of the next lightweight move. You'll continue alternating without rest until all exercises are completed. At the end, rest until you feel composed but not completely rested – about one to three minutes – and repeat the sequence for a total of three to five rounds.
Each round should include the following moves.
DUMBBELL BENT-OVER ROWS: Hold the dumbbells in front of you, palms facing the front of your thighs. Push your hips back to bend at the waist and lower your body until your back is parallel to the floor. Let the dumbbells hang down as you bend and maintain a flat back. In this position, row both dumbbells to the side of your torso and return them to hanging. Repeat eight to 12 times, then perform a farmer's walk out and back.
DUMBBELL SHOULDER PRESSES: Hold the dumbbells by your shoulders, elbows bent, palms facing in. Press both arms simultaneously upward until your elbows are straight and pressed in against your ears. Bend your elbows to return to start and repeat eight to 12 times, then take your second walk with the heavies.
DUMBBELL FORWARD LUNGES: Hold dumbbells in each hand, arms hanging down from your shoulders. Keeping your torso upright, take a big step forward with your right leg and descend until both your knees form 90-degree angles, your right knee tracking over your toes and your torso upright. Press back to start, and perform the same movement with your left. Repeat eight to 12 times, then do a farmer's walk.
DUMBBELL HIGH PULL: Hold the dumbbells in front of you, palms facing the front of your thighs. Push your hips back slightly and bend your knees slightly. Keeping your back straight, pull the dumbbells up forcefully by pushing your hips forward to stand – keep the weights close to your body as they rise up next to your shoulders and you bend your elbows. Reverse to the start and repeat eight to 12 times. On to heavy walk number four.
DUMBBELL FRONT SQUATS: Place the dumbbells on your shoulders with your elbows bent, palms facing in. Keep an erect torso and push your hips back to squat, descending until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Keep your weight rooted in your heels throughout the movement. Press back up to start and repeat eight to 12 times.
Skip Equipment With an Entire Workout You Can Do in a Single Spot
Large group exercise classes have getting sweaty in one place mastered; you can't move around much if the studio's packed. The same idea can be used outside the classroom, says Mike Wunsch, performance director at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, California.
"Instead of waiting for machines or for someone to get off a bench, get in your own zone," he says. Grab two dumbbells that are heavy enough to provide a challenge for a set of 10 lunges, then find about a six-foot circle of space. You’ll then start Wunsch’s circuit workout. For each move, perform five to 10 reps and then move on to the next exercise without resting. After you finish all the moves, rest for 90 seconds and repeat the entire sequence three or four times.
Start with the dumbbell forward lunge. Repeat for five to 10 reps, then move to the T Pushup.
T-PUSHUP: Get on the floor in a pushup position, hands directly below your shoulders, body rigid from head to heels. Bend your elbows to lower your chest to the floor, maintaining a straight line with your body. Press back to start, and as you do, lift your right arm off the ground and twist your body so that your arms form a vertical line, your torso and legs face the side wall and your body forms a T shape. Twist back down to start, and repeat, this time twisting to the opposite side. Repeat for five to 10 reps.
Third, perform the dumbbell front squat for five to 10 reps.
NEUTRAL-GRIP OVERHEAD PRESSES: At the end of your squat set, keep the dumbbells by your shoulders. Press your arms up simultaneously until your elbows are straight. Bend your elbows to return to start and repeat five to 10 times.
ROMANIAN DEADLIFT/BENT-OVER ROW COMBINATION: Hold the dumbbells in front of you with your palms facing the front of your thighs. Push your hips back to bend at the waist and lower your body until your back is parallel to the floor. Let the dumbbells hang down as you bend, and maintain a flat back. From this position, row both dumbbells to the side of your torso, then return them to hanging. Thrust your hips forward to return to standing. That’s one rep. Perform five to 10.
Use Kettlebells to Get Finished Fast
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If you really want to be left alone, head for the kettlebells. Most gym newbies don't know what to do with those handled iron balls, and they're often set up away from the other dumbbells and weights.
Unlike dumbbells, kettlebells are often used for extended efforts. In competition, kettlebell athletes will perform an exercise for minutes at a time without stopping. That spirit is at the heart of this two-circuit workout from Craig Ballantyne, C.S.C.S., owner of TurbulenceTraining.com.
Find a kettlebell that's an appropriate weight for you to perform one-arm overhead presses for 30 second. That's the weight you'll use for all exercises.
The workout starts with a three-exercise circuit. You'll perform each move for 30 seconds, then move to the next without resting. At the end of the three moves, you'll rest for one minute, then repeat. Complete the entire sequence two to four times before moving to the second circuit.
KETTLEBELL ONE-ARM OVERHEAD PRESS: Start with the kettlebell in your hand, with your elbow bent and hand at shoulder level. Keep your shoulders even. Maintaining level shoulders, press the dumbbell straight overhead until your arm is straight and your elbow is near your ear. Return to start, and repeat for 30 seconds. Switch sides and perform the move with your other arm for 30 seconds.
KETTLEBELL GOBLET SPLIT SQUAT: Stand with your right foot about three feet in front of your left. Hold the ball of the kettlebell with your hands and forearms cupped together -- your hands and arms will resemble a goblet or chalice. Keeping your torso upright, bend your knees to descend until your knees form 90-degree angles, with your front knee tracking over your toes. Press back to standing. Repeat for 30 seconds, then switch sides and perform the move for 30 more seconds.
ONE-ARM BENT-OVER ROW: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width and push your hips back to bend your body forward so your back is parallel to the ground, with your back flat and knees slightly bent. Holding the kettlebell by the handle in one hand, bend your arm to bring the kettlebell up to the side of your body until your elbow goes above your torso. Your non-weighted hand should be on your knee or thigh on the same side. Maintain a flat back through this movement. Return to start and repeat for 30 seconds. Then switch sides and go for 30 seconds more.
After two to four rounds of this three-move circuit, you'll do a four-move bodyweight circuit. For this circuit, you'll perform each exercise for 30 seconds and then move to the next exercise without rest. Rest for 30 seconds at the end of the circuit and repeat two to four times.
SPIDER-MAN PUSHUP: You'll perform a regular pushup, but as you descend, you'll bend your right knee and bring your right leg up toward your right elbow -- in this position, you'll look like Peter Parker's alter-ego. As you press back up, straighten your leg back to start. On the next rep, bring your left leg up to your left elbow. Repeat this cycle.
TOTAL BODY EXTENSION: Ballantyne calls this move a "fake jump." Standing with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, push your hips back to squat while swinging your arms back. Now drive upwards as if you're going to jump out of the squat and into the air, but instead, just come up onto the balls of your feet while raising your arms overhead. Repeat for 30 seconds.
CROSS-BODY MOUNTAIN CLIMBER: At the top of a pushup position, bring your right knee under your body to meet your opposite elbow. Return to the starting position, then bring your left knee under to meet your right elbow. Return to start and repeat this alternating sequence rapidly.
ALTERNATING PRISONER LUNGES: Place your hands behind your head in a "prisoner" position. Take a big step forward with your right leg and descend until your knees form 90-degree angles. Your right knee should track over your toes and your torso should be upright. Press back to start, then perform the same movement with your left. Repeat for 30 seconds.
Find a Corner and Design Your Own Workout
When the gym is crowded, "from an equipment standpoint, it's the problem faced by an in-home personal trainer – you have limited stuff you can bring," says Shawn Arent, an associate professor of exercise science at Rutgers University. You want equipment that provides variety and can offer a complete workout. For Arent, that's two pairs of dumbbells – one heavy, one light – a stability ball and a wall.
Arent says to choose an exercise or two that targets every major muscle group – your chest, shoulders, back, core, hamstrings and quads. "As long as you're targeting eight to 10 total exercises, three to four sets per exercise, you're on the right track," he says.
For your chest, try dumbbell floor presses or use the ball under your back as a bench for incline or flat presses. Target your shoulders with standing shoulder presses, which involve your back and core for stabilization as well. Hit your back by using the ball for dumbbell rows or as a base for rear deltoid flys.
For your legs, use the ball to do wall squats, placing the ball between your back and the wall and rolling it up and down behind you as you squat, with or without weight. The ball can also be used as a platform for rear-foot elevated split squats or for the Swiss ball hip extension and leg curl. To do this hamstring-smashing move, lie on your back with the ball beneath your heels. Lift your hips so your body forms a straight line from shoulders to heels. From this position, pull your heels back to roll the ball toward your butt. Roll the ball back out, drop your hips to the ground and repeat.
What about your biceps and triceps? Curls and overhead extensions are fine, but these fun-and-gun muscles will get hit by the major-muscle exercises. Once you've finished your favorites from among those moves, you can continue to isolation moves you liken – it's YOUR custom workout, after all.
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Greg Presto is a sports and fitness journalist and certified personal trainer in Washington, DC. He believes fitness should be an adventure, whether it's on the side of a snowy mountain, trying out a new program in your gym, or even breaking a sweat in your living room. Reach him with workout or story ideas at gregpresto (at) gmail (dot) com.