Picture the scene: a typical Monday evening in a commercial gym. The place is rammed!
Yes, there are so many treadmills that one or two are still available, but you are here to lift weights and get stronger, dammit! A treadmill ain’t gonna cut it.
The weight room is also rammed. Every bench is taken, dumbbells are scattered everywhere and the one decent olympic bar has a queue of people wanting to use it for seated shoulder press in the rack.
Oh yes, the squat rack. That’s not free either, since Monday night is also shrugs-and-curls-in-the-rack night.
But wait! You can still get a decent workout when the gym is rammed on a Monday evening. You just gotta be smart about it.
Here are 17 cunning gym hacks to get you stronger when you have minimal equipment, time and room!
- Make your set harder by slowing down the tempo of each rep. For example, if you normally lift with a 1-up, 2-down tempo, try a 1-up, 4-down tempo. The slower eccentric portion of the rep will make you stronger. This means that you don’t have to worry about having a selection of weights available – use the same weights but slow down the tempo.
- Want to do heavy squats but people are hovering? Speed things up by using the ‘Every Minute on the Minute’ format. Instead of 5×5 with 2-3 min rest, use the same weight and do 3 squats EMOM for 10 minutes at 70% of your 1 rep max.
- Need to chest press but no benches available? Do the floor press – it’s what old time strongmen used to do before benches for lifting were invented.
- Pushing a stack of plates across the gym floor is an excellent leg workout. It’s basically a poor man’s prowler. A towel underneath a plate on a smooth floor works best (see image right).
- Choose your supersets wisely! If the squat rack is on the other side of the gym from the cable machine, don’t do squats and cable rows together or you will likely lose your ‘place’ at the squat rack. Pair a rack or cable exercise with a dumbbell exercise, e.g. squats and dumbbell row, so that you can stay close and guard your place.
- If you just can’t get to the squat rack, do split squats holding dumbbells. These are very effective and will help your squat strength in the long run. For a greater challenge, elevate your back leg onto a low step and do rear foot elevated split squats.
- Plenty of effective leg work can be done with dumbbells rather than barbells – but what if your grip fails? Get a pair of straps (they only cost a few quid online) and use them on dumbbells so you can hold a heavier load.
- No bar for deadlifting? Do a heavy one-arm dumbbell swing to really work the posterior chain and hip hinge movement. Safety tip: make sure there is no-one directly in front of you, as letting go of the dumbbell as it is swinging could result in a nasty accident!
- If all the olympic bars are in use, grab one of the fixed barbells and do single leg deadlifts – you don’t need much weight to get a great hit on the posterior chain.
- Explosive squat jumps or split squat jumps/lunge jumps will build power in the legs without the need for additional weight.
- Need to work your quads? Grab a weight plate and do sissy squats (see image right). No-one will know what you are doing, but you’ll get a great quad burn!
- Ask to work in with people on the squat rack or the deadlift platform instead of waiting until they are done. This is perfectly acceptable gym etiquette. They may say no, but at least you can have the conversation about how long they’ll be and so on, instead of just firing them evils in the mirror.
- No room to do a circuit? Want to get in and get out as fast as possible? Grab a fixed barbell or a body pump bar and do the following barbell complex:
- deadlift x 10
- bent over row x 10
- power clean x 10
- front squat x 10
- push press x 10
- good morning x 10
- back squat x 10
- Can’t do pull ups? Invest in a resistance band, which can be attached to any sturdy bar. Costs less than £20. What price your first full pull up, eh?
- Have a few ‘filler’ exercises ready in case you have to wait for equipment. Good movements requiring no equipment are push ups, burpees, plank holds, side dips, wall squat holds, single leg squat, handstand against wall etc.
- Don’t worry if your gym won’t let you drop bars on the floor, you can still do some worthwhile training on the olympic lifts. Focus on technical work with a lighter weight, such as 3-position snatch or clean (see video from Catalyst Athletics). When you are starting out, you probably have enough leg strength – but not the technique or precision.
- As you get more advanced with the olympic lifts, you can still use your gym time to do heavy snatch pulls and clean pulls with straps, which do not require you to drop the weight. At busy times, work in with someone doing deadlifts or bent over rows.
No excuses, folks. Get to it!
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