Workout Workarounds: What to Do When Popular Gym Equipment Is Booked

Crowded gym. Squat rack, bench press, etc. in use. Don't skip your workout. Stay on task with these effective alternatives.


You walk into the gym jacked up and ready to have a great workout. You're all stretched out and head over to the Squat rack to tackle your first exercise only to find a bunch of meatheads camped out and taking their sweet time between sets of Barbell Bicep Curls. No problem, you'll just skip ahead to the Bench Press and come back to Squats later. But no luck again. Finding an unused bench proves impossible. Is there anything more frustrating?

Trying to work out in an over-crowded gym can be annoying and may drive many people to prematurely call it a day and skip out on a good chunk of their training. We feel your pain and we are here to help. Here are six great alternatives to the exercises that often prove impossible to perform in a packed gym, ensuring that you can still crush your workout despite less-than-ideal circumstances.

When the Bench Press Is Too Busy, Go for This Effective Alternative

Everyone loves to Bench, which makes it one of the hardest exercises to perform when the gym is crowded. Not being able to Bench is a bummer, but you can still target those same muscle groups with an effective alternative exercise. The Standing Cable Chest Press might even translate better to your sport, since you're far more likely to be pushing from a standing stance than a lying position come game time. Pushing from a standing position also challenges your core more than a standard Bench Press.

How to: Adjust the cable level to shoulder height. Holding the cables in front of you and with your feet in a staggered stance, extend your arms until they're straight. Keep your core tight throughout the exercise and switch your stance halfway through each set. Check out the video playlist above for an example.

Sets/Reps: 3x8-12

Don't Skip Legs Just Because the Squat Rack Is Packed

Finding the motivation to Squat isn't always easy, but being ready for leg day—only to find all of the racks in use—is an extra pain. But skipping out on Squats altogether is not a smart move, especially when an effective alternative is only a pair of dumbbells away. The Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squat is a challenging exercises that focuses on one leg at a time, ensuring symmetry and building stability.

How to: Stand in a lunge position with your back foot elevated on a box or bench. Holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, bend your front knee until your thigh is parallel to the ground while keeping your knee behind your toe. At the bottom of the movement, extend your hip and knee to drive back up into the starting position. Keep your chest up throughout the movement. Switch legs between sets. Watch the video above for a demonstration.

Sets/Reps: 3-4x4-6 each leg

No Room to Hang Clean? Opt For Kettlebell Swings

Hang Clean is a great lift to build power and explosiveness, but it can be difficult to perform in a crowded gym because it requires a barbell and a good amount of floor space. A good exercise to replace the Hang Clean is the Kettlebell Swing. It's simple, builds explosiveness and doesn't require much space or equipment. You can perform it with a dumbbell if you don't have a kettlebell.

How to: Assume an athletic quarter-squat position while holding the kettlebell between your legs. Keeping your arms straight, drive through your heels and explode up with your hips to bring the kettlebell to chin height. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement and return to the starting position using a slow, controlled descent. In the video playlist above, Indiana Pacers Roy Hibbert shows off his impressive Kettlebell Swings. 

Sets/Reps: 3-4x6-8

No Room to Deadlift? Pull-Throughs Will Do the Trick

Deadlifting in a crowded gym is tough for many reasons. They require space, a barbell and a padded surface (and usually a good amount of weight.) So when the gym is overrun and your workout calls for a couple sets of Deadlifts, it can be tempting to ditch it altogether. Not so fast. Standing Cable Pull-Throughs are a simple and easy alternative, and they are easier on your back. STACK recently wrote an article extolling the many virtues of the Standing Cable Pull-Through, such as its ability to strengthen the posterior chain.

How to: Begin with your back to a cable machine and your feet hip-width apart. Hold the rope attachment in front of your hips so the cable travels between your legs. Bend at the waist and push your hips back until your torso reaches a 45-degree angle. Extend your hips explosively to pull the cable through and return to the starting position.

Sets/Reps: 4-5x5

Pull-Up Bar Too Packed? Lat Pull-Downs Can Build a Bigger Back

Pull-Ups are another exercise that everybody seems to love, which means you're in for a serious wait if the gym is busy. While they are great for building back and biceps strength, Pull-Ups are rarely done with correct form, and many people can only knock out a couple. The Lat Pull-Down is an exercise that's both easier to perform with correct form and easier to knock out multiple reps than the Pull-Up.

How to: Fix the bottom attachment until it's tight on your quads, ensuring you remain stationary throughout the movement. Using a wide grip and a slight backwards lean, pull the bar down to the top of your pecs while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Allow the weight to return to the starting position slowly and with control. For an example, watch Dwight Howard's basketball Lat Pull-Downs in the video playlist above.

Sets/Reps: 3x8-12

Treadmills Taken? You're Better Off With Short Sprints

Finding a Treadmill to use during peak gym hours is a real challenge. A long session at a moderate pace on the treadmill might be good for some light conditioning, but many people spend too much time on this popular piece of equipment. An athlete who wants to get faster and stronger should spend some of those endless treadmill hours working on sprints instead. Sprinting builds fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are necessary for sports success. There is a reason Olympic sprinters look like this and long-distance runners look like this. If you want to build muscle, get faster and be more explosive, sprints are super important. Head to the track or the basketball court for a set of sprints instead of waiting for a treadmill to open up. If you want to improve both your aerobic and anaerobic capacity, check out Tabata Interval Training, or watch the Interval Sprint Training video in the playlist above.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: EXERCISE | BENCH | PRESS | SPRINT | STANCE | PLAYLIST | KETTLEBELL | TREADMILL