You walk into your gym in January and scan the crowded craziness. You look over to your gym’s four squat racks. Three of the racks have now become curl racks. One is being used for 1/16 squats while a buddy captures the epic squat session on the latest iPhone to share with the world on YouTube. Every bench press station in the gym has one guy doing half bench presses with elbows flared while the “spotter” lifts 75% of the weight while yelling the famous, “It’s all you bro!” which is most accurately translated from bro slang as, “I don’t know how to spot!” Frustrated, you take a deep breath in and wisely tell yourself that this is what your gym needs to pay the lease so you have a place to train year round. Now, you resolve yourself to make the best of this situation. If you want to pack on some high-performance muscle this year, here is a plan that will work for you even in the busiest gym.
Reverse your schedule
Mondays have long-since been declared as “International Chest Day”. As long as this trend persists, plan on doing your bench press work later in the week. Start your week with exercises that most people don’t do – such as deadlifts. Even in January, the numbers will die down a bit as the weekends approach, so if you really want a piece of equipment, program it in for later in the week.
|Stand up and do the big, |
hard exercises - not these
Whenever I’m in a main-stream gym, I always see a bunch of guys doing exercises that have them sitting in front of a mirror. While I understand the benefit of increased muscle focus a bodybuilder can get from doing seated exercises, I still encourage most folks to stand most of the time when training. This is especially helpful in a busy gym.
Emphasize non-equipment free weight exercises
If you select exercises that require a bench or a rack, you can be stuck waiting or trying to work in with other people. Assume you won’t have access to popular pieces of equipment and plan to do without. Barbell, dumbbell and kettlebell exercises that have you standing are ideal for a busy gym. They also force you to pick harder exercises.
Use more body weight exercises
Even on the busiest days in January, you are not going to find a line-up for the pull-ups bars. Take full advantage of great exercises such as pull-ups and dips for packing mass on your upper body.
Select less popular pieces of equipment
While flat bench press reigns as the most popular exercise in most gyms, far less people do inclines – mostly because they can’t do as much weight. However, inclines are a great exercise that place less stress on your shoulders, are more useful for sport performance and hit the commonly under-developed upper pecs.
Have a back-up plan
If there is a particular piece of equipment that you really want to use, by all means put it in your program. However, have a back-up plan in place in case you can’t get on it. Remember the gym is a place to train – not to stand in line.
To improve time-efficiency, I often pair upper body opposing muscle groups when writing programs. In a busy gym, this can still work great – if you pair equipment-required exercises with non-equipment-required exercises. For example, pair bench press (needs equipment) with 1-arm DB Rows (no equipment needed). Note: exercises in the sample program that have the same number, but a different letter are paired (e.g. 1a) row, 1b) bench press – do row, rest for time given, do bench press, rest for time given, repeat until all sets completed).
Sample High-Performance Muscle Building Program for a Busy Gym
Note: this is a sample program and may not be right for you. Always consult your doctor before starting this or any exercise program. Adjust as necessary for your needs and abilities. Also, check out my YouTube channel for instruction on how to do the exercises. Sets listed do not include warm-up sets. This program uses a 4-way movement split. See this post on the King of Split Routines to find out the benefits of this layout. This program works well on a Mon, Tues, Thurs & Fri or Mon, Wed, Friday & Saturday.
Day 1: Hinge
1) Power Clean: 3x3, rest 90-120sec
2) Clean Pulls: 2-3x5, rest 90-120sec
3) Deadlift or Trap Bar Deadlift: 2x5, rest 2-3 min
4) DB or Trap Bar Shrugs: 3x10-12
5) Single Leg DB Romanian Deadlift: 3-4x8
6) Your choice: this could be swings, glute-ham raises, back extensions or hip thrusts. Just check out your options at the time and do about 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps with about a 1 minute rest.
Day 2: Vertical Push/Pull
1a) 1-Arm DB Press: 3x5, rest 45-60sec
1b) Pull-Up: 3x5, rest 45-60sec
2a) Chin-Up: 3x8-10, rest 30-45sec
2b) 2-Arm DB or Kettlebell Shoulder Press: 3x8-10, rest 10sec
2c) Side DB Raises: 3x12-15, rest 45s
3a) DB Hammer Curls: 3x8-12, rest 30sec
3b) DB Lying or DB Overhead Extensions: 3x8-12, rest 30sec
4) Ab Wheel Rollouts or Rings/TRX Fallouts: 3x8-12, rest 45sec
Day 3: Squat
1) Body Weight or DB Jump Squat: 3x5, rest 1 min
2) Squat* (front or back): 3x5, rest 2min
3) DB Reverse Lunge: 4x8, rest 90-120sec
4) Goblet Squat**: 2-3xmax reps (around 20, but higher if the heaviest DB is still not that hard for you), rest 2 min between sets
5) Single Leg DB Calf Raise: 3-4x8-10, rest 30sec between legs
*If you cannot get a squat rack, power clean the bar to your shoulders and do front squats. If you can’t clean enough weight, you could try single leg squats from a bench.
**Don’t be afraid to go high reps here, just keep your form tight.
Day 4: Horizontal Push/Pull
1a) 1-Arm DB Row: 3x6-8, rest 45-60sec
1b) Incline Bench Press: 3x5, rest 45-60sec
2a) Prone DB Row, Bent-Over DB Row or Rings/TRX Inverted Row: 3-4x8-10, rest 10sec
2b) Prone DB Flies, Bent-Over DB Reverse Flies or Rings/TRX Reverse Flies: 3-4x12-15, rest 45sec
2c) DB Bench Press or DB Floor Press: 3-4x8-10, rest 30-45sec
3a) DB Curls: 3-4x10-15, rest 30-45sec
3b) Dips*: 3-4xmax reps, rest 30-45sec (save a 1-2 reps in the tank until the last set)
*Dips are not for everyone. Replace with push-ups if they bother your shoulder.
Hang in there. Things will quiet down soon enough. Until then enjoy building muscle without the Disneyland-like line-ups for the popular pieces of equipment.