Workouts for Busy Gyms and Small Spaces

This week’s QnA is courtesy of an interview I did with the fitness team at I also have a fitness feature coming out in Details magazine, of all places. More about that soon.

If you have any questions, make sure to visit the TT Facebook page here.
Now let’s go through everything that you can do to get a great workout in a busy gym – perfect for January’s New Year’s rush.

Question: What would you recommend to an avid exerciser/fit person who comes into their normally quiet gym in January and finds it packed? How should they go about getting in a workout?

Answer: First, explore all of your training schedule options…can you switch to a different time or day that is less busy?

Second, do your warm-up at home – if possible. Treat yourself to a foam roller for Christmas just to have for general self- massage anyway…but if you have all your warm-up stuff at home, you can do this and then after a short walk or drive to the gym you can whip through your workout with less stress.

That’s what I do when I know I’ll be training at a small, busy, poorly equipped gym.

Third, always have options. For every exercise in your routine, have two alternatives planned.

For example, in the case of bench press, know that you can also do dumbbell presses, incline presses, or dips.  For db presses, know that you can also do incline db presses, barbell presses, db flyes, or decline pushups.

If your goal is to gain muscle and lose fat, then you really don’t have to worry about the EXACT exercise…not being able to do a specific exercise is only a problem if you are training to improve that specific lift (i.e. if you are a powerlifter trying to increase your bench press).

On the bright side, totally flipping your workout with new exercises can lead to new changes in your body. Of course, be conservative when trying a new exercise because at the very least it will give you a new level of soreness.

And the worst thing that could happen is that you could hurt yourself by doing too much too soon – NEVER skip your warm-up).

No matter how busy your gym is, stay positive, and keep a list of awesome alternatives you can use.

Finally, make sure to have a good list of bodyweight exercises in your repertoire in case you are limited by space, lack of dumbbells, etc.

Trust me, a good bodyweight plan can still give you an incredible workout.

Check out my Ultimate 101 Bodyweight Exercises plan here.

Question: What exercises can someone do/pair that will use the same weight throughout, so they don’t have to change weights and search for dumbbells that are in use? How should they pair these exercises? Why are these good moves to do?

Answer: Great question, and lots of proven, powerful pairings to use.

In a classic superset like DB Chest Press and DB Row, you can use the same weight, but you’ll need to increase the # of reps per set in the DB Row. That’s fine.

(NOTE: If you are stronger in the press than the row, you have a LOT of work to do for your back, my friend.)

High-rep (15 per side) dumbbell lunges (or split squats) can be supersetted with moderate rep (8 per side) “standing 1-arm DB shoulder presses”.

DB squats and DB chest presses are another combo. The squats will be high rep (15) while chest presses moderate (8 reps).  For your arms, DB Curls and Lying DB Triceps Extensions are a good pair, but expect to do 30-50% more reps with the triceps move when using the same weight.

An alternative scenario is to simply pair a db move and a bodyweight move in a superset.

1-leg squat + DB shoulder press
DB row + decline pushup
DB chest press + bodyweight row
DB RDL + spiderman pushup


Always be prepared with bodyweight and dumbbell alternatives.

NOTE: We shouldn’t forget about the power and convenience of a kettlebell…you can do a great program with 1-kettlebell of the same weight (swing, snatch, 1-arm press).

Talk to the Kettlebell expert, Chris Lopez, about your kettlebell needs here.

Question: How should these exercises be put together into sets and reps for building muscle and burning fat at the same time?

Answer: For maximum muscle building and simultaneous fat loss, try to keep exercises in the 8-15 rep range…so choose your exercises and weights accordingly.

For example, using classic supersets from the original TT2K3 and TT2K4 programs, you have perfect examples.

In a squat rack, do:

1A) Squats – 8 reps
1B) Chin-ups – Up to 15 reps
– Rest 1 minute and repeat 2 more times.

And then grab some dumbbells to do:

2A) DB Chest Press – 8 reps OR a tough pushup version for 15 reps
2B) DB RDL or DB Reverse Lunge – 8 reps
– Rest 1 minute and repeat 2 more times.

If that’s all you did – plus a warm-up, of course – you’d get great results with that workout – using just 4 basic moves.

Question: If you ran into a crowded situation like this, what’s the workout you would do?

Answer: I might use one last technique that I haven’t mentioned. I wouldn’t be afraid to do more sets of basic exercises.

For example, if I could get access to a bench and the right set of dumbbells, I’d have no problem going back and forth on DB chest presses and DB rows for 6 sets each, then finish with a couple sets of pushups and pullups to call it a day.

(Oh, and maybe squeeze in some Meathead Arms, too.)

Hope that helps you get set-up for dealing with busy gyms in January, and if you have any other questions, drop by the TT FB page here.

Time to do a dog walk and some foam rolling,

Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS
Certified Turbulence Trainer