How to adapt your exercises when the gym is busy - Reboot Fitness Coaching

How to adapt your exercises when the gym is busy


Facing a packed gym can be daunting, but your workout doesn’t have to suffer. This post guides you on adapting your training when every piece of equipment seems taken.

By understanding the major movement patterns – squat, hinge, horizontal press, etc. – you can easily find effective alternatives for your exercises.

Whether it’s switching barbell back squats for goblet squats or replacing bench presses with push-ups, there are numerous options to keep your workout on track. Embrace flexibility and creativity in your fitness routine, and never let a busy gym stall your progress again.

At certain times of day the gym can feel a bit mad. You look around and every bit of kit seems to be taken. First thing in the morning, and the after work evening rush, can be carnage, and that ramps up even more at certain times of year.

Post-Christmas, there’s a wave of enthusiasm (or necessity) as people flock to the gym. It’s great to see more people embracing their health and fitness – if you’re one of the newcomers, hats off to you, and keep up the great work!

But let’s be real about it, when the gym is that busy, it poses a bit of a challenge.

The gym floor turns into a bit of a free-for-all, and suddenly, getting your hands on your favorite piece of equipment feels like a competitive sport. It’s tougher to get on (or even find) the kit you wanna use, and for those newer to training, it can even lead to cutting sessions short.

In fact, I spoke to someone recently who had a training plan (which is awesome because that’s something many people don’t have to begin with) but they felt unable to complete it because none of the stuff they needed was available. And even though half a workout is better than no workout, it’s always frustrating having your flow interrupted by someone texting away on the machine you need next.

If this sounds familiar, don’t worry. I’ve got some simple advice below to help you adapt your training when the gym is busy.



When the gym is crowded, knowing how to adapt your workout based on fundamental movement patterns is invaluable.

Most exercises can be categorised into the following movements below or a combination of them. By understanding these patterns, you can effectively substitute exercises when your preferred equipment is unavailable.

The Fundamental Movement Patterns:

  1. Squat: Essential movements involving bending at the hips and knees, like traditional squats, but also single leg variations like lateral step ups.
  2. Hinge: Movements that involve bending at the hips, like deadlifts, and single leg variations like reverse lunges.
  3. Horizontal Press: Exercises where you push weight away from your chest, such as bench presses.
  4. Vertical Pull: Movements where you pull weight down from above, like lat pulldowns or pull-ups.
  5. Vertical Press: Exercises involving pushing weight above your head, like shoulder presses.
  6. Horizontal Pull: Movements where you pull weight towards your torso, such as rows.

Each gym exercise typically falls into one of these categories. You can throw other things in here as well: rotation/anti-rotation/anti-lateral flexion/anti-extension exercises for example, but for the purposes of this post lets look at the 6 above.

When equipment for a specific movement pattern is taken, just replace it with another exercise in the same category to target the intended muscle groups effectively.

Adapting Your Workout:

Let’s run through some examples of how to adapt your exercises when the gym is busy, to ensure you still get an effective session in.

  1. Barbell Back Squats and Leg Presses (Squat Pattern) – Can’t get on a squat rack? Try these:
    • Alternatives:
      • – Dumbbell/Kettlebell Front Squats
      • – Dumbbell/Kettlebell Goblet squats
      • – Plate Squat
  2. Bench Press (Horizontal Press Pattern) – Bench press surrounded by spotty teenagers? Switch to these:
    • Alternative:
      • – Dumbbell/Kettlebell Chest Press
      • – No bench? Dumbbell Floor Press
      • – No dumbbells/kettlebells? Push-ups (stick a plate on your back if you need more challenge)
  3. Deadlifts (Hinge Pattern) – No barbells free? Here ya go…
    • Alternative:
      • – Kettlebell Deadlifts
      • – Dumbbell/Kettlebell Romanian Deadlifts
      • – Dumbbell/Kettlebell Reverse Lunges
  4. Lat Pulldowns (Vertical Pull Pattern) – Someone sat on the lat pull down machine (facing the wrong way, texting…)?
    • Alternative:
      • – Pull ups (Assisted with a band if necessary)
      • – Kneeling Single Arm Cable Pull Down.
      • – Cable Straight Arm Pull Down
  5. Barbell Shoulder Presses (Vertical Press Pattern):
    • Alternative:
      • – Dumbbell/Kettlebell Shoulder Presses
      • – Cable Shoulder Press
      • – Pike Press Ups (feet elevated for more challenge)
  6. Seated Row Machine (Horizontal Pull Pattern):
    • Alternative:
      • – Barbell Bent Over Row
      • – Single Arm Dumbbell Row
      • – TRX Rows (Elevate your feet if for increased challenge)

This is in no way an exhaustive list. There are so many options, listing them here would probably be overwhelming. But hopefully you get the gist…


Adapting your workout in a busy gym is all about flexibility and creativity. It’s important to remember that there are always alternatives and modifications you can make to ensure you’re still getting a solid workout in, no matter how crowded the gym is.

  • – Do you use this approach to adapt your workouts?
  • – How else do you deal with the gym if it’s busy?
  • – Which piece of kit can you never get on when you want it?
  • – Do you prefer the gym when it’s busier or quieter?


Got a question about adapting your program; creating a plan in the first place; or anything else related to your exercise or nutrition? You can ask that in the comments too…

If you found this helpful, share it with someone else 🙂

About the Author Alvin Nurse

Alvin runs Reboot Fitness Coaching and has been a Fitness Coach since 2010. When not helping awesome people in their 30s rejuvenate their bodies, you'll find him listening to music, chasing a ball, or avoiding runny yolks...

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