A crowded gym sucks.
There’s no getting around it.
It’s hotter in there, there’s no space in the locker room, and worst of all, all the equipment is taken.
There’s literally nothing more frustrating than getting yourself pumped for a few sets of bench press or a long run on the treadmill only to find yourself standing around waiting for a spot to free up.
One thing you can do, if your schedule allows, is to time your trips to the gym around peak hours.
So when is the gym least and most busy?
Most gyms are busiest in the mid to late morning (right before people head off to work), around 8 to 10 am, and in the evening (right after work) from around 4 to 7 pm.
Gyms on college campuses are a little bit different. They get more crowded as the day goes along, and are usually the most empty in the early to mid-mornings.
Let’s take a closer look at peak hours at the gym and how to deal with a gym that’s too crowded.
(If crowded gyms are driving you nuts, check out my favorite workout app, Beachbody on Demand. Click to get a free trial and try guided workouts in the peace and quiet of your own home to save yourself the hassle.)
Gym peak times explained
A large majority of the gym-going population has a standard, 9-5 (ish) job.
That means their windows for working out will be pretty limited by their work schedule.
Your average gym person has only a few realistic options:
Working out in the morning
Pretty much the only way to work out and not have it interfere with the rest of your life is to wake up early and do it before work.
It sucks if you’re not a morning person, but for a lot of people, this is the only option if they know they’ll have to stay at work late or if they have evening plans that might prevent them from working out later.
It makes sense then that most mornings are pretty busy at commercial gyms. Lots of people flood in to try to get in their workout before heading to the office.
If you don’t like gym crowds, avoid the gym before 11 am.
Working out in the evening
Because getting up really early is a total downer, even more people choose to squeeze in their workout after work and before they get home for dinner or go out for the evening.
People also use workouts as a way to unwind from a tough day and sweat out some of the stress of the office.
Most gyms will be absolutely packed from around 4 to 7 pm during the week.
Working out at lunch
Some people can make this work with their schedule, but it’s far less common.
Gyms will typically pick up a little bit around lunch again after the morning rush has died down, but they won’t get nearly as busy.
Some people have a gym super close to their office or have a flexible lunch schedule, but most people in office jobs don’t have time to drive to the gym, get changed, workout, shower, and then get back to the office.
Lunchtime during the week will usually be only mildly busy at most gyms.
Working out on the weekends
The weekend is the great equalizer for working folks.
It’s the one time of the week when their schedule frees up and they actually have time to get to the gym.
Still, no one wants to spend a big chunk of their Saturday holed up in the gym. They want to be out doing fun things with their friends and family.
So most people try to get their weekend workouts in early on Saturday.
Saturday during the late morning is definitely a busy time at most gyms.
Sundays are usually a lot quieter and emptier with people at church, watching football, or just taking a day off.
To recap, the least busy & most empty hours at most gyms are:
- Weekdays around lunch or in the early afternoon
- Late at night (past 8 pm if your gym is still open)
- Weekends in the mid to late afternoon
(I have to give credit to this nifty graphic I found of peak times at the gym. Check it out!)
Busiest gym times on college campuses
College kids like to sleep late and stay up late, so take everything I told you above and just shift it forward a few hours.
(They also have a way more flexible and varied schedule throughout the week.)
Most college gyms will be packed in the early afternoon through the evening before kids get ready for dinner and going out.
In the mornings, they’ll usually be a lot quieter. That’s a great time to go to your college gym if you want to beat the crowds.
5 tips for dealing with a crowded gym
What if you don’t have much choice of when to go to the gym?
If you have a 9-5 job, you’ll probably be stuck hitting the gym in the morning or the evening like almost everyone else.
But there are a few things you can do to make dealing with a crowded gym a bit easier:
1. Be flexible
It’s really frustrating when you have one plan going to the gym, but you can’t follow through because it’s too crowded.
Just be ready for this possibility and think of alternative exercises you can do if you can’t get the equipment you need.
For example, instead of a barbell bench press, you could use dumbbells if you can’t get in on a bench station.
If you can’t grab a treadmill, burn some calories on the elliptical, instead.
2. Pick harder exercises
No offense to anyone, but a lot of people go to the gym to casually screw around. They’ll walk on the treadmill or do some light work on the weight machines while browsing Instagram on their phone.
But if you want to go off the beaten path, try working some of these into your routine:
- Cardio on the stair machine
- Anything in the squat or power rack (squats, overhead shoulder press, etc.)
This stuff is HARD, and most people will avoid these like the plague. These stations will probably be a lot less crowded on average.
3. Ask to work in
If you NEED to bench press, and somebody’s been hogging the bench for a while, just ask them if you can work in.
Yeah, it’s kind of a pain in the butt, but most people will understand. If you ask politely, you’ll almost always get a positive response, or the person will tell you they’re almost done.
(Your asking might encourage them to speed it along.)
What is “working in”? It means taking turns doing one set each on the equipment.
Meaning: They do a set, and then you come in and do a set while they’re resting, and repeat.
It works best for sharing dumbbells or equipment that doesn’t require racking a lot of weights (like the dip and leg raise stand), but you can work in on the bench press or in a power rack, too, in a pinch.
4. Sign up for a class
Most good gyms worth their salt will have group fitness classes you can take on-site included with your membership.
If you can sign up for any of these ahead of time, that could be your ticket to a stress-free workout!
Reserve a spot in a spin, yoga, or bootcamp class for a time that works for you. When the class is full, it’s full, and no more people can join and crowd you out.
(Some classes are first come, first serve. Look out for ones you have to reserve.)
This is a great option if you’re flexible about what kind of workouts you do and just want to get a good sweat in without feeling crowded.
I highly recommend you consider joining ClassPass (click to get a month for free) so you can hop around to different workout studios (including some major gym chains for classes or open gym time), all with one affordable subscription.
5. Don’t be a jerk
Just because you’re frustrated by the crowd doesn’t give you a license to break gym etiquette!
For example, don’t superset (use multiple machines/stations/weights at once) when the gym is really crowded.
Don’t hover over someone while they’re working out — it makes people feel weird.
And always remember to re-rack your weights when you’re done. Just because other people leave them lying around doesn’t mean you can.
If you practice good gym etiquette and treat the people around you well, that good karma will probably come back to you.
Related: Why is the gym so busy in January?
The shower answer?
New Year’s Resolutions.
January is the time of year when people decide they’re “finally” going to get into shape.
If you’ve been working out for a while, you’ve probably seen the flood of new people that come to the gym in January. Most of them are gone by February or so.
Please be a good sport about the January rush. I know the crowds are annoying, but the newbies are just trying to improve their lives and health.
Be encouraging, polite, and make them feel welcome!
Related: Why is the gym so busy on Mondays?
Because people are desperate to work off the bad decisions they made on the weekend!
All kidding aside, people do usually let themselves drink and eat a little more over the weekend.
When Monday comes around, there’s a little bit of guilt, plus the optimism that comes from wanting to start the next week off on the right foot.
Monday mornings and evenings are definitely one of the busier times of the week at most gyms.
If you have a flexible schedule, I would highly recommend going to the gym around mid-day (lunchtime) or late at night, if your gym is open.
If not, you’ll probably be better off with the crowds if you go in the morning instead of the evening.
In any case, just be prepared to deal with a little bit of waiting for equipment. Ask to work in, be polite, and mix up your exercises to make sure you can always get in a good workout, no matter how busy things get.
Hope this helps!
If you’re looking for a good gym to join, check out my interactive quiz. It’s only 6 questions long and is a great start point if you’re gym shopping!