Have you ever tried working out at a different gym instead of your usual gym? It can be awkward. Whether it’s randomly with a friend or it’s the only option you have at that time, working out at a foreign gym can be strange. If you lift free weights, you may notice how the dumbbells feel different and how the weight distribution is a little off from what you’re used to. You may notice that the barbells have different grip widths from what you’re used to or different weights. You may have to compromise with a smith machine rather than a normal bench press. The machines may be a tad off their track from what you’re used to. The bikes or treadmills may not have the display that you prefer. Or worst of all, they may not have the equipment that you need to get your normal workout done at all. There’s nothing worse than compromising your workout due to the lack of training equipment at a gym. How do we cope with the different equipment?
This is the worst. There’s no way around it. If you’re an avid gym goer then you know how annoying it can be in this situation because you know how every grip and weight is supposed to feel. This curveball can be more than just an annoyance for some people. It could discourage them from working out altogether. How can we adjust ourselves properly to account for the lack of our normal equipment? How can we enhance our workout with what is given to us?
I’ve been in this situation before and in fact I’m in this situation currently. I’m dog sitting for my girlfriend at her apartment complex for the week while she’s away and I have full access to her gym. It’s not a bad gym. In fact, I’d say it’s a great gym compared to other gyms in apartment buildings. However, it’s not my gym. Nevertheless, I like working out and I want to stay true to my goals so this isn’t going to stop me.
First off let’s start off with what it’s missing. It’s missing a proper squat rack/bench press. It is a smith machine which technically allows for the same functions. Although, we know that all the small details like grips and weights can make a big difference and bring on a hint of frustration. Their machine lineup is also limited. Not that I use a lot of machines, but I use some for isolation movements that would be nice to have. The 3rd problem that I’d like to address is the dumbbells have a completely different feel to them.
For the smith machine, we can make do with it, but don’t expect to be busting out any max’s while you’re on it. In fact, don’t expect anything along the lines of maxing out for the entire workout. With everything feeling different, you won’t feel comfortable enough or even strong enough to get any max’s. When I use different equipment, I don’t feel like I have my normal strength with me. That’s why it’s important not to overdo it. Instead of going for heavy lifts, focus more on form for this workout. You can make up a lot of progress by doing this method. Focusing on controlling the weight and squeezing at the top of each rep is good practice for lifters. You won’t get the sense of accomplishment as you do after reaching a new max, but you will get a great pump and that’s what we want.
The machine lineup being limited is the least of my worries here. We can easily substitute this area with compound movements using dumbbells. However, you may not get the level of isolation you’re looking for out of the dumbbells. Again, drop your normal weight about 10% and focus on controlling the weight and squeezing at the top of each rep. Dumbbells can be used as substitute for practically any machine. Which brings me to my next point.
The thing about the dumbbells is very strange. Technically any 50 lb dumbbell is the same weight, but it’s how the weight is distributed and the grip size/shape determines how that weight really feels in your hands. There’s practically no way around this one. You just have to adjust according. Like I mentioned for the last two problems, consider dropping the weight around 10% and focus more on slow controlled movements with a squeeze at the top of each rep. This will be good practice for form and still allows you to get the workout you’re looking for.
Working out at a foreign gym can suck. Especially if it is a less equipped gym than what you’re used to. Having to make compromises in the gym can be frustrating but it’s important to try and make the most out of it. Instead of going for heavy lifts, try going for slightly lighter weight and focusing on form and muscle contraction. This will give you similar results to what you’re used to. Let me know if you have any other tips for making the most of your workout in a foreign environment.